This past September I spent a steamy summer day exploring the extraordinary Abu Simbel temple in Egypt. Certainly this 12th century BC relic merits at least a half day to behold this amazing feat of ancient architecture. As such please find my Abu Simbel travel guide to acquaint and prepare you for an unforgettable trip to this Egyptian landmark.
Complete Abu Simbel Travel Guide – What To See and How to Get There
Quick Links to the Abu Simbel Travel Guide
- What is Abu Simbel?
- Is it Worth Seeing Abu Simbel?
- How to Get to Abu Simbel
- Where to Stay in Abu Simbel
What is Abu Simbel?
For many travelers, a visit to Egypt is not considered complete without a visit to Abu Simbel. Basically Abu Simbel marks the site of two towering temples built by King Ramses II (1279-16 BC). The main shrine is dedicated to the gods Amon-Re and Re-Horakhte while the lesser one, Hathor Temple, is dedicated to King Ramses II and his wife, Nefertari.
Ramses built these temples as a perpetual testimony to his power. Therefore, to shield them from possible destruction by future rulers the shrines were erected far from the main seat of power near southern Sudan. Next, their construction in solid stone helped to ensure their longevity. Thankfully due to their strategic placement and rugged design, they stand strongly for us to enjoy thousands of years after.
Is it Worth Seeing Abu Simbel?
I would suggest you visit Abu Simbel for two main reasons. First, consider the size and scope of the shrines. Four massive sixty-six foot (twenty meter) statues of Ramses II rest outside the main one. The lesser temple rests just to the north, and is marked by thirty-five (ten meter) statutes of King Ramses II and Queen Nefertari. Since these landmarks were built into the mountains, they are truly part of the colossal landscape in southern Egypt.
Second, UNESCO undertook incredible efforts in the 1960s to preserve these temples after the building of the Aswan High Dam. The dam restricted the flow of the Nile River, causing the creation of Lake Nasser, one of the largest manmade lakes worldwide. With the rising water, UNESCO had to move the entire temple complex to prevent permanent inundation. That feat constituted sawing the temple into smaller parts, transporting it uphill sixty meters (200 feet), and then reassembling it. The mere fact these enormous temples had to be moved further adds to their intrigue.
However, for those undecided travelers consider the time and temperature before going. A venture to Abu Simbel takes at least half a day in over 37f / 100c temperatures (it was 46c / 114f the day I went). As the nearby village is small, really you are traveling all this way just for Abu Simbel. Granted, it’s a landmark worth seeing and one you may regret skipping. But it’s not without its drawbacks. The good news is you can hire a golf cart to take you to the temples and back. Thus, you can avoid some of the searing heat!
How to Get to Abu Simbel
By far the fastest and easiest way to see Abu Simbel is by plane. I flew from Aswan, Egypt into Abu Simbel on Egypt Air We departed Aswan at 7am and returned the same day six hours later. The flight cost around $200 USD and only takes one hour. Plus there is even a free round trip shuttle bus from the airport to the temple complex. No advance reservations are required (or permitted). Just show up! You can book your flights here: Egypt Air Booking Site.
A public bus from Aswan leaves at 8am from the Aswan bus station but it only transports locals: no tourists are permitted. Therefore, you need to use a tour bus. All buses (even public ones) are escorted by the police to Abu Simbel, and all arrive at the same time. As a result, please pick the most comfortable option and the one that best fits your budget. For tour options please check Trip Advisor here: Private Tour to Abu Simbel on Trip Advisor.
The drive takes three to four hours and there is one checkpoint. Hire a private driver in Aswan as foreigners are not allowed to drive themselves to Abu Simbel. A car caravan departs at 5am from Aswan, so you may follow them. Otherwise if you drive on your own you need to arrive by 1pm as the checkpoint closes then.
Cruises down Lake Nasser often offer stops at Abu Simbel as part of their regular itinerary. For tour options please check Trip Advisor here: Lake Nasser Tour on Trip Advisor.
Where to Stay in Abu Simbel
Truthfully there are not many places to stay in Abu Simbel. The only moderately decent place is the Nefertari Hotel. However, I have not stayed here and can’t vogue for it. Most people do not stay more than a few hours in Abu Simbel since there really is not much to see besides the temples. You can check out the Nefertari Hotel here: Nefertari Hotel Abu Simbel.