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Abu Simbel is one of the best places to visit in Egypt and yet it’s a bit of a pain to get to. Located in the far south of Egypt near Sudan, it’s a 3-hour drive from Aswan or you have to take a rather expensive flight.
When doing my research before my trip to Egypt I questioned whether I really needed to visit Abu Simbel – could I just skip it? Would it be enough to visit just Cairo and Luxor? I only had one week to play with and it didn’t feel like enough time to cram in Abu Simbel as well.
The overwhelming majority of people on Reddit and TripAdvisor forums seemed to think that, yes, it is an absolute must-visit. Many of them said that Abu Simbel was the best temple they visited in Egypt.
I figured this may be the only trip I ever take to Egypt so I decided I had to somehow fit it in. To make your planning easier, I’ll go into more detail explaining all the options for getting to Abu Simbel.
But first, a little intro to this amazing place…
What is Abu Simbel?
Abu Simbel is a historic site that consists of two temples built by King Ramses II, which were carved out of a sandstone cliff on the west bank of the River Nile. They were first discovered in 1813 by the Swiss researcher Johann Ludwig Burckhardt.
In the 1960s the two temples were actually moved to higher ground since they were being damaged by the rising waters of the reservoir created by the Aswan High Dam.
A complex project was initiated by UNESCO and the Egyptian government to cut away the top of the cliff and completely move the temples, reconstructing them about 200 feet (60 meters) above the previous site.
The main temple features four 66-foot seated figures of Ramses II, with two on either side of the entrance. Between his legs are some of his most beloved children. Ramses II was actually quite the lothario and had over 100 children by many different wives! He was around 90 years old when he died and during his lifetime he had around 200 wives and concubines.
To the right of the main temple you’ll discover the smaller one, which is dedicated to Nefertari for the worship of the goddess Hathor. The facade of the temple features 35-foot (10.5-metre) statues of Ramses II and Nefertari, who was his favorite wife.
Where is Abu Simbel?
Abu Simbel is located in the south of Egypt and sits right by Lake Nasser, which is one of the largest artificial lakes in the world. The site is about 289km drive south of Aswan and 20km north of the Sudan border.
Interesting Facts About Abu Simbel
- Abu Simbel was built to celebrate King Ramses II victory against the Hittites during the Kadish Battle in 1274 BC.
- The largest temple (Great Temple) is dedicated to Ramses II and the sun gods Amon-Re, Ptah and Re-Horakhte. The second one (Temple of Hathor) is dedicated to his favorite wife, Nefertari, and the goddess Hathor.
- The temples took two decades to complete and were finished in 1244 BC.
- The original temple site was located on the banks of the River Nile. When the High Dam was constructed, the water on the banks rose and posed a threat to the temples.
- In 1964 the temples were cut into pieces and moved to a position further away from the water on higher ground.
How to Get to Abu Simbel
There are four main ways you can get to Abu Simbel:
- Shared tour from Aswan to Abu Simbel
- Private car from Aswan to Abu Simbel
- Round trip flight from Aswan
- Flight from Cairo to Aswan via Abu Simbel
Shared Tour from Aswan
The cheapest way to get to Abu Simbel is by taking a shared tour from Aswan. Check out the following options from GetYourGuide and Viator:
Shared tours depart super early in the morning around 4am or 5am and the drive takes between 2.5 and 3 hours. In total you can expect the tour to take between 9 and 10 hours, so you’ll be back at your hotel in Aswan 2pm or 3pm in the afternoon.
You’ll be picked up from your hotel in Aswan in a shared bus, accompanied by an Egyptologist guide. Remember to bring some cash to tip the guide and the driver.
Shared tours used to travel in a police convoy but this isn’t necessary anymore as things are generally much safer. You will, however, pass through police checkpoints.
Since the shared tours arrive at the same time, you’ll find that Abu Simbel is swarming with tourists if you go for this option. It can be difficult to snap photos and you’ll have a wait to get inside the temples.
Private Car from Aswan
This is the option I ended up going for. It was cheaper than flying (the tour came to about $100 after I used a coupon code) and it also meant that I could depart later than the shared tours. I flew from Cairo to Aswan on an early flight, then checked into my hotel, dropped my bags and departed for Abu Simbel.
I would highly recommend this option because you can depart around 8am or 9am and arrive when everyone else has left Abu Simbel. I had the temples pretty much all to myself!
I thought that the shared tours departed super early because of the heat or sunlight, but it turns out that they depart at 4am because of the cruises. Many people visit Abu Simbel then head straight to their cruise ship afterwards.
My guide told me that if you go on a shared tour, Abu Simbel is absolutely swarming with people and it’s impossible to get photos without people in them. So if you’re looking for the perfect Instagram shot, definitely book a private tour.
This is the tour I booked with Emo Tours:
I booked a guide and a driver because I was traveling solo and wanted someone to take my photos at the temples. However, if you’re traveling in a group or with another person then you could just hire a driver to take you down there and read about the history of Abu Simbel online. I also selected the option to have the entrance fees included, so I didn’t have to deal with paying for them when I got there.
You could also book any of these tours:
After I booked on Viator, Emo Tours communicated with me through Whatsapp and my guide and driver were waiting outside my hotel at precisely 9am.
I was worried the 3-hour journey time would seem really long but in fact, it went by really quickly. I had a great female guide so we spent some time chatting and then the rest of the time I was sleeping. She asked me if I was OK with any speed, so the driver drove quite fast. It’s a paved road and not very bumpy – just lots of desert when you look out the window.
On the way back I slept the whole way home. It was such a nice day and so peaceful having a private tour!
Round trip flight from Aswan
You can fly to Abu Simbel from Aswan on Egyptair. Flight prices will vary according to the time of year but expect to pay around $70 each way ($140 USD round-trip). Be aware that flights don’t depart every day and sometimes they can be cancelled.
If you choose this option, you can book a hotel in Aswan, leave all your belongings in your room and just plan a half-day trip to Abu Simbel by air.
Check on the Egyptair website for flight times, but typically they depart Aswan in the morning and depart Abu Simbel in the early afternoon. The journey time is 45 minutes and you’ll have about 3 hours between flights to visit the temples.
When you arrive in Abu simbel, you’ll be greeted by a coach run by Egyptair that says “Happy Year Transport” on the side. The bus journey takes 5 minutes and is completely free, although you should tip the driver. The coach will take you to the temple complex (and back again).
If you choose to go with the flying option then you’ll be visiting Abu Simbel without a guide. If you’re traveling solo this means you won’t have anyone to take pictures. Apparently there are taxis and guides that wait outside the airport in Abu Simbel, so you could possibly hire a guide when you get there to take your photos. Just make sure you negotiate a suitable price before hand. Or alternatively you could just ask a fellow tourist to take your photo, or bring a tripod.
Flight from Cairo to Abu Simbel (stopping in Aswan)
If you’re short on time, the quickest and easiest way to get to Abu Simbel is by booking a multi-stop ticket on Egyptair.
Egyptair basically operates a route that goes like this:
Cairo – Aswan – Abu Simbel – Aswan – Cairo.
The entire route is operated using one aircraft. The plane flies from Cairo to Aswan first, where it makes a short ‘technical stop’. Some people disembark the plane in Aswan and head to their hotel if they are just flying Cairo-Aswan. The plane then continues onwards to Abu Simbel. It does the same thing on the way back, stopping in Aswan and then continuing to Cairo.
So, you could fly round trip from Cairo to Abu Simbel in a day, or you could book a multi-stop trip. Just click the “Multi Destination” link and you’ll be able to book a ticket from Cairo to Abu Simbel, then Abu Simbel to Aswan.
Cairo – Abu Simbel: Journey time is 2 hours 35 minutes including the technical stop in Aswan.
Abu Simbel – Aswan: Journey time is 45 minutes.
This route will allow you to explore Abu Simbel in the early morning, then arrive in Aswan in the afternoon. After that you’ll be able to check into your hotel in Aswan, then explore the Nubian village and Philae Temple the next day. I highly recommend exploring Aswan, so don’t skip it!
With this option there is the issue of bags. If you’re flying with checked luggage your bags will be checked through to your end destination, so that’s not an issue. If you’re flying Cairo – Abu Simbel – Aswan, your bags will be waiting for you at baggage claim when you get to Aswan.
However, if you have carry-on luggage, you’ll have to check it or bring it with you to the temples as you can’t leave it on the plane. This is one of the reasons I chose not to book the multi-stop option, despite it being much quicker. I had a backpack with laptop in it, which I didn’t fancy carrying around at the temples.
I could’ve managed it, but it’s annoying having to carry these things around when you’re trying to take photos.
Your FAQs About Abu Simbel, Answered
Yes, Abu Simbel is absolutely worth visiting. The location beside Lake Nasser is scenic and the temples themselves are huge. I found them to be much more impressive than the Pyramids in Cairo.
At the time of writing, the entrance fee to Abu Simbel costs 240 EGP. If you book a tour online you’ll have the option to include the entrance fees so your guide will take care of it for you. Or you can bring cash to pay for your ticket.
I really liked having a guide just because I was traveling solo so I had someone to talk to in the car and explain some things to me. Plus, she was able to take my photos at the temples. However, you could easily read all the information about Abu Simbel online before you go and then just visit with a private driver or by flight.
Yes, you can go inside the Abu Simbel temples! I was also able to take photos and video with my camera.
A Final Word…
Abu Simbel is breathtaking so I’d definitely make sure you add it to your Egypt itinerary. The mode of transport you choose will depend largely on your budget and time constraints but whichever you decide upon, I’m sure you’ll find it worth visiting.