Of all the places I visited in Egypt on this trip, Abu Simbel was the stand-out highlight. You don’t hear much about Abu Simbel but it is worthy of coming to Egypt itself. The temple complex itself is made up of two separate temples- one for Ramses ii and one for his favorite wife Nefertari (not to be confused with Nefertiti).
Abu Simbel was build in 1244 BC and eventually the sands covered the magnificent structures. They were rediscovered again in the 1800s.
Both temples were actually moved to their current location in the 1960s after the Aswan High Dam was constructed. Damming the Nile forced water over the original site of Abu Simbel. There is a building with exhibits around the bend from the temples showcasing the removal and rebuild of the temples in both photographs and video. Talk about an engineering feat!
Each of the Ramses II statues stands close to 70 feet tall. I like having at least one person in the photos for scale. Also, every year there is a Sun Festival (this year was February 22nd) where the rising sun hits the statues straight on and gives them a special glow. My tour guide messaged us on this year’s festival to report 3000 people showed up to watch that morning.
Practically it is not very easy to visit Abu Simbel. The drive from Aswan was at least 3.5 hours through a very windy desert. There are only a few places to stop to use the facilities get a drink so have your 5 Egyptian pound note ready (the cost to use the restroom anywhere no matter if you buy something or not). But most of all, leave early to avoid the heat and crowds!
Inside the temples at Abu Simbel are still beautiful and intricate even after 3000 years of being buried in the sand. And best of all it is 20 degrees cooler inside the temples. You can wander for hours reading the stories carved into the walls.
I learned how to find and read some of the main gods and goddesses names in Ancient Egyptian. Mostly I can find Isis, Osiris, and Horus.
We arrived at 8am which meant we left Aswan before the sun came up just to beat the river cruisers and other tour groups. I’m so glad we did this because when we first arrived it was a pleasant temperature but by the time we left, it was boiling. And it is winter here so I cannot even imagine it in the summer. Our tour guide says people will regularly get heat stroke here in the summer. Fun times.
Nefertari’s temple has a slightly smaller façade and inside area, it was equally as impressive to me as Ramses II’s temple.
Quite a few tours through Egypt skip Abu Simbel because it is not super-easy to reach. This was my favorite stop of the entire trip so make sure you do make the effort to get here early morning before the crowds and heat descend upon this desert awesomeness.
Reader Question: Did you study any hieroglyphics or Ancient Egyptian language in school? We did it in 3rd grade and I remembered nothing!