Day trip to Abu Simbel with kids
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Visiting the temples of Abu Simbel with kids
When you’re on a family road trip through Egypt, a day trip to Abu Simbel with kids is worth a spot on your Egypt itinerary. If you make it to Aswan, it’s only a few hours drive from here. Because Abu Simbel is a true highlight it’s worth your precious time. In this article I will tell you why you should visit Abu Simbel with your family and how to get there.
Why Abu Simbel is a great choice for a family visit
Not all tourists that visit Egypt make it as far as as Abu Simbel. It’s located some kilometers from the border with Sudan. But it’s a real shame to skip the temples of Ramses II and of Queen Nefertari and Hathor, because they’re beautiful and well preserved. Besides that, the temple of Ramesses II (aka Ramses II) is the largest temple built in ancient Nubia. The size of it makes it an impressive sight to see. Kids often name a visit to Abu Simbel as cool as one to Karnak Temple in Luxor. I checked it at home and it’s our family’s 2nd most favorite temple complex in Egypt. Karnak holds the first place and Philae Temple in Aswan closes the top 3.
In other words, a visit to Abu Simbel is must-do for kids and parents. It’s one of the best ancient Egyptian sites to visit as a family. So, go on that day trip to Abu Simbel with kids!
Getting to Abu Simbel
There are 3 ways to get to Abu Simbel. By plane, by cruise and by car.
You can only fly directly to Abu Simbel from Aswan with EgyptAir. Twice a day flights leave to and from Abu Simbel. The best option is to take the morning flight, around 9.30am. This ride takes you to Abu Simbel in 45min. The airport is located next to Abu Simbel, you can spot the planes while you’re on site. You have about 1h30min at Abu Simbel before you have to head back to the airport to be on time for your flight back to Aswan around 1pm. The cost for a return flight is about 300 to 400 euro (excluding lap babies).
The other option is to fly from Cairo to Abu Simbel. You fly from Cairo around 6am and arrive in Aswan in time to take the flight to Abu Simbel at 9.30am. This will cost you about 400 to 500 euro for a return flight per person, again excluding infants that travel along on a parent’s lap.
Flying to Abu Simbel from any other city in Egypt is not advised. Most planes will take you from your city of departure back to Cairo, before landing in Aswan for the flight to Abu Simbel. It will take you between 8 to 10 hours to get to Abu Simbel and you’d have to spend the night.
After you land at Abu Simbel a shuttle bus will take you directly to the site in roughly 10 minutes. The driver will tell you at what time the shuttle leaves for the airport. So you know when you have to be back at the parking lot. The shuttle bus from and to Abu Simbel is free, but don’t forget to tip the driver.
There are different cruise companies that offer multiple day trips from Aswan to Lake Nasser. You will stop at other ancient Egyptian and Nubian sites as well, not just at the Abu Simbel temple complex.
These tours are 4 or 5 days long and the prizes are based on full-board, minus drinks. It includes being picked up from your accommodation in Aswan and brought to Abu Simbel, where you board the ship. The first excursion is the temples of Abu Simbel and after that the ship will bring you to Aswan 3 nights later.
Prizes are between 400 and 550 euro per adult, children ages 6-11 pay between 200 and 300 euro and kids younger than 6 are free on most of the cruise ships.
This is the option we went with. We had our own guide and driver for the day. We were picked up in the lobby of the Nile Cruise ship we were on at 4am. Yep, in the middle of the night. Because of the heat, but also to avoid the crowds, we opted to leave at this time of night.
The reason why we didn’t rent a car and drive ourselves has to do with the closeness to Sudan, and thus several checkpoints along the way. It will take you about 3 to 4 hours to get to Abu Simbel from Aswan.
Hiring a taxi once you leave your accommodation in the middle of the night, can be tricky. Chances are you’ll pay way more than necessary, simply because your only option this last minute is a car. You have to leave between 3am and 5am to beat the crowds and the heat in Abu Simbel. If you don’t pre-arrange a driver or taxi it will be hard to find them around this time of night.
Abu Simbel is located about 20km from the Sudanese border. Not too long ago you could only get from Aswan to Abu Simbel by road via a police convoy. This is no longer necessary, but there are a few police checkpoints you have to cross. They sometimes make a fuss and it really helps if your with a guide that speaks Arabic. That’s why I recommend bringing a guide and driver along on this day trip to Abu Simbel with kids.
Join a tour from Aswan to Abu Simbel
You can also opt to book a tour from Aswan to Abu Simbel as a day package. The next best thing after hiring a driver and guide. When you’re on a Nile Cruise from Luxor to Aswan you can opt to go on an excursion to Abu Simbel.
Is it safe to visit Abu Simbel with kids?
Safety is one of the reasons we opted for a driver and guide to tag along. If, at worst case, we would be interrogated at checkpoints it would make it a lot easier with a local to see us through it. We heard that they don’t all speak English, so it just wasn’t worth taking our chances.
Visiting the temples of Abu Simbel with kids is safe. Aside from the usual, “don’t bring your valuables along” that I advise for all destinations.
Getting around the site is easy via the recently paved walkways that take you from the ticket office and the toilet blocks to the sight itself. Once there you’re greeted with a sandy and rock filled desert like square. That’s the reason why I don’t recommend bringing a stroller. After you leave the walkway it gets really bumpy. Bring a baby carrier along if you’re baby or toddler can’t walk or not steadily enough.
You can buy water, other drinks and different snacks at the site. You don’t have to bring it all. When it gets too hot and you need extra water, you can buy it before and after you’ve entered the site. Same goes for bathrooms. these are located in front of the entrance and again before you exit the site.
Lastly, there is no shade on site! Make sure you apply sunscreen, bring it along on your trip and wear sun caps or hats.
General info about Abu Simbel
About 20 kilometers north of the border with Sudan and 300 kilometers south of Aswan, you’ll find the temples of Abu Simbel. This region is named as Nubia, the country that once was. The site sits on the western bank of Lake Nasser.
The site is open daily from 7am to 5pm. And again from 6pm to 9pm for the sound and light shows.
Paying for photographs
You can snap pics with your phone camera for free. But if you want to use a camera, you have to buy a camera pass to do so. With this camera pass you also have permission to shoot video on your cellphone. Without this pass it’s not allowed to shoot vids on your cell, just pictures.
Like most sites in Egypt, there are two kinds of tickets. One for Egyptians and Arabs and one for foreigners. There are also different prices for adults, kids and students.
|Fall 2022||Day ticket||Sound & Light Show|
|Foreigners||Adults||€ 14,00||€ 18,00|
|Kids (6-11)||€ 7,00||€ 9,00|
|Students||€ 7,00||€ 9,00|
|Locals/Arabs||Adults||€ 2,00||€ 7,00|
|Kids (6-11)||€ 1,00||€ 3,00|
|Students||€ 0,50||€ 3,00|
|Other costs||Camera||€ 17,00|
|Bring a guide||€ 2,00|
IMPORTANT NOTE: you can only pay in cash, there’s no pin available.
Abu Simbel Sound & Light Show
Egyptians sure love them some sound and lights at ancient sites. The most famous show is the one at the Pyramids and the Sphinx in Giza, but you can also enjoy a show at Abu Simbel. The shows run 3 times a night, at 6pm, 7pm and 8pm and lasts about 45 minutes. If you’re spending the night in Abu Simbel, this might be a fun experience, but do note that the sounds are very loud. It’s not advised if a child is sensitive to sounds.
There has to be a minimum of 7 tickets sold or else they cancel the show.
Bringing a guide
While you have to pay to enter the site with a guide, they can’t go with you inside the temples. They have to give you all the info in the little arena about a 100 meters from the temples. Make sure that if you decide to hire a guide at the entrance that he carries a booklet with pictures. On these pictures are details from inside the temples. They can explain the significance of all you’ll see inside the 2 temples, before you enter them.
Abu Simbel Sun Festival
Twice a year, on the 22nd of February and the 22nd of October a special event occurs. The temple of Ramses II was constructed in a way that the inner chamber perfectly aligns with the sun on these dates. In this camber you’ll find 4 statues sitting next to each other. The statues are of Ptah, Amon, Ramses II and Ra-Horakty.
Originally this event took place on the 21st of February and October. It is believed that Ramses II choose these dates, because we assume that he ascended the throne on the 21st of February and that his birthday is October 21st. Nowadays, the statues are illuminated in rays of light a day later in both months. This is because the temple had to be moved about 200 meters, when Lake Nasser was formed. With these later dates as a result.
Despite the change in dates, a festival is hosted on these dates to show the people this special occurrence. Crowds of Egyptians travel to Abu Simbel for this special event. Some travelers even plan their trip to Abu Simbel on one of these dates specifically. The event takes place at sunrise and guests witness the moment when the sun light illuminates the statues.
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After this, everyone heads back outside to watch Nubian dance and live music. Koshary (aka koshari) is sold to visitors. A delicious, but very filling dish with lentil rice, pasta, chickpeas and topped off with tomatoes, fried onions, sambal and vinegar.
You have to book tickets well in advance to attend.
Skip the crowds and enjoy the rays of light
We visited Abu Simbel on the 21st of October. We had no idea this was the ideal day to visit Abu Simbel. Our guide George told us when we arrived. While the peak takes place on the 22nd of February and October, two days before and after you can also witness this special event.
No festival, less people and still an amazing highlight. Check out this picture below that I took on October 21st. If you have the option, plan your day trip to Abu Simbel with kids right around the 22nd of February or October.
About Abu Simbel
History of Abu Simbel
Let’s share some interesting and fun facts about Abu Simbel. Starting with the man that made the temple complex possible, Ramses the Great. The nickname for Ramses II. He was also known as the Builder Pharaoh, since he didn’t only order the built of Abu Simbel, but also Khonsu’s temple at Karnak and the Ramesseum in Thebes and 100s of other buildings and add-ons to existing complexes.
Discovered in 1813, the Abu Simbel temples were built in the 13th century BC over the course of 20 years. They were both carved out of the mountainside at the second cataract of the Nile river. Nowadays it’s located up unto a plateau of cliffs about 200 meters away from the original location. I’ll get to this later in this article.
The Great Temple is the one of Ramesses II, also dedicated to the gods Re-Horakty and Ptah. One of the reasons why Ramses II created this temple is to celebrate his victory over the Hittites at the battle of Qadesh in 1274 BC. It was built at this location in Nubia as a symbol to Egypt’s power.
The Small Temple was built to honor his chief queen and favorite wife Nefertari and god Hathor.
Discovery of Abu Simbel
The name of the temple complex, Abu Simbel, is not the name Ramses II gave it. It was named after the boy who let a Swiss explorer, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, to the site in 1813. Burckhardt wasn’t the one that excavated the place. That was Giovanni Belzoni, an Italian explorer, who looted Abu Simbel in 1817. Belzoni decided to name the site after the boy who led Burckhardt to the temples.
Unfortunately, the original name for the complex, if it had one, has been lost.
Now it’s time to tell you what you will see on your day trip to Abu Simbel with kids.
Temple of Ramesses II
The 33 meter high facade of the temple of Ramses the Great consists of 4 huge statues of the man himself sitting on his throne. 2 on the left side of the entrance and 2 on the right. These colossi are 20 meters high. He is depicted as the gods Heka and Isis on the left and as Amun and Atum on the right. Some parts are lost, but we know that all 4 figures wore the double crown and formal beard, shaped like a spade. The smaller statues next to and in between the legs were members of the royal family.
The double crown is actually a combination of the crown of Upper Egypt and of Lower Egypt. When both parts of Egypt finally united, pharaohs wore the double crown to show the unity between the two.
Above the entrance you see a small statue of God Ra-Horakhty. He gets offerings from Ramses II who is depicted left and right of the statue.
FUN FACT: the second statue misses its head, due to an earthquake. It was decided to leave the head exactly where it was found. The large chunks of stone you see at its feet is the head of the statue.
When entering you’re led into the Hypostyle Hall that is almost 18 meters long. Both sides are flanked with statues of the god Osiris. On the left side they wear the crown of Upper Egypt. On the right side they wear the double crown.
Left and right of the hall you’ll find 8 small side chambers, once used as storage rooms or treasuries.
In this hall you’ll find decoration that depicts Ramses II’s victory in the Battle of Qadesh.
Next you enter the vestibule where you’ll find 4 pillars with representations of Ramses II and Nefertari with beautiful scenes of offerings to the gods.
The Sanctuary is also known as the House of the Gods. It’s located at the farthest end of the temple and was only to be entered by the pharaoh himself. Inside you’ll find the four seated statues I talked about earlier. The ones of Ptah, Amon, Ramses II and Re-Horakhty. Most of the year they are covered in darkness. Except on and close around the 22nd of February and the 22nd of October.
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You’ll need about half an hour to explore the temple of Ramses II and if you’re with a guide add 5 minutes extra for the stories this Egyptologist will tell you about.
Temple of Nefertari and Hathor
A few meters to the right of the temple of Ramses II, you’ll find the Lesser Temple. I find this nickname a bit degrading and like the term Small Temple better. And factually true.
The 12 meter high facade of this temple is filled with imitations of multiple pylons. 10 meter high statues of Nefertari and Ramses II fill the gaps. Unusual for that time is that the queen is actually the same size as the king. Pretty cool! On either side you’ll find Nefertari in between two statues of her husband.
The smaller statues next to the legs of the big ones are royal children, the princes and princesses.
After entering the temple, you’re standing in the Hypostyle Hall with six pillars who divide the room into 3 aisles. On the front of all the pillars you’ll see the head of god Hathor, with her cow ears.
On the other sides of the pillars you’ll see figures of the pharaoh and the queen and other gods.
Next you’ll enter 3 doorways bringing you into the Transverse Chamber. It’s very narrow and on either side you’ll see a side chamber, both of which are unfinished. You can admire beautiful reliefs here depicting offerings to the gods.
While this temple is smaller than the one of Ramses II, it’s an impressive temple. Don’t skip a visit inside while on your day trip to Abu Simbel with kids.
This temple can be explored in 20 minutes. With another 5 minutes if you’re with a guide that gives you some intel about the place.
In short you need about an hour or an hour and a half to explore both temples. Traveling to Abu Simbel will take longer than the visit to the temples itself. But it would be a real miss if you skip them while road tripping through Egypt.
Abu Simbel move due to Lake Nasser
I promised earlier to get back to the how and why of the move of the entire temple complex. If you read my article about exploring Aswan with kids, you already know that about a dozen ancient Egyptian and Nubian sights had to be moved after the Aswan High Dam was built. Abu Simbel is one of them.
Building the Aswan High Dam
In the 60s of the last century the Aswan High Dam was built to end the flooding of the Nile River, But, also to bring more hydro-electrical power to Egypt. It indeed ended the flooding and created sustainable electricity across the country. Furthermore, it resulted in more arable land.
However, it also resulted in a giant reservoir of water. Now known as Lake Nasser, named after the president who ordered the built of the High Dam. The sudden appearance of this lake led to the relocation of over 100.000 Egyptians and Nubians.
Besides the fact that thousands of people had to leave their homes, about a dozen ancient Egyptian and Nubian sights were at risk of being ruined. They had to be moved and because Abu Simbel was located right next to the newly formed Lake Nasser it was destined to be the first to submerge.
UNESCO’s Nubian Campaign
In the 1960s UNESCO, with the help of many other countries all over the world, started a rescue mission. In 1963 a plan was formed to break down both temples of Abu Simbel and move them to their current location to rebuilt them there. It was a huge undertaking, not only the moving and rebuilding itself, but also the recalculating of the measurements needed to let the sun shine into the sanctuary of the gods in February and October.
They succeeded and the project was finished in 1968. It’s known as one of history’s greatest archaeological engineering challenges.
If you want to know more about the move and see how they did it, don’t skip a visit to the visitor’s centre on site. Here you can watch a movie about the move and read all about this huge undertaking.
That’s it for this complete guide to a day trip to Abu Simbel with kids. Hope you enjoyed it and it helps you plan your visit to Abu Simbel.
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