Lake Nasser, Egypt: The Complete Guide
With a total area of 2,030 square miles, Lake Nasser is one of the largest man-made lakes in the world. Created as a result of the Aswan High Dam project, it crosses the border between Egypt and Sudan, where it is known locally as Lake Nubia. It produces much of Egypt's hydroelectric power and is a valuable source of freshwater. For tourists, the spectacular desert scenery, abundant ancient sights, and legendary fishing opportunities add to the appeal of a Lake Nasser cruise.
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Discover The Great Lake Nasser in Egypt!
The History of the Lake
Lake Nasser owes its name to former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, under whose instructions the Aswan Dam was built. The dam, which was completed in 1970, caused the flooding that created Lake Nasser and maintains the lake at its northern end. While the Aswan High Dam exponentially boosted Egypt's hydroelectric power and allowed authorities to control the annual flooding of the Nile in order to maintain arable land north of the dam, its construction was controversial.
The creation of Lake Nasser required the relocation of some 90,000 Egyptian and Sudanese nomads; while several ancient sites (including the world-famous temples at Abu Simbel) had to be moved to higher ground at great cost. Some, like the ancient settlement of Buhen, were excavated and submerged.
Currently, the productivity of the dam is threatened by the ongoing construction of the Great Renaissance Dam of Ethiopia, located on the border between Ethiopia and Sudan. Experts fear that the newer dam could affect the flow of water into Lake Nasser, thus reducing the flow of water.
Amazing ancient places
For many visitors to Lake Nasser, the ancient sites located on its shores are its biggest draw. Of these, the most famous is undoubtedly Abu Simbel, whose vast rock-cut temples were built by Ramses II and feature colossal statues that are the largest surviving since the Pharaonic era.
Other highlights include the Kalabsha Temple, moved to an island south of the Aswan Dam; and Qasr Ibrim, a town whose origins date back to the 8th century BC. The former is interesting for its combination of Egyptian and Roman iconography, while the latter is the only archaeological site on Lake Nasser that is still in its original location.
Although located north of the Aswan High Dam, Philae is another incredibly interesting place. Rebuilt before the floods on Agilkia Island, the complex includes several temples, the most famous of which is the Temple of Isis. Philae rose to fame during the Ptolemaic dynasty, dedicated himself to the cult of the goddess Isis and is known as one of the last bastions of ancient religion. The Philae Sound and Light Show is one of the best in Egypt and should not be missed.
Lake Nasser is more than its ancient past. Its length and depth allow resident fish species to grow to unprecedented sizes, making it a pilgrimage site for experienced fishermen. For most, a Nile perch is a top prize (in fact, the current world record for Nile perch was captured here). Other fish species on the bucket list include the massive vundu catfish and the fierce fighting tiger fish. You can fish from shore or from a boat, with several operators offering dedicated multi-day fishing trips.
Desert walks around the lake offer the opportunity to visit nomadic Bedouin camps and keep an eye on the resident wildlife at Lake Nasser. Key sites include desert foxes, dorca gazelles, jackals, and the near-threatened striped hyena. The lake itself is also home to the last remaining Nile crocodile population in Egypt. Interested bird watchers will appreciate the lake's status as an important winter zone for migratory Palearctic waterfowl, with up to 200,000 birds present in peak season. It is also the only known breeding site in the country for the rare African skimmer.
How to Visit
The traditional way to see Lake Nasser is on a cruise ship, most boats depart from Aswan or Abu Simbel and take several days to complete the journey between the two. There are many different options, ranging from luxury cruises like the 5-star Steigenberger Omar El Khayam to private charters offered by companies like the Lake Nasser Experience. The former offer the comfort of air conditioning, a swimming pool, gourmet restaurants, and beautiful chalets with private balconies; while the latter allows you to explore the lake at your own pace, stopping to focus on the things that matter most to you.
If you prefer not to live on the water, there are a handful of hotels located on the lake, most of them near Abu Simbel. Seti Hotel and Nefertari Abu Simbel Hotel are two 4-star options, both with lake views, a restaurant, a pool, and rooms with Wi-Fi and air conditioning.
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