(Last updated on: 02/04/2020)
Egypt is packed with incredible locations. One that’s near the top of everybody’s bucket list is Abu Simbel, and it’s easy to see why. We loved Abu Simbel! Whilst it wasn’t the easiest attraction in Egypt to reach, I would highly recommend it. Here’s everything you need to know about visiting!
What is Abu Simbel?
Also known as Abu Simbal, Ebsambul or Isambul, Abu Simbel is a village located in the south of Egypt. It is near the Sudan border. The area was, once upon a time, known as Nubia. The village is home to just under 3000 people, and falls under the Aswan Governate. The entire population of Abu Simbel relies on tourism driven to the area.
So what exactly is it that drives tourists to a humble village in southern Egypt? The village is the location of the Abu Simbel temples: two ginormous rock temples commissioned by Pharaoh Ramesses II in the 19th Dynasty.
The temple complex is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site known as the Nubian Monuments. In the ‘60s, the entire Abu Simbel temple complex was cut into large blocks, dismantled, moved and reassembled further away from the Nile to avoid it being submerged during the creation of Lake Nasser.
Facts about Abu Simbel
There are actually two temples. The Grand Temple, which is 30 metres high, feature 4 seated statues at the entrance (all of King Ramesses II on his throne) as well as various paths and rooms. The smaller temple is dedicated to one of his wives, said to be his favourite: Queen Nefertari. It also features four seated statues, two of her and two of the pharaoh himself.
Abu Simbel was rediscovered in 1813. It was Swiss researcher Johann Ludwig Burckhardt who located them. The temple complex was properly explored a few years later, by prolific Venetian Egyptologist Giovanni Battista Belzoni in 1817.
Did you know: Burckhardt is well known for his discovery of Petra in Jordan, and also for accustoming to Muslim life. He wore traditional Muslim dress and even took a Muslim name: Ibrāhīm Ibn abd Allāh.
Like other Egyptian monuments and archaeological sites, Abu Simbel has a particular solar alignment. It is an Ancient Egyptian phenomenon! Twice a year, the sun penetrates the temple in a particular way to light up statues in the inner sanctuary. This happens on February 22nd, as well as October 22nd. The February date is to celebrate the season of agriculture and cultivation, while the October date celebrates flooding season. The dates also coincide with the birth and coronation of Ramesses II.
Visiting the temple complex
The nearest city to Abu Simbel is nearby Aswan. There are many ways to travel to the area, such as flying from Aswan (it’s a 45 minute flight) or driving there. The drive takes roughly 3.5 hours and because of unrest in the area you must be escorted by police.
The only way, therefore, to visit Abu Simbel is by organised tour. There are plenty of organised tours and day trips which visit Abu Simbel. I recommend taking a tour from Aswan, but there are also longer trips available from Luxor too.
Top tip: wear something comfortable and breathable, as you will likely have a long day getting to and from Abu Simbel as well as spending time in the hot sun while you’re there. In terms of shoes, there are paved paths for walking so you’ll get away with wearing sandals or flip flops – again just make sure they are comfortable enough!
You will also have the opportunity to visit Abu Simbel on many Nile cruise trips, although this will also be in the form of a day trip from Aswan. Viator has some brilliant cruise options. We booked a mid range Nile cruise and LOVED it. In my opinion this is the best and easiest way to see all of the sights that Egypt has to offer.
Where to stay when planning a visit to Abu Simbel
There isn’t a huge amount of options if you are looking to stay in the village of Abu Simbel itself. Most tourists stay in the nearby city of Aswan. You can see hotel availability for your travel dates below.
For something a little closer to the temple complex, there are a couple of places you could opt for…
Applicators Hotel is 1.2 miles from the Abu Simbel temples. There is free WiFi and free public parking, a restaurant and plenty of outdoor seating as well as stunning views and a 24-hour front desk. The hotel offers single, double and triple rooms as well as suites all with private bathrooms. Rooms are basic but clean and spacious, and it takes just half an hour to walk to the temple complex.
Nefertari Hotel overlooks Lake Nasser, which is where the temple complex would be today had it not been moved. Free WiFi and free private parking are both available, and the hotel has a pool. It boasts garden and lake views, and has double/twin/triple rooms as well as suites. With air conditioning and en suite bathrooms, an airport shuttle and a 24-hour front desk, the hotel is ideal – what’s more, it is only 500 yards from the temple complex!
Mariette Amon is a budget hotel that offers single and double rooms. Pets are allowed at the hotel,and there is free WiFi and free parking. It is entirely on one floor, meaning it’s more accessible than other hotels, and you can choose between private and shared bathrooms depending on what you’re after. With city, river, lake and mountain views, the area is stunning and there is an outdoor dining area too. Located just 0.7 miles from the Abu Simbel temples, it isn’t difficult to get there by car or on foot.
So, that’s everything you need to know about planning a trip to the awe-inspiring temple complex of Abu Simbel in Egypt. Whether you’re visiting on a cruise, taking a DIY tour around Egypt or just looking into what type of trip suits you best, it’s worth adding Abu Simbel to your list of things to see in this history-rich country.