Train Journeys – Cairo to Aswan (Egypt)

There’s no doubt that Egypt is a stunning and unforgettable place to travel. With such large distances between places, and little but desert between them, apart from flying trains are probably the best way to get around.

Yep, me and the Pyramids

Yep, me and the Pyramids

Bewitched by the SPhinx

Bewitched by the Sphinx

It was 1999 when I went to Egypt, and the country was a lot happier than it can claim to be today, and probably most people are thinking of steering clear of Egypt at the moment and with fair reason, but my time there was pretty memorable, and for good reasons.

Smoggy Cairo

Smoggy Cairo

Cairo was warm, but not too hot in April 1999. The pyramids and Sphinx, frankly, blow your mind away even though there’s a KFC 50 metres from the entrance and you can’t walk 100 metres without someone trying to sell you a camel ride.

Nile RIver in Cairo

Nile River in Cairo

Cairo’s museum was amazing but the city as a whole is really so very big, and quite polluted too. I can’t say that I hated it though, but equally I certainly didn’t love it. The train was booked (all this from memory) at the train station. My best friend and I travelled Egypt together and we were being the stingy brothers, and we opted for a seat.

The seats were comfortable, the train was long with at least a dozen carriages, diesel-pulled as always. We left in the night with families every side of the aisle, and in it. It was reasonably comfortable I guess, seats weren’t too narrow, legroom was okay, not too hot or cold, cleaner than second class in India, but you know, not ‘clean’ I guess.

Train alongside the Nile.

Train alongside the Nile.

We got some sleep, not a lot, three hours maybe. An evening departure and a lunch time arrival the next day. The train is going from north to south, Cairo to Aswan, along the Nile for most of the way. Either side of the river, it’s just desert and not that much else. The Nile is renowned as a life-giver, but it doesn’t seem to extend that far on either side. Nevertheless, it’s impressive to wake to that sight.

The temperature further south of Cairo just went in one direction – up! By the time we pulled into the sleepy Nile-side town of Aswan, it was over the 40-degree mark. We were told at our hotel there that they got one day of rain in the last year. I could believe it. We collapsed in the hotel room for a few hours. It was not a place for doing much in the middle of the day.

Thanks to Seat 61.

Thanks to Seat 61.

The train journey is about 14 hours, there are sleepers and various classes. It was a great experience being in 2nd class with loads of people and families, until we wanted to sleep. It’s a long journey and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get a sleeper if it’s in your budget. We were on the MEGA cheap at the time. 20 bucks a day (we failed to keep that budget, but still ran at about $25).

Seat 61 as always have a great guide to the journey – HERE.

Have you taken this epic train journey and how did you find it? Did you brave the seats in second class? Please comment!

6 comments

  • Wow!!! Egypt in 1999 would have been very different from the Egypt of today. I visited in…. I’m going to say 2009, so a whole decade later and Cairo was still sprawling, still smoggy, and yes there was still lots of offers of camel rides at the pyramids, but I actually really liked the energy and bustle of Cairo. I did the same train journey you did, from Cairo to Aswan, but we did it in “First Class.” First class in Egypt is not the same as first in other places e.g. Norway, for example (oh the contrast!) but it was far better than being in 2nd or 3rd! Props to you for roughing it out! You can check out my Cairo experience here: http://takingtotheopenroad.com/pyramids-pharaohs-cairo-egypt/

  • 1999, that must feel like a lifetime ago, especially considering all the history and events that have happened in the region since then! We did the same journey back in 2008 and that seems like a different era, we took two trains south- Cairo to Luxor then Luxor to Aswan (seats on both as the sleeper car was full) then sleeper car back up to Cairo. I have wonderful memories of the whole trip although I don’t remember getting much in the way of kip in the seats! Couldn’t have done it without Seat61.

  • I’d forgotten about that train trip. Yes, the political situation puts me off a bit at the moment, but it’s definitely one to bookmark for the family when the kids are old enough to appreciate all the history they have there. I might plump for the sleeper this time, though – I did the seat last time too and it was fine for a young backpacker on a budget but worth the extra splash nowadays!

  • I did that trip in 2004, also quite different from the Egypt of today (and, I would suspect, quite a bit – but not drastically – different from the Egypt of 1999 too, considering what happened during the intervening five years). Great train journey, definitely one to remember 🙂

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