A Weekend in Egypt’s White Desert

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Sand dune, 4WD, White Desert, Egypt

Sand dune and 4x4 in the desert, Egypt.

My recent excursion to the White Desert in Egypt has claimed a top spot in the highlights of this year’s round-the-world travel.

It had the golden sand dunes I’d expect to see in a desert, like in the Thar desert of India, but what made this desert special were it’s giant white rock formations that were unlike anything I’ve seen before. I felt like I was on a different planet.

I always envision deserts feeling hostile and lonely, but between my friendly guides, the charming Beduoin villages we passed, the weekend in the desert felt rich, comfortable and welcoming.

In fact, one of the things that made this excursion so special was that it felt like a road trip with friends.

Other highlights during this two day excursion to the White Desert National Park were the Bahariya Oasis, Bahariya Heritage Museum, Black Desert and the Crystal Mountain. I’ve included some of the favourite photos below and posted the rest in my Facebook album.

A few beautiful feelings not captured in the photos below:

  • Textures of of cool sand, rocks, chalk rock between my toes
  • Answering nature’s call in the open desert and under a sky full of stars, an oddly liberating feeling
  • Seeing 5 shoot stars among a sky full of other stars and feeling so happy already that I didn’t know what to wish for
  • Falling asleep next to the campfire to absolutely nothing but the sound of wind

I was a guest of GetYourGuide and Egypt Excursions Online on this tour, but if I ever come back to Egypt, I’d definitely take a longer excursion to see more parts of the western desert and oases.

9 Highlights of the White Desert


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1. Life-sized sand castles, sand sculptures and local artists

The Bahariya Heritage Museum is dedicated to sculptures and artwork depicting the traditional Bedouin life in the desert. I had the opportunity to meet the famous artist himself, Mahmoud Eed, who generously gave me a small mask (see photo below) to take as a memory of my visit. The Museum is made of sand, as are the sculptures inside.

Bahariya Heritage Museum, White Desert

Bahariya Heritage Museum, completely made of sand.

Mahmoud Eed, owner of the museum & famous sand sculpture

Mahmoud Eed, owner of the museum & famous sand sculpture

Jack and Jill Travel', at Muchu Picchu

One of the museum's sand sculptures depicting the traditional Beduoin way of life

2. Off-roading like never before

I could barely contain my excitement when we drove off the paved main road and into the ocean of sand. There was hardly any sign of human presence except our car tracks and our footprints. I felt like lying down to make snow sand angels.

Our 4x4 and our first sand dune stop in the desert

Our 4x4 and our first sand dune stop in the desert.

Sand dune tire tracks from our Toyota 4x4

Sand patterns and sand dune tire tracks from our Toyota 4x4.

3. Desert rocks and textures

The desert landscape was vast but there were small details that made it special too, like the unique textures of the rocks in certain areas of the National Park.

Rocks that look like little flowers

Rocks that look like little flowers.

Crystals of Crystal Mountain

Crystals in 'Crystal Mountain'. There were lots of crystals in the sand from the erosion this rock formation.

4. Spotting rock formations

Here are two photos of the thousands of white rock formations. Watching over our campsite was a Sphinx (profile) and a falcon; we also made a stop at a giant mushroom and chicken. These shapes are all carved by wind erosion.

Sphinx face and falcon, watching over our camp

Sphinx face and falcon, watching over our camp area.

Giant mushroom and chicken

Giant mushroom and 6 foot chicken, sunset.

5. Desert foxes and warm campfires

During our simple but hearty dinner of potato/vegetable stew, barbequed chicken and rice, a desert fox about the size of a small dog approached us. I was scared it’d attack, but the guide assured me it’d be okay and threw the fox some food so he’d come closer so I could take a photo.

After dinner, the guide brewed us strong Egyptian tea and mint tea (“one cup is the equivalent of 4 cups of Lipton tea” he told me). While chatting that evening, I learned two Arabic words: 1.) “meshi” (= okay) and 2.) “ship ship” (= slipper) from when ants crawled onto our sitting area and the guides joked about looking for something to hit the ants with. As I said, this excursion felt more like a weekend trip with friends.

Tents were available, but with sleeping bags and blankets it was warm enough to sleep outside under the stars.

White Desert fox, at our camp site

White Desert fox look for food at our camp site.

Post-dinner Egyptian tea brewing in the fire

Post-dinner Egyptian tea brewing in the fire.

6. Waking up in a different world

Waking up in the morning to the glow of the white rock formations and golden desert sand was magical. It took me a second to remember where I was. When I woke up to take photos at sunrise, I also noticed fox and bird tracks around the camp area from the night before.

White desert camp area

Our camp area, tents were available but it was warm enough to sleep outside in sleeping bags.

Fox and bird tracks in the morning.

Fox and bird tracks in the morning.

7. Vast and panoramic landscapes

As I mentioned in my previous post, Egypt desert landscapes, being completely surrounded by desert was a beautiful feeling. It’s humbling and enlightening to be reminded of the big picture beyond yourself or the immediate moment.

Walking in the White Desert, Egypt

Me, walking in the White Desert

Valley of rock formations

Heading to a valley of white rock formations

8. Zen in unusual moments

Leaving the White Desert, our Toyota 4WD blew a tire and long story short, we sat on the side of the road waiting for an air compressor. A situation like this usually makes me feel abandoned and panicked, but instead I found myself feeling happily sitting on the side of the road to enjoy the surrounding mountains and desert. Virtually everyone who drove by was kind enough to stop and see if we were okay, and eventually we were on our way.

Waiting for an air compressor for truck tire.

Waiting for an air compressor for the car tire.

Sitting on the side of the desert road

Sitting on the side of the road, enjoying the scenery.

9. A picture perfect oasis and fresh dates

This was my first encounter with an oasis and it looked even better than what I had imagined. The photo below is just one section of the oasis and is completely unretouched.

An oasis in Bahariya, just outside the White Desert

An oasis in Bahariya, just outside the White Desert.

Date trees as we drive through a desert oasis

Passing date trees as we drive through a desert oasis.

Egypt truck with dates

The trunk we honked down for some freshly-picked dates.

Practical tips for the White Desert

  • Safety in Egypt: during my 3 weeks in Egypt in Cairo, Aswan, Luxor, Sharm el Sheikh and Dahab, I’ve felt safe as a solo female traveller with no extraordinary incidents to report
  • Safety in the desert: also felt safe; the only moment I was scared during the excursion was when I saw the fox; food and essentials was no issue and we had plenty of water, food, gas
  • Temperature: when I went in October, it was roughly 25C during the day and 18C at night; warm enough for a short-sleeved shirt during the day and warm enough to sleep outside with a sleeping bag if you wear a thicker sweater
  • Toilets: there were “proper” toilets at the stops before the desert, but once we entered the desert it was just openness. Luckily there’s plenty of rock formations to shield you from your group and in the evening it’s virtually pitch black :)
  • Booking a trip: the excursion I took was the White Desert and El Bahariya Oasis Overnight Trip, via GetYourGuide.com; at the time of writing, the price was about 150 euros

>> Have you been to a desert or the White Desert desert? Is this somewhere you’d like to visit in your future travels?

This excursion was sponsored by GetYourGuide.com and Egypt Excursions Online but all opinions and photos are my own. If you get a chance to visit the White Desert, I really do recommend it! If I come back to Egypt I’d seriously consider another excursion and for a longer duration.

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  • http://eagerexistence.com Ian [EagerExistence]

    I just heard about the white desert while i was diving in Dahab. A quick google search while enjoying a banana thickshake, and I see its already been done. Hmm.. maybe I will look into an overnight tour too :)

  • http://www.GreenGlobalTravel.com Bret @ Green Global Travel

    Wow, great photos! Egypt is definitely on our must-see list, hopefully for 2012.

  • http://twitter.com/DTravelsRound Diana Edelman

    AHHH!!! I LOVE this, too!! I want to see real, live sand castles!!

  • http://www.tourabsurd.com Katrina

    Beautiful photos and descriptions.  Didn’t get to see nearly enough when we went to Egypt, so this reminds me of my time in the Moroccan Sahara.  Going back and giving Egypt a proper visit is definitely on my list.  Thanks for the reminder. :)

  • http://www.rebeccaandtheworld.com Rebecca

    Wow, such amazing scenery! I’d love to do one of these trips one day.

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Rebecca,

      I was really surprised about how out-of-this-world the scenery was. I imagined deserts to be mostly yellow sand and it was such a treat to experience something beyond what I expected. 

      - Lily

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  • Laura

    We drove 10 hours in the Western Desert without seeing another soul. It was incredible. We also got stuck at one point which was an adventure :) Such a beautiful part of the world to see the white desert and the black desert in the same area. Great pictures!

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Laura, sounds like you loved your experience there too. I saw more people than you did while driving/camping, but very few and mostly locals. It was so special to have so much landscape all to oneself!

      Thanks for stopping by :)
      - Lily

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  • http://twitter.com/swgraphic Sarah Wu

    Beautiful photos again. Love the white sand desert and the sunset photo. I think if I ever go to Egypt I would love to visit this place. Thank you for sharing your guide and your experience.

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Sarah,

      I think if I go back to Egypt I’ll have to visit this place (again). It was really magical to wake up among all these massive white rocks and endless desert. Glad you liked the photos, it was almost impossible to take a bad photo here!

      - Lily

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  • http://www.globotreks.com Norbert

    Wow! I would love to do this when I go to Egypt next year!  Thanks for those tips.  I’ll have Get Your Guide and Egypt Excursions in mind. 

  • http://alotofwind.com Robin

    Egypt is some country and the desert and oases best of all!

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Robin,

      I’d definitely consider doing a longer camping trip or trek in the desert if I visit again. It was so special to be surrounded by sand and massive mountains for two days.

      Thanks for stopping by!
      - Lily

  • http://www.blog.france.co.nz John in France

    What a fantastic activity to add to a traditional Egypt visit. Thanks.

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi John,

      It was a fantastic part of Egypt! I thought the highlights of my trip here would be the ancient Egypt things, like the Pyramids and temples, but it turned out to be the desert and the Red Sea. I love surprises.

      Thanks for stopping by!
      - Lily

  • Anonymous

    that looks like such a unique experience! totally worth the 150 euros!

  • http://twitter.com/adventureswben Ben Reed

    This looks fantastic! Would love to go there.

  • Shirlene from Idelish

    Nice! I have never seen a real oasis in th middle of the dessert before. This def sounds like the type of adventure J and I would enjoy!

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Hi Shirlene,

      I think you guys would have LOVED this trip, lots of photo opportunities and everything was beautiful. I was definitely shutter happy this weekend, I took 6 gigs of photos on my Canon XS, which is a record for me. If you get the opportunity to go, I’d definitely recommend it and would love to see your photos :D

      - Lily

  • http://inspiringtravellers.com/ Andrea and John

    Wow – when you said best experience at the start I thought that was a big  call but this looks like an incredible experience! I can’t wait to see the desert sands of the middle east!

  • Anonymous

    This post is so cool. I have nothing funny to say. Sorry :)

    • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

      Ted, nothing witty to say? Really? Not even anything the adorable fox or giant chicken?

      Thanks for stopping by though!
      - Lily

      • Anonymous

        I was just glad you did not encounter any scorpions when answering nature’s call in the desert. That would not have been so liberating :)

      • http://exploreforayear.com Lily

        Ha! I’m sure my local guide would have known how to deal with it though. Sounds like something that would happen frequently to unsuspecting foreign visitors… ;)

        - Lily

  • Peng Leong1

     Wow! Amazing trip!

  • http://www.thetravelchica.com Stephanie – The Travel Chica

    What an amazing trip!  I haven’t visited this part of the world… yet.

  • http://www.breakawaybackpacker.com Jaime

    Oh wow… I love this. I did a trip to the Sahara Desert while I was in Morocco and it was amazing. It seriously saved my trip. I know I am going to Egypt so I got even more excited to visit another desert, but now after seeing these photos I am EVEN MORE EXCITED. This looks amazing… I am so doing this while I am in Egypt for sure!

  • http://www.moneyreasons.com Money Reasons

    Looks like an awesome trip :)