One experience I hear people rave about in Egypt is going to the temples at Abu Simbel. This is the incredible temple that Ramses II built from himself and his wife Nefertari. And if you don’t recognize the name, you might recognize the images.
The incredible thing about Abu Simbel is that it was going to be completely submerged by the High Dam, so UNESCO, something like 61 countries, and Egypt all worked together to move it where it wouldn’t be lost.
Seriously – they moved an entire GIANT temple block by block and bit by bit! I cannot even imagine how they did it. Apparently, they even essentially made the hill the temple is carved into so that it could be as close to the original as possible!
The temple complex is down almost to the border with Sudan, and is over a 200km drive from Aswan. Every day, there are two convoys that go and are protected with military presence as they drive. There are also a decent number of checkpoints along the way. It’s certainly an interesting ride! The Sahara Desert is just incredible to watch. I saw my first-ever mirage on the way back! It really does look like there is water in the desert when it gets hot enough.
To catch the convoy, you have to leave either at 4:30am or 10:30am – I picked 4:30am to avoid the heat of the day, but holy crap it was early! I slept in the car on the way there, but it was still quite a long day.
When we got there, my driver dropped me at the not-quite-official front entrance (it was next door – I think he wanted to stop for coffee with his friends), so finding the place to buy tickets was a bit challenging. But I made it! And then I walked to the temple.
When you come in, you actually walk along the back of where the temple is, so you come around the hill and then BAM! Giant statues. The whole complex sits on the shores of Lake Nasser and faces the lake, which makes it even more scenic and incredible.
When you go inside the temple, the tombs are some of the most impressive I’ve seen. The colors were almost as good as the ones in the Valley of the Kings, but these were much larger (at least the areas the public is allowed in are much larger). There were multiple rooms each flowing into each other, and each completely covered with hieroglyphics. As with the other tombs and insides, they (sadly) don’t let you take pictures.
Next to the main temple, there is the small temple. I honestly wasn’t even aware of the small temple until just before coming. But it’s a really cool place as well – it’s flanked by six statues that are smaller than the four of the main temple, but detailed. They seem to just fit really well within the landscape.
To go, I used a company called Egyptian Sidekick, and I was so excited to try them! After being hassled incessantly for tips for two weeks, one of their unique selling points is that you are encouraged NOT to tip. They believe (rightly so) the whole culture of tipping too much is pulling down wages in the tourism sector and discouraging visitors. They also say they’re a not-for-profit company and you get a “Sidekick” (I thought that was a guide) and a driver for the day.
For me, the “Sidekick” only met me at the ferry to deposit me in the car for the day (and then called to see how things were… but he called my driver, asked my driver to pass the phone to me, asked me if everything was ok, and I felt it was a bit awkward. If everything wasn’t ok, should I really have felt comfortable saying so in front of the driver while in the middle of nowhere Sahara?). And then, as I was getting out of the car at the end of the day, the driver demanded a tip. Sigh.
I held my ground in not tipping, but it made me sad that the driver clearly didn’t understand. He was definitely a subcontractor, and not a great one at that. So I don’t know that I’d recommend Egyptian Sidekick. It’s an awesome theory and idea, and I wanted so badly to be able to suggest them as the solution for so many bad tours in Egypt, but alas… my experience was not great. (Not terrible, so there is that!)
I’d heard that Abu Simbel is a bit of a hike and something you have to really work into your trip to Egypt, but I also heard it was worth it. I’d agree! It was an expensive excursion, and took pretty much the whole day. But it was incredible. I think the temples at Abu Simbel were the best I saw in all of Egypt (or at least my favorite!). The architecture and preservation are just unbeatable.