Visiting the incredible Abu Simbel

Abu Simbel Temple is located in the Nubia region of Egypt. Overlooking the emerald waters of Lake Nasser, are the two ancient pharaonic rock temples of Abu Simbel : the Temple of Ramesses, beloved by Amun and the Temple of Hathor and Nefertari. The temples are a magnificent examples of ancient Egyptian art and draw the largest number of tourists annually, second only to the Pyramids of Giza.

Construction of the Abu Simbel Temples began around 1264 BC, during the reign of Pharaoh Ramesses II (or Ramesses the Great), and persisted for 20 years. Ramesses II commissioned the temples as a lasting monument to himself and his Queen Nefertari, following the alleged triumph at the Battle of Kadesh. It was finally completed in 1265 BC – during the 24th year of his prosperous reign.

The Temple of Ramesses extends an unbelievable 20 metres into the blazing North African skies and was constructed in honour of Ramesses II, as well as Egypt’s three state deities of the time: Amun, Ra-Horakhty and Ptah.

Temple of Hathor and Nefertari

Abu Simbel temple originally sat on the west bank of the Nile River, between the first and second cataracts of the Nile. The temple survived through ancient times, only to be threatened by modern progress. Because the site would soon be flooded by the rising Nile, it was decided that the temples should be moved. “Following the decision to build a new High Dam at Aswan in the early 1960s, the temples were dismantled and relocated in 1968 on the desert plateau 64 meters (about 200 feet) above and 180 meters (600 feet) west of their original site,” writes Robert Morkot in an article in the “Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt” (2001, Oxford University Press). The area where they were originally located is now flooded.

Moving the temples was a massive job, one that involved cutting it into pieces between 3 to 20 tons in weight and re-assembling them precisely as they were. It took almost five years, involved about 3,000 workers and cost (in the 1960s) about $42 million. Robert Morkot wrote in his book that it was a great success, one reporter present at its completion wrote that “everything looks just as it did before; it is enough to make one doubt that the temples were moved at all.”

Walking back to the car park. It is a lot of walking from Car park to the temple. Bring your hat or umbrella

How to get to Abu Simbel

  1. By road from Aswan.
    You can travel to Abu Simbel at any time between sunrise and sunset. By road, it will take you approximately three hours to get there and three hours back. Most people travel very early in the morning to avoid the heat. Abu Simbel is located close to the Sudan border and is one of the hottest area in Egypt
  2. By air from Aswan or Cairo with a stop over in Aswan
    Aswan airport is approximately 16 kms away from the city center in Aswan. There are 3-4 daily flights operated by EgyptAir Express and Air Cairo from Aswan to Abu Simbel . The ticket prices for these flights typically vary from 2000 EGP to 2500 EGP depending on the time of booking and seat availability. A domestic flight from Aswan gets you there in approximately 30 minutes and you can spend about 2 hours at the temples. There are few Hotels in Abu Simbel if you opt to stay overnight. Many people chose to go as a day trip as there is nothing much to do apart from the Temple.
  3. Nile Cruise from Aswan to Lake Nasser
    This is the most expensive way to reach Abu Simbel from Aswan, also the most expensive. Most of the cruise starts from Aswan on Monday and require four days to reach Abu Simbel. From Abu Simbel, they mostly return on Friday and take three days to return to Aswan. One way booking is also possible, and you can return either by air or road from Abu Simbel. The typical price range of the Nile cruises starts from 4000 EGP onwards per person depending on the class of luxury for one side journey. Please, be aware that in case of insufficient bookings, these cruises may get cancelled at the last moment

If you are not part of a packaged tour and you choose to go by road from Aswan, you can either (1) Go by private car which is most convenient or (2) Go wby the mini Bus arranged by budget/medium ranged Hotels (convenient if you are staying in one of those hotels. You can ask your Hotel if they arrange such services in advance. There is a public bus going from Aswan to Abu Simbel but but it is not reliable for a day trip as the Bus leaves Aswan 8am, reach Abu Simbel 1pm and then leave again to Aswan at 2pm.

We traveled to Abu Simbel using private car arranged by Aswan Individual. The car plus driver cost us $115/car which fits the three of us. The car is a sedan and very comfortable with air conditioning and seatbelt for a 6 hour journey. We left our Hotel at 4am sharp as we need to check in to our cruise in the afternoon. That gave us sufficient time (almost 3 hours) to spend in Abu Simbel. The hotel also gave us a breakfast box which we eat on our way to the temple (Make sure to ask the hotel to prepare breakfast box for your trip as the journey to Abu Simbel is a long drive and you don’t want to be hungry and sorry). We had 1 stop on the way for a toilet break and to buy hot coffee/tea. The road is to Abu Simbel is one road journey with desert on both right and left view, almost like destination nowhere.

Aswan Airport

There is no public bus service from the city center to the airport in Aswan. Moreover, the metered taxis don’t apply in Aswan. Instead of taking the risk with the non-metered Taxi, we had Aswan Individual arranged a pick up from airport to our Hotel.

About Aswan

Aswan is a city in the south of Egypt some 680 km south of Cairo, just below the Aswan Dam and Lake Nasser, with a population of 275,000. It is the smallest of the three major tourist cities on the Nile (Cairo and Luxor). Being the furthest south of the three, it has a large population of Nubian people, mostly resettled from their homeland in the area flooded by Lake Nasser. Aswan is the home of many granite quarries from which most of the obelisks seen in Luxor were sourced. Aswan was the ancient Egyptians’ gateway to Africa. We wished we had more time in Aswan so we can visit Philae Temple and Kalabsha temple. Other areas to visit is the unfinished Obelix, High Dam and Kitchener island (where you can sail using a felucca).

Where to stay in Aswan

Aswan has two luxurious hotel: the famous Old Cataract Hotel which was mentioned in Agatha Christie Death on the Nile book and Movenpick Hotel located in Elephantine island.
Other than above, Aswan has many budget to medium ranged hotels in East and West Bank. We stayed in CitiMax Hotel, located in downtown East Bank which I can highly recommend if you are only staying in Aswan for one night on your way to Abu Simbel or Nile Cruise.

If you’re staying in Aswan, walk to Makka Restaurant and have dinner there. Delicious local Egyptian food and attentive service from the waiter.

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