Forget the pyramids, this is a whole other level of amazing…
It’s more than likely literally the opposite end of the country you’ve come to see, but there are myriad reasons why you should absolutely make the effort to head for the bottom end of Egypt too. In fact, this was my favourite site in the whole country, even including the pyramids.
First, you’ll need to get yourself to Aswan. If you’re in Luxor, this is only a two-and-a-half hour train ride away. My advice would be to stay overnight in Aswan the night before, because you’re going to be in for an early start. A 4am early start.
Here’s the info on the rest of it:
What is Abu Simbel
The Abu Simbel temples are two indescribably massive rock temples located at Abu Simbel (funny that), a tiny village in Nubia in southern Egypt – exceptionally close to the border with Sudan. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site (isn’t everything in Egypt?), and were originally carved out of the freaking mountainside in the 13th Century BC, during the reign of the widely revered and Egyptian-favourite Pharaoh Ramesses II. They’re a lasting monument to him and Queen Nefertari, who ruled with him.
But it’s not just the temples themselves that are iconic – though the incredibly well-preserved hieroglyphs on the inside makes it seem like they were erected a couple of months ago – it’s the colossocal 20-metre high stone figures outside that are really special. Of the four original statues on the Great Temple, one was destroyed in an earthquake – its head and bust fell, and can be found at the base of the statue.
But what’s even MORE incredible, if that’s humanly possible, is that the whole goddamn complex was relocated in its entirety in 1968. They PICKED UP THE WHOLE THING AND MOVED IT.
The temples had to be moved ahead of the creation of the Aswan High Dam, as when the Nile was dammed it created Lake Nasser, and the temples would have been flooded. When you see these things in real life, you’ll understand.
WHY IS IT FAMOUS?
The intricacy of the carvings, the utter size of each of the statues, and the scale of this entire project is just mind-blowing. It’s hard to describe, but when you see it – it just hits you. Wandering around the interior, the hieroglyphs and murals are increidbly well-preserved, and offer fascinating insight into a world we’ll never know.
The relocation of the entire thing probably helped it gain a bit of notoriety too.
HOW DO I GET THERE?
This is the tricky part. If you want to visit Abu Simbel and you don’t want to fly from Luxor or Aswan, you’re only allowed to do so via a convoy from Aswan organised by the police, for the ever-assuring “safety reasons”. This convoy leaves each morning at about 4.30am and if you’ve chosen the mini van option, they’ll generally pick you up from your hotel.
The trip takes just over three hours, including stops.
You’ve got two choices in the convoy:
BUS: A public bus runs in the convoy for 100 EGP, but from second-hand knowledge, it’s generally the less ideal way to go.
MINI VAN: Ask your hotel to call their guy to sort you out with a seat in one of the mini vans. They’re smaller, more comfortable and stop at a tiny “cafe” (more akin to a dusty shack, but it has instant coffee nonetheless) on the way. This will cost around $15 USD for a round trip, or $25 for two people (450 EGP. Yes, their currency conversion leaves a little to be desired). They usually give you two or so hours for a wander around before they take you back to Aswan and drop you back at your hotel for a nap.
Tip: Sit on the left-hand side of the van or bus, the sun rise over the Sahara is spectacular.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COSTEntry into the temple complex is 160 EGP. There are other random ‘guide fees’ but we did not get a guide inside, nor did we see any meandering about ready to take us anywhere so I have no idea what that’s about.
As much as I wish I could tell you the name of this place, it was in Arabic and my stupid white brain had absolutely no idea. Regardless, we were directed here by a friendly local at the taxi station, so that’s when you know you’re onto something. And my god, I would’ve eaten here every day for the rest of my life if I could’ve.
From the train station, head right along that main road until you reach the first intersection and take a left. Continue about 100m down that tiny wee street, where you’ll invariably think you’ve taken a wrong turn as there’s barely a functioning shop down there but plenty of rubbish and stray cats, and look out for it on your right. The facade is red, it’s set up on some steps away from the street, and it will be swarming with locals. Falafel sandwiches are 20 EGP (Yes, about 15 cents) and you’ll want to have at least two. This was the best falafel we had in Egypt, which is a feat considering falafel in Egypt is the best we’ve ever had. So, yes, we’re crowning this the best falafel in the world.
Sure, it’s a bit of an ordeal to get to (you’ll regret bartering for a 50 EGP taxi ride from the train station and round that up. Significantly), but this beautiful guesthouse is worth the trek. Located on the east bank of the Nile, nestled in amongst a couple of other equally as colourful and intriguing hotels, the grand wooden door of this Nubian-style home belies the quirkiness of its interior.
There’s a laid-back communal area downstairs full of cushions, full of people chatting and shooting the shit even at 11pm when we arrive through the doors.
But the rooms are where the true magic happens. Adorned with Arabic writing on the walls, softs pastels and a gorgeous view overlooking the Nile, there’s a chance you might not want to get up to go to Abu Simbel at all. The ensuite is all stone basins and modern white-ware, with a stone-encased wetroom housing the shower and the toilet.
While breakfast is included in your stay, if you’re off to Abu Simbel in the morning – you’ll be greeted by a friendly face at 4am holding a packed meal for digging into on your way there. It may be simple (some bread, cheese, a juice box, some fruit) but it was practically gourmet considering some of the other packed lunches we saw en route the next morning.
The friendly staff will also be on hand to bundle you into a car and drive you to the junction where your tour van will pick you up for the trip; all small gestures, which make for an incredibly warm and generous all-encompassing stay.