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.
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. If you do this, make sure that it is a licensed and official agency. A couple years ago 2 British tourists died in a car accident when the driver they hired from the street attempted to sneak into the previously required convoy, only to be spotted and embark on a high speed chase. The convoy system from Aswan to Abu Simbel was abolished in October 2016.
Expect to pay 500-600 EGP for a private car for this tour (not including tip for the drivers). Now that convoys are no longer required, this is somewhat a high price to pay. Aswan Individual  is one of the options to hire for a day-trip from Aswan, however you should shop around for better prices or deals. Once in Aswan, it is possible to find a slightly cheaper price from an official agency, but they are fully worth saving the hassle in advance.
By chartered bus
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. Contact info is:
Amr Fawzy Email: [email protected] Mobile: (+2) 012 841 33330 Tel: (+2) 097 244 60 24 Office: 99 Kornich El Nile St, Aswan, Egypt (underneath Philae Hotel)
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
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
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.
Few people actually stay in Abu Simbel as most opt for the day-trip from Aswan (departing at either 4am or 11am). If taking the 4am convoy, 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 absolutely worth the trek - after seeing the magnanimous temples here, the pyramids will even seem less majestic to you.
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 because of the Nile crocodiles.