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
9 Highlights of the White Desert
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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- 6 Months of Travelling Alone – a Safety Update
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