Abu Simbel – UNESCO World Heritage Site

This might sound weird, but if there is one place I think you should visit in Egypt, I’d say it’s Abu Simbel.  The location is small, it’s difficult to get to, and you may not have the time.  All are valid arguments.  The only thing I can say as a counter is to say that you don’t have a clue what you’re missing.  

Abu Simbel, located on the border of Egypt and Sudan, is the southern most point you can go to in Egypt without crossing the border. The temple complex was moved with the construction of the Aswan Dam as the temple would have been buried under water if it hadn’t.  The exterior is amazing and the interior is jaw dropping.  It’s worth every effort to go if you have the ability. 

Getting There

You’ll pretty much have a 3 main options of getting to Abu Simbel.  The first is by Nile cruise.  Most Nile cruises will depart from Luxor or Aswan and for about  few days, go down to Abu Simbel and come back up.  That would probably be the easiest method since the only thing you have to do as a passenger is stay alive until you get to Abu Simbel.  

Option 2 is to get all they way down to Aswan first.  It’s a fairly long train ride from Cairo and you’ll be riding until the train stops since Aswan is the end of the line.  From there, you’ll have to find a driver or a tour compnay to take you to Abu Simbel, which is about a 3 hour drive from Aswan.  In Aswan, there are a few things to do to keep you busy for a day or so but most people just use Aswan as a lauching point to go to Abu Simbel.  There is certainly no need to have an extended stay there.  

Finally, you can fly from Cairo to Abu Simbel and come back that same day.  Now this is certainly the most expensive option but it could make the most sense.  Now know that this route can be a little convoluted but it makes sense.

The flight will go from Cairo to Aswan and then to Abu Simbel.  In Aswan, I think there is about a 30 min stop and then you continue flying to Abu Simbel.  Once there, you can ride a free shuttle from the airport to Abu Simbel and back.  The airport is actually about 5-10 mins from Abu Simbel so it isn’t very far.  I didn’t get to fly there (even though that was the original plan) but you do have to drive by the airport in order to get to Abu Simbel so I can easily say the airport is very close. 

On arrival, you’ll just want to check with the driver to know exactly how much time you have to explore before the bus leaves for the airport.  However, if all goes smoothly, you should have around 90 mins to explore the site before you have to head back to the airport for your return flight.  The return will be the same routing as before where it first stops in Aswan before continuing to Cairo.  

The flight method is the most expensive but it could make the most sense depending on your situation.  I was originally planning to do this but EgyptAir cancelled my flight a few weeks before.  Now, I was travelling in June, 2021 so Covid and the low season for tourism in Egypt was an issue.  Even though it’s the most expensive cost, I think this is the way to go for most people.  

When To Go

Oddly, I ended up getting a private car and driving from Luxor to Abu Simbel.  I really didn’t know that was an option but it was offered to me by the tour I had been taking the day before.  It wasn’t cheap, but the distance isn’t a short jog either.  We had to drive 500KM (about 300 miles) each way to get there so it took a bit of time especially considering the road available.  

Maybe it was because of the hour that there was no one there when I got there.  Seriously, no one.  I actually had to fiddle around and wait for a group of people to show up so I could take a picture with people in it so as to have a sense of scale.  Throughout the day, I think I saw 2 other groups walking around.  

I think this was partially due to the pandemic and low tourist numbers but also due to the hour I was there.  I got there around 12pm.  High noon.  And it was hot.  My guess is most people who visit from Aswan (about a 3 hour drive) will do so as early as possible in the morning so as to beat the heat.  Makes sense.  

For this reason, I actually think flying in and out the same day is the most viable option.  If you could fly from Luxor, that would be fantastic but as of this writing, EgyptAir doesn’t offer that flight.  When you arrive, it’ll be midday.  Hopefully at that time, the only other people you’ll be competing for pictures with are those on the flight with you.  At most, that would be around 200 people right?  That should give you ample time to walk around and see the site at your leisure with plenty of time to spare.  Remember that the entire site is relatively small so even if you took your time, it should take no more than an hour.  If all the flights go as scheduled, that should give you about 90 mins to walk around.  And since the only thing you’ll have is a day bag, you won’t have much to carry. 

At Abu Simbel

As you walk in, you’ll go through the obligatory metal detector and bag check. You’ll then be faced with a hill which is the backside of the Abu Simbel temple complex. You’ll follow the little path around the hill (while looking at the lake) until you’re greeted by the sight of the temples.

As you walk around you’ll see all that Abu Simbel has to offer from the outside. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to walk around relatively peacefully. Like I said, there was no one there when I arrived and I had to wait around for some people to emerge so I could take a photo with people in it so it could provide some sort of scale.

As you exit, you’ll probably want to go up the path a little. You will get a photo with both temples in a single frame.

Why Go?

This is tough to answer but you’ll understand when you see it.  If we disregard the entire historical aspect of the temples, you’re still left with an amazing site.  Because it was basically buried by the desert sand over time, the interior is remarkably intact, including the colors.  This allows you to see the temples as they would have been seen by the Egyptians thousands of years ago.  That’s pretty cool.  Even the graffiti on the walls is pretty interesting.  It’s sad and disappointing to know that even back in the 1800s, people were leaving their initials or names and the year they were there.  Nothing has changed in that regard, with the names etched into the walls and monuments at Abu Simbel.

Final Thoughts

Abu Simbel is certainly a tough destination to reach and you have to be fairly dedicated to get there.  The easiest method for reaching the site is certainly the easiest but also the most expensive.  Although the cheapest, getting there by train and subsequent vehicle is time consuming and somewhat a waste considering there are only a handful of sites to visit in Aswan.  But your reward of seeing and walking around Abu Simbel is a pretty good prize.  

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