Into Nubia: Aswan, Abu Simbel and Temple of Isis at Philae

By Mark Wiens 22 Comments
Abu Simbel Temple
Abu Simbel Temple

A stern knock on the room door at Noorhan Hotel at 3 am disturbed my peaceful sleep and I arose with haste, excited to embark on another historical journey in Egypt.

A quick breakfast of breadsticks spread with fig jam and the van promptly arrived at hotel.  We zoomed away through the darkness, hurriedly picking up a few more tourists along the way.

Our packed out 24 seater van whipped through the empty streets of Aswan before arriving at a military check point to rendezvous with the rest of the convoy.

A convoy led by the military is mandatory when heading South from Aswan into Nubia.

I dozed for much of the 3 hour van ride, taking in bits of desert sunshine and moonscapes through struggling eyelids.

Abu Simbel in Egypt
Amazing site of Abu Simbel

We arrived at Abu Simbel along with the other tourist’s of the day, bright and early around 7 am.

The Temple of Abu Simbel is not in it’s original location.  Water levels rose with the damming of the Nile to create Lake Nasser and the stunning temple was forced to move, piece by piece to higher ground.

Abu Simbel, built under Ramses II The Great, along with the rock temple he built for his favored wife, Nefertari, were nothing short of jaw dropping.  The statues carved into the faces of the rock shows a little perspective as to the greatness and power that the ancient Pharaoh’s once possessed.

Temple of Nfertiti
Amazing to see – Temple of Nfertiti

The entrance of Abu Simbel is marked by 4 giant stone statues of Ramses II himself.

In the Pharoaonic hierarchy, Ramses dwarfs all other figures, showing that he was ultimately superior.  The interior is etched with intricate battle scenes depicting the greatness of Ramses II in his fight against the Hittities at the Battle of Kadesh in Syria.

King Ramses II

Though in actuality the great Pharoah probably lost the battle, the hieroglyphics and carvings show none other than a successful and even lopsided victory or greatness.

Battle of Kadesh

The battle and chariot scenes carved high into the stone walls were stupefying, displaying battle scenes and violence.

Etchings in the rock

The next stop on our tour was to the Temple of Isis at Philae, much closer to Aswan city.  I was granted permission to use my Thai student card and paid 25 LE to enter.

Temple of Philae
Temple of Philae

Whereas most of the temples I had seen in Egypt were amongst sandy dust and penetrating sunshine rays, the Temple of Philae is grounded on an island of stone slicing into the Nile River and surrounded by green shrubbery.

Temple of Philae

Enclosed by the deep blue of the Nile, the Temple of Philae was 1 of my favorite temples from ancient Egypt (mainly due to it’s surroundings).

Temple of Philae
Never ending history in Egypt
Byzantine carvings
Temple of Philae
Final view of Temple of Philae

Aswan Day Tour:

The full Abu Simbel tour is available from all hostels, hotels and guest houses in Aswan
Abu Simbel Full Tour Cost: 70 – 80 LE (NOT including entrance fees) for all transportation
Begin from hotel at 3:30 am and return at about 2 pm

Abu Simbel – Entrance 95 LE (expensive)
Aswan High Dam – Entrance 20 LE (I skipped it)
Temple of Philae – 50 LE + 10 LE for boat ride to the island
Unfinished Obelisk – 30 LE (I skipped it, can sort of see it from the road)

Try to use a student card for discounts if available (ISIC is preferred).

Where to Stay in Aswan, Egypt:

May options to choose from, including luxury to shabby.

Noorhan Hotel
Just off Sharia Abtal at-Tahrir
Cost: About 20 LE per bed, depending on the room and deal you can strike.
Comment: Rooms are pretty old and rickety, but nicely cleaned and in a great location close to the train station and in the souk.  I was also able to witness an Egyptian wedding ceremony right from the balcony.

22 comments. I'd love to hear from you!

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  • Shawn

    13 years ago

    From my five months of travel in Egypt e years ago, I went down to Abu Simbel independently and visited the temple when it was empty, but the 3am tour is worth the money if you are not going to stay overnight in Abu Simbel.

    • Mark Wiens

      13 years ago

      @Shawn: Being at the temple when it was empty must have been awe-inspiring. The tours are a little overly crowded, taking a little bit away from the atmosphere, and I can imagine what it would have been like empty!

  • Mark Wiens

    13 years ago

    Thanks for checking it out and for the comments!

  • Lorna – the roamantics

    13 years ago

    Gorgeous photos Mark- the texture is so vivid! Haven’t been to Egypt yet, but it’s high on the list. Definitely appreciate the budget/lodging info too!

  • Kristina

    13 years ago

    Never been to Egypt… it’s one of my places-to-go. Yeah, when you travel to places like this price is not really a big deal. Very nice photos!

  • greg urbano

    13 years ago

    what a fantastic looking adventure!

  • ayngelina

    13 years ago

    Fantastic photos, I have to imagine that these sites are a bit overwhelming just by the size alone.

  • Ho

    13 years ago

    Hi ! I stumbled upon your blog especially the one when you were in Kota Kinabalu. Glad you did come to this part of the world.

  • Zablon Mukuba

    13 years ago

    Egypt is a lovely place, hot but still a lovely place

  • Mark Wiens

    13 years ago

    @Inka: You are right, somethings are very worth the price and this definitely was!

    @Jeremy: Yah, both are built high into the stone. I’d love to get there sometime too!

    @Robin: Thanks, I found the Southern part of Egypt much different (especially the people) from the Northern part.

    @Adam: Yes, if you are interested in history, Egypt and the entire are is mind blowing!

    @Randall: Yah, I wish I could have met Earl! I actually just left Egypt and now I’m in Nairobi, Kenya! Still missing some things from Asia too!

    @Laurel: Yes, with loads of sights to see, entrance fees were some of the biggest expenses in Egypt. In a couple weeks, I will publish my budget and how much I spend while traveling through Egypt, if you are interested.

    @Norbert: Thanks man, hope you get to go there soon and have a great experience!

  • Norbert

    13 years ago

    I’ve never been to Egypt but it is one of my Must-Go destinations. You got really nice pictures that made me crave going there even more!

  • Laurel @Expat in Germany

    13 years ago

    Beautiful photos! I had no idea the entrance fees would be so expensive, I can see how that would add up in a hurry!

  • Randall

    13 years ago

    Mark! Great post, very interesting. What it would be like to walk where the ancients walked.

    You ought to meet up with @Wanderingearl. Nice change from Asia, but who could not love Asia.

  • Adam

    13 years ago

    I love that many of the posts I’ve been reading lately have been about places we have yet to visit. Never been to Egypt or this region at all, and it’s quickly moving up our list. It looks absolutely amazing. Great pictures!

  • Robin

    13 years ago

    I love Egypt and this is the part of it I haven’t seen yet so a great read for me!

  • Jeremy B

    13 years ago

    Wow Mark, that is fascinating! Reminds me a lot of Petra. I haven’t been there either but the way the two are built into the rock makes them look very similar!

  • inka

    13 years ago

    Stunning Mark. I note that entrance fees in Egypt are as expensive as they are in Jordan, but who cares if they are rewarded by such sights. I truly enjoyed this story and the great pictures.