It’s fair to say that most travelers book holidays in Egypt to have their fill of pharaohs and lost civilisations, pyramids and tombs. While the diversity of this country should come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever sailed the Nile, climbed Mount Sinai or chilled out on a Red Sea beach, few venture to the regions to the west of the river. Here, a land of sand and hot springs sprawls for thousands of miles and it’s here too that you’ll find one of Egypt’s naturally-formed wonders, the White Desert.
A 6,000km-square of desert, the region is situated between the Bahariya Oasis and Farafra and generally accessible only via these places. The White Desert’s extraordinary appearance is the result of many years of wind erosion and shifting weather patterns, creating huge and evocative rock formations which resemble everything from a mushroom to a full-on iceberg. And all in the purest of chalk-white sand.
The desert is a protected natural area, with many rare species and plants making a trip here even more fascinating. Practically-speaking, the terrain is really only safe to cross in the hands of experts, by camel or by four-wheel drive. Tours leave from Bahariya and Farafra for an average of three days, although longer trips are available from Cairo, usually with a stop at Bahariya on the way.
You can take a one-day safari out to some of the points of interest like the formations known as The White House and even do the Black Desert as well, but the best way to see the White Desert is an overnight stay. The beauty of a sunset and sunrise across the Arctic sands, being served traditional Bedouin food and a night camping under the stars makes the extra time more than worth it. In addition, some people prefer the chance to get out and hike some of the alien landscape, rather than just being transported from place to place.
As far as the seasons go, from October to April is a good time to come for a desert trek here, when the soaring temperatures of summer have diminished. Watch out for some freezing conditions around Christmas-time, especially at night, though the sun is still strong in the day; sun lotion and plenty of water are always recommended.
If you’re craving some historic sites in your Western Desert adventure, you could always stay on and try the abandoned settlement near Dakhla Oasis or the Christian cemetery at El-Bagawat. Egypt holds many secrets to its name, as well as the more famous attractions, and it’s lesser-known treasures like the White Desert that ensure the country’s appeal as both holiday destination and explorer’s favourite is thoroughly deserved.