Every visitor to Egypt should consider taking an Abu Simbel tour. We give you the facts you need to decide which tour to take or if you should even go at all.
Abu Simbel is one of the most impressive archeological sites in Egypt, but it’s challenging to reach. We’ll tell you what you need to know about Abu Simbel and your options to get there. We’ll even provide our criteria for how you can make your decision to visit Abu Simbel or not.
What Are the Temples at Abu Simbel?
Ramses II, the most powerful Pharaoh of ancient Egypt, ordered twin temples built for himself and his queen, Nefertari. They were constructed deep inside newly conquered Nubian territory south of Aswan. Scenes of the Battle of Kadesh adorned the temples creating awe and fear into Nubia. The temple complex is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as ‘The Nubian Monuments’.
Not only are the temples perhaps the most visually stunning buildings in Egypt, but they also give insight into the mind of Ramses II. He had six wives, but only built a temple for Nefertari which happened to be almost (operative word being almost) as large as his temple. He defied himself as a living god and was one of the few Pharaohs to see his great temple finished in his lifetime.
And that victory that they celebrate? Most modern historians consider the Battle of Kadesh a tactical draw. However, that draw demonstrated the utility of the speedy Egyptian chariots and proved Ramses II prowess as a master tactician. Ultimately, his campaign against the Hittites ended with a peace treaty, which was a marked improvement over nearly a century of Hittite victories in Asia.
Where is Abu Simbel on Map?
Below is our map of Abu Simbel. We’ve indicated the towns of Abu Simbel, Aswan, Luxor, and Cairo, as well as their airports. How far is Abu Simbel from Aswan? Just under 200 miles by road. What’s perhaps more important is that Abu Simbel is roughly 10 miles from the militarized border with Sudan. We’ll talk more about why that’s important soon.
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How Do You Get to Abu Simbel?
The three ways to get to Abu Simbel are by road, water, or flying. Trains haven’t traveled this far south for 15 years or more. Each option has advantages, costs, and challenges. No matter which tour you choose, the guides will come from the local pool at Abu Simbel.
Aswan to Abu Simbel Bus Tour
The Abu Simbel bus tour is the most common and overland option and least expensive of any way to reach Abu Simbel. This option is a full-day tour, starting with a 4:00 AM pick up at your Aswan hotel. You travel 3 1/2 hours to Abu Simbel. Stay for roughly an hour and a half, then return to Aswan. There’s very little to see along the way. Look for well-maintained vehicles, group size, and if they provide meals when selecting a tour.
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Private Car From Aswan to Abu Simbel
It’s possible to hire a private driver from Aswan to Abu Simbel. This option makes logistics easier with fewer hotel pickups to negotiate. This feature might allow you to leave a little later, but it’s still going to be early. Drivers tend to travel by caravan to reach Abu Simbel for safety, and no driver wants to be caught on the road after dark. You’ll also tour the temples in an extremely small group, which will allow the guide to customize the trip for your tastes. It’s possible to get a private car for a little more than a bus tour, but the quality and safety of service can vary greatly.
Check with your Aswan hotel to about private transportation
Abu Simbel Boat Tours
You can reach Abu Simbel by cruising across Lake Nasser. Remember, this is above the Aswan High Dam, so this is not part of the Luxor to Aswan Nile River cruise. The ships will be smaller and less luxurious. There’s also little to see in this section of the Nile. It’s below the historic boundaries of ancient Egypt, and what towns did exist are now flooded by Lake Nasser. You can fish and enjoy the remarkable night skies. These tours take roughly four days to complete.
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Abu Simbel Air Tours
There is a small airport in Abu Simbel with direct flights from Aswan. The flight is short, and you’re at the temples in under an hour. You’ll have about twice the time to explore the temples with an air tour than you would with an overland option. You’ll also have a smaller group with your guide. The drawback is that it’s more expensive to fly to Abu Simbel than take a bus tour, but you don’t have to worry about the road.
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Reaching Abu Simbel From Luxor
Flying from Luxor to Abu Simbel isn’t logistically feasible since you’ll be routing through Cairo. There are overland tours to Abu Simbel that leave out of Luxor, but they come as a two-day tour with an overnight in Aswan. If you aren’t taking a Nile Cruise, this is an option to explore the upper Nile outside of Luxor. You’ll save considerable money basing in Luxor for Valley of the Kings, Karnak Temple, and Luxor Temple and adding on this tour. You will most likely miss out on Edfu and Kom Obo with this itinerary.
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Reaching Abu Simbel From Cairo
You can fly from Cairo to Abu Simbel with a reasonable connection through Aswan but is a moderately expensive ticket, and you’ll have to get a hotel to spend the night in Abu Simbel hotel or Aswan. This option will let you see the temples with almost no crowds and enjoy the night skies around Lake Nasser.
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Is It Safe to Travel to Abu Simbel?
As we detailed in our Egyptian safety article, the US State Department warns about travel to the Egyptian border zone. They only have Egypt listed as a level-2 country (exercise caution, like going to France or Italy). They also note the increased security at Abu Simbel.
Air travel is the safest option, with no increased risk of overland travel and always remaining within heavily secured areas. Buses will be safer than private vehicles, and always consider the reputation and maintenance record of your provider. Boat travel offers a high degree of uncertainty, both from the water hazards and the direct water connection with Sudan. Private, armed security guards accompany many of the boat trips.
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Abu Simbel Facts
- How old is Abu Simbel? Because of uncertainty in interpreting the timeline of Ramesses II, Abu Simbel was either built between 1264 – 1244 BCE or 1244-1224 BCE.
- Why did they move Abu Simbel (or how was Abu Simbel saved from near destruction)? Abu Simbel was moved in 1968 by an international team of engineers to protect the site from the flooding of Lake Nasser with the completion of the Aswan High Dam.
- How did they move Abu Simbel? They carved the statues and the temples into 20-ton blocks and assembled them on the new site with a tolerance of only 5 mm.
- How far was Abu Simbel moved? Abu Simbel was moved onto an artificial hill, 200′ up and 600′ back from the original site.
- What is inside Abu Simbel? Inside of both temples are pillars, hieroglyphs, and statues. The most notable statues are at the back of the great temple with a particular celestial alignment that creates the Sun Festival. The temple relocation project did not alter the celestial alignment in its new location.
When Is the Sun Festival at Abu Simbel?
Twice a year, on February 22 and October 22, the sun shines into the interior of the Great Temple at Abu Simbel, illuminating the statues of Ra-Harakhty, Amun, and Ramesses. Ra and Amun are both sun gods (and were later unified as a single deity). The figure of a fourth deity, Ptah, the god of the underworld, remains in darkness all year long.
Both of these dates are significant for Ramses. He was coronated on February 22 and born on October 22. Today, those are the dates of the Sun Festival at Abu Simbel. Attendees can enjoy the magic of the lights beams and shows as well as large scale celebrations. The fall date is more crowded as there’s a chance of clouds in spring.
When Is the Best Time to Visit Abu Simbel?
The weather is best during the winter months, but everything is more crowded and expensive. Summertime has higher temperatures and lighter crowds and better prices. The heaviest visitation is during the Sun Festival. You’ll be hard-pressed to find an open frame and should book your Abu Simbel tour well in advance. Below are two graphics from Weatherspark that will give you an overview of Abu Simbel weather. You should click into Weatherspark if you want more details.
Is It Worth Going to Abu Simbel?
Is Abu Simbel worth seeing depends a lot on if you believe Egypt is still a must-see tourist destination. If you love Egyptian history, you’re going to want to see every temple you can. I would rank Abu Simbel and Giza as the top sites in Egypt. The Luxor area would be next, followed by Aswan, Kom Ombo, and Edfu in some order.
Everybody who comes to Egypt will see Giza, and probably Luxor too. That leaves you with three choices. Number one, take a Nile River cruise where you’ll also see Aswan, Kom Ombo, and Edfu. Number two, go to Aswan and Abu Simbel or Number three, see them all. Personally, I went for option #3 and saw everything. I genuinely believe that Abu Simbel is a must-see antiquity site in Egypt.
If you are like me and suffer from FOMO, do not worry, you can see it all and without fussing over logistics you can go with a full service travel company. I traveled with Innovative Travel Company. They anticipated my every need spoken and unspoken, and ensured I was able to see all of the ancient antiquity sites in modern comfort.
As always, the views and opinions expressed are entirely our own, and we only recommend brands and destinations that we 100% stand behind.
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