Abu Simbel in Upper Egypt was saved from the rising waters of Lake Nasser, growing behind the Aswan Dam, in a massive archaeological rescue plan sponsored by UNESCO in the 1960s. The complex of temples dedicated to the Pharaoh Ramsis II "the Great" remain an evocative and unforgettable destination.
For more tourist information about Abu Simbel and other attractions in Egypt, see:
Abu Simbel is a village lying 280 km south of Aswan and only 40 km north of the Sudanese border. It is a very small settlement with very little to attract visitors other than its great temples for which it is famous. Few tourists linger for more than a few hours, although there are 5 hotels to attract visitors to stay the night.
The temples at Abu Simbel were formerly located further down the hillside, facing the Nile in the same relative positions, but due to the rising waters of Lake Nasser, the original locations are underwater. In the 1960's, each temple was carefully sawed into numbered stone cubes, moved uphill, and reassembled before the water rose.
The Great Temple of Ramses II was reassembled fronting a fake mountain, built like a domed basketball court, where the stone cubes occupy a section under the dome; from outside, the fake mountain looks like solid rock.
Archaeologists have concluded that the immense sizes of the statues in the Great Temple were intended to scare potential enemies approaching Egypt's southern region, as they travelled down the Nile from out of Africa.
Abu Simbel is currently inaccessible to foreigners travelling by their own car, on account of police security concerns. Travellers are only able to access Abu Simbel by bus from Aswan. Or they can rent a car with driver via a local agency, which is the most comfortable way.
Foreign travellers can get to Abu Simbel by coach or minibus from Aswan, travelling in police convoys. There is at least one daily convoy each way, taking 3 hours. Seats on the minibuses traveling in the convoy can be arranged at your hotel or through the Aswan tourist office. The cost for a return trip is 100LE. This does not include entrance fees, but may include travel to additional sights in Aswan such as the High Dam or unfinished obelisks. Make sure your minibus has air-conditioning.
Tip: Sit on the left hand side of the bus. You will see the sunrise in the morning (if awake) and be in the shade on the way back.
There are also two public buses from Aswan (3 hours each way) - one that leaves at 4am and the second at 11am. All convoy buses need to leave for their return journey to Aswan by 4pm latest. Make sure you make the most of your little time in the temples.
It is possible to travel by cruise ship from Aswan through Lake Nasser to Abu Simbel.
The town of Abu Simbel is small enough to navigate on foot.
Read more about the temples before arriving: time at Abu Simbel will likely be limited, with little time to read about the stone carvings inside the temples. Beyond the temples themselves, the detailed description of sawing and moving the stone cubes is also an interesting story to read.
As with the pyramids at Giza, reading about them, before arriving, in no way diminishes the impact of seeing them firsthand. The reconstructed temples at Abu Simbel appear entirely real, not like a simulated building at some theme parks; however, do go inside the dome of the Great Temple to appreciate that it is a fake mountain.
Visitors might need to bring their own snacks and beverages, due to the length of the journey and the limited time at Abu Simbel. There are many cafes along the main road. Prices are high due to the number of tourists.
Many people do Abu Simbel as a day trip and fall asleep on the ride to/from Abu Simbel due to its early time. The only reason to stay overnight is to see the Sound & Light show.
Do not swim in Lake Nasser at all even if told it will be safe.