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Are you looking at your best options for travelling from Aswan to Abu Simbel? Great! This post should clear that all up and as a bonus, I’ll tell you how to see Abu Simbel without the crowds.
Yep, you read that right. There will be zero tourists there; zilch, nada, no one! So, you can enjoy it all to yourself.
For me personally, Abu Simbel had been on my bucket list for as long as I could remember. I was dying to see it on my trip in Egypt but there was only one issue; too many tour groups!
I really wanted my Indiana Jones moment, you know? Plus, I didn’t want to be on a tight schedule and wanted decent photos.
Abu Simbel is near the Sudan border around four hours drive on the desert road from Aswan.
So you see, the problem is, all of the tour buses in Aswan leave at the same time of 4am in a convoy.
This is due to the desert road being closed until 5am. So, you end up at Abu Simbel with masses of crowds. I mean, don’t get me wrong, it will still be cool. It’s Abu Simbel after all.
But, having it a little quieter just makes your trip that much more memorable, you’ll get more sleep (yay!) and you’ll have an all around epic time.
So, let me take you through the best ways to get from Aswan to Abu Simbel which will fit all budgets. Plus, I’ll let you into my secrets about selfishly having it all to yourself. Ready? Yalla!
The history of the Abu Simbel temples
Abu Simbel is one of the most famous legacies that has been left from ancient Egypt. The huge temples that were carved on the side of the Nubian cliffs draw thousands of visitors from around the world every year to see them.
How did they manage to carve these great temples into the wall without them falling? It’s a mysterious marvel that has been questioned throughout the centuries.
Egyptologists through numerous studies have led them to believe that these temples were built during the reign of Ramses II. But scholars today have disagreements on the exact dates. What we do know for sure, is that the temple was built somewhere between 1264 – 1244 BCE or 1244-1224 BCE.
The temples were built to celebrate Ramses II victory in the Battle of Kadesh over the Hittites. It took twenty years to complete and they are located on the second cataract of the Nile River. Now known today as Lake Nasser.
The great temple of Ramses II in Abu Simbel
The most iconic temple of the two is the Great Temple of Ramses II. It has a facade of four statues of King Ramses sitting on his throne.
The temple is 98 feet high and each of these statues is 60 feet tall. The top has statues of 22 baboons and there are family members placed at the base of the Ramses statues but are no higher than the Pharaoh’s knee.
In the middle of the entranceway is a statue of Ra Harakhti, a falcon headed god.
It felt so surreal to see this incredible temple in person, I almost squealed when I saw it with my own eyes. I just stood there wowed, trying to take it all in. The sheer awesomeness of it was hard to believe it was real and was made all those centuries ago.
After I picked my jaw up off the groud, I then entered through the Colossi into the temple itself.
In the main entrance way are massive statues of King Ramses paying homage to the gods on either side. From here, there are many rooms that you can explore. Most are empty as their treasures were ransacked centuries ago. But, the walls in the rooms still have magnificent carving works and hieroglyphics to oggle at.
If I could describe this temple in one word, it would be breathtaking.
Nefertari temple in Abu Simbel
The smaller, but by no means less impressive, temple is the Small Temple.
This temple was built to honor Hathor and Ramses II favourite wife, Nefertari Mereyemut. Even the inscription on the outside reads;
“A temple of great and mighty monuments, for the great royal wife Nefertart Mereyemut, for who’s sake the very sun does shine, given life and beloved!”
SO cute! It’s like an ancient Egyptian love letter. Ramses was obviously taken with Nefertari and you can tell by the quality of this present he left for her.
The colossi here are statues of them both together but instead of depicting her smaller in size than Ramses, that was tradition, Nefertari is depicted as the same size. Meaning they were equals.
It was also significant as this was the second time in ancient Egyptian history that a temple was built for a Queen. The first being Queen Hatshepsut’s temple in Luxor.
Although, Queen Hatshepsut built it for herself as she was the longest reigning pharaoh. Go girls!
This temple is 40 feet high and 92 feet long. When you walk inside you can see many images of Nefertari and Ramses in homage to the gods. Also there are many paintings of Hathor as the cow goddess and her coming out of the mountain. My guide told me it’s the only temple in the Egypt that shows this.
The artwork inside here was stunning and I really enjoyed taking it all in. Luckily, this temple is always a bit quieter than the bigger one so more opportunities for photos whenever you arrive!
Is a visit to Abu Simbel worth it? Is Abu Simbel safe to visit?
It’s quite a long drive from Aswan and definitely further afield from Cairo, but this was my favourite temple visit in all of Egypt. A lot of people say if you visit Egypt and don’t visit this temple, your visit is incomplete.
It just has to be done. Most Nile cruises will give you the option of adding this trip onto your tour and you can see this individually. It’s really accessible.
In terms of safety in Abu Simbel, the government have put in place the convoy’s, road curfew’s and security checkpoints on the road for your protection. There is no one going up or down that road that isn’t meant to be there. The temple itself is also strictly guarded with intense security checks. So, you’re good!
What to expect on the journey from Aswan to Abu Simbel
If you’re heading here by bus or car on the desert road, you’re in for a long ride. As I said earlier it takes around 4 hours for buses to reach Abu Simbel from Aswan.
It’s less for a car as it can go faster, personally I would always recommend this route if you want to do it privately like I did.
Abu Simbel security stops
The road is usually closed between 5am and 5pm each day. This is for security reasons as it’s so close to the border of Sudan.
You will be stopped many times on the way down to Abu Simbel and vice versa by the security checkpoints.
Usually they want to see the drivers licence and your tour guides licence. My guide also told me to bring my passport with me in case it was necessary but I didn’t need to show it in the end.
You don’t stop for long, they will just tell the soldier your country of residence and how many in your party.
The views on the way to Abu Simbel
As you meander down the desert road, you’ll pretty much see one view. Lots and lots of sand!
My tour guide joked that I would be able to see the Nile at some point. What he meant was that due to the intense heat a mirage usually appears above the sand. It looked blue due to the sky.
I tried to get a picture as best I could.. can you see the Nile? Lol!
Pit stops on the way to Abu Simbel
You usually stop for a break on the way there and back half way at one of the road side pit stops. These places will have Egyptian tea, coffee and canned drinks. Also there’s some packaged biscuits and snacks if you’re peckish.
As per in Egypt, the toilets and paper for them are available for a small tip.
I met the CUTEST cat at one of these stops, her name was Kira. She was adorable and wanted to play. I mean, will you look at those eyes?!
Visitor information for Abu Simbel temples
- What are the opening times for Abu Simbel? Abu Simbel is open daily from 5am until 6pm each day. If you’re on a tour from Aswan you’ll probably reach around 8am. But you can stay in the Abu Simbel area and visit at sunrise.
- Abu Simbel ticket prices – entrance tickets to both temples at Abu Simbel are £200EGP (£8)
- Photography at Abu Simbel – photography is free for the outside of the temples. If you would like to take pictures of the inside a ticket is £300EGP (£15). Tripod tickets are £20EGP (£1).
- Accessibility at Abu Simbel – there is a buggy that will take you from the entrance down towards the cliffside. The walk is quite long and it’s roasting hot, so if you need assistance I would opt for this. It comes at a small fee paid direct to the driver.
- Light and Sound show at Abu Simbel – each evening there is a light and sound show at Abu Simbel. But as there isn’t as many tourists in the night as there is in the day, you need to have a minimum of 10 people for it to take place. You can check ticket prices and show timings for it here. Next time I’m in Egypt, I’m planning on staying down in Abu Simbel to see this!
Should I hire a guide to visit Abu Simbel?
Personally, if you’re going on a private tour of Abu Simbel, I would recommend hiring a guide from Aswan as well as a driver to take you there.
Unlike the museums and temples in Cairo and Luxor, there aren’t many guides touting at the entrance here. This is because the majority of people visiting have a guide with their tour.
They can translate Arabic for you, get your tickets and they can tell you what to expect, making you feel more comfortable.
I especially liked the fact I could ask all the questions that popped up in my head about the history and meaning of it all. There’s hardly any signs.
The guide borrowed a book from one of the sellers to explain what I would see inside the temples.
Guides are not allowed to go inside with you out of respect for the dead. These are mortuary temples after all! Even when I was alone and there was nobody about. In a way it was nicer.
I’m not going to recommend my guide I had here, simply as he scammed me for a gold necklace after my tour. I won’t slander his guide skills as they were good and I won’t put his name.
But, I’ll put a picture of us here before it happened so you can watch out for him and not have it happen to you on your tour.
The best ways to get from Aswan to Abu Simbel
Aswan to Abu Simbel by tour bus
This is the most popular and cost effective option. You will share a coach or mini bus with your tour group and head down from Aswan to Abu Simbel together.
Most of the tour buses leave from Aswan around 4am to get to the desert road at 5am. Although in the past, all the cars and mini buses had to follow a police car in a convoy, buses can leave when they like now.
This bus trip takes 3.5 to 4 hours and most tourists will arrive at 8am at the temple. You’ll stick around for about two hours then make your way back to Aswan.
Tours cost anything from £200EGP (£8) – £1000EGP (£30) depending on the amount of people and the company.
Unless you’re on a guided tour or a Nile cruise, I would shop around in Aswan for prices. Most hotels are paired up with a tour company and gain a hefty commission from you.
Aswan to Abu Simbel by cruise ship
A lot of tours will advertise Abu Simbel on your cruise but what they actually mean is a bus there. In fact, there is only one cruise ship that actually sails down from Aswan and stops at Lake Nasser.
It then pulls into port right outside Abu Simbel. The cruise ship is called Odyssey’s unlimited and they run regular tours.
I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of it taking off when I arrived. It must be so cool to park up right by the temple and wake up to it in the morning! Plus, you’re guaranteed for the light show to take place.
Tours aren’t cheap at a couple of thousand dollars, but it’s a luxury 5* cruise and you can check rates available here.
Aswan to Abu Simbel by private taxi
A private car is how I got to Abu Simbel and it’s the best way to get to see it without the crowds!
Again, it’s not cheap, especially as I was staying at the Sofitel Old Cataract Hotel in Aswan but I was so determined to see it without the groups I didn’t mind. I was also really sick with a chest infection in Egypt and did not fancy taking a tour bus full of people at 4am.
So, I organised a private car tour with a guide through the Old Cataract.
As I had a special request of seeing Abu Simbel with as little crowds as possible, the manager of the tour company came to speak to me about it personally. He called his most experienced guide to ask about the best time of day to see the temple without tour groups.
The suggestion was that instead of leaving the hotel at 4am like all the others. We’d leave at 8am and arrive there at 11/12pm after all the tour groups had left. It wasn’t a guarantee, but it was better than then having it crowded.
And he was (thankfully) right! We had it to ourselves for the whole two hours I was there. It was worth every penny and by far one of the best experiences I had in Egypt.
I organised a private taxi with the Old Cataract for around £1650EGP (£70). This is a steal for an air conditioned private car, eight hour round trip and a guide! I booked it through a 5* hotel though so you maybe able to get it cheaper elsewhere in Aswan.
I would have left a little later than 8am, but that’s the latest we could leave. As the road shuts again you don’t want to be stuck!
You will be expected to tip your guide and driver afterwards. Just don’t go shopping with them!
Cairo, Luxor, Aswan to Abu Simbel by flight
Egyptair do run flights from Cairo to Abu Simbel, stopping at Luxor/Aswan on the way.
They don’t run every day and these flights are slightly expensive. From the website these seem to run on Thursday’s and Saturday’s and cost £129EGP for a one way ticket. From Aswan to Abu Simbel it’s £222GBP!
But, it does save a lot of time as flying from Cairo only takes a couple of hours!
From Abu Simbel airport you can organise a cab directly to Abu Simbel and straight back for your flight in the evening or to your hotel in the area. You can also organise a cab to Aswan if the road is still open.
If you don’t feel comfortable risking it, I would ask you hotel in Cairo/Luxor to organise a transfer beforehand. They may know a reputable company based in Abu Simbel.
Do trains run to Abu Simbel in Egypt?
No, although they used to have a railway service that ran to Abu Simbel in Egypt, ever since 2006 there have been no train services to Abu Simbel.
The only way is by the four ways above for now. That may change in future though.
Hotels in Abu Simbel
Abu Simbel is more than just where the temples are, it’s quite a cute little Nubian town near the border of Sudan.
There are a hand full of hotels that you can stay in that would be perfect for a sunrise mission or the sound and light show in the evening.
How to have Abu Simbel temples all to yourself without the tour groups!
Taking a flight to Abu Simbel, staying the night and visiting early morning or late afternoon is a great way to see Abu Simbel with no crowds and to guarantee it.
As well as taking the Odyssey nights cruise ship.
But, if you’re heading here by road from Aswan. This is the easiest way to do it on a road trip;
- Take a private car from Aswan to Abu Simbel. Click here for an option.
- Leave as late as you possibly can without risking not being able to get back due to the road closure.
- Remember, the road is closed from 5pm until 5am so you can’t leave at 2am or anything like that (I already asked haha).
- As most tour groups leave on their buses at 4am and arrive there by 8am. You want to leave at around 8am, to ensure that you get there as they all leave.
- You should arrive at around 11am/12pm and voila! You have it all to yourself and the perfect opportunity to take photos.
I mean, it is possible you may be able to get photos with no one in them if you’re the first coach that arrives. Or, you just have to be extremely patient. I was just too ill and impatient to take that risk :P
Top tips for a day trip to Abu Simbel from Aswan
- Aswan to Abu Simbel is a long drive of 3-4 hours. Make sure you stock up on water and snacks for the trip. If your hotel provides it, ask for your breakfast to go!
- There will be pit stops on the trip, I’d suggest buying packaged food. The best options are biscuits. They sell fake Oreo’s and the chocolate cake bars were also good.
- It will be extremely hot as you’re near the border of Sudan. Make sure you wear suncream, a hat, sunglasses and comfortable walking shoes.
- Keep hydrated there will be gift shops (of course) and cafés outside of the site. I’d suggest buying water before you go in as there’s no chance while you’re there. These sell water and ice creams (Squizz up mango was my fave!), coffee, tea, canned drinks etc.
- There will be people in the site trying to sell you books, postcards and maps of the Nile. Haggle and be careful of your things – from other tourists too!
- There is a buggy to take you from the ticket entrance to the site at a small cost.
- There’s only the two temples here and not much else to see around the area, aside from Lake Nasser. The views of the Lake from Abu Simbel are spectacular.
- Tour guides cannot enter the temples with you. Ask questions outside of the temples. My guide had a photo book of the artwork which was really helpful to explain everything that I would see.
- Don’t go shopping with your guide afterwards in Aswan, I was scammed for a gold necklace and paid $250 over the right price. Go shopping on your own to avoid jumped up commissions.
Bonus tip: what to wear to Abu Simbel?
In Egypt it’s always a good idea to wear light, conservative clothing that covers you up to be respectful of the culture.
As the Abu Simbel temple complex is a tourist site, it’s not dangerous here to get have your shoulders out if you find you’re too hot. Most of the visitors will be other tourists and guides are probably used to Western dress and culture.
But, when you’re outside of the temple site in and around locals of Abu Simbel, always cover up as much as possible. Capri’s are fine, but shorts, short skirts and revealing clothes are a big no, no.
Wear light clothing that is breathable. Cotton trousers/capri’s and a t-shirt, a maxi dress, jumpsuit, or a maxi skirt and top combo would be ideal.
Pack your hat, sunglasses and a light scarf to protect from heat and potential sandstorms (these happen more than you think). I totally regretted not bringing mine! Wear comfortable shoes as the surfaces at the temple complex can be uneven.
If you need more inspiration, read my ultimate women’s packing list for Egypt here. This has a full list of outfits I took to Egypt and toiletries/medicines you shouldn’t travel to Egypt without.
Don’t miss a visit to Abu Simbel while in Egypt!
I will always remember my trip from Aswan to Abu Simbel, it was an eventful day (with the scam) but it was also a majorly successful one. I managed to see it without the crowds, take it all in, get some awesome photos and it was worth every penny! My favourite moment in all my travels here.
If you’re in Egypt, you really cannot miss a trip to Abu Simbel. It’s the ultimate bucket list tick off and you will not believe your eyes when you see it for yourself!
Whichever way you get there, it will surely be a trip to remember.