The two enormous rock temples of Abu Simbel were built in the 13th century BCE during the reign of the 19th Dynasty Pharaoh Ramesses II, known as Ramesses the Great, and his queen Nefertari. Their construction, including the carving of the massive rock-cut statues of the royals, took twenty years.
Dedicated to the Ancient Egyptian gods Amun, Ra-Horakhty and Ptah and to Ramesses himself, they are considered to be the most beautiful of the temples commissioned during the Pharaoh's reign, placed by many tourists as a highlight on their travels around the country.
Buried in the sand for centuries, the temples were rediscovered at the beginning of the 19th century CE. They had to be dismantled and relocated in the 1960s to avoid damage by floods during the construction of the Aswan Dam. This incredible feat was achieved thanks to the financial support of a number of countries around the world; to show gratitude, Egypt donated four temples to the different nations who provided assistance, including the Temple of Debod, located in Madrid, Spain.
As well as admiring the majestic architecture of the ancient temple complex during the daytime, if you decide to stay overnight in Abu Simbel, you'll have time to experience the light and sound show put on every evening (at 6 pm in winter and 7 pm in summer, costs LE 250).
Top tip: take an early bus or excursion so that you'll arrive to see the sun rise over the desert. Well worth getting up early!
How to get to Abu Simbel
While the town of Abu Simbel does have accommodation options, the majority of visitors tend to make a day trip to the temples from Aswan. There are a few different ways to travel to Abu Simbel: by road, river or air:
- Travelling by plane is technically the quickest option, with the journey between Aswan and Abu Simbel airports taking only 45 minutes. However, flights do not depart every day, and once you factor in the time taken to arrive at the airport and go through security, and generally high prices, this isn't the most convenient way to get to Abu Simbel.
- Travelling by boat is probably the most luxury option, and it certainly gets you close to the temples, as ships dock close to the complex. Cruises on Lake Nasser sail from Aswan to Abu Simbel, and vice versa, stopping at the ancient Nubian monuments along the way.
- Travelling by bus is the cheapest and most popular way to reach Abu Simbel, and it's about a 3 hour drive. There's one public bus a day which charges around LE 50, but it doesn't arrive until 11:30 am, meaning you'll miss the sunrise. Chartered tourist buses cost about LE 160 per person if you book directly with the bus company; hotels usually charge extra to book them for you. Hiring your own car with a driver is more expensive but a lot more comfortable. Buses have to leave Abu Simbel by 4 pm, so make the most of the time you have there!
Abu Simbel excursions from Aswan
By far the easiest way to visit Abu Simbel is on a guided excursion from Aswan. You'll be assured of having an English-speaking guide, entrance fees included, an air-conditioned vehicle and a pick up and drop off service from your hotel. Choose from one- or two-day trips depending how much time you have to spare. Book in advance to save time and money
October to April: 6 am to 5 pm.
May to September: 6 am to 6 pm.
Adults: 160 LE (US$ 10.20)
Students: 80 LE (US$ 5.10)
By bus or plane from Aswan.