Let’s start off with…Where is Nubia? What’s a Nubian Village? And how is it different than staying in downtown Aswan? Here’s the lowdown.
A nation that originated from southern Egypt and northern Sudan and peacefully settled along the Nile River, Nubians are one of the most welcoming communities in Egypt, if not the world. Happily sharing their land and homes with thousands of visitors each year. The “Nubian Village” is located in the city of Gharb Soheil, in Aswan, Egypt. Aswan is about 860 km/350 miles south of the capital city of Cairo – and is known for housing some of Egypt’s most ancient ruins.
This little village is more than the eye meets. It’s a preserved isle of one of the oldest civilizations in history. Nubians have not only conserved their ancient traditions but also the Nubian language – which is only spoken and has no official alphabet.
As you wander through Nubaa, as it’s locally known, you’ll quickly realize that everything has a deeper meaning. The village is filled with geometric shapes and bright colors. The triangle shapes represent the three most important sources of life for Nubians – the earth, represented by a neon green, the sun, represented by a stunning yellow and the sky and Nile, represented by various shades of blues.
Another unique feature of the village is crocodiles. Yes, that’s right. Historically, the large reptiles were taken in as pets to keep intruders away… today they remain household staples but mostly for entertaining tourists. Along our journey, we learned that back in the old days, dwellers covered the entrance of their homes with flattened sand as a way to check for signs of snakes and other animals entering the house! Keep reading to see where you can visit a crocodile in the Nubian Village.
How to get there?
How do you get to this mystical village in Upper Egypt? The easiest and quickest way is by plane. You can easily find tickets through Egyptair’s low-cost carrier AirCair or the competitor Nile Cairo. The trip is only an hour and runs for about $100 round-trip. Other options are via train, which can take up to 12 hours overnight (must more budget friendly option though). Arrive directly at the Aswan International Airport or Aswan’s train station and get a ride directly to the village.
Where to stay?
Tourism is blooming in the Nubian village, which allows for plenty of accommodation options in the most colorful of clay and brick structures. Our favorites? The most popular hotel is handsdown the Anakto Hotel – which is actually a trifecta of three buildings. One of which is Anakto2 and the other is Kin Da KA (which hasn’t made it’s debut on the internet yet). Other popular stays are Kato Dool Guest House and Hadouta Masreya. All of which offer the same ambiance, breakfast with amazing views and the most hospitable hosts.
What to do?
Walk – yes walk. You have to soak in this little village, and the only way to do it is to really venture on your own. Spend a few hours wandering and peak the graffiti plastered on all the homes and buildings.
Market- The busy market sells everything from spices, locally roasted nuts, souvenirs, trinkets, Nubian dolls and attires.
Ride a camel– because this is what visitors do while in Egypt. Also, it’s a nice way to get through the market. Just beware that there are more camel hustlers than shop owners in the village, they will all offer you a ride.
Crocodile House – THE crocodile house. It’s a bright blue home, with a massive skinned crocodile hung at the entrance, you won’t miss it. Stop by anytime, the lovely family inside will greet you, allow you to play with their pet crocodiles (some taller than you and I), and will offer you tea. The unspoken word here is that you have to tip the homeowner, nothing extravagant but a token of appreciation for your visit.
Nubian History Museum –you’ll need to grab a taxi, which you will find all the way at the bottom of the village (there’s only one main road, so you won’t get lost). Head to the museum, it’s quite enjoyable at night, especially if you visit Aswan in the winter and run out of sunlight early on in the day. It’s a good way to learn more about Nubian culture and civilization and understand their deeply rooted history in the region.
Felucca– this is a given since a lot of the sites are only reachable by felucca, but make sure to take a tour of the Nile on the little boat. You’ll get some epic views of the Nubian village from the other side.
Sightseeing in Aswan
Aswan can’t be overlooked by the Nubian Village, although they’re pretty close! Here’s the real reason why visitors from around the globe visit Aswan.
Philae Island– home to an ancient complex whose construction began in 690 BC. The formation of temples and structures were to build to honor the goddess Isis. The island is about a 10-minute boat ride from the mainland, there is an official tourist entrance with a long corridor of souvenir vendors that leads you to the boat pick up area. Note that Philae is sometimes referred to as the Elephantine island!
El Nabatat Island– Aswan’s botanical garden, less than a kilometer long and a popular stop for locals. Know that the island is also known as Kitchener’s Island, regardless of what you’d like to call it – this is a really cool place to see exotic and rare plants. The island is reachable by felucca (or small boat) and makes for a nice quiet afternoon activity.
Aga Khan Mausoleum – a pink limestone tomb dedicated to the late Aga Khan III. The story is that since his death in 1957, Aga Khan’s wife visited the tomb everyday and left him a red rose. She passed away in 2000, and by her request a red rose is still placed on the tomb everyday to this day!
High Dam – built to control the massive flooding that effected both residents of Aswan and the ancient ruins in the region. It’s a sight to see, especially reading up on the technology used to create vital electricity for neighboring villages and the deeply technical technology used to control the river flow.
Friendship Monument – the high dam isn’t a super exciting place to visit, by a few feet away is a marvelous monumentbuilt as a symbol of friendship between Egypt and the (former) Soviet Union as a thank you for their glorious funding of the high dam. It’s shaped like a lotus flower, which I hadn’t noticed until someone pointed it out. You can enjoy a little walk in the garden surrounding the monument, but the thriller is taking the elevator up and looking down. Note that you have to buy two separate tickets, one for entry in the monument and another for actually going up.
Temple of Kalabsha – a tribute to a Nubian sun god, Kalabsha was built around 30 BC in the Roman era. Only 30 minutes south of the Nubian village (which makes a great stop on your way to Abu Simbel…keep reading to know more).
Abu Simbel – probably the most visited attraction in Aswan, but be ware that Abu Simbel is at least 3 hours away from downtown Aswan and the Nubian village. Make sure to wake up early and get to ruins by 8 am as the crowds tend to flood. Why is it worth visiting when it’s so far away? Abu Simbel consists of two ginormous temples carved into mountains in the 13th century BC. They are a lasting memorial of the King Ramses II and his queen Nefertiti. Fun fact: The entire complex was actually relocated in 1968 because it was under threat of flooding!
Old Cataract Hotel – not an attraction necessarily but a historic British colonial-era luxury resort. It was originally built in 1899, yet still makes for a great day visit even for a quick lunch. & if you’re into luxury travel, this is a great place to stay.
Where to Eat
The Nubian village itself is a humble place, there are no 5-star dining options but instead you’ll get to experience a dinner prepared by locals and served right on the Nile or in the crooks of the village. Here are some options.
Kat Dool– you may notice that this is also a guesthouse recommendation, but if you aren’t lodging at Kat Dool you can enjoy their buffet style breakfast overviewing the Nile. Make sure to get some fiti, the Nubian version of a crepe, traditionally dipped in molasses & sesame paste.
Nubian House Cataract– at first this will feel like you’re entering someone’s home, and you actually are. But you’ll enjoy your dinner on the terrace or the beautifully decorated indoorseating area.The homemade tagines are great and you can also indulge in a Nubian ginger-coffee made on charcoal and warm sand.
Solaih– it’s about the views! Solaih offers the perfect viewpoint of the Phiale Island while serving up some great Nubian dishes.
Wherever you’ll be, make sure to take in the sunset. Aswan has some of the best views of the Nile and if you’re lucky you’ll get a glorious orange backdrop.