The Abu Simbel temples are one of the most incredible sites that you’ll visit while you’re in Egypt. It was easily one of my favorite places. And best of all, I was so lucky to have Abu Simbel almost entirely to myself during my visit.
Want to know how you can too?
Here are my top tips for having the Temples of Abu Simbel all to yourself!
You’ll find Abu Simbel in the south of Egypt (confusingly named ‘Upper Egypt’). About 50 miles from the border of Sudan. There are a few ways that you can get there but most of them involve traveling from Aswan.
For me, the history of Abu Simbel was one of the most fascinating in all of Egypt. But if you’re not here for history then you can just skip right on to the bottom! There I share all my secrets about how I had Abu Simbel all to myself in February 2019.
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What is Abu Simbel?
When you first arrive at Abu Simbel you’ll notice the two temples. Keep in mind that these are temples, not tombs. The first temple that you will come to belongs to Nefertari and was built for her by Ramesses the Second. It stands on the right and then on the left is the grand temple of Ramesses ll. Ramesses had these two temples constructed here for very important reasons. He wanted to present himself as a God and Nefertari as a Goddess. But he had to choose a place that wasn’t already governed by one of the Egyptian Gods. That’s what led to the location of Abu Simbel.
The two temples of Abu Simbel were carved out of the rocky mountainside in the 13th century, which was the 19th dynasty reign of the Pharoah Ramsses ll. The temples were rediscovered (I say rediscovered because up until this point they were unknown to the outside world but they were known by the local Nubian people) in 1813 by Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, a Swiss Discoverer.
In the mid-20th century, the Egyptian government under General Nasser planned to construct the dam to control the unpredictable annual Nile floods and provide hydroelectric power. But such a dam would place Abu Simbel underwater.
Because of this new problem, in 1959 the Egyptian and Sudanese governments wrote to UNESCO seeking assistance. And that led to a huge multinational effort to save Abu Simbel. They moved the temples 65 meters back and 200 meters higher, placing them where they are today. The work took 4 years beginning in 1964 and finally being completed in 1968, costing $40 Million Dollars!
To move the temples of Abu Simbel they divided them up into a bunch of smaller pieces and then relocated them and put it all back together like one giant Egyptian jigsaw puzzle. The work was truly remarkable as there was no room for error. To this day if you didn’t know this story, I am sure that you would have no idea that these temples had moved a centimeter since their original construction.
So how can you have these remarkable temples all by yourself!
Getting to Abu Simbel
There are several ways that you can get to Abu Simbel, the easiest being from Aswan. You can arrive at Abu Simbel by bus or car, driving generally about 4 hours from Aswan. Or you can fly. There is an airport just next to Abu Simbel and you can fly there and back in one day. This is also the most expensive way to visit and most people don’t do this.
The most popular option is to take a guided tour from Aswan. These tours leave Aswan at 4 in the morning, arriving at Abu Simbel at 8 am, right when the temples open. This is the most affordable and most popular way to travel here.
I chose to visit Abu Simbel by car from Aswan instead of taking a tour bus. I left Aswan at 8 in the morning, had breakfast in the car, and then had a very enjoyable drive down to Abu Simbel, arriving there at 12pm. By the time we arrived, almost every tour bus had packed up and left, driving its load back to Aswan for the night.
By the time we bought our tickets and walked over to the temples, it was almost completely empty.
With a private car, it is also possible that you can stay at the temples for as long as you like, and chances are, your driver or hotel will know someone who can be your local guide when you arrive. My amazing hotel in Aswan organized this car at my request and drove me to Abu Simbel where they also organized a local guide to meet me and take me around the temples.
After he showed me around, I took full advantage of having the places to myself to go crazy taking 1,000 photos (at least) at each temple. It turned out that these were some of my favorite moments from my entire month in Egypt.
Costs of having a private visit to Abu Simbel
One important thing to always remember in Egypt is to take your student card with you NO MATTER WHAT. With a student card, it is possible to get 50% off at every attraction that you will visit.
Cost to enter Abu Simbel: 215 EGP without a student card.
Cost for the private transfer to Abu Simbel and back to the hotel in Aswan: 1,400 EGP including an additional 300 EGP tip for our driver for being so awesome! (this is per car so if there are more of you, divided the price is NOT bad at all)
Cost for my private tour guide once at Abu Simbel: 1000 EGP with 100 EGP Tip
Abu Simbel is one of the most expensive places that you will visit in Egypt – next to the Valley of the Kings in Luxor. So it’s very helpful to have your student card to get that discount. And believe me, no matter the costs, visiting Abu Simbel with your own private transfer and having the place completely to yourself is something you HAVE to do.
I want to give a huge thanks to the team at Anakato Nubian Houses for organizing this day for me. It was so special and all thanks to them. You can read about my stay in the Nubian Village soon (I will share a link here when it’s published).
I hope this has inspired you to visit Egypt and make a trip to the Egyptian/Sudanese border to see the remarkable Abu Simbel temples. Make sure that you are following me on Instagram to see even more of my adventures through Egypt and around the world.