Upper Egypt (Arabic: صعيد مصر Sa'id Misr) is a region of the Nile Valley in Egypt, between Luxor and Aswan and the historical region of Lower Nubia, characterised by a number of ancient settlements and temple towns that draw thousands of travellers every year.
Cities and towns
The most important cities and towns, from north to south:
- 1 Luxor has direct flights from Europe and is the main resort. It is very touristy, but its sights are remarkable: Karnak within the city and the Valley of the Kings and of The Queens nearby across the Nile.
- 2 Esna has a beautifully-preserved sandstone temple to the god Khnum.
- 3 El Kab consists of prehistoric and ancient Egyptian settlements including the Temple of Nekhbet.
- 4 Edfu has the Temple of Horus.
- 5 Kom Ombo has the Temple of Sobek and Haroeris, and the royal quarries of Silsila, north of the town.
- 6 Aswan has many sights, several relocated from the rising waters of Lake Nasser, such as Kalabsha and the Philae Temple.
- 7 Abu Simbel near the border with Sudan is where the Great Temple of Ramses II was moved uphill from the waters of Lake Nasser.
- 1 Silsila are a range of sandstone hills with the popular royal quarries.
- 2 Lake Nasser is the colossal reservoir lake, 479 km (298 mi) long and up to 16 km wide, created in 1971 by the completion of the Aswan High Dam. It stretches from Aswan past Abu Simbel to Wadi Halfa in Sudan, where it's called "Lake Nubia". See those cities for lakeside facilities, but there's very little shoreline development.
- 3 Bi'r Tawil Triangle is a geopolitical oddity: it's a desert terra nullius claimed by no nation, and a triangle that happens to have four sides. Its status is tied up with that of the larger Halayib Triangle on the coast.
Most of Egypt sits on limestone bedrock, so this was the usual building material. But upriver south of Esna this changes to sandstone, which was used for local building, but was also worth transporting long distances because you could decorate it with much finer yet hard-wearing inscriptions. The sandstone pinches the upper Nile into a narrow valley, so the fertile strip becomes a corridor. The river current is stronger but it is still navigable by sail and by thrashing the slaves to row harder upstream—until you reach Aswan. Here a bar of granite crosses the valley to create the "First Cataract", the lowest of a series of rapids. The Nile cannot be used for long-distance transport above there so the upriver regions were less important. Still the granite was valuable so it was quarried and shipped north; there was even some gold. The First and Second Cataracts are now buried by dams and Lake Nasser. Downriver between Edfu and Esna the limestone terrain resumes. The valley and irrigated land broaden out around Luxor, marking the landscape transition to middle Egypt.
Sixteen trains run daily from Cairo to Luxor, taking 10 hours; some start from Alexandria or Giza. A dozen of them continue south, stopping at Esna, Edfu and Kom Ombo, and taking 13 hr in all to reach Aswan. This means you can avoid arrival or departure at strange hours. Five of them are called "Ordinary trains", very cheap and basic, and stopping at multiple wayside halts. They are misery for an overnight journey but fine for day-time travel. There are many restrictions on what tickets a visitor can buy, but they all have workarounds, see Egypt#Get_around for more.
Long distance buses ply all the way up the Nile valley to Aswan.
As well as the route up the valley, highways cross the desert from the coast, e.g. from Hurghada. If you use a taxi, which is often a good deal, then negotiate with the driver for a stop-off at one or more of the temple towns along the way.
There are no scheduled ferries along the Nile, but a felucca cruise on the Nile between Luxor and Aswan will include stops at the temple towns between. Larger river cruisers also sail, but are often suspended because of insufficient water in the Nile.
A dilapidated ferry sails once or twice a week across Lake Nasser to Wadi Halfa in Sudan; you will need to sort out your visa well in advance. Remarkably, there is no road between these two countries, so this is the only surface connection. The ferry does not call at Abu Simbel.
- There are flights from Aswan to Abu Simbel (ABS IATA), and it is often done as day-trip by air.
- Road and railway link all the towns along the Nile. It is not worth flying between Aswan and Luxor.
- Tombs of the pharaohs are built west of the Nile, like the pyramids at Giza, because the west signified death—it was where the sun god Ra died at the end of each day. The finest collection are in the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens a short distance from Luxor. They are magnificent unless you are trying to see them at the same time as a coach party—the interiors are small.
- Temples line the valley: Karnak at Luxor is the best-known (and often crowded) whereas you might have Esna, Edfu and Kom Ombo to yourself.
Sometimes the temples put on sound-and-light shows at dusk, check locally.
Nothing in Luxor if you can help it. It is overpriced tourist tat with much hassle, which becomes turbo-charged hassle if you display the least interest. Aswan and the other small towns are not as bad, and have genuine souks, though inevitably you are overpaying.
Water—it is a desert climate and your sweat evaporates fast, so you do not feel sticky and may not realise how much fluid you are shedding.
Luxor and Aswan have the widest range of accommodation. The other towns along the valley have very simple basic accommodation, but you will probably prefer a day-trip.
- Downstream through Middle Egypt to Cairo is the obvious next step.
- Highways cross the desert to the Red Sea Coast, for instance Luxor to Hurghada is a 4-hr drive.
- Terra nullius: neither Egypt nor Sudan acknowledge Bir Tawil on their border. It won't be touristy, that is for sure.