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Abu Simbel

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Abu Simbel: 2 of 4 immense statues of Ramesses II (looking up from the entrance) at the Great Temple.
Abu Simbel looks across Lake Nasser (bottom center).

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.

Understand[edit]

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 traveled down the Nile from out of Africa.

Don't feel deflated upon seeing the temples after taking all the pain to reach there, these are much smaller than Luxor or Karnak temples in scale and crude in finish. The unique feature may be the engravings related to battle of Kadash between Rameses II and Hitites which led to the first known peace treaty in the world. You have to read more to identify the scenes of this battle from the temple walls.

Get in[edit]

By plane[edit]

EgyptAir [4] offers frequent flights to Abu Simbel from Aswan (up to four flights daily). Since 2015 you can't take the plane from Luxor to Abu Simbel.

By car[edit]

Abu Simbel is now accessible to foreigners travelling by their own car or with a rental car (November 2018), but police permission will be required and depending on the mood of the officer, you will either be able to go on your own, or you will go with a relay escort (in our experience Nov 2018, this was 9 changes of escort vehicles during the 250 km route on the way TO Abu Simbel, and no escort at all on the way back the following day). Police permission can be obtained when leaving Aswan at the checkpoint next to the airport going towards the desert, and it is free but takes around half an hour to get organized. Tourists are only permitted to drive on the Abu Simbel road during daylight hours, so make sure to arrive no later than 1 pm if you are self-driving, else you will probably not be let through the checkpoint. More commonly, tourists can rent a car with a driver from a local Aswan agency to take them to Abu Simbel and back. The convoy system for tour groups and Egyptians in their private cars was abolished in October 2016, so it is now possible to leave Aswan for Abu Simbel at any time of day if going with a tour group (but it is strongly recommended to travel during daylight hours). The trip takes 3 to 4 hours, depending on the speed of the driver.

Expect to pay at least 1000-1200 EGP (USD $60, Nov 2018) for a private car for this tour round-trip if done in one day. If you wish to arrange it in advance with a company like Aswan Individual [5], you can expect to pay a bit more (1500-2000 EGP). If you are looking for a better price, it is possible to shop around for a cheaper price from an official agency once on the spot in Aswan.

By chartered bus[edit]

Foreign travellers can get to Abu Simbel by coach or minibus from Aswan. Seats on the minibuses can be arranged at your hotel or through the Aswan tourist office. The cost for a return trip is at least 200LE. 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: All the hotels will charge at least 200 EGP for a trip to Abu Simbel and they’re all the same. They source them from the same pick up company, so if you contact that company directly, you can book directly with them and save yourself at least 40 EGP, as booking with them directly is 160 EGP.

  • Amr Fawzy (Now shifted further away, look for the AMR tours after the Orange shop), (99 Kornish Al Nile St, Aswan, Egypt (formerly underneath Philae Hotel)), (+2) 012 841 33330; (+2) 097 244 60 24 (), [1]. This office closes by 4 PM. 160 EGP.  edit

N.B. If you aren't careful and you get there later, some Aswan native will certainly tell you that they work at this office and they can call "the boss", who will arrange a tour for you. Of course, it probably won't be the same person, but you'll still be able to book a tour.

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.

By public bus[edit]

There is also one public bus from Aswan bus station at 08:00am, costs 50 LE (one way) it will arrive around 11:30am but you'll find it going back 01:00pm so you can stay as much as you can and get back to the downtown at 4 clock and take shared taxi to Aswan with the same price.

You can walk to the temple from the bus stop but if the sun hot take taxi to the temple cost 5LE maximum 10LE. Taxi saves you the 17 min walk there. Recommended to take a taxi to the temple from the bus stop and then walk back or take a taxi back (to save time).

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. Shared taxis leave when full, so it might be 6 or 7 pm. One way 40 LE (Jan 2015)

The convoy from Aswan to Abu Simbel was abolished in October 2016

By boat[edit]

It is possible to travel by cruise ship from Aswan through Lake Nasser to Abu Simbel.

Get around[edit]

The town of Abu Simbel is small enough to navigate on foot.

Few people actually stay in Abu Simbel as most opt for the day-trip from Aswan or travel by cruise ship and stay on the ship in Abu Simbel. If taking an early departure from Aswan for a daytrip, be sure to ask your hotel in advance for a breakfast box to go (assuming that breakfast is included with your hotel, they'll be happy to do this free of charge). Despite the pain of such an early journey, Abu Simbel is often a highlight for many on their trip through Upper Egypt.

See[edit][add listing]

  • Great Temple of Ramses II. 6:00am to 5:00pm. Carved out of a mountain between 1274BC and 1244BC, but lost to the world until it was rediscovered in 1813 by Swiss explorer Jean Louis Burkhart. Dedicated to Ramses II himself and gods Ra, Amun, and Ptah. Features 4 20m+ statues of Ramses. Its axis was positioned by the ancient Egyptian architects in such a way that twice a year, on February and October 20, the rays of the sun would penetrate the sanctuary and illuminate the sculpture on the back wall, except for the statue of Ptah, the god connected with the Underworld, who always remained in the dark. These dates are allegedly the king's birthday and coronation day respectively, but there is no evidence to support this, though it is quite logical to assume that these dates had some relation to a great event, such as the jubilee celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the pharaoh's rule. This image of the king was enhanced and revitalized by the energy of the solar star, and the deified Ramesses II could take his place next to Amun Ra and Ra-Horakhty. Due to the displacement of the temple, it is widely believed that this event now occurs one day later than it did originally. Also, look for a "Kilroy was here" on the lower legs of one of the 4 giant statues of Ramesses II, along with other grafitti, formerly considered fashionable. Be sure to follow the pathway inside the fake mountain dome, to see how the mountain was constructed. (As of November 2018, it doesn't seem like you can still go inside the dome?) If you are a student make sure to bring your student ID with a photo of yourself on it. They may refuse you student pricing if there is no photo ID. Adult: 215 EGP (US $12, Nov 2018).  edit
  • Temple of Hathor. The main temple in one of the best preserved temple complexes in Egypt  edit
  • Sound & Light Show. each night at 6pm in winter and 7pm in summer. Headphones are provided to allow visitors to hear the commentary in various languages. Take note as the speaker audio may be in a language such as Japanese. Do not expect it to be in English! Like the other Sound and Light shows in Egypt, it is rather kitschy but you will at least get a nice view of the temple area at sunset time. 250LE (US $14, Nov 2018).  edit

Do[edit][add listing]

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.

Buy[edit][add listing]

Eat[edit][add listing]

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.

  • Toya, Tariq al Mabad, 012 357 7539. Nice cafe with lovely garden. Stop for a sheesha if you have time. Breakfast: 8LE, Mains: 15LE.  edit
  • Wadi el-Nil, (Along the main road).  edit
  • Nubian Oasis, (Along the main road).  edit


Drink[edit][add listing]

Sleep[edit][add listing]

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 or to break up one very long travel day into two kind-of-long travel days. Note that getting up at 5am to get to the temple right when the gate opens will not ensure a private visit as the cruise ship passengers will also arrive at 5am. If you want a private time in the Abu Simbel temples, the best time is around 7-8am: after the cruise ship visitors have left, and before the day trip visitors from Aswan arrive. However, sunrise is lovely; just don't expect to beat the crowds by waking up early.

  • Seti Abu Simbel, [2]. 5-star hotel. Chalet-style rooms overlooking Lake Nasser. Overpriced. Meals available. Single: US$130, Double: US$180.  edit
  • Eskaleh Nubian Ecolodge, [3]. Great place to stay though a good walk from the temples. If you go on a boat trip to see the temples from Lake Nasser, don't take up the offer of a swim in the lake. 60-70 EU.  edit
  • Nefartari Hotel, (right). large resort styled hotel with good facilities and friendly staff. Styled from the 70's it has a faded retro feel, but clean and comfortable, suites have 2 air conditioners and open to the pool, with views over the lake  edit
  • Nobaleh Ramsis Hotel. 150 LE, but can be significantly reduced by negotiating (Mar 2015).  edit
  • Abu Simbel Tourist Village / Hotel Abbas. about 100LE.  edit

Stay Safe[edit]

Do not swim in Lake Nasser because of the Nile crocodiles.

Get out[edit]


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