Heissa Island is a rustic island on the Nile with authentic Nubian culture. Here’s my ultimate guide to visiting this Aswan hidden gem.
Get off the beaten path and explore this Aswan hidden gem to unwind in nature and experience traditional Nubian life.
Heissa is an old Nubian island about a 20-minute boat ride from Philae Temple – and it offers a refreshing retreat from Aswan’s more touristy Nubian villages.
The island overlooks the Aswan reservoir and it’s an ideal retreat for crystal Nile waters and rugged rock formations.
I spent an afternoon in Heissa Island drinking mint tea and taking in the serene Nile views. And it was easily one of the highlights of my trip to Aswan! I wandered through clusters of guava trees and visited brightly-painted Nubian homes before I took a boat back to Philae Temple.
Exploring Aswan hidden gems
Heissa Island is dotted with camps, eco-lodges and guest houses that have a cult following among bird watchers, kayakers and nature lovers. It’s a well-kept secret and one of the most stunning Aswan hidden gems.
It’s also one of the oldest standing Nubian islands that remained after the flooding of the 1960s that followed the construction of the High Dam.
Heissa Island is well off the beaten tourist path so book a tour guide who knows the place and works with the locals. I booked my trip with Egypt Rest Tours and they took care of all the details.
Add an afternoon in Heissa Island to your Aswan itinerary and you won’t regret it.
How do I get to Heissa Island in Aswan?
You can reach Heissa Island by boat from Philae Temple. It’s best to arrange the trip with a reliable tour guide or with your hotel if you’re staying on the island itself.
The 20-minute motorboat ride into Heissa is an adventure in itself. You’ll pass other tiny islands with whimsical names like “cat’s island.” And you’ll spot wildlife from majestic birds swooping overhead to curious goats peaking through rugged bushes.
Some islands are dotted with bright guest houses and lines of ferries while others have sandy, solitary beaches and towering rock formations.
The story of Heissa Island
Heissa Island is home to a tenacious Nubian community that survived against all odds to preserve their traditional way of life.
Heissa is one of the last Nubian islands that survived the building of the High Dam in the 1960s, which displaced some 90,000 Nubians from their villages and homes. The construction of the dam also wiped out numerous Nubian monuments and forced rural communities into nearby cities.
But the people of Heissa survived. They braved the floods and moved to higher land. Much of their farmland was destroyed but they were able to relocate thanks to the island’s high elevation and hilly landscape. They preserved their unique culture and serene way of life.
Heissa’s inhabitants have also preserved their Kenzi language – a Nubian language that’s currently under threat with only some 35,000 native speakers remaining.
The people of Heissa have a strong link with their Nubian culture. You’ll hear them speak their language and decorate their homes with traditional crafts.
And you’ll spot many homes painted in folk motifs and decorated with roosters, fish and bright geometric patterns. Some homes were painted with the help of local NGO Mashrou El Saada, who also conducted brass jewelry workshops in Heissa to uplift the local women.
Once an ancient burial ground for temple priests, Heissa Island once supplied wood and stone to many of Ancient Egypt’s most splendid monuments.
Today, Heissa Island attracts intrepid travelers with its rugged landscape and authentic Nubian life. It’s not as touristy as mainland Aswan – and that’s the appeal.
Heissa Island map
Best things to do on Heissa Island
(photos courtesy Heissa Camp)
Heissa Island is a nature lover’s paradise where you can enjoy the outdoors and get a taste of Nubian culture. Here are the best things to do:
- Go on a kayaking adventure around the island to enjoy the Nile scenery.
- Go hiking to explore local wildlife and see the island’s colorful Nubian homes. Much of Heissa Island is hilly with beautiful views from the top.
- Try some authentic Nubian cuisine. Many local families and guest houses offer delicious local delicacies and big dinner spreads to visitors.
- Go camping and stargazing. There’s not much light pollution on the island so the night skies are beautiful in Heissa.
Heissa Island hotels
(photo courtesy Heissa Artie Nubian House)
Heissa Island offers a small sprinkling of lodgings from boho guest houses that offer bird watching and kayaking to upscale hilltop resorts that host dreamy destination weddings.
Some locals have converted their homes into guest houses where you can see everyday Nubian life and sample authentic local dishes.
Here are my picks for the most beautiful Heissa Island hotels:
- Ayujidda Nubian House is where I spent the day on my visit to Heissa. It’s a gorgeous and quiet retreat set amid rustic landscapes and guava trees. It’s elegant and minimal, and has some breathtaking Nile views. Don’t miss the delicious homemade meals and the Nubian family atmosphere.
- Heissa Camp is a stunning camp with domed roofs and sweeping Nile views. It’s the passion project launched by two Egyptian friends and avid birdwatchers. The camp is built in the style of traditional Nubian-style mud huts with all the modern amenities.
Get off the beaten path and explore this rustic hidden gem in Aswan to unwind in nature and experience real Nubian life.
Heissa Island is just a 20-minute boat ride from Philae Temple – and it makes a great alternative to Aswan’s more touristy Nubian villages. It was definitely one of the highlights of my trip!
I would love to hear from you. Is Heissa Island on your Aswan itinerary?