Egypt's southernmost city and ancient frontier town has the loveliest setting on the Nile. At ASWAN the deserts close in on the river, confining its sparkling blue between smooth amber sand and rugged extrusions of granite bedrock. Lateen-sailed feluccas glide past the ancient ruins and gargantuan rocks of Elephantine Island, palms and tropical shrubs softening the islands and embankments till intense blue skies fade into soft-focus dusks. The city's ambience is palpably African; its Nubian inhabitants are lither and darker than the Saiyidis, with different tastes and customs.
Although its own monuments are insignificant compared to Luxor's, Aswan is the base for excursions to the temples of Philae and Kabasha, near the great dams beyond the First Cataract, and the Sun Temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel, far to the south. It can also serve for day-trips to Darow Camel Market, Kom Ombo, Edfu and Esna – the main temples between here and Luxor. But the classic approach is to travel upriver by felucca, experiencing the Nile's moods and scenery as travellers have for millennia – or on a luxurious cruise. Aswan itself is so laid-back that one could easily spend time here hanging out, never mind going anywhere – though many people try to pack everything into two days.
Situated near the Tropic of Cancer, Aswan is hot and dry nearly all the time, with average daily temperatures ranging from a delicious 23–30°C in the winter to a searing 38–54°C over summer. In late January and early February, hordes of Egyptians visit Aswan, block-booking hotels and seats on trains from Luxor and Cairo. Late autumn and spring are the perfect times to visit, being less crowded than the peak winter period, yet not so enervating as summer (May– Oct), when long siestas, cold showers and air conditioning are essential and nocturnal power cuts not only deprive you of cooling and lighting, but mean that food may go bad in fridges overnight.