Abu Simbel is one of the most incredible sites that you’ll visit while you’re in Egypt. It was easily one of my favorite places that I visited in Egypt and 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 can find Abu Simbel in the south of Egypt about 50 miles from the border of Sudan and 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 where I share all my secrets for how I had Abu Simbel all to myself while visiting in February 2019.
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 belonged to Nefertari and was built for her by Ramsesses the Second. It stands on the right and then on the left is the grand temple of Ramesses ll. Ramsesses 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 rock mountain side 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 well and truly place Abu Simbel underwater.
Because of this new problem, in 1959 the Egyptian and Sudanese government’s wrote to UNESCO seeking assistance. So began 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 weren’t to know this story, I am sure that you would have no idea that these temples had moved a centimeter since their original construction.
So now on the fun bits, how to get to Abu Simbel and more importantly, how to explore these remarkable temples all by yourself! Without the seas of tourists that most people spend hours editing out of their photos.
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 arrive by plane. 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, but if you don’t have much time it could be better for you.
Another option is to take a guided tour from Aswan. These tours leave Aswan at 4 in the morning, arriving at Abu Simbel at 8am, 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 it’s load back to Aswan for the night.
By the time we bought our tickets and walked over the temples, it was almost completely empty. Incredible.
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. That’s what happened for us. Our amazing hotel in Aswan organized this car at my request and drove us to Abu Simbel where they also organized a local guide to meet us and take us around the temples.
After he showed us around, we took full advantage of having the places to ourselves to go crazy taking 100 photos (at least) at each temple. It turned out that these were some of my favorite photos from my entire month in Egypt.
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 our 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 our private tour guide once at Abu Simbel : 1000 EGP with 100 EGP Tip (split two ways - 550EGP each)
Abu Simbel is one of the most expensive places that you will visit in Egypt - next to 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 us. 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) and learn more about how you can receive a special discount off your trip to Nubia - the land of smiles!
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.