Abu Simbel is one of the most iconic and magical sites in all of Egypt. Carved out of a sandstone cliff on the bank of the Nile River, Ramses II built this impressive temple in Nubia, near the modern day border of Sudan.
Highlighted by four colossal figures of Ramses II carved from the mountain, Egyptologists believe this temple served as a warning to Nubians who were entering Egyptian territory. When I visited Egypt, this was easily one of my favorite parts of the entire trip. Seeing the grand scale of Abu Simbel in person really makes you feel small and wonder how people built this nearly 3300 years ago.
The ancient temple was rediscovered in 1813 by Swiss researcher Johann Ludwig Burckhardt when he found the head of one of the Ramses statues buried underneath the sand. One of the most impressive stories about Abu Simbel is how UNESCO banded together to miraculously move the temple over 650 feet, piece by piece, to prevent it from being destroyed by the flooding from the Aswan High Dam.
Here is some more information about visiting Abu Simbel.
Getting to Abu Simbel
Abu Simbel sits along the west bank of Lake Nasser, near the Sudanese border about 180 miles south of Aswan. Its location makes it a bit trickier to visit, but almost all major tour companies will offer excursions to Abu Simbel. And believe me, you will want to include this on your trip to Egypt.
The best way to get to Abu Simbel is with a guided tour, which will usually take you there in a charter bus. Our group left at 3am for a 3 hour ride through the desert in complete darkness. We were able to see the sunrise over the desert terrain from the bus, and arrived at Abu Simbel just after sunrise. We were part of a police escorted caravan of tour buses. You can arrange a taxi for this trip, but I would put it in the hands of a tour group to sort out the details for this long day trip from Aswan.
Entrance & Fees
Like most historical sites in Egypt, I would advise entering the sites with a guide. Especially a site as hard to get to as Abu Simbel.
Joining a tour for a day trip can be a bit pricey, and prices vary, but I paid around $160 USD with the tour company that I was traveling with for my Egypt trip, Exoticca. Although it's a bit more expensive than most other excursions in Egypt, visiting Abu Simbel is one of the Most Unforgettable Things to do in Egypt and can’t be missed!
Visiting Abu Simbel
As you walk around the side of the mountain, your first views of the famous temple are jaw dropping. Carved into the side of the cliff are four imposing 67-foot statues of Ramses II - serving as a warning for visiting armies. One of the heads fell off from an ancient earthquake, and sits on the ground next to the headless statue.
As you enter the inner temple, the incredible hypostyle hall is flanked by six 33-foot statues of Osiris figures of Ramses II.
Some of the most famous hieroglyphs are located inside Abu Simbel temple. In the hypostyle hall, there are scenes depicting the famous battle of Kadesh, which was instrumental in Ramses the Great’s rise to power. Another hieroglyph in the temple is Ramses II’s love story about his beloved Queen Nefertari.
The temple has eight side chambers, and the captivating Sanctuary, House of the Gods. Here sits statues of four deities: Ptah, Amun-Re, Ramses II himself, and Re-Harakhty. This is another example of Ramses II portraying himself as a god.
Sitting just north of the main temple is another amazing temple created by Ramses the Great called the Temple of Hathor, the goddess of love. Dedicated to his wife Nefertari, this temple is also carved into the mountainside with six 33-foot statues of Ramses II and Nefertari guarding the entrance. This temple has another impressive hypostyle hall, a sanctuary room, and hieroglyphs lining the walls everywhere.
For more information about visiting Egypt, check out the Best Things to do in Aswan and the Best Things to do in Luxor.