No history lessons today!
There is plenty of that and fascinating details of the salvage and relocation of these amazing temples here and here. This is an account of how we planned our visit. And what we would do differently if we are fortunate enough to return.
There are two ways to get to Abu Simbel. Convoys – private and shared – depart twice daily at 4am and 11am, taking a total of nine hours for the return journey. This is supposedly a picturesque ride through the Nubian desert, but some accounts term it boring. Convoys need to be booked via travel agents online or on arrival in Cairo/Luxor/Aswan.
The flights – 45 min. each way – wait at Abu Simbel airport and return after two and a half hours. Flights are of course more expensive, and also carry the risk of delays, rescheduling &/or cancellations. In either case you get over two full hours to visit the temples unless you decide to stay overnight. In which case you obviously get more.
We opted for the flight for several reasons. We desperately needed a free day in Aswan having just arrived from several hectic days in Jordan. We are owls and avoid unearthly wake up calls if possible. We also did some math and decided it would be a lot easier to deal with a small plane load of people at the site, rather than a convoy of several hundred. Our photos are proof that we are good at math.
A shuttle transferred us in batches from the airport to the temples. It helps to not get distracted by the pandemonium in the tiny airport and get on the first shuttle out.
Once there, we bought our entrance tickets and raced inside without our guide (fee included in the ticket price) who was waiting to collect a good sized group at the entrance. (Make sure you are well hydrated and covered, because this is when you step out into the blazing Egyptian sun, and walk a couple of hundred feet with nothing to duck under! And forget comfort stops at this point. Plenty of time for that later, unless, God forbid, you have been hit by the pharaoh’s revenge.)
By the time the others caught up with us, we had the temple of Ramesses to ourselves for a good twenty minutes……a spellbound audience of two to Ramesses’s embellished history of the battle of Kadesh, beautifully portrayed in full colour! (No photos allowed inside sadly.)
In a while we strolled out to meet up with the guide, lingered around for the history lesson, and were off to the temple of Hathor next door, before the others had even entered the first temple.
When we were done here, we located a bench facing the lake and had us a picnic lunch – just the two of us – with the temples behind us. Bliss! (even though it was hot as hell, even by our standards …..don’t forget the sunblock, hats and dark glasses.) The tour groups returned to the little restaurant near the entrance to open their lunch boxes, while a few independent travellers made do with overpriced coke and pastries before the return flight.
There is a third more interesting way to get to Abu Simbel, and that is via Lake Nasser on a 3 or 4 day cruise (returning one way by flight). Approaching the temples from the water has to be THE best way to see them! The boat docks here overnight and dinner is served on deck with a view of the illuminated temples! You also get the opportunity to visit at less crowded times and watch the sound and light show (considered the best of the four S&L shows in Egypt.) I totally regret not taking this route. We just didn’t have enough time.
Until next time…….happy travels, no matter where life takes you!
PS: Covering arms and shoulders isn’t absolutely mandatory, although it will be perceived as respectful.