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Is the Nubian Village in Aswan a Tourist Trap?

Wondering if the Nubian Village in Aswan is an authentic cultural experience or a tourist trap? This post explains!

Buildings and homes line the riverbank in the Nubian Village along the Nile River.

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.

A man rides a camel along a dirt road in the center of the Nubian Village. He passes street vendor stands selling fabrics and jewelry.

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 Ancient Nubia: African Kingdoms on the Nile.)

An image of the exterior façade of a home in the Nubian Village. The home has clay and stone walls and archways, some painted a light blue. Bushes of native flowers grow across the front of the building.

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 that hold live crocodiles.

A river boat travels along the Nile River outside of the Nubian Village in Aswan. In the background are large sandy mountains and hills making up the riverbank landscape.

How to Get 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.)

Is the Nubian Village a Tourist Trap? My Honest Thoughts & Experience!

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 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.

A street in the Nubian Village - camels walk along a dirt road that is lined with street vendors selling colorful gifts, fabrics, and clothing.

Negative Experience: Our Nubian Village Tour Guide

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 from our Jerusalem, Dead Sea, Bethlehem, & More tour 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.

A woman with short brown hair smiles forcefully at the camera. She's wearing sunglasses and a white shirt and a light scarf around her neck.
I forced a smile for the tour guide who insisted on taking my photo.
A man and woman couple pose with their arms around each other, smiling at the camera. They're on a river tour boat, with sandy mountains and the Nile river in the background.
My husband and I pose for a photo on our Nile River tour boat, entering the Nubian Village.

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.

Three people pose together for a photo. The young woman wears a skirt and short-sleeved shirt with a scarf around her neck. The man in the middle wears a striped collard shirt, dark khaki shorts, and a wide-brimmed hat, and the older man on the end wears a long sleeved white shirt and light khaki shorts.
Me, my husband & Trevor on our adventure in the Nubian Village!

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…

A street in the Nubian village lined with colorful street vendors selling fabrics, clothing, and gifts. On the righthand side of the photo is a stone building painted a bright aqua blue color, with colorful triangles painted across the side.

After what felt like an hour, our guide finally finished his hookah. And we went to walk around the village (by this point, it was getting dark outside, so I don’t have many photos).

Neutral Experience: Visiting the Nubian Village

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!

A local Nubian woman rides a camel along the vendor-lined streets of the Nubian village.

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.”)

Rows of bowls filled with spices and herbs line the shelves of a street vendor  stall in the Nubian Village.

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.)

An image of the rooftops of the Nubian village, overlooking the riverside landscape of the Nile River.
The rooftops of the Nubian Village, looking out over the Nile River.

Is the Nubian Village in Aswan Worth Visiting?

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 the 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 breakfast 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-hours 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!

Nubian locals ride camels down the dirt streets of the Nubian Village in Aswan.

What are your thoughts? Would you be interested in visiting the Nubian Village? Let me know in the comments!

Make sure to check out my entire women’s packing list for Egypt, as well as a complete 7-day Egyptian itinerary! You can browse all of my Egyptian travel posts here.

Two stacked images with text in the center. The top image is of a man riding a camel through the vendor-lined streets of the Nubian village. The bottom image is of colorful buildings along the Nile River. Text in the center of the image reads "Is it worth visiting the Nubian Village in Aswan, Egypt?"
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17 Comments

  1. Stacey L Massola says:

    That’s exactly how I felt in SEA being dragged to the Karen villages. I wanted to cry. I kept thinking how would it would go over if I gave tours in SF of homeless encampments or the projects. So rich foreigners can gawk at how our poor live.

  2. Sounds like you had a really different experience than I did last September. My wonderful guide took five of 5 of us off the Nile cruise boat to go with him to the Nubian village one afternoon after a long day of touring (the rest of our little group took naps). We went to one family’s home and learned about how they cook, how they pray, how they live. The daughter showed us around the house and offered us a Coke. The guide showed us the unique architecture of the house. We held their 40 yr old pet croc who was in a playpen sized pen with a little water and a drain. It is good luck to have one. When it started getting dark, we had to leave and had to rush thru the vendor stalls in the village. It was so colorful and so cool to see camels riding thru as the men took them home to their corral area . The village experience reminded me of a village I went to in Mexico where the ladies cooked lunch for us. It’s a tour and the guide gives them money but it’s not a bad way for poor village folk to earn a living.

    1. haveclotheswilltravel says:

      I am so glad to hear you had a far better experience than me! Would you mind sharing your tour company’s name? I would like to suggest this… as our guide is ultimately what ruined this experience for us.

  3. Interesting to read about your experiences Lindsey. I went to Aswan (but back in 2007 when it was bustling with tourists) and can imagine that things are far from easy for the Egyptian tourism industry in its current state. Egypt used to be heavily reliant on tourism and so I’m sure that villages like this once did very well from shopping and tours, but it’s such a shame that your guide wasn’t able to share any knowledge about the Nubian culture itself. I can imagine things are hard for the guides too, but they really should focus on being good towards their customers (you)! I saw something about the crocodiles they some houses keep on a travel show and it looked barbaric! Thanks for writing so openly about your experiences. Ellie

    1. haveclotheswilltravel says:

      Oh yes, I don’t disagree – the tourism industry in Egypt can no longer be described as bustling. However, it really is a shame that some of the guides we had on this trip were so poor at their jobs. That being said, I also had some of the most amazing guides ever while in Egypt too – it was a country of extremes! Thank you so much for reading, Ellie!

  4. I love your editing, it gives your images sush a beautiful feeling and style, keep up the good work! 🙂

    1. haveclotheswilltravel says:

      Thanks!

  5. marionhappywanderess says:

    Such a weird experience… At least it doesn’t feel like a human zoo as I feel the tribe villages in Thailand are (I was offered to go to one and refused, had to sit at the entrance for one hour waiting for the rest of the group who went there). I am always super suspicious of those sorts of attractions and from your story I would definitely skip this village. It’s a hard balance to find between finding authentic experience supporting local economy and walking into that sort of trap. Thank you for sharing your experience in so many details, it will help everyone make a choice!

    1. haveclotheswilltravel says:

      Oh yikes – the experience in Thailand is one I will have to remember to avoid. Finding an authentic cultural experience can be such a rare thing it seems. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this post!

  6. Love the boat ride photos!! And I guess the Nubian village looks nice too, but such a bad experience with a dodgy/sketchy guide would’ve erased any nice feelings I had of such a day. Glad to hear that you at least value this as a net positive memory! 🙂

    Oh and uhm.. that is one heckuva forced smile if I ever saw one! 😛

    1. haveclotheswilltravel says:

      Thank you so much for reading! Haha! Gotta love those forced smiles.

  7. What a weird guide! I am trying to think if we ever have had a guide for any of our adventures but so far we have either been to countries where one of us knows the language or have friends show us around. It does look like a pretty place though. Always love to read about your adventures!

    1. haveclotheswilltravel says:

      That’s so awesome. If you go to Egypt, though, I highly recommend booking a guided service. It’s not an easy country to navigate unless you already have some experience traveling solo in this area of the world…

  8. Nicole Schoultz says:

    WOW what an experience with the guide. At first I figured he thought you were taking photos of something you shouldn’t be and he was going to confiscate your camera. Glad it was just because he insisted on taking your picture.

    1. haveclotheswilltravel says:

      This is true! It could have been a lot worse! Confiscating my camera would’ve really have been bad, haha.

  9. At least you are SO honest Lindsey. I could see how it would strike you as it did. But I have to admit the photos are wonderful.
    XOOX
    Jodie

    1. haveclotheswilltravel says:

      Thank you so much, Jodie. I’m so glad you enjoyed reading this post.

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