How to get to Philae Temple and top tips for visiting

Philae Temple is the only temple in Aswan, which lies on a self-contained island. That being the case, it’s a little trickier to get to than some of the other temples in the area. Here’s how to get to Philae Temple and our other top tips for visiting!

Table of Contents

Introduction

Philae Temple is one of the newest temples in the Nile Valley. On our trip, we were keen to visit it after having visited Karnak Temple, as a direct contrast. Karnak is one of the oldest temples within the valley, so we thought it would provide two different and interesting perspectives. This is certainly the case!

The two temples could not be more different, but both are fascinating in their own way. Karnak is gigantic, intricate and majestic. Philae by comparison feels smaller, but is no less impressive. Set on its own island in Aswan, Philae is an important temple to the cult of Isis. Like most of the ‘temples’ in Egypt, it’s actually a temple complex and because of its position in Aswan, technically belonged to Nubia.

Just like Abu Simbel, Philae would have been submerged after the completion of the Aswan Dam, so UNESCO stepped in, and were able to relocate it.

A stone temple complex on an island in the middle of the Nile
Philae Islan

About Philae Temple

Throughout the years, Philae has been used by many different religions and groups. During the Christian period of Egyptian history, Christians even converted parts of it into a church. Philae shows signs of its many years of use. The various columns and frescos have evidence of various different time periods, and there is even a wall with centuries’ worth of graffiti. It’s absolutely fascinating to see graffiti from the 1700s!

Perhaps the most famous part of the complex is the Temple of Isis. The columns of Philae are smaller and not as intricate as those in Karnak, but the temple holds a completely different appeal, being on the island, and is particularly beautiful at sunset. The name ”Philae’ is very similar to the Greek word ‘beloved’, but this is actually a Greek pronunciation of its old Nubian name ‘Pilak’. Its old Coptic name meant ‘remote place’.

A shot of a temple complex with lots of columns. The views are out over the Nile and there is a rocky cliff off the edge.
Views from the temple complex

How to get to Philae Temple entrance

Unlike other temples in the Nile Valley, Philae Temple is only accessible via boat. You can easily get to the entrance of the temple via car or bus. Beyond this point, you need a boat.

Actually getting to Philae is a little tricky.

  • You can probably take a public bus. We genuinely could not find any buses going to Philae and it was not to for lack of trying! We also waited on the side of the main road for about 40 minutes on the way back and not a single bus went past us, so we ended up hitchhiking. That’s not to say there isn’t a public bus, because there almost certainly is. I think we probably didn’t ask the right people or wait in the right place
  • If you don’t want a tour, a taxi is probably the cheapest/easiest way (given that it’s not easy to find a bus). In Aswan, you can easily use a local cab, or else Uber and the local app, Careem are both available. Fair warning: we found it tricky to get a taxi on the way back. There were none going past and we waited for ages for an Uber/Careem. There were none in the area.
  • The finally option is a tour. If we visited again, we would definitely choose this option. Firstly, it would have removed all of the taxi stress on the way back, and taken out the boat stress I’ll talk about below. On top of that, we would have had a guide included, win-win! The tour we’d book is this one with Viator. We heard really good things, and we used several Viator tours around Egypt, they were all great.
A shot of some engraved pillars in Philae Temple
The columns of Philae

How to get to Philae Temple complex itself from the entrance

On arrival to Philae, you first go to the ticket booth and pay the entrance fee. At the time of writing, it’s 100 EGP per person (around $3). You will usually need to do this even if you have arranged a tour, as most don’t include it. After this, you walk down a dock (where there are several vendors selling souvenirs), and organise the short boat trip across to Philae Island. If you take the tour we recommended, your guide will do this for you, and the boat is included in the price.

If you choose to do this yourself…

Here are our top tips for visiting Philae Temple

  • At the entrance to the temple, when buying your tickets, there is a sign just in front of the ticket office with the recommended cost of the boats clearly displayed. We highly recommend taking a picture of this or at the very least a mental note. The ride in total takes around 10 minutes.
  • When you arrive at the boats, you will need to haggle a price for your boat. Note: the price is PER BOAT, not per person. Therefore, if you can, we absolutely suggest pairing up with more people, or going as part of a group in the first place, as this will significantly reduce the price per person.
  • There are representative (/touts) for each boat who negotiate with you. They will definitely start off with a higher price than the ticket office suggests. We strongly advise not accepting this price. For one thing, it is very unfair on other tourists to accept this rate, as the touts will do it again the next time. For another, it causes inflation in the local economy. When you are haggling, we would not go any higher than the suggested price from the ticket office. Of course, if you choose to try and haggle for less, this is between you and the boat rep.
  • The boat captains know to drive you to the temple, wait for you and then return. If in doubt, make sure you confirm that they will do that so you’re not stranded!

It doesn’t take too long to negotiate a rate, but of course the vendors always want to get as much as they can. Nevertheless, if you aren’t comfortable with haggling, we really would recommend taking the tour and that way you don’t need to worry about it.

A flat stone wall engraved with Egyptian hieroglyphics
One of the many frescoes

Do you need a guide for Philae Temple?

Personally, we didn’t take one and we don’t feel we missed out too much. On the other hand, like most temples in Egypt, there’s not much in the way of written information. Therefore if this is a period of history that really interests you, we do recommend taking a guide. Remember in Egypt, if you do take a guide, it’s customary to tip if you enjoyed the experience.

In our experience of tour guides in Egypt, it’s a bit of a mixed bag whether you get a real ‘Egyptologist’ (though almost every guide will advertise themselves as such), but most of the guides are still really good. We think we might have had one during our trip, in the Valley of the Kings. He was extremely knowledgeable and knew a lot if historical details. Still, it’s really hard to be sure. The rest of our guides definitely weren’t Egyptologists, but they were still very knowledgeable and professional.

The entrance fee for Philae is one of the most reasonable we saw. At the time of writing, it’s 100 EGP per person.

When to visit Philae Temple and how much time do you need

We visited around 3pm, which meant that we were there just in time for sunset. We have absolutely zero regrets about that and definitely feel it was the perfect way to do it. In terms of people, it was actually not too busy. By no means were we the only people there, but we also weren’t fighting for space. We didn’t find it tricky to get photos without too many people in them, and didn’t find we had to wait for people to move.

Although Philae isn’t one of the biggest temples we visited in Egypt, it’s quite sprawling. We spent around an hour and a half walking around (not included the boat ride) and didn’t get bored. This is probably the perfect amount of time and allows you to catch the sunset as well.

An angular square temple
The temple exterior

Here’s a recap of our top tips:

  • Arrive for around 3pm (so if booking a tour, book it for around 2:30pm)
  • Book this tour for the smoothest experience without having to haggle for the boat or worry about returning to Aswan
  • If not taking a tour, take a picture of the boat prices at the ticket desks for haggling
  • If taking a tour, have some cash to tip your guide

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    Written by Emma

    Emma

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