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 as only those whose cars are cleared in advance by the police are permitted to join the convoy. Last year 2 British tourists died in a car accident when the driver they hired from the street attempted to sneak into the convoy, only to be spotted and embark on a high speed chase.
Expect to pay 500-600 EGP for a private car for this tour (not including tip for the drivers). This may seem high, but is a reasonable price considering the fee that the agency must pay for the convoy. Aswan Individual  is the best company to hire for a day-trip from Aswan. Others on the internet charge twice the price they do for exactly the same service. On the ground 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.
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 one public bus from Aswan bus station at 08:00am cost 20 LE 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 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.
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.
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.
- 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. 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. Note: As of March 2014, there is a bill swapping scam at the ticket office. Check carefully what bill(s) you give to the person behind the glass. Adult: 115LE; Student: 63.50LE (Mar 2014). edit
- Temple of Hathor. The main temple in one of the best preserved temple complexes in Egypt edit
- Sound & Light Show. each night at 7pm and 8pm in winter and 8pm and 9pm in summer. Headphones are provided to allow visitors to hear the commentary in various languages. 60LE. edit
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.
- 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
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.
- Seti Abu Simbel, . 5-star hotel. Chalet-style rooms overlooking Lake Nasser. Overpriced. Meals available. Single: US$130, Double: US$180. edit
- Eskaleh Nubian Ecolodge, . 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, do not under any circumstances accept the hotel's offer of a swim in the lake. 60-70 EU. edit
- Nefartari Hotel. Very basic edit
- Nobaleh Ramsis Hotel. edit
- Abu Simbel Tourist Village / Hotel Abbas. about 100LE. edit
Do not swim in Lake Nasser at all even if told it will be safe because of the Nile crocodiles habitat.