Top 7 Things to See and Do in Abu Simbel
Abu Simbel is a place right out of a dream. It is Egypt’s most popular Southernmost archaeological site located close to the border with Sudan in a region referred to as Nubia. Abu Simbel, and Nubia were well known for its gold mines and fierce warriors, and was particularly important to the integrity of the ancient Egyptian empire. With cliffs meeting Lake Nasser, the area is practically completely desert and has some incredible must-see mirages. Nowadays, Abu Simbel is known for its two temples of Ramses the Great and his Great Royal Wife, Nefertari. It is also known as a stop-over for Lake Nasser steamer cruises and the famous Sun Festival sunsets, which happens during the Winter solstice.
While still considering themselves Egyptians, Nubians are a lot darker, and have a unique culture of village life. Known for their hospitality and concentration South of the Aswan High Dam, Nubians have since been displaced by the development of hydro-electric installations on the Nile and many have moved to Aswan’s Eastern outskirts. Abu Simbel, due to a lack of hotels and industry is fairly depopulated, with travelers usually coming and going, just to see the two iconic temples. With Egypt’s January 25th, 2011 Revolution, the rise and fall of the Muslim Brotherhood and President Morsi, and the advent of President Sisi, the site is fairly empty, allowing travelers perfect shots of the two temples.
More often than not, travelers will outsource their trip to tour operators or agencies in their home country or in Egypt, believing that it is the safest, cheapest, and the most memorable way to see the land of the pharaohs, and leave rested, and a better person. At Egyptian Sidekick we believe that the mass tourism model currently dominant in Egypt, with its many detours for the purposes of sale, exposure of groups to hassle and harassment, and tight scheduling, simply cannot compete with the flexibility and cost-savings which go with locally-inspired options like those offered by our local guides and student chaperones.
Abu Simbel is one site where a Sidekick is actually not necessary, as you will be picked up at your hotel, hostel, or place of residence, will join the 4:00 AM or 11:00 AM convoys (please be ready by 3:30 AM and 10:30 AM respectively), and will then be driven by limousine sedan car to the sites, and dropped off back at your starting point in Aswan. Make sure to tell whatever venue you are staying with to prepare a paper bag lunch for you – this is a very common practice, since the trip to Abu Simbel is lengthy, and all hotels prepare the breakfast for their guests.
Abu Simbel has its own international airport (ASW), located in the desert, on the West bank of the Nile. The drive is not too lengthy but requires travelers to cross the British Dam, which is South of the city. It is an attraction in its own right. You will notice that Aswan is a far slower city, without the chaos of Cairo, Alexandria, or even Luxor. After visiting Egypt’s largest southern outpost, travelers realize that not only is Egypt safe for travelers, the experience is far better when traveling independently. With travel becoming ever-more accessible in the modern age, travel bloggers of all kinds are steadily challenging those basic assumptions.
Fees paid include permissions for travelers to join the convoy and to have police officers travel with it. Usually there is police in the first and in the last car. The officers choose the cars themselves – and there is no chance for the traveler or the local guiding Sidekick to argue against it. When there are many travelers are in Upper Egypt – especially during the winter months, the chance of having a police officer (with a firearm) inside your car is very small.
Nowadays, since the Revolution, the convoys have become very small due to low tourism numbers, we have had situations that police sat in the car from guests. There is no way to convince the police to split the costs of travel, nor would you want to suggest that. The owner of the car company will not give you a discount for the car that is traveling to Abu Simbel in these circumstances. The convoy is there for the safety of travelers. And in the event that you car or microbus should be chosen, please try to approach it as an adventure to have a member of the convoy police escort sit with you in your private car.
The verdict is, and always has been that Egypt is safe. Moving around the country independently versus being corralled from site-to-site, often on 44-person tour buses just doesn’t compare. Moreover, an independent trip to Egypt is significantly cheaper, by anywhere from 35% to 60%, making these basic facts all the more important, and worth that extra bit of attention. Questions surrounding sustainable tourism also come into consideration – would you prefer nameless intermediaries pocketing your money, or for it to make a bigger impact on the ground, where it counts.
1The Great Temple at Abu Simbel is a work of propaganda, Ramses’s ego, and the product of an empire in a golden age. Take note at the detail to anatomy, the queens and princesses at Ramses’s feet, the bound captives, and the finally-etched murals.
2Nefertari is known to have been a beauty. Her health failed early, and Ramses outlived her by many years. It is not certain whether she saw it completed. Her sleek person is depicted before the horned goddess Hathor, the Egyptian goddess of beauty.
3The famous battle of Qadesh at Abu Simbel is one of the most complete in all of Egypt. Although depicted as a victory, it was in fact a Pyrrhic victory, if not a stalemate. Egypt and the Hittites would eventually sign a peace treaty.
4Within the inner chamber of Ramses’s temple are the four sitting figures of Ptah – the god of craftsmen and the underworld, Amun – the god of the empire, Ramses himself, and Ra – the sun god. Ptah is intentionally never illuminated, not even during the solstice.
5The iconic relief of Ra with the sun disk atop the entrance to Ramses’s temple is a fantastic depiction of the ancient diety. This depiction hints at the solar orientation of the temple, most appreciated during the Winter solstice, when the sun hits the inner chamber.
6Finding Seth anywhere in Egypt is difficult. Ancient Egyptians began to be scared of Seth, the god of storms, and decided to limit his depiction. Within Ramses’s temple, you can see the brothers Seth and Horus, the famous falcon god, crowning Ramses.
7Lake Nasser is an artificial lake. The construction of the Aswan High Dam resulted in rising waters, prompting an international effort to raise the temples. There are cruises that run up and down, and some of them are steamers from the days of old.
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