While backpacking through Egypt, I always wanted to go far out into the desert and see what the Sahara is all about. I read about the desert oasis with palm trees and hot springs. So, we asked around. The Siwa Oasis was only open for day visitors, and then we were told the Bahariya Oasis, also known as the White Desert, is closed for tourism.
Struggling to figure out what to do, we kept asking around. Some told us the White Desert was possible. Confused, we called a few other tour operators to ask and determined that the government has officially shut down the White Desert for tourism when accessed from Cairo (Bahariya). However, it is open for tourism if accessed from Farafra, the route which nearly nobody takes. Several guides told us; however, we could still get in.
This was Egypt. So we went. After a half-day of travel, we arrived with a group of locals in Bawiti, the heart of the Bahariya Oasis. It is where our tour began.
While the pyramids and temples may be the main attraction, don’t miss out on one of Egypt’s most impressive landmarks, the White Desert. This was one of our most memorable adventures in Egypt. Falling asleep beneath the stars each night and waking up with nobody around. We were ready to explore amazing sandstone formations, a highlight of our trip.
With over nine months of travel in Africa, we had been to several deserts at this point in our trip. Besides the Namib Desert in Namibia, the White Desert in Egypt is our second favorite and the most picturesque desert in Africa.
Content and photographs provided by Yana Kogan and Timon.
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White Desert Tour Details
Tours to the White Desert start from Bawiti. Located next to the Bahariya Oasis, this town is one of the largest in Western Egypt. Tours are either two or three days.
The best way to experience this region is on a full three-day tour. Two nights are spent sleeping under the stars in Bedouin style. The tour is a great combination of different sites, from a salt lake, hot springs, desert oasis, the Black Desert, and of course, the White Desert. Most tours will cater to what you want to see.
We recommend spending as much time as you can in the White Desert, the clear highlight of the trip.
How to Get to the White Desert
Bawiti is the main town in the region and is easily accessible from Cairo. Tours can also originate from Farafra; however, this is a much more difficult town to get to. There are three options for transport to Bawiti, a five-hour drive from Cairo:
- Private car – car hires can be arranged by tour guides in Cairo or in Bawiti. It is also possible to go to the microbus station and get in a private taxi with four or five people. Costs can range from 90 E£ (per person) to 300 E£ (per vehicle).
- Microbus – From Moneib Station (Giza metro line two), it is a ten-minute walk to the microbus station. Turn left outside of the station and continue straight until a large highway overpass. You’ll find a small microbus station on the left side of the street underneath the overpass. This is the only station with a direct bus to Bawiti. The cost is 80 E£ per person.
- Tourist bus – large tourist buses leave from Turgomen Station in Cairo. Upper Egypt Bus Company departs at 7 am, 10 am, and 3 pm to Bawiti. When the White Desert was “closed,” these buses were running irregularly. However, we were told specifically to not take a tourist bus. Military Police stop the tourist buses to get passport info, and would apparently warn tourists to not enter the White Desert. We took the Microbus and never got stopped by the police. The cost is between 70 E£ and 100 E£.
How to Book a White Desert Tour
Tours can be booked from Cairo or by contacting local tour guides in Bawiti. Many operators based in Cairo are just a middleman, booking a tour for a guide located in Bawiti. We always try to book directly with the guide, not only to get ourselves a better price, but they often get more money out of it that way.
Prices were all over the place. We were not sure if some were more “luxurious” than others, but they all sounded the same. However, some tours were triple the price of others. It is possible to show up in Bawiti and find a local tour guide. This allows you to personally meet the people involved and see the quality of the vehicle before any payment has occurred.
After hours of research and speaking to dozens of tour guides, we booked with a local guide in Bawiti. He did not ask us to promote his business, but we honestly have to. He was incredible. Our guide was a man named Hamada Kaddora. Based in Bawiti, Hamada speaks fluent English and has 15 years of experience in desert tours. The tour he took us on is top-notch, with excellent Bedouin food. His contact is +20 100 2565934.
Cost: Prices start from $125 USD per person for 3-day tours. Prices can vary based on tour specifics.
White Desert Sites to See
- Bahariya Oasis – is one of the largest oases in Egypt with several springs and date palm farms.
- Farm Tour – an organic farm with dates, guava, olives, mint, alfalfa, and more.
- Salt Lake – is a beautiful salt lake with nice reflections.
- Pyramid Mountain – is one of the largest dinosaur fossils ever found there.
- Black Desert – drive through the black desert and a quick stop at a viewpoint to take in the odd-looking colors.
- Bedouin Village – lunch break.
- Agbit – stunning landscape filled with Egypt’s version of Monument Valley.
- Gezell Valley – a large valley that once was an oasis with a few remaining palm trees.
- Green Spring – a spring in the middle of the desert.
- Acacia Tree – the only tree in the White Desert National Park, this 500-year-old Acacia is still growing.
- New White Desert – vibrant white rock and stunning rock formations.
- Old White Desert – more yellow in color than the New White Desert.
- Crystal Mountain – not a mountain, but this small hill has crystals inside the rock.
- Sandboarding – a fun finish to the trip.
Safety in the White Desert
Safety in Egypt is a concern and there is no way to avoid this topic. Facts speak for themselves. One of the 2015 events was directly related to this region. Several tourists were on tour in the Western Desert. They went off track and unfortunately, they were in the same vicinity as a terrorist and kidnapping situation. The Egyptian military mistakenly killed 12 tourists.
Since this occurred, most of the Western Desert, including trips to the White Desert and Siwa Oasis closed. Siwa was still closed for overnight visits as of mid-2017. White Desert trips are allowed, yet there are occasional issues with the military stopping all visits to the desert. This was a horrible tragedy that led to a huge decrease in tourism.
Our visit to the desert went smoothly and without any issues. We did not feel threatened or harmed in any way. We recommend checking with locals on the situation as it can change, but in late 2016 it was safe to visit the White Desert.
What to Bring
- Clothing for hot days
- Layers for chilly evenings, a light jacket
- Most tours include all food, water, and camping gear
That’s It – we hope you have a wonderful White Desert Adventure!
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