Abu Simbel (also spelled: ...Sinbil, ...Sembel; Arabic: ابو سمبل) 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.
The temples at Abu Simbel used to be 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 1960s, 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.
Summers are extremely hot at days, while winters are warm at days and mild at nights. Rainfall is almost non-existent. The best time to visit is from November till February.
In Abu Simbel, it feels at least 10°C (or 20°F) colder than in Aswan due to lake Nasser and the wind coming from it. Thus, bring some warm cloths and scarf, and especially in winter wear something that can deal with around 5–10 °C and strong wind.
By busForeign travellers can get to Abu Simbel by coach or minibus (tour) from Aswan, travelling in convoys. There is at least one daily convoy each way, taking 3 hours. Seats can be arranged at your hotel or through the Aswan tourist office. The cost for a return trip is LE150-350, depending on the season and your negotiation skills. It seems there are not many companies offering this tour, so the only price difference will be due to varying hotel commission. Nevertheless, inquire at several hotels, like Kaylany, Marhaba and Tiba (LE185 as of Nov 2018). The trip price does not include entrance fees, but may include travel to additional sights in Aswan such as the High Dam or unfinished obelisk, but only if agreed before. Also make sure you have at least two hours (by agreement with the booking office) in Abu Simbel and refer to this tour agreement in case the driver is not willing to stick to this. They will not leave without you, promised! (Also because of security concerns and rules.) Be prepared to be asked for a tip by the driver at the end, even though he just cashed LE200 for this simple bus ride and the driver's behaviour was not really accommodating nor did he deliver any additional service like a stop at the high dam.
Sit on the left hand side of the bus, and you will see the sunrise in the morning (if awake) and be in the shade on the way back.
There are also two public buses from Aswan (3 hours each way). One leaves at 4AM and the second one at 11AM. All convoy buses need to leave for their return journey to Aswan by 4PM latest.
By carAbu Simbel is generally not accessible to foreigners travelling by their own car, because 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.
However, you might get around these concerns and travel with you own car or taxi by telling the police you are working in Egypt—mostly they will not be able to identify that from your passport due to the lack of knowledge of the Roman letters. You would however prefer to travel with the car convoy all tourist mini-buses go with, starting at around 5AM from —just take the road towards Abu Simbel and after having left Aswan you will encounter the checkpoint with waiting mini-buses and a more throughout police questioning.
By boatIt 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.
Great Temple of Ramses IICarved out of a mountain between 1274 BC and 1244 BC, but lost to the world until it was rediscovered in 1813 by Swiss explorer Jean Louis Burkhart. Dedicated to Ramses II and gods Ra, Amun, and Ptah. Features 4 statues of Ramses, each higher than 20 m. Its axis was positioned by the ancient Egyptian architects in such a way that twice a year, on February and October 22, 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 Ramses 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 used to. Also, look for a "Kilroy was here" on the lower legs of one of the 4 giant statues of Ramesses II, along with other graffiti, used to be considered fashionable. Guards do check for photo permits, especially in the main temple. Be sure to follow the pathway inside the fake mountain dome, to see how the mountain was constructed.
Nefertari's Temple of HathorThis is the smaller temple to the right.
Sound & Light ShowHeadphones are provided to allow visitors to hear the commentary in various languages.
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.
Early morning boat tours of Lake Nasser or to see the sunrise on the monuments can be arranged through Eskaleh Nubian Lodge.
Toyaphone: +20 97 12 357 7539address: Tariq al MabadNice cafe with lovely garden. Stop for a sheesha if you have time.
Many people do Abu Simbel as a day trip and fall asleep on the ride to/from Abu Simbel due to its early time. A reason to stay overnight is to see the Sound & Light show or see the temples away from the crowds. Expect to pay more in Abu Simbel due to its isolated location than equivalent hotels in Cairo.
Seti Abu Simbel5-star hotel a 20-min walk from the temples along a busy road. Chalet-style rooms overlooking Lake Nasser. Meals available.
phone: +20 97 3401288Traditional mud-brick building with standard and superior rooms. Food available until 9PM.
Nefartari HotelLess than a 10-min walk from the temple site. A resort spread around lovely gardens with a pool overlooking Lake Nasser. The rooms are clean, but very dated. Very ordinary complete dinner for LE150.
Nobaleh Ramsis Hotel
Abu Simbel Tourist Village/Hotel Abbas