When it comes to exploring the temples of ancient Egypt, Abu Simbel is one of them that you don’t want to miss! It’s one of the most impressive archeological sites in Egypt and also one of the most well maintained ones. And while most people visit Egypt to take a glance at the always impressive pyramids and to relax by the Red Sea. It’s truly worth it to follow the Nile more downwards cause in my personal opinion that’s where the true beauty of Egypt lies.
Abu Simbel is an ancient temple complex, originally cut into a solid rock cliff, located in the Aswan governorate in Southern Egypt. Crazy to think no? How once these two temples were simply just one big rock? Apparently it took over 20 years to create the entire complex and once you’re standing in front of it you’ll quickly realize why.
The amount of detail that the Egyptians used to put into their architecture is mesmerizing and the complex of Abu Simbel is no exception!
The best way to visit Abu Simbel is by taking a day trip from the city of Aswan and in this guide I will tell you everything you need to know!
Plan The Perfect Day Trip From Aswan to Abu Simbel
There are some places on this planet that are hard to believe are from this world or even made by men. The temples of Abu Simbel are living proof of the marvelous glory and pride of the ancient Egyptians. They are located in Southern Egypt, at the second cataract of the Nile, close to the Sudanese border.
History of Abu Simbel
The temple of Abu Simbel was constructed over 3000 years ago, in 1244 B.C by one of the most celebrated kings in Egypt: Ramses II. He constructed both temples of which the largest one is dedicated to him and the smaller one on the right is dedicated to his first wife queen Nefertari.
But to say he suffered a little from grandeur is an understatement cause in front of the main temple that he had built to honor the sun gods Amon-Re, Re-Horakhte and Ptah, he also build 4 enormous statues of himself.
These gorgeous temples are a lasting historical monument for the king and his queen to commemorate his victory at the Battle of Kadesh.
The temples of Abu Simbel were unknown to the outside world and completely covered in sand until their rediscovery in 1813 by the Swiss researcher Johann Ludwig Burckhardt. They were first explored in 1817 by the early Egyptologist Giovanni Battista Belzoni.
Interesting facts about Abu Simbel
- Both temples were completely relocated when they were building the Aswan High Dam. Both temples were cut into different pieces and were moved higher up to avoid the rising water of Lake Nasser. This proces took over 5 years and the compliance of more than 50 countries.
- The Abu Simbel Temple does not include a temple to any of the other wives of King Ramses II, only Queen Nefertari. She was his first and principal wife, and he cherished her above all other.
- One of the most important Egyptian phenomena is the Solar alignment over the grand temple, which happens twice a year, on the 22nd of February and on the 22nd from October. Both dates reflect the date of Ramses II birth and his coronation.
- It is the second-largest touristic attraction that was built by a human in ancient Egypt after the Pyramids.
- Ramses II had 8 wives in total and as far as sources go over 200 children.
How to reach Abu Simbel from Aswan
Abu Simbel is located 300km from Aswan and only 20km north of the border with Sudan. There are two ways to reach Abu Simbel from Aswan. The fastest way is to travel by air with one of the direct flights between Aswan Abu Simbel. Flight time is around 45 minutes and they are planned in such a way that you have about 1,5 hour to explore the two temples of Abu Simbel.
Egypt Air is the only airline that offers this service and at the airport there are direct shuttle busses available to take you from the airport straight to the temple complex. The bus will wait for you at the entrance and like I said before you’ll have about 1,5 hour to visit the two temples which is more than enough.
It’s best to check from before on Egypt Air cause these direct flights aren’t offered everyday. The average price of a return ticket is around €250.
Another option is to travel to Abu Simbel by car, either with a private driver or as part of a tour. The temple complex is around 3 hours driving from Aswan and most tours take a total time of 8 hours, all transportation included.
Before it was necessary to drive in a police convoy but that’s no longer the case. There are a couple of police checkpoints but that’s about it.
Most hotels offer several tour options and I especially love the ones where you’ll be transported to the temple site straight from your hotel in a private car. Once you reach the temples you’ll be able to skip the line for the tickets and get a tour with a professional guide!
Where to stay near Abu Simbel
- Budget option – The Pyramisa Isis Island Hotel is located on a separate island. Just make sure that when you confirm your booking the price is not listed as “for Egyptians only”.
- Luxury option – Sofitel Legend Old Cataract. It’s one of the most famous hotels in Egypt together with the Winter Palace in Luxor.
Another option is to simply spend the night in Abu Simbel. The upside to this option is that the evening tends to be a more quiet time at the temple complex. Most tours and private cars arrive at opening time which means pretty much everyone visits the temple at the same time. By booking an overnight in Abu Simbel you’re not bound to any hours.
- Seti Abu Simbel Lake Resort – Located at the foot of the Grand Temple of Ramses II, Abu Simbel Hotel offers views of Lake Nasser. It offers a landscaped pool area, luscious gardens and Nubian-style accommodation.
What to expect when visiting Abu Simbel
With this part I can only speak from personal experience and I’ll tell you exactly how our trip went! When we were visiting Aswan we didn’t just wanted to book the first tour we came across. We were traveling on a budget so we asked around a bit and there is a serious difference when it comes to pricing. In the end we went with a small bus tour that included about 10 other people.
If I had to do it over again I would definitely opt for a private transfer or even spend one night in Abu Simbel to avoid the big crowds in the morning. They told us that pick up would be at 2am so there we were, in the middle of the night, standing on a street corner in Aswan. The bus was more than 30 minutes late but in the end we got in and started driving towards Abu Simbel.
The drive took about 3 hours and we arrived around 5.30AM, together with all of the other visitors. That for me was the biggest downside. I don’t mind getting up early cause usually it means you’ll get a popular monument pretty much all to yourself. Well that really wasn’t the case here. I’ve heard that Abu Simbel is dead quiet in the evening so if you want this too I advise you to spend 1 night in Abu Simbel so you can visit the temple complex in the evening.
The official opening hours for Abu Simbel are from 5am until 6pm.
The current entrance fees are as followed:
- 260 EGP per person
- 130 EGP per student
- 300 EGP per camera ticket
- 20 EGP for a tripod
💡 TIP – When visiting the Abu Simbel temple complex you’re allowed to take as many photos as you want outside with both your smartphone and camera. However if you want to take photos with your camera inside you have to buy the camera ticket. This is honestly not worth it in my opinion. The light inside is very dim and you’ll definitely need a tripod if you want your photos to turn out even remotely sharp.
If you do buy the photo ticket, remember to keep it handy for later on when the guards ask to see it, because they will definitely ask if they see you taking photos inside.
Like I said earlier when we arrived there were already a lot of other people, especially in front of the great temple of Ramses II. If that’s the case simply visit the temple of Nefertari first. That way we were able to have it all to ourselves!
You can visit both temples also inside which is something you should definitely do! After your visit you’ll go out of the complex and walk passed a lot of small tourist shops.
In total we had about 1,5 hour to explore both temples and this was more than enough, even with all of the photos we took.
Visiting Abu Simbel by Night
Another advantage of spending a night in Abu Simbel is that you’ll be able to see the sound and light show at the temple complex.
Every famous place in Egypt has a night show like this where they light up the monuments with a projector and tell stories about their history.
The show at Abu Simbel starts at 7pm and lasts about 45 minutes. The price for the Abu Simbel Sound & Light Show is 150 EGP, that is if 7 or more tickets are sold for that evening. If that isn’t the case you’ll have to make up the difference or there’s no show.
If there’s one night show that’s definitely worth the visit it’s this one. During the day these statues are already mesmerizing but their grandeur comes even more to life during this spectacle.
📚 Other Egypt Articles
- An Awesome Travel Guide to The Temple of Isis in Egypt
- 7 Most Stunning Temples of Ancient Egypt You Have To See
- How to Visit the Western Desert in Egypt
- 10 Magical Places to Discover the Beauty of Egypt
- Two Weeks in Egypt – The Ultimate 14 Day Egypt Itinerary
Charlotte Lint is the founder of Charlies Wanderings.
Charlotte has traveled all over the world and is based in Belgium where she also owns her very own dental practice.
She is an expert on writing efficient travel guides and finding unique places to stay.
Every month she helps over 134.000 people discover the most beautiful places in the world through her detailed travel guides.