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The island’s unusual name has nothing to do with the presence of any large land mammals anywhere on it. Instead it is thought to come from the large gray granite boulders at its southern end that some think to look like a group of elephants standing in the water.

Others have suggested that the name comes from its shape, similar to that of an elephant tusk. The island offers a variety of attractions that make it hard to miss on any trip to Aswan.

Before the city of Aswan was there, Elephantine Island was the site of a pharaonic era trading town called Swenet that used the island and the turbulent waters of the First Cataract as protection from attack. Its location just below the cataract made it an important trade hub, where caravans from the south unloaded their goods to be transported north on the river. Left behind from this pharaonic settlement is the late-pharaonic era Temple of Khnum and other, partially excavated, ruins that are scattered over the rest of the island.

The island also host the Aswan Museum and an ancient nilometer in the form of ancient stairs leading into the water cut into the rock that displayed markings in Arabic, Roman and pharaonic numerals. In the middle of the island palm groves hide two Nubian villages that regularly host tourists and beautiful scenery along the river. There is also a luxurious hotel, the Movenopick Aswan, located at its northern end.
It is possible to reach Elephantine Island by ferry or on a felucca that can be rented from the banks of the river in Aswan.
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