When planning our itinerary for Egypt, I kept stumbling upon Abu Simbel as a must-see attraction. Visiting Abu Simbel can be logistically challenging and I wasn’t sure if we would be able to make it work. Turns out visiting Abu Simbel is totally doable as a day trip from Aswan and even from Cairo. Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Abu Simbel.
What is Abu Simbel?
The temples at Abu Simbel were built by Ramses II over 3,000 years ago. The complex is made up of two temples, the Great Temple and the Small Temple. Despite the large size, the temples took only 20 years to build. The Great Temple is dedicated to the gods Amun, Ra-Horakhty, and Ptah while the Small Temple is dedicated to the goddess Hathor and Ramses II’s wife, Queen Nefertari.
The temples were rediscovered in 1813, and Abu Simbel opened as a tourist destination by the end of the 19th century. In the 1960s, the entire complex was moved to higher ground to avoid flooding caused by the construction of the Aswan High Dam. The visitor’s center at Abu Simbel has some great information on how this move was completed.
Where is Abu Simbel?
How to Get to Abu Simbel
Abu Simbel is most approachable from Aswan. The fastest way to get to Abu Simbel is by flying roundtrip from Aswan on EgyptAir. The airline offers a free shuttle service between the Abu Simbel airport and the temple compex.
A second option is to drive to Abu Simbel from Aswan. This takes about 3.5 hours each way. If you choose this option, it is best to book it through a tour operator. We visited Abu Simbel by car as part of our Nile cruise itinerary. You can book the same tour through Emo Tours as a day tour here.
The last option is to visit Abu Simbel from Cairo via Aswan. You will fly from Cairo to Aswan and drive from Aswan to Abu Simbel. Here is a tour through Emo Tours for this option. I would only recommend this if you are basing yourself in Cairo due to limited time in your itinerary.
What to See at Abu Simbel
Upon arriving at Abu Simbel, there is a small visitor’s center with information on the temples and how the temples were relocated back in the 1960s. We were among the first to arrive in the morning so we headed straight to the temple complex and hit up the visitor center on the way out.
The Great Temple
The Great Temple is the highlight of Abu Simbel. The entrance has four 66 foot statues of Ramses II wearing the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt.
Immediately inside the temple are eight statues of Osiris with the facial features of Ramses II.
There are several small chambers inside the temple to explore.
The sanctuary shows a statue of Rameses II with three gods, Amun, Ra-Horakhty, and Ptah. It was built so that between October 22nd and February 22nd, the sun would enter the sanctuary and illuminate all of the statues except for Ptah, due to his connection to the underworld.
The Small Temple
The Small Temple was dedicated to the goddess Hathor and Ramses II’s wife Nefertari. Throughout the temple, Nefertari is represented as Hathor.
Abu Simbel is one of Egypt’s greatest and most remote sights. There are several options for visiting Abu Simbel, though it is most accessible from Aswan. While it may seem daunting to travel to Abu Simbel, I assure you it’s worth the trip.