Undoubtedly, Abu Simbel is one of the greatest temples in Egypt. From the outside of the temple, to the decorations on the inside, to the stunning setting on Lake Nasser, it’s a must-do when you’re in Egypt.
I thought I would skip it – it’s hard to get to, it’s somewhat expensive, and I wondered if it was really worth it.
Abu Simbel General Information
Abu Simbel is comprised of two temples – the primary temple to Ramses II, and the secondary one to his queen, Nefertari. It’s fairly unique to have a temple to a queen that has survived – the only other one I saw was Hatshepsut, in Luxor.
When you walk into the temple complex, my favorite part is that the entrance is on the back side of the large hill that the temple to Ramses II is carved into. So you have to walk a good distance before you can turn around and see the temple. It reminded me of coming upon the Treasury at Petra, and I liked the fun of the anticipation.
There is not much shade to be had at Abu Simbel, so plan accordingly. You will want sunscreen, sunglasses, and likely a hat. Bring lots of water, too!
I was pleasantly surprised that there were far fewer touts and vendors at Abu Simbel than I’d gotten used to in Egypt. There is a bazaar just outside the entrance where you can get all sorts of kitschy knickknacks that are fun.
It’s the furthest south Egyptian temple – it’s just 40km or 25 miles north of Sudan. (And yes, it’s safe.)
If you do a Nile Cruise, you’ll want to include time for Abu Simbel on the Aswan side of things – if you go from Luxor you’ll likely need to fly.
The Rescue of Abu Simbel
Both temples are on the shores of Lake Nasser, the massive lake created after the Nile Dam was completed. That’s one of the things that make Abu Simbel so special – both temples were going to be covered by the water, and the international community banded together to move them to higher ground.
When you’re there, the fact of that feat is even more astonishing. To think that they moved a mountain to save this history – and it’s giant. The thing I was surprised by was the inside of the temples. You can’t take pictures, but both temples are open and have multiple rooms you can go through, all filled with hieroglyphics. They’re as vibrant and as amazing as the ones in the tombs in the Valley of the Kings!
And throughout the rooms and the vibrancy of the paintings, I could never forget that those had all been moved, stone by stone, to rescue them from flooding.
Abu Simbel Convoy Information (2017/2018)
Generally, it’s communicated that there is a convoy that leaves for Abu Simbel from Aswan once in the morning (about 4:30am) and one a bit later (about 10:30 am). Most tours depart at the 4:30 time slot – it’s a long drive so it’s easy to sleep through it, and going on the 10:30am tour puts you at Abu Simbel right in the heat of the day (and there is not a lot of shade!).
In 2017, my experience was that there was no convoy. My driver simply drove me, and we were alone in the Sahara for vast stretches! However, it could be that because we left at the right time we were part of some sort of convoy? I rarely saw other cars (though I did see a regular military presence). (In fact… there were so few cars I started taking pictures in the middle of the road.)
I felt extremely safe on the road to Abu Simbel, but that was just me. The drive to Abu Simbel from Aswan is about 3.5 hours. Your driver will probably take a break at some point, so assume about 4 hours each way. Bring a Kindle, a great person to talk to, or something to do!
The drive is gorgeous, but it’s a consistent desert the whole way. It’s right through the Sahara, and on my way back, it was hot enough I saw a mirage for the first time!
Abu Simbel Entrance Fee
The Abu Simbel Entrance Fee in 2017 and 2018 is 115 EGP, or about $6.50 USD. Egypt’s currency has been depressed for quite a while, so this is cheaper than usual. Don’t be surprised if they raise it considerably at some point.
Some tours include this entrance fee, and some do not, so ask your tour operator about it.
General Options for Getting to Abu Simbel from Aswan:
Abu Simbel Group Tour by Coach
If you’re on a Nile cruise, you will likely be offered this as an excursion from your cruise, as a group tour with an English-speaking guide. They’ll choose the departure time for you, so you won’t have the option of choosing to go morning or night.
I was quoted $170 USD for a group tour from the cruise. There are a number of different options – I’ve seen this vary. I’ve seen some as low as about $100/person.
Abu Simbel Private Tour with Driver
I went with this option, primarily because I found Egyptian Sidekick. My private driver roundtrip from Aswan to Abu Simbel was $110US. This did not include a guide at the site or the entrance fee – it only included the driver. But I was free to spend as much time at the temples as I wished, and I enjoyed being able to explore without a guide.
I wish I could wholeheartedly recommend Egyptian Sidekick – I love their premise and mission. One of their big keys is that tipping is included in the price, which is amazing in tipping-heavy Egypt. They say they are university students who want to show others the wonders of Egypt, and I’ve heard they do that well in Cairo and Luxor.
I’m reasonably sure my driver was not a university student. I was met by my “coordinator” who was, I believe, a university student and spoke excellent English. He immediately passed me off to my driver, who did make me somewhat uncomfortable. (And then called on the way back from Abu Simbel while we were in the middle of the Sahara to ask if the driver was ok… while he knew the driver was there. What was I going to do, say something and get left in the Sahara?)
And the thing that made me so sad was that the driver was PISSED when I did not tip him at the end. I think we were both pissed because I was SO excited I had finally found something in Egypt where the tip was included. And then alas…
So I do feel like Egyptian Sidekick is a good option, but don’t expect excellence.
Fly to Abu Simbel
For about $250-$350 USD per person, you can book a tour with flights to and from Abu Simbel in a day. It’s a quick flight, and both airports are tiny. They actually won’t let you into the Aswan airport more than an hour before your flight, and they’re very happy if you get there about 20 minutes ahead of time. If you get carsick or just don’t like long car rides, this is definitely a viable option!
Why You Should Go To Abu Simbel
By the end of a trip to Egypt, with who knows how much history and how many temples, the temples at Abu Simbel feel skippable. I thought I could skip them. At the last minute, I decided that I was there and should take the time to see them. I will never regret it. They are absolutely awe-inspiring, and frankly, my favorite temples in all of Egypt. They are worth the effort!
The other awesome thing is that because they take more effort than most of the temples, they’re less busy. So you get to spend more time just enjoying some of the most magnificent treasures of Egypt.