Abu Simbel Travel Guide – What To See and How to Get There

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

Abu Simbel Travel Guide. The grand temple faces east, so during the spring and summer solstices, the sunlight at dawns aligns with the temple entrance illuminating 3 of the 4 statutes inside. Miraculously the statue of Ptah, the god of darkness, remains in the shadows.
Abu Simbel Travel Guide. The grand temple faces east, so during the spring and summer solstices, the sunlight at dawns aligns with the temple entrance illuminating 3 of the 4 statutes inside. Miraculously the statue of Ptah, the god of darkness, remains in the shadows.

 

Quick Links to the Abu Simbel Travel Guide

Abu Simbel Travel Guide. Abu Simbel sits closer to Sudan than Aswan, lying only 40KM (25 miles) to the north.
Abu Simbel Travel Guide. Abu Simbel sits closer to Sudan than Aswan, lying only 40KM (25 miles) to the north.

 

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.

Abu Simbel Travel Guide. The Temple of Hathor at Abu Simbel was constructed by Ramesses II to commemorate both his wife Nefertari as the deified queen and Hathor, the goddess of music and love.
Abu Simbel Travel Guide. The Temple of Hathor at Abu Simbel was constructed by Ramesses II to commemorate both his wife Nefertari as the deified queen and Hathor, the goddess of music and love.

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!

Abu Simbel Travel Guide. Relief inside the Temple of Hathor and Nefertari.
Abu Simbel Travel Guide. Relief inside the Temple of Hathor and Nefertari.

How to Get to Abu Simbel

By Air

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.

By Bus

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.

By Car

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.

By Boat

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.

Abu Simbel Travel Guide. This relief shows a victorious King Ramses II killing an enemy.
Abu Simbel Travel Guide. This relief shows a victorious King Ramses II killing an enemy.

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.


 DID YOU FIND THIS GUIDE HELFUL?  IF SO, READ MORE ABOUT EGYPT

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Hot Air Balloon in Luxor, Egypt: Soaring Above the Valley of the Kings

Marveling at the Neck Bending Beauty of Hathor Temple in Qena, Egypt

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