How to visit Abu Simbel?

In the recent years, the Temple of Abu Simbel has become extremely popular! But did you know that, today, this monument is not where it was originally built?


The temple of Ramesses II, carved into the rock at Abu Simbel




The land of Upper Egypt (identified as the higher ground from where the river Nile flowed) was home to some of the greatest rulers, who made Thebes (modern day Luxor) their base and ruled farther down South, into Nubia (today's Sudan). Over the course of the millennium, many temples came up, and one of the grandest ones, built eventually in 13th century BC was this - the Temple of Ramesses II.


Ramesses II had a second temple built for his beloved wife Nefertari, right beside his own. Both temples were built as victory monuments, overlooking the Nile river. The temples were built in such a way that on two specific days in the year (October 22 and February 22) the sun shined right through into the Sanctum, illuminating the sculptures in the back. This happens even today!



The Sacred Hall inside the Temple of Ramesses II



In the 1960s, after the Aswan High Dam was built nearly 200 kms downstream leading to the formation of Lake Nasser, the Temples were threatened of being submerged in the backwaters. Between 1964 and 1968, the Egyptian government and UNESCO successfully moved the temples (block by block) from their original location, by 200m - at a cost of USD 40 million! 



The hieroglyphics and intricate engravings of the oldest civilization in the world!



How to visit Abu Simbel:

Abu Simbel is a little village in Nubia (the part of southern Egypt and northern Sudan was called Nubia in ancient times) - check out this map marker. Although the village is connected to other cities by the Airport, the number of flights are very few and very expensive! Also, hotels/BnBs are not very popular here, so it is best to avoid staying overnight. 


The best way to visit Abu Simbel is to make a day trip from Aswan, the nearest tourist city:

  • Aswan is about 280 kms to the north and has excellent connectivity with Cairo, Luxor, etc. by both flights and trains
  • Bus, minivan (shared) and taxi (private) tours are easily organisable from Aswan - either ask your hotel reception or any taxi driver on the street
  • Duration: 10.5 hours
    Aswan to Abu Simbel: ~4 hours, starting at 4 am
    Exploring the Temples: 2 hours
    Abu Simbel to Aswan with stop in the Sahara Desert: ~4.5 hours, generally reach before 2:30 pm
  • The shared tours costs about EGP 250 (~USD 15 or INR 1,000) per person.
    This includes the return trip to Abu Simbel with pick-up and drop-off near your hotel.
  • There is another option of sailing on a cruise ship on the Nile, from Aswan.


Bonus tip: Want to explore the place when it isn't crowded? Try and find other travellers (total of 4 passengers) to share a private taxi with you - this way you can ask your driver to be start before 4 am, be ahead of the convoy and reach earlier, before all other tourist vehicles arrive.


The Temple of Ramesses overlooking the Nile



Important: All tours to Abu Simbel are conducted together, in the form of a convoy (up to 300 vehicles can be heading to the temples, at once). Military protection is provided to the convoy, apparently - we did not notice it.

Although there is a general rule that tourists are not allowed to visit Abu Simbel on their own, there have been instances where tourists have been able to take the local bus and minivan service for less than EGP 50 (USD 3 or INR 200), one way. These buses and vans can be boarded on the main street of Aswan (enquire for the minivan station).



Want to beat the crowds? Get there early!



Tickets (Temples of Ramesses II and Nefertari):

  • The tickets are sold for cash, at the site and are rather expensive, particularly if you intend to buy a camera permit!
  • Our suggestion? Don't get the camera ticket unless you intend to take pictures of the insides of both temples - which also happen to be incredibly crowded 
    Permits are NOT required to photograph the outside structures of the temples!
    People who shoot without permits are fined severely - we saw it happening!





Other things to keep in mind:

  • Inside the temples complex, there are souvenir shops where you can buy some snacks; there are no restaurants or cafes there, where you can spend a lot of time
  • Alternatively, ask your hotel to pack a breakfast-box for you to take with, in the wee hours of the morning!
  • If you opt for a shared bus/minivan tour, make sure you get back to your designated vehicle within the time stated by the tour conductor - often, Egyptian bus drivers tend to leave without checking if all passengers have boarded!
  • Enjoy watching the mirages on the way back, through the Sahara Desert.



Mirages in the Sahara - thought provokingly beautiful!



Any questions for us? We're happy to help you! 


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