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Wondering if the Nubian Village in Aswan is an authentic cultural experience or a tourist trap? This post explains
Cultural tour experiences tend to be very hit and miss no matter where you’re traveling. They are either incredibly educational and enlightening, or they’re masquerading as an educational experience… when in reality they are just a way to get you to spend money and buy souvenirs you don’t need. So, which is the Nubian Village? This post will explain.
Who are the Nubians?
Before we get too far into this post, though, it’s good to have a little bit of knowledge about who the Nubian people are! The Nubians are a group of African indigenous who are one of the oldest civilizations on earth. They live in present-day Sudan and also southern Egypt. They have their own language – which is completely oral. (If you’re curious to learn more about this ancient civilization, I would check out this book.)
What is the Nubian Village?
Ok, technically, there are 2 Nubian Villages located on Elephantine Island in Aswan. They are connected by a path, which you can walk or there are camel rides aplenty. You’ll see traditional houses that have been painted in some beautiful colors, there are tons of souvenirs for sale and many women are offering to do Henna tattoos. There is also a couple of cages which hold live crocodiles.
Getting to the Nubian Village
The most common tours will take you there on a motorboat and some offer to get you there on a felucca. The ride to get to the village will take 40 minutes – at least! It’s a gorgeous ride on the Nile. Honestly, the boat ride itself was the best part of this tour, in my opinion. (The photos below are from the boat ride.)
My Honest Thoughts – Is it a Tourist Trap?
When I was researching all of the various things to do in Egypt, this cultural experience had not come up. Our guide for our Nile Cruise had highly recommended it to us. And our guide, Ahmed through Memphis Tours, is the BEST guide we’ve ever had. I seriously think we earned a college credit thanks to the amount of knowledge Ahmed shared with us on that trip! So, when he recommended this experience to us – we knew it had to be good.
He, unfortunately, was not our guide for it, though. (He had to get home to his sick pregnant wife.) The guide we had for this tour wasn’t the worst guide we’ve ever had, (the tour guide in this post got that award). However, he was definitely the weirdest and also was not good at all. He knew virtually nothing about the Nubian people and gave us absolutely no additional knowledge on this tour. (Everything we learned about the Nubians was thanks to Ahmed… and also Google.)
That would have been disappointing enough, however, things got REALLY WEIRD once the tour started. The first indication that this wasn’t going to go well, was when we were all relaxing and enjoying the views, and I was snapping photos. Suddenly, we happened upon some site (I honestly can’t remember what it was), and our guide demanded that I give him my camera…not asking or anything, literally saying “GIVE ME YOUR CAMERA!!”
Now, my camera is the most valuable possession I own (other than my wedding ring, don’t worry, husband)! I don’t just hand it over to strangers. So, I gave him an odd look and proceeded to take my photos. He then began moving closer to me and my camera and starting to grab for it (despite it being on a strap around my neck).
My husband, seeing what was happening said, “Ok, let him have the camera, Lindsey. He probably just wants to take a photo of you.” To which our guide said yes and started getting agitated. So, I reluctantly handed over my camera (despite it not being on the right settings to take such a photo, nor did I want a photo of myself), and I then forced a smile. Below, is the resulting photo from all this commotion.
That would have been odd enough, however, things got even WEIRDER once we arrived at the Nubian Village. Our group was just my husband and me and our new friend Trevor. We had all been traveling together for the last few days. So, we were all pretty talkative by this point in the journey.
I honestly can’t remember what my husband and Trevor were talking about, whatever it was, though, it sparked our guide to insist we order a hookah. Now, my husband and I were both battling colds and Trevor has asthma. So, none of us were interested in smoking a hookah. (We’ve also all tried it plenty of times in our lives, so it wasn’t a novel experience anymore.)
Despite our firm protests, our guide ordered a hookah. None of us wanted to smoke it, because none of us wanted to feel any worse than we already were. He kept insisting, though! I honestly hadn’t felt this much peer pressure since high school! But now, I’m a crabby old lady who knows when to say no. So, our guide proceeded to smoke it by himself. This took a LONG time. (And really pissed me off!)
This also gave us more time to talk amongst ourselves, and it came up that my husband and I are living in Russia. Our guide, then asked if we had any Russian money on us. My husband took out some of his rubles and showed the guide. Our guide, then asked if he could pay for one of our bills.
We figured out the conversion rate and exchanged 100 rubles for some Egyptian Pounds. Whatever the amount was, our guide decided he had given my husband the wrong amount and asked for it back. He then gave him back an amount that was far less than the conversion rate. Now, this wasn’t a ton of money, we were literally exchanging a couple of USD here…it was the feeling that we were getting ripped off (which had been a reoccurring theme during our time in Egypt). This just wasn’t a good feeling…
After what felt like an hour, our guide finally finished his hookah. And we went to walk around the village (which, by this point, it was getting dark outside. So, I don’t have many photos).
The Village Itself…
So, our guide really didn’t help this experience! However, I’m going to try to be as objective as possible despite having the world’s weirdest guide….
The Nubian Village itself is really cute and colorful. These colorful homes are in line with the age old traditions of the Nubian people. (I initially thought they might have been painted this way to attract tourists – but after doing some reading found this is, indeed, the way they’ve been doing things for many, many years.) If I would have had the time to just wander and photograph these colorful buildings, I would have been satisfied.
There are also camels everywhere! It’s a rather novel experience for us to see camels walking through a village. However, the camels are there mainly for the purpose of giving rides to tourists. (You can take a camel ride between the two villages if you’d rather not walk.) Nonetheless, I was delighted to see them!
There are also tons and tons of souvenirs that if you are so inclined, you can haggle with the shop owners to buy until you are blue in the face. They are selling almost the exact same souvenirs you’ll find in any market in Egypt. There might have been handmade goods nestled in some hidden corner of the village, but we, unfortunately, didn’t find them. (These shops were a big part of this “tour.”)
There were also live crocodiles in small cages, hardly big enough for their bodies. Tourists could hold the baby crocodiles and pose for photos with them. I, personally, didn’t want any part of this. I don’t have any special love for crocodiles, but it didn’t sit well with me to see them in these tiny cages…and then being handed off to screeching tourists. (Kind of like our horse experience in Edfu.) I decided not to photograph this or promote it. (Sorry, I don’t mean to get on my high horse here, but I am trying to be more conscious about what I support while traveling.)
Is it Worth Going to?
My personal experience with the village would point to it being a complete tourist trap. I didn’t learn one culturally significant thing while I was here, and it felt like the entire tour was just to sell souvenirs that I could buy anywhere.
That being said, I do think this might have been me just having a bad experience. If I would have gone without our weirdo of a guide, I would have happily wandered around and enjoyed the colorful little village, with its kind locals and their super cute camels. I might not have learned a thing that way, but I do think it would have been enjoyable, nonetheless.
Now, if I would have had a guide who actually taught me a little something about the village as well…I would have been elated with this trip!
Most of these tours to the Nubian Village are only a few hours long, so you’re not sacrificing a ton of time to go. They do start out at around $40 USD a person, though. And some tours will be even more expensive if you combine Philae Temple with them. So, if you’re on a tight budget, the price tag alone might be a good deterrent from doing this tour.
Another option, though, is to spend the night (or more!) at a bed and breakfasts on the island. I think this would be a wonderful way to really experience the Nubian culture and get to know some of the locals. Taking a few hour tour to the village is nice, but you’re hardly even scratching the surface of this culture by doing that.
Overall, I’m hesitant to say this is a tourist trap – despite my experience most definitely painting it as one. (And I’m not above calling out a tourist trap if I feel it is one!) Everything I had heard and read after visiting, really made me think this was just a one off bad experience. If you have any interest at all in Nubian culture, it’s worth it to see (or heck, even if you just want to see some pretty colorful homes). If you have the time, staying on the island would be such a unique experience as well!
What are your thoughts? Would you be interested in visiting the Nubian Village? Let me know in the comments!