Lake Nasser, one of the largest artificial reservoirs globally, offers a remote and serene environment akin to the desert. Exploring this remarkable destination is best done through cruises on Lake Nasser. Egipto Exclusivo guarantees professionalism, providing top-notch boats and staff for a safe and enjoyable experience. To acquaint you with this unique destination, the following lines offer a concise guide to its attractions and practical information.
Lake Nasser is situated in the southernmost part of Egypt, extending partially into Sudan, where it is referred to as Lake Nubia. It occupies the stretch of the Nile River between the first (to the north) and second (to the south) cataracts, although the second cataract is now submerged beneath the lake due to rising water levels.
The sheer scale of Lake Nasser is remarkable. It spans approximately 500 km in length and varies in width, reaching up to 35 km at certain points. With a total surface area exceeding 6,000 km2, it surpasses entire Spanish autonomous communities such as Cantabria or La Rioja. The lake’s estimated water volume exceeds 150 km³.
The lake’s perimeter and surroundings are sparsely populated, with notable settlements including:
Given the absence of settlements and roads along its shores, cruises on Lake Nasser are the most practical way to explore it. These cruises include stops at specific points or islands where remnants of architectural structures can still be observed.
Lake Nasser offers a distinctive natural environment shaped by its unique characteristics. Unlike typical large freshwater bodies, it lacks lush vegetation due to its artificial nature and the arid surroundings. The meeting point of the lake’s waters with the golden rock and white sand of the desert shores creates a striking contrast. Currently, the water level is approximately 180 meters above sea level, significantly higher than the original level of the river, which was about 60 meters above sea level.
Nevertheless, nature adapts and thrives. Reed beds and other small plant formations have emerged along the shores and on some islands, providing habitats for migratory birds, foxes, and gazelles. Nile crocodiles can also be found in secluded areas, survivors of the environmental changes caused by the lake’s creation. The lake is home to numerous fish species, including the Nile perch.
In terms of climate, cruising on Lake Nasser exposes you to the rigors of a pure desert climate: intense sunlight, high temperatures (exceeding 40°C) in summer, minimal rainfall, and more. It is crucial to refer to the Abu Simbel page for further details and follow recommendations to protect yourself from sun exposure (sunglasses), solar radiation (hat, sunscreen), and heat (stay hydrated). However, onboard your boat, you will find better coping mechanisms to deal with these conditions.
The history of Lake Nasser, as it exists today, is relatively recent. The waters you will navigate during your Lake Nasser cruise have submerged what was once a settlement area for the Nubian people, a civilization with a rich history that we delve into on another page. Despite being hidden beneath the lake’s surface, remnants of this ancient civilization can still be found in other parts of Egypt and Sudan.
Significant changes began to take place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Prior to this, the annual floods of the Nile shaped life in Egypt, particularly its economy, which heavily relied on agriculture in the river valley and the Delta. Inspired by other large-scale engineering projects like the Suez Canal, the ambitious dream of controlling the floods to prevent devastating droughts or excessive inundations finally took shape.
The construction of the Low Aswan Dam commenced under the guidance of British engineer Sir William Willcocks, around 6 km south of the city, between 1899 and 1902. While it was a remarkable achievement, its storage capacity proved inadequate to meet the nation’s irrigation needs. As a result, it underwent several expansions. In the 1940s, when it was on the brink of overflowing and still unable to fulfill those requirements, the High Aswan Dam was built approximately 15 km south of the city.
Although the possibility of constructing the new dam further south, thereby impounding the waters within Sudanese territory, was considered, the decision was made to proceed with the current project within Egypt, under the leadership of Gamal Abdel Nasser, a decision with significant geostrategic implications. The initial project was carried out by Greco-Egyptian engineer Adrian Daninos in the early 1950s but was eventually entrusted to the Russian company Hydroproject Institute. The dam was completed around 1970, although the filling of Lake Nasser had already begun a few years prior. The project exemplified the close collaboration between the Egyptian government and the prevailing Soviet regime.
The completion of the High Aswan Dam and the formation of Lake Nasser in 1976 had a profound and lasting impact on Egypt, particularly in the southern part of the country.
Economically, Lake Nasser and the Aswan Dam have played a pivotal role in Egypt’s agriculture and overall economy. The agricultural sector still contributes to 11% of Egypt’s GDP, as per 2019 World Bank data. The project facilitated the development of an extensive network of water canals for irrigation, which is essential for crop cultivation in an area with limited or no rainfall. These canals are connected to intermediate dams along the Nile, with their regulation relying on the High Aswan Dam.
The creation of numerous job opportunities during the construction of the High Aswan Dam was another significant economic benefit, and the dam continues to provide employment through its maintenance. Furthermore, the hydroelectric power generated by the dam’s power plant is a crucial factor in Egypt’s energy production.
Of course, it is essential to acknowledge the contribution of Lake Nasser to tourism. Not only does it offer memorable cruises on its waters, as mentioned on this page, but it also enables year-round Nile cruises on the other side of the Aswan Dam. Under normal conditions, these cruises would not be possible throughout the year due to low water levels during certain months. Additionally, the stored water from Lake Nasser plays a crucial role in improving the quality of life and health of Egyptians as it is used for human consumption.
Therefore, Lake Nasser stands as a remarkable economic success. The significant investment in the construction of the High Aswan Dam and its canalization system was quickly recovered within a few years. It continues to yield direct and indirect benefits in the areas of hydroelectric power generation, support for national agriculture, and promotion of tourism.
However, it is important to acknowledge other significant impacts of Lake Nasser that may not necessarily be positive, including environmental, archaeological, and social aspects. Environmentally, the creation of the reservoir has caused changes to the riverine ecosystem in this section of the Nile. The original riverbanks and low-lying lands have been completely submerged, although new reed beds and vegetation have emerged in their place. Nevertheless, the ecological cost-benefit of this project is still a topic of debate, as its short-, medium-, and long-term effects on increased fertilizer use in agriculture and the potential salinization of the Delta due to seawater inflow require further analysis.
Archaeologically, the rise in water levels due to Lake Nasser had significant implications. Temples and monuments constructed along the riverbanks were at risk of flooding. An extensive international campaign was undertaken to preserve the most important sites, including the renowned Abu Simbel. Other monuments were painstakingly relocated, stone by stone, and can now be explored during cruises on Lake Nasser. While the geographical context of these monuments has changed, their beauty and significance remain intact. Unfortunately, some structures have been permanently submerged or are yet to be discovered beneath the reservoir.
Additionally, it is important to address the painful consequence of Lake Nasser, which involved the forced displacement of the Nubian people who inhabited this area. Their villages were flooded, and new settlements had to be established. However, many Nubians chose to migrate to other parts of the country, primarily Aswan and Cairo, or to neighboring Sudan in the south. Further details about this episode can be found on the dedicated Nubia page.
Lastly, it remains to be seen what impact the construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, located several thousand kilometers upstream on the Blue Nile in Ethiopia, will have. This dam has the potential to modify key aspects of the river in Egyptian territory, including its flow. As a result, high-level diplomatic negotiations are underway to address this issue.
Exploring Lake Nasser through cruises is the optimal way to experience its wonders. There are several notable stops along these cruises, with Abu Simbel being the most significant. While there are alternative routes to reach Abu Simbel, arriving by boat provides a unique charm and unparalleled perspective, as viewing these monuments from the water enhances their beauty. For detailed information about Abu Simbel, please refer to the dedicated page.
Aside from Abu Simbel, there are other captivating sites worth visiting. Listed below, ordered from north to south based on their proximity to Aswan, these sites offer diverse attractions. However, we will omit the Kalasbsha Temple, which is situated near the High Aswan Dam and can be explored as an excursion from Aswan itself. More information about this temple is available on the page dedicated to Aswan.
It is worth noting that these monuments enjoy the highest level of protection as they have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites under the name “Nubian Monuments from Abu Simbel to Philae.
Wadi al Sebua, also known as the Valley of the Lions, is situated on the western shore of Lake Nasser, approximately 140 km south of the High Aswan Dam. This site encompasses two temples, namely the Temple of Amun and the Temple of Dakka, which date back to the Pharaonic period of the New Kingdom. The name “Valley of the Lions” derives from the animal sculptures found on the Temple of Amun. In the 1960s, the site was relocated here, but it initially received little attention and had to be “re-excavated” to make it accessible for visitation, as it is now during Lake Nasser cruises.
The Temple of Amun was commissioned by Amenhotep III of the 18th Dynasty and later restored by Ramses II after suffering damages during the Amarna Period. Remarkably, visitors can still admire approximately ten statues of Ramses II, deified pharaoh, attached to the columns of one of its courtyards. The temple also features interesting reliefs depicting Ramses II in an offering pose, as well as remnants of Christian decorations, indicating its conversion into a church in the 5th century AD. The fusion of themes and architectural styles found here is truly astonishing.
On the other hand, the Temple of Dakka is situated 1.5 km north of the Temple of Amun and is connected to it by a small path. This temple is a relatively more recent construction from the Ptolemaic period (3rd century BC). Its notable highlight is the large entrance pylon, which visitors can ascend to enjoy panoramic views of Lake Nasser.
Amada and its temples are among the popular stops on Lake Nasser cruises. Amada refers to one of the Nubian villages that were submerged by the reservoir’s waters. The decision was made to save the temple dedicated to Amun and Ra-Horakhty, which was constructed during the New Kingdom under the reign of Thutmose III (18th Dynasty) and restored by Seti I (19th Dynasty) after suffering damage during the Amarna Period. The interior of the temple is adorned with finely detailed bas-reliefs that still retain much of their original polychromy, making it truly remarkable.
Adjacent to the Temple of Amada, two other temples are visited during the same stop on the Lake Nasser cruise. The first is the Temple of Derr, a speos-type temple that was excavated from the rock and had to be reconstructed in its new location. It was built during the time of Ramesses II (19th Dynasty), and its interior decoration features noteworthy bas-reliefs with vibrant polychromatic tones. The temple was dedicated to Amun-Ra, Ptah, and Ra-Horakhty, venerated within the sanctuary located behind the hypostyle halls.
The third significant structure at this stop, dating back to the Pharaonic period, is the tomb of Penut, a local governor during the reign of Ramesses VI (19th Dynasty). While part of the original decoration was lost during its reconstruction in the new location, visitors can still admire funerary scenes depicting the deceased with the gods on the tomb walls.
Qasr Ibrim is a unique exception among the described structures, as it was not relocated to a higher level in the 1960s like the others. Located approximately 260 km south of Aswan, it serves as the citadel of the village of Ibrim, which housed tombs of Kushite viceroys and sanctuaries from the 18th and 19th dynasties.
Over the centuries, the fortress was constructed and modified during the Roman period under the reign of Augustus and even in the Christian era, as evidenced by the remains of a 7th-century church. Perched atop a hill, Qasr Ibrim was strategically positioned to oversee the surrounding terrain. However, with the rise of the reservoir waters, it transformed into an island. During Lake Nasser cruises, visitors usually make a stop here to explore the ruins of the citadel, although most of the decorative elements such as reliefs and stelae were relocated to other sites, primarily the Kalabsha Temple near Aswan.
There is a noteworthy variation of cruises on Lake Nasser known for their safari experiences. These specialized trips focus on fishing or birdwatching, taking advantage of the diverse fish species and migratory birds found in certain areas of the reservoir.
Fishing safaris on Lake Nasser primarily target the Nile perch, which can reach colossal sizes, exceeding 100 kg in weight. These “pharaonic” specimens provide an exciting challenge for fishing enthusiasts. While the Nile perch is the main attraction, the waters also host various catfish species, two types of tilapia, and the moonfish.
Birdwatching safaris offer opportunities to observe iconic species such as the African fish eagle, African skimmer, African pied wagtail, pink-backed pelican, and rosy-patched bushshrike. Participants may also catch glimpses of Nile crocodiles and foxes along the shores of the reservoir, adding to the wildlife spectacle.
Boat cruises are the most convenient and enjoyable way to explore Lake Nasser. They provide both a unique tourist experience and practical transportation within the reservoir. The usual starting point is the port near the Aswan High Dam, where private vessels embark on safaris and circuits. This port is located about 15 km south of Aswan, which can be reached by road, air, or other Nile cruises.
A passenger ferry operates between the Aswan High Dam port and the Wadi Halfa port in Sudan, making it convenient for travelers planning itineraries that include both countries. This ferry serves as an entry or exit point.
Consider starting or ending Lake Nasser cruises from Abu Simbel. The village near this monument offers modest tourist infrastructure with hotels, restaurants, and shops, providing convenience to travelers. Abu Simbel also has an airport connecting it to Aswan. Keep in mind that the passenger ferry does not have any stops at Abu Simbel.
For road transportation, Highway 75 is available, spanning the desert on the western bank of the Nile and connecting Aswan and Abu Simbel. This journey covers 280 km and takes a little over 3 hours. From this highway, there is a secondary road leading to specific Pharaonic monuments such as Amada and Wadi el Sebua, making it suitable for excursion purposes.
It’s important to note that Lake Nasser lacks a continuous road along its shores and lacks bridges for crossing from one side to the other. Therefore, traveling by car for a comprehensive circuit of the reservoir is not feasible.
Whether you require cruises on Lake Nasser with excellent amenities, chauffeured transportation, strategic accommodations, fishing safaris, birdwatching trips, guided monument visits, or traditional Nubian experiences, Egipto Exclusivo can fulfill your needs. Contact us to discover why Lake Nasser is one of the most exceptional destinations in Egypt and all of Africa!