Visiting Abu Simbel Temple

Ranked as one of the top sites when visiting Egypt after the Pyramids of Giza and Temple of Karnak in Luxor, the temples at Abu Simbel are a must-see.

This complex is one of the greatest accomplishments of Ramesses II, the third pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty. Regarded as one of the most celebrated and powerful pharaohs of the New Kingdom, which in itself was the most powerful period of ancient Egypt, Ramesses II was a prolific temple builder.

Abu Simbel may be challenging to get to, but definitely worth visiting. And getting to its remote location near the Sudanese border, is also part of its mystique.

About Abu Simbel

Built over 3,000 years ago in 13th century BC, the temple served multiple purposes.

First and foremost, it memorialized Ramesses II and his Queen Nefertari. It also commemorated his victory at the battle of Kadesh. And its imposing presence served as a reminder to the people of Nubia, Ramesses II’s strength and power.

It’s hard to believe that this massive monument was forgotten, buried in sand for centuries, until found, mostly covered, in 1813.

There are two temples here, one devoted to Ramesses II himself and one devoted to his wife, Queen Nefertari. As an amazing testament to his power, both temples were carved out of the mountain, rather than being built-up with stone. This monumental task took 20 years.

Temple of Ramesses II

Abu Simbel honors the gods Amun, Ra-Harakhty, and Ptah, as well as a deified version of Ramesses II himself. Four colossal statues of Ramesses II,  65’ (20 m) tall, flank the entrance of the temple, leading to atriums, sanctuaries, and statues.

To get a better sense of the scale, note how tiny the person looks near the entrance below.

Visiting the temple of Ramesses II at Abu Simbel
Temple of Ramesses II

The smaller figures on the temple represent family members.

Colossal statue of Ramesses II
Colossal statue of Ramesses II

Remarkably, on February 22 and October 22, thought to be Ramesses II birthday and coronation day, sunlight reaches deep into the central chamber of the temple, illuminating 3 of the 4 statues. These include Ramesses II, as well as gods Amun, and Ra-Harakhty, The 4th statue, Ptah of the underworld, perpetually remains in darkness.

Known as the Sun Festival, which celebrates the convergence of human endeavor and natural phenomenon, this event attracts many tourists, making it busy.

Temple of Nefertari

Ramesses II built the second, smaller temple in honor of his beloved Queen Nefertari. The facade contains 4 statues of himself and 2 of Nefertari, 32’ (10 m) tall, with hieroglyphics.

It’s important in that it’s only the second ancient Egyptian temple devoted to a Queen. Further signifying Nefertari’s importance is the fact that she is relatively equal in size to Ramesses II. Normally a Queen would be much smaller by scale.

Visiting the temple devoted to Queen Nefertari at Abu Simbel.
Temple of Nefertari

Again, note the scale of the temple by looking at the guard by the entrance above.

Preservation

Another interesting fact about these temples is that they were moved, along with the other UNESCO Nubian Monuments, to save them from being submerged in Lake Nasser by the Aswan High Dam.

This project, led by UNESCO, was known as Save the Nubian Monuments. It required cutting the temples into pieces and labeling them, before moving them to their new locations. This took almost 5 years, costing around $40 million!

Abu Simbel, which would otherwise be completely submerged in Lake Nasser, sits on its banks, presenting itself to those traveling the Nile as it would have over 3,000 years ago.

How Much Time Do You Need At Abu Simbel

You need about 1 1/2 to 2 hours to comfortably see the temples. The two temples are very close and there’s not really anything else here.

If, however, you want to see the evening light and sound show, you need to stay overnight (more on that below).

How To Get To Abu Simbel

Although there are hotels near the temples, there is not much to the town, so most people visitAbu Simbel as a day trip from Aswan.

Located 173 miles (280 km) south of Aswan (700 miles (1,128 km) south of Cairo), it’s not easy to access, but well worth the effort. Believe it or not, it’s so far south in Egypt that it’s only about 12 miles (20 km) from the border of Sudan!

There are various ways to get here, each with their own pros and cons.

Coach Or Mini Bus From Aswan

You can take a coach or minibus tour, which takes 3 – 4 hours each way, plus about 2 hours at the temple. This can be arranged through your hotel or at the Aswan tourist office. Note that hotels charge a commission, which can vary by level of hotel comfort level (price), so shop around. Costs also depend on Isfahan a guide is included or if it is just transportation.

For example, my very inexpensive hotel in Luxor booked my cruise from Luxor to Aswan as well as my minibus from Aswan to Abu Simbel. It was transportation only for me and about 9 others, for a very reasonable cost. As we left super early (4 AM) from Aswan, we were the first group to arrive at the temple, having it to ourselves. This was amazing, making the option and the early morning pick-up well worth it.

Pros: This can be a very inexpensive option if minimal commissions are added. If you sit on the left side (east) you can watch the sunrise in the desert.

Cons: Pick up from your hotel will likely be at 4 AM. There are no stops between Aswan and Abu Simbel, and you will probably be responsible for your own snacks and water.

Public Bus From Aswan

There is also a public bus from Aswan to Abu Simbel, but little information is available. If interested in this option, it’s best to ask around locally. It’s very possible that information on this is guarded as they prefer tourists to take more expensive travel options. This also may mean that you could be turned away. If you do find out more about this option, verify at the bus station that they will actually take you.

Pros: This will be the least expensive option.

Cons: It may be challenging to find information on it.

Self-Drive

You may also be able to self-drive, although not recommended. If you do self-drive, only do so during daylight hours.

In the fairly recent past, tourists were not allowed to self-drive for safety reasons. Information can be contradictory and the situation may revert back in times of instability. Also, the guards at the checkpoints may ask you to turn back.Therefore, it’s best to do more homework and have an alternative plan if you favor this option.

Pros: This option offers the most flexibility.

Cons: It’s also the least safe of all the options, so not recommended. Driving in Egypt is literally insane, so if you choose to self-drive you need to be very adventurous and very careful. You may also be asked to turn back at the checkpoint, depending on the situation and/or personnel, so have a back-up plan.

Hire A Private Driver

Hiring a car and driver in Aswan is the better way to drive to Abu Simbel. This option is even more appealing if there are multiple persons in your party, as doing this solo could be expensive.

Pros: Visiting by car (hiring a driver) offers a lot of flexibility. If you leave early, you can watch the sunrise in the desert.

Cons: This option could be expensive if you are traveling solo.

Fly

Flights to and from Aswan and Abu Simbel are offer3d by Egyptian Airlines. Sometimes the flights also includes transportation to the temple. The airport is 3 miles (5 km) from the temple. Keep in mind that if you bring luggage with you, you will need to carry it to the temple (unless you are staying in Abu Simbel overnight and checking into your room first).

I’ve read on forums that people trying to book these airlines tickets months advance find that there are no flights available. Some suggest that they are actually released 2-3 weeks prior, so if you’re having trouble, try again closer to your date.

Pros: This is the fastest method, with flights about 45 minutes from Aswan (except for travel time to the airport and wait time).

Cons: You may feel rushed if trying to fly down and back the same day, especially if there are flight delays.

Cruise

There are also cruises that travel from Aswan to Abu Simbel, taking 4 – 5 days.

Pros: This is the most relaxed option. Plus, you may have additional stops at sites along the way. In addition, you will get to see the Abu Simbel from the Nile, as it was originally intended.

Cons: This option takes the longest and is usually expensive.

Aerial view of Abu Simbel temple
Abu Simbel from the Air | Raddox

Additional Information & Thoughts

Abu Simbel Light & Sound Show: The show only goes on if enough tourists buy tickets. There is also a separate photography pass to take photos of the temple during the light show.

Convoys: Up until about 2017, bus tours and hired drivers had to drive as a convoy, for safety reasons. This could easily change back at any time. Although there is safety in numbers, it also means everyone arrives at the temple at the same time (which is less than ideal).

My Visit: I visited as part of a minibus tour with 9 others, which my hotel in Luxor booked for me. As we left super early (4 AM) from Aswan, we were the first group to arrive at the temple, having it to ourselves. This was amazing, making the option and the early morning pick-up well worth it.

On the way to Abu Simbel, there was some disagreement between our driver and the guards at the check point. As they spoke in Egyptian, I’m not sure what the situation was, but thankfully, they finally waved us through.

On the way back to Aswan, after visiting Abu Simbel, I found myself wondering what other treasures are still lost in the vast sea of sand here…

More: To read more about Egypt, also check out my posts on Cairo, the Pyramids, Luxor, Aswan, and Alexandria, and to help you plan your trip, see my Egypt Travel Guide.

Note: Egypt has had known issues of terrorism for years, so always check government websites for warnings before planning a trip.If you’re a US citizen, sign up for the STEP program to be alerted if issues arise. If you’re not a US citizen, see if your country offers something similar.

Hello! I resigned from a corporate career in product development to explore the world. Although my goal was to travel for a year, 8 years later, I’ve been honored to have explored more than 60 gorgeous countries and met some unbelievably amazing people. Our world truly is a beautiful place! Follow me into the gorgeous unknown by subscribing below. You’ll receive details on fabulous destinations, comprehensive travel guides, travel tips and tidbits, and information on travel trends, like experiential, sustainable, and transformational travel. Where is your next gorgeous unknown? Julie

One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Discover more from Gorgeous Unknown

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading