Abu Simbel is a fascinating destination for every traveller to Egypt because of its two giant rock temples that was saved by the rising water of Nile due to the construction of High Dam in Aswan, Egypt. It was a joint effort of many countries led by UNESCO to relocate and preserve these temples of old-Egyptian era and and that relocation was considered as one of the greatest challenges of archaeological engineering in history.
Abu Simbel is located about 290 kms southwest from Aswan and just 40 kms north of Sudan-Egypt Border in the middle of desert. Although there is a well-paved modern highway going to Abu Simbel from Aswan and it also has an airport, that was built specifically for tourists just 6 kms away from the temples, but still reaching Abu Simbel appears very tricky for many tourists, specially to them, who don’t want to fly there. Since, I just completed this trip in a cost-effective way, I hope this post will help you to plan your trip in a proper manner.
Abu Simbel from Cairo: For those, who have lot of money but less time, the best way to reach Abu Simbel is by a flight of EgyptAir Express, a subsidiary of state-owned EgyptAir , from Cairo Airport. These flights depart from Cairo Airport Terminal-3 and take 3 hours with 40 minutes stop-over at Aswan. There is no direct flight between Cairo and Abu Simbel without this stop at Aswan. The return ticket cost will depend on the time of booking and seat availability and generally vary between 2000 EGP to 3000 EGP, if you book 15 days to 30 days in advance.
After arrival at Abu Simbel Airport, Egypt Air buses will take you to Abu Simbel temple entrance without any cost (However, giving tip to the driver and helper is a tradition). They wait there for two hours, which is sufficient time to visit both the temples and then take you back for your return flight.
If you want to do this trip in a cost-effective way, then best method is to use Aswan as your base for Abu Simbel trip.
About Aswan: Aswan is located about 290 kms north of Abu Simbel and it is the last big city before Abu Simbel. It is also a major tourist destination with some of major attractions situated on both banks of the Nile River including Philae Temple, Nubian Museum, St.Simeon’s Monastery, Noble’s Tombs etc. There are various method to reach Abu Simbel from Aswan:
1. By Air: The Aswan Airport is located kms 16 south of the city and there is daily 2-3 flights operating between Aswan and Abu Simbel. These flights cost you about 1200 to 1800 EGP depending on the time of booking and seat availability.
Reaching Aswan Airport from Town: There is no public bus service between Aswan City and Aswan Airport. Also, There is no metered taxi in Aswan. There are two type of taxis, one is big cars like Mitsubishi Lancer, Hyundai Verna, that fall under the category of Limousine services and from Airport to El Corniche Nile, their rates may fall in the category of 100-150 EGP. There is another type of taxi at the airport that can cost you from 40-80 EGP depending on your bargaining skill, However, I found the second type of taxi from Airport to El-Corniche Nile in 40 EGP.
You can also use Egypt Air buses to reach to the airport, but by paying some charges for the service. Egypt Air buses depart from the Egypt Air office at El Corniche Nile.
Again, After arrival at Abu Simbel Airport, Egypt Air buses will take you to Abu Simbel temple entrance without any cost.
2. By Train: There is no train services to Abu Simbel from anywhere in the Egypt. In fact, there is no railway line in that area.
3. By Nile Cruises: This is also a popular way to reach Abu Simbel. These cruises are mainly popular among honeymooners and luxury travellers and hence the most expensive method to reach Abu Simbel. These cruises operate float over Lake Naseer from Aswan to Abu Simbel and their full itinerary may take 4 to 5 days from Aswan-Abu Simbel and back to Aswan trip. Typical price range starts from 2500 EGP onwards per person depending on the class of luxury.
4. By Road: Best method to reach Abu Simbel in a cost-effective way. But for this you have to book your trip one day before. There are two methods to book this trip:
Using services of any reputed travel agency/tour operators: They will book your tour easily without any hassle. They just need your passport copy a day before to complete some formalities. But there cost can vary from 600 EGP to 900 EGP. When I tried to book my trip and searched the available information, I came to know that a reputed travel operator was asking for 600 EGP (excluding temple entry ticket of 100 EGP) and another one 200 USD (including temple entry ticket of 100 EGP). I had a reference of a tour operator through a friend, and he quoted 120 USD or 850 EGP(including temple entry ticket of 100 EGP). Later, he was ready to book it in 800 EGP. Then I informed him that another operator is charging 600 EGP. He told me to arrange an extra fellow to get the price of 600 EGP. These prices were quoted on an individual basis in an air-conditioned bus with some other tourists.
Then, incidentally, I came across the most cost-effective method:
Using Services of Budget/Mid-Range Hotels: Without no hope of booking less than 600 EGP, I called my booked hotel in Aswan to know if they also had any tour to Abu Simbel. I wanted to book this tour in 500 EGP (excluding temple entry ticket of 100 EGP). But, when I asked him the tour prices, he said for Short Tour ( Abu Simbel only) it is 75 EGP and for Big Tour (Abu Simbel including Philae Temple, High Dam and Unfinished Oblisk), it is 85 EGP (excluding temple entry ticket of 100 EGP). I was amazed with the offered prices and told him to book it immediately. He informed me that it would be booked after my arrival at the hotel. When I arrived there next day, I paid 85 EGP and confirmed my trip to Abu Simbel.
Updated on Sept.30, 2015: El Salam Hotel in Aswan arranges this trip to Abu Simbel in 150 EGP now. A separate trip to High Dam, Unfinished Oblisk and Philae Temple costs extra 150 EGP.
The best way to book your trip to Abu Simbel is to book through any small or mid-range hotel. They have a collaborative arrangement and a single nodal point to collect the information of interested people from each hotel. Then they book it collectively on a single van or bus to reduce the cost without any prior availability of documents and all other things. They even do not ask for the passport copy. In my group, there were people from El Salam Hotel, Memnon Hotel, Nuba Nile Hotel etc.. So every budget hotel in Aswan is arranging this trip in the same way. This is a win-win situation for all.
Regarding Safety Issue/Convoy: There are two convoy leaving timings for Abu Simbel trip from Aswan. One is in early morning at 4:00 AM, which return back by 1:00 PM. Another is at 11:00 AM, which return back by 7:30 PM. Both convoy allow two hours to explore these two temples of Abu Simbel, which is enough time in my opinion.
While booking the morning 04:00 AM tour (majority of tourists book this), the condition is that you will reach your hotel reception at 3:00 AM in the morning. In my hotel, a person even came to check whether I woke up or not at 2:50 AM. They provide you a packet of breakfast and by 3:15, a van arrives to pick up you from your hotel. One by one this van picks up people from all other hotels to reach at a common assembly point for all vehicles at 04:00 AM. This assembly of vehicles, that generally include big tourist buses or 14-seater vans, is known as a convoy. But, once they leave the convoy assembly point on the road to Abu Simbel, I did not notice any vehicle which remained a part of convoy. Every vehicle moved at their own speed without any restrictions. So, after that assembly there is no convoy type of thing.
Comfort level of cheaper Vans: You can see the picture of vehicles at Abu Simbel. Whether you pay 600 EGP or 75 EGP, all vehicles are nearly the same. So, there is no issue of your comfort or vehicle safety.
After reaching Abu Simbel, these vehicles stop nearly 300 meters away from the temples. You have to buy your ticket before the entrance by 100 EGP, which also include the service of an English guide there. If you are from US or Europe, you can expect that these guides approach you in hope of some big Baksheesh (tips), but if you are from Asian countries like I was, they may never turn towards you.
Two hours is enough to explore the temples and surrounding area. There is no such type of arrangements that allow you to arrive with first convoy and to leave in second convoy. For that you can arrive with first convoy by paying full charges and then again you can check with any driver in second convoy, if he have any vacant seat by paying at least 60-70 EGP. It will be depend on your luck. or else you always have an option to return by an Egypt Air flight.
Photography is allowed outside the temple, but not inside the temple. There is bascially two temples at the site. First Big Temple was dedicated to the gods Amun, Ra-Horakhty, and Ptah, as well as to the Rameses himself . This is considered as one of the most impressive temple in whole Egypt. Second small temple is temple of Hathor and Neferati; was dedicated to the goddess Hathor and Ramesses II’s chief consort, Nefertari.
If you want to stay in Abu Simbel, there is also a good hotel, Neferati Hotel, located about 200 meters away from the entrance and parking area of the temple. There is also a 5-star hotel Seti Hotel located in nearby area.
The road-journey to Abu Simbel was one of the memorable experiences of life. Passing through the Great Sahara Desert, watching one of the most beautiful sunrise in the desert, walking along the shore of Lake Naseer, Moving around the impressive temples of Abu Simbel and experiencing the phenomenon of Mirage in Desert in the return trip were some of the unforgettable moments…