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.
EgyptAir offers daily flights to Abu Simbel from both Cairo (NB: early morning flight, about 5.30 am) and Aswan (up to four flights daily). http://www.egyptair.com.eg . Many smaller airlines also operate the Aswan to Abu Simbel route.
Abu Simbel is currently inaccessible to foreigners travelling by car, on account of police security concerns. Travellers are only able to access Abu Simbel by bus from Aswan.
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 70LE. 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.
There are also two public buses from Aswan (25 EP each way): one leaves at 8 am the other (not verified) leaves at 17.00. If you catch the morning bus, you can return by service taxi (30EP).
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.
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
Temple of Hathor
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.
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, 012 357 7539, Tariq al Mabad, Nice cafe with lovely garden. Stop for a sheesha if you have time.
Wadi el-Nil, Along the main road
Nubian Oasis, Along the main road
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.
The photos displayed on this page are the property of one of the following authors:
This travel guide also includes text from Wikitravel articles, all available at View full credits
Nick Roux, Todd VerBeek, optional, Andrew Haggard, Colin Jensen and David Le Brun, Texugo, Pjamescowie and Nzpcmad
This travel guide also includes text from Wikipedia articles, all available at View full credits