In a country of dirty, busy and chaotic cities, Elephantine Island is an oasis of tranquility. This centuries-old island in the Nile is right in front of the city of Aswan, a must-visit on your travel route for Egypt. There is no traffic, the view of the river is beautiful and the residents are the nicest people in Egypt. Elephantine Island is the perfect place to choose as a base for your visit to Aswan.
How to get there?
The island can of course only be reached by boat. You can catch a boat from almost anywhere on the Aswan quay, but the public ferry is the cheapest. There is one to the village of Siou and one to the ruins on the southern tip of the island.
You will probably want to take the ferry to Siou. It leaves next to the KFC on the Aswan quay and drops you off at Elephantine Island at the Nubian Dreams restaurant. The price for locals is something like 2 Egyptian pounds, but travellers expect 5 EGP for a single journey. That’s not very much either.
The paradise of Mango Guesthouse
We slept in Mango Guesthouse, not far from the jetty of the public ferry to Siou. It was our nicest hotel in Egypt and we ended up staying four days.
The rooms are spacious, clean and comfortable. The shower is hot and the breakfast for 50 EGP delicious. But what really makes Mango a paradise is the hospitality of the Danish owner and the green garden to relax. We paid 450 Egyptian pounds per night, a bargain compared to other hotels in Aswan of lesser quality.
Tip: Mango Guesthouse is often sold out. But if you call or email, the owner can often arrange something for you. Make sure to check the current prices and availability.
The only good alternative on Elephantine Island is the luxurious and huge Mövenpick Resort. The entire northern tip of the island is occupied by this resort with every possible comfort and luxury. There is a price tag on that, as you might expect.
Tip: the only ATM on the island is at the Mövenpick, so make sure you bring enough cash from the mainland if you don’t want to walk all the way to the hotel. The only entrance to the resort from the island – instead of the private jetty – is close to the colourful, Nubian house Baba Dool.
Nubian villages and ancient ruins
The island has two Nubian villages: Siou and Koti. It feels like the Egyptian countryside, as you wander through the narrow alleys with dirt roads and goats. A few houses do their best to participate in the tourist idea of a Nubian house by painting their house in bright colours with geometric motifs. But other than those, both villages are of little interest and you mainly see dust, sand and goats. Baba Dool is an example of such a colourful house. The terrace on the water is a nice place to sit down, but the kitchen is not that great.
On the southern tip of the island you can visit the ruins of the ancient Abu Temple, a Nubian museum and the ‘nilometers’ that we heard a lot about. The sight isn’t really one to remember, compared to all the amazing places you’ll see on your trip. The ruins are no more than that – ruins -, as the buildings are not that well preserved. The two ancient ‘nilometers’ to monitor the water level of the Nile are basically water basins with marks on the wall. A high water level was said to indicate a good harvest for the upcoming year. The Nubian museum is quite small, but has good signs in English. The most interesting items are the extensive marriage contract and the many cosmetic articles. You can buy a ticket for the entire complex for 100 EGP.
Sunset and dinner on the water
Watching the sunset is a must-do on the island. Or even better: not on the island, but from a felouka. A boat trip at the end of the afternoon is highly recommended. The two of us rented our own felouka for 400 Egyptian pounds for more than two hours during the sunset.
Then go for dinner at Nubian Dreams, the restaurant close to the public ferry. Besides Baba Dool, the expensive Mövenpick and a rather scruffy looking place to eat, it is one of the few options on the island. And it was by far our favourite. Nubian Dreams offers great views of the Nile. Unfortunately not on the sunset side, but with a view of Aswan. If you get here on time, you can get a spot at one of the two tables on the edge overlooking the water. They mainly serve tagines for 110 to 125 Egyptian pounds. You will always a vegetarian tagine, bread with dip and some house salad with your meal, so that makes quite a big dinner.
Must-do: a desert walk on the west bank
A last tip is a morning trip to the west bank of the Nile. Get dropped off by a local for 100 EGP and then walk to the old monastery in 15 minutes. From up there you have a cool view of the Nile and the Egyptian desert.
After a visit to the monastery (40 pounds) you take an amazing 45-minute walk through the desert sand. Walk towards the Tombs of the Nobles. There you can visit beautiful ancient tombs with colourful paintings and hieroglyphics. Excavations are also still being made! We even saw a team remove a skeleton from a tomb. After visiting the tombs, you can take the public ferry to the east bank of the Nile, where Aswan is located. Walk back there along the quay to take the public ferry back to Elephantine Island.