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A Guide to Planning Your Visit to
the Abu Simbel Temple Complex , Egypt
One of the must-see sights when visiting Egypt is the Abu Simbel Temple Complex.
It can be easily done as a day trip form either Aswan or Luxor.
However, some advance planning is advisable to enjoy this incredible place to its fullest.
Here is your guide to planning a visit to Abu Simbel!
Where is the Abu Simbel Temple Complex Located
The Abu Simbel Temple Complex is located southwest of Aswan or Luxor at Abu Simbel village in Aswan Governorate, Upper Egypt.
Specifically, it is situated 287 km (178 mi) from Aswan and 499 km (310 mi) from Luxor.
Image Source: Google Map data @2020
How to Get to Abu Simbel from Aswan
The best way to get to Abu Simbel from Aswan is by driving. It can be done by either hiring a private car or a minibus, or taking a taxi.
My transportation was organized by my tour company: Your Egypt Tours. They provided for me a private minibus with two drivers and a tour guide. Yes, two drivers. Apparently, it is required to have one main driver and one backup driver for long(er) trips.
It took me roughly 3 hours to reach Abu Simbel from Aswan.
The condition of the road leading to Abu Simbel is fairly decent minus a few occasional potholes and some speed bumps, and a couple of army and police checkpoints. As far as the landscape, it is rather monotonous with the desert all around you.
According to wikivoyage: “Foreign travellers can get to Abu Simbel by coach or minibus (tour) from Aswan, travelling in convoys. There is at least one daily convoy each way, taking 3 hours. Seats can be arranged at your hotel or through the Aswan tourist office.”
However, I have not seen any convoys on my way to Abu Simbel or on the way back. I have seen tour buses and occasionally, a few private vehicles.
Now, another way to reach Abu Simbel is by plane. The flight takes only 45 minutes. The flights are operated by either EgyptAir or Air Cairo.
How to Get to Abu Simbel from Luxor
A visit to Abu Simbel from Luxor will take time, if you decide to reach it by car. Specifically, it will take you about 6 hours to get to Abu Simbel.
Another option is to fly from Luxor to Abu Simbel. However, keep in mind, that there are no direct flights from Luxor to Aswan and you will have a stopover in Aswan.
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Is It Safe to Visit Abu Simbel
My visit to Abu Simbel was perfect! I had a private minibus, two drivers and a tour guide. As I said before, I was required to have two drivers. The second one was the backup.
The journey to visit Aswan took me about 3 hours. And, I spent the entire time talking and listening to my tour guide.
Do You Need a Guide for Abu Simbel
By the way, tour guides are not allowed inside the Abu Simbel Temple Complex. So, you might be wondering if you really need to hire a tour guide for your visit to Abu Simbel. It is your choice.
However, a 3-hour trip from Aswan to Abu Simbel or a 6-hour trip from Luxor to Abu Simbel is a perfect way to learn all about the history of Egypt and the history of the temples by having the tour guide with you.
My tour guide utilized the 3-hour time window to talk to me about the history of Abu Simbel, and the history of Egypt, as well as give me many pointers as to what to pay attention to while I visiting the temple complex.
I usually read a ton of stuff before I venture out anywhere. However, a knowledgeable guide is priceless!
How Old Is the Abu Simbel Temple Complex
The Abu Simbel Temple Complex was completed in 1244 BC.
Why Was the Abu Simbel Temple Complex Built
There are several reasons why Ramses II built the two temples.
First of all, he built the Great Temple to recognize and to honor himself and dedicate it to god Ra-Horakhty.
Ra-Horakhty “Horus in the Horizon”
Appearance: Man with the head of a hawk, with a sun disk headdress.
Ra-Horakhty was a combination of the gods Horus and Ra.
Horus was a god of the sky, and Ra was the god of the sun. Thus, Ra-Horakhty was thought of as the god of the rising sun.
Source: Ancient Egypt
And, Ramses II built the Small Temple as a monument to his beloved queen, Nefertari and dedicated it to goddess Hathor.
Hathor ” House of Horus”
Appearance: Woman with the ears of a cow, a cow, woman with a headdress of horns and a sun disk
Hathor was a protective goddess. She was also the goddess of love and joy.
Hathor was the wife of Horus, and was sometimes thought of as the mother of the pharaoh.
Hathor sistrumSource: Ancient Egypt
Second, Ramses II wanted to commemorate his victory at the Battle of Kadesh. The reliefs depicting him conquering his enemies are throughout the Great Temple. If you look closely, you will see that even the base of the temple was carved with figures of his conquered enemies: the Libyans, the Nubians, and the Hittites.
And, lastly, Ramses II wanted to impress Egypt’s neighbors, the Nubians.
Why Is the Great Temple of Abu Simbel Important
The temples of Abu Simbel were carved out of solid rock. They impresses even now! For me, it was a breathtaking sight!
First of all, the facade of this structure is incredible! It is 35 meters (115 feet) long and 30 meters (98 feet) high.
Next, the entrance to the temple is flanked by four enthroned colossal statues of Ramses II. Each statue is 20 meters (65 feet) high. If you look closely at the statues, you will notice that they are adorned with the double crown, which symbolizes the unity of Upper and Lower Egypt.
Moreover, each figure has a vertical cartouche on its right arm with Ramses II name.
A cartouche is an oval with a horizontal line under one of the ends. It indicates that the enclosed text is a royal name. By the way, cartouches were formerly only worn by Pharaohs. The oval surrounding their name was meant to protect them from evil spirits in life and after death.
Interestingly enough, the word ‘cartouche’ comes from the French language and means ‘paper powder cartidge’. Apparently, French soldiers stationed in Egypt saw a resemblance between the oval shapes and the paper powder cartridges and hence, the name cartouche.
Notably, one of the statues lost its head and torso in an earthquake in 27 BC.
And, around the knees of the statues are figures of some of Ramses II’s wives and children.
Next, take a look at the statue right above the entrance to the temple. It is the figure of god Ra-Harakhty, to whom Ramses II dedicated the temple.
Once you cross the entrance, you will find yourself in the Hypostyle Hall. It is an incredible sight!
There are four pillars on each side with colossal statues of Ramses II. Each statue is 10 meters (33 feet) high.
The statues on the left-hand side wear the Upper Egypt crown, while the statues on the right-hand side wear the double crown of Upper and Lower Egypt.
Here, Ramses II is represented as god Osiris holding the crook and flail.
The crook represents the kingship and the flail stands for fertility of the land.
Osiris was the god of the dead, and ruler of the underworld.
Appearance: A mummified man wearing a white cone-like headdress with feathers
Osiris was the brother/husband of Isis, and the brother of Nepthys and Seth. He was also the father of Horus.
As well as being a god of the dead, Osiris was a god of resurrection and fertility. In fact, the ancient Egyptians believed that Osiris gave them the gift of barley, one of their most important crops.
Source: Ancient Egypt
The walls of the Hypostyle Hall are decorated with reliefs to commemorate Ramses II’s victory at the Battle of Kadesh.
As well as, images of Ramses II making offerings to his gods.
On each side of the Hypostyle Hall are storerooms.
Here, the offerings to the gods and ritual items were stored.
What Is the Abu Simbel Temple Famous for
The Great Temple of Abu Simbel is famous for being built along the axis of the sun.
As a result, twice a year, on February 22 and October 22, the sunlight reaches 55 meters (180 feet) into the innermost room of the temple and illuminates the three of the four sitting statues.
And, for 10 minutes the three of the four seated statues are illuminated. First Ra, then Amun, and finally Ramses II himself.
Appearance: man with a ram-head, a ram, man wearing an ostrich plumed hat
Amun was one of the most powerful gods in ancient Egypt
At the height of Egyptian civilization he was called the ‘King of the Gods’.
Source: Ancient Egypt
However, the fourth statue remains in the darkness. It is the statue of god Ptah.
Appearance: Man wrapped in a tight white cloak carrying a staff
Ptah was the god of craftsman
Source: Ancient Egypt
I did a lot of research as to why the sun enters the inner sanctum on these two specific days: February 22 and October 22. However, all I could find was the speculation, that these two dates were the birthday and coronation of Ramses II.
Why Is the Small Temple of Abu Simbel Important
Next to the Great Temple of Abu Simbel, sits the Small Temple. It was built by Ramses II for his wife Nefertari and dedicated to goddess Hathor.
It is an important temple. First of all, if you look at the facade of the Small Temple, you will notice that it is adorned with six colossal statues of Queen Nefertari as goddess Hathor and Ramses II.
Specifically, there are four figures of Ramses II and two of Queen Nefertari. And, all the statues are the same size!
Notably, it is the first time ever, that he statue of a wife was carved the same size as the statue of the Pharaoh himself. Usually, the statues of wives and children are never higher than the Pharaoh knees.
Second, the Small Temple was dedicated to a wife. A Pharaoh would have many other wives and concubines. However, this temple Ramses II dedicated to his first wife.
Also, interestingly enough, the statues of Ramses II and Nefertari’s daughters are depicted as taller than their sons. It is possible, that the temple was dedicated to all the women within his family.
As you step inside, you will find yourself inside a large hall supported by six pillars.
Each pillar has the head of goddess Hathor carved on top of it.
The walls are decorated with scenes showing Ramses II and Queen Nefertari making offerings to various Egyptian gods.
Who Discovered Abu Simbel
As the time went by, the Abu Simbel Temple Complex stopped being used. Gradually, the temples were covered by the desert sand. And, stayed buried in sand for centuries.
The temple’s facade was discovered in 1811 by Swiss orientalist Jean-Louis Burckhardt (also known as John Lewis, Jean Louis). Burckhardt talked about his discovery with Italian explorer Giovanni Belzoni.
Belzoni traveled to the site, however, he was unable to dig out an entry to the temple. Belzoni returned in 1817 and this time, he succeeded in entering the temples.
Image Credit: Wikimedia
Why Was Egypt’s Abu Simbel Temple Complex Moved
Originally, the Abu Simbel Temple Complex was constructed 280 km (174 miles) southwest from Aswan.
In the 1960’s, the decision was made to built the Aswan High Dam on the River Nile. After the building of the dam, a massive artificial water reservoir was formed. It is known today as Lake Nasser. The purpose of the building the dam was to better control the floods of the River Nile and to generate electricity for Egypt.
However, the creation of Lake Nasser threatened to engulf the temples.
The relocation of the Abu Simbel Temple Complex was the only way of saving the structures.
On January 9, 1960, three months after construction began on the dam, UNESCO launched a world-wide call for help.
Image Credit: Wikipedia
‘The salvage of the Abu Simbel temples began in 1964 by a multinational team of archeologists, engineers and skilled heavy equipment operators working together under the UNESCO banner; it cost some US$40 million at the time (equal to $300 million in 2017 dollars).
Between 1964 and 1968, the entire site was carefully cut into large blocks (up to 30 tons, averaging 20 tons), dismantled, lifted and reassembled in a new location 65 meters higher and 200 meters back from the river, in one of the greatest challenges of archaeological engineering in history.’ (Source: Wikipedia)
How Was the Abu Simbel Temple Complex Relocated
The complex was relocated in its entirety under the supervision of a Polish archaeologist, Kazimierz Michałowski.
Following is a picture of a scale model showing the original location of the Abu Simbel Temples submerged under the water. Moreover, the scale model shows the new location of the temples moved 65 meters higher and 200 meters back from Lake Nasser.
Image Credit: Wikipedia
A scale model showing the original location of the 13th century BCE Abu Simbel temples, the site submerged under reservoir water since the 1970s, and the rescued and relocated temples’ new higher sites. The photo was taken of a display at the Nubian Museum, Aswan, Egypt. Author: Zureks
First, a cofferdam was built around the Abu Simbel Temple Complex. The purpose of building the cofferdam was to protect the temples from the rising water of Lake Nasser.
The relocation process started with extracting the walls and ceilings of the temples from inside the mountain. The Great Temple was cut into 807 blocks and the Small Temple was cut into 235 blocks. Each and every block was marked with a number.
After having been lifted by the crane, the blocks were lowered to the storage area.
Re-erecting the roofs and the walls of the temple were the next steps in the Abu Simbel temple relocation process.
Two domes were built to cover the structure of the temple to carry the weight of the artificial hill.
Next, the statues of Ramses II were cut and moved to the place of the new temple.
Image Credit: Wikipedia
What are the Abu Simbel Temple Complex Opening Hours and
The Abu Simbel Temple Complex is open from 7 am to 4 pm (5 pm in the summer).
The entrance ticket to the Abu Simbel Complex costs 240 EGP.
The Abu Simbel Light and Sound Show
The Abu Simbel Light and Sound Show is held at 6 pm, 7 pm, 8 pm, and 9 pm in winter and 8 pm, 9 pm and 10 pm in summer.
Image Credit: Dan Lundberg via Flickr
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