Last Update 22:25
Sunday, 18 August 2019

Shakhloba island: An untouched piece of paradise in the heart of Egypt

A one-day escape from Cairo to Lake Burullus where heavenly green fields and blue waters meet

Lina El-Wardani , Thursday 18 Jul 2019
Shakhloba Island
Shakhloba island in Kafr El-Sheikh, Northern Delta. Photo: Lina El-Wardani
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I heard a lot about the virgin islands scattered along Lake Burullus. One particular image of an island called Shakloba haunted me. It might be the stunning image I saw on Facebook, or the strange name of the island. But either way, curiosity got the best of me and my travel companions and we decided to explore the island.

Shakhloba is one of over a dozen small, mostly uninhabited islands in Lake Burullus. The magnificent lake, the largest in Egypt’s Delta, is located in Kafr El-Sheikh governorate. Lake Burullus has a very rich landscape. It is nestled in the green fields of the Delta, bordering it from the south, with Nile's Rosetta branch towards the east and the Mediterranean to the north.

The road from Cairo to Kafr El-Sheikh was laborious. We wanted to start our trip by taking a photo on the iconic new bridge in Road El-Farag, which we did. The bridge took us from the 26 July Axis, close to where we live, to the Agriculture Road. We then took the scenic, but not car friendly, route all the way to Kafr El-Sheikh.

When we arrived in the delta village, we met our local guide, who was in his early twenties, passionate about his hometown, and unbothered by the sun. We all squeezed in our car and took another bumpy road to Shakloba. Our desired island is a non-touristic, or virgin, if you will, destination. The road is therefore neglected, with a road bump between every two road bumps. We would get out of the car to make it lighter and able to safely cross the road bump.

Shakhloba
Shakhloba island in Kafr El-Sheikh, Northern Delta. Photo: Lina El-Wardani

We finally arrived at our destination. It seems this is also a meeting point for fishermen. Here, they take the fish from Lake Burullus and distribute it throughout Egypt. Some trucks go to Alexandria, others to Cairo, and some distribute the fish among the Delta villages.

Shakhloba

Fishing is very important for the local people here. The traditional boats—markebs and faloukas—are still used. Fishermen use traditional techniques (various kinds of nets) and take advantage of the reeds. Unfortunately, many illegal fishing methods are also currently practiced. In the past, local fishermen would make their own fishing nets as well as ropes out of their old nets.

The lake includes a noteworthy number of environments, with swamps and sand plains prevailing, and constitutes an ideal habitat for 135 land and water plant species as well as an important stop-over point for migrating birds.

The lake is considered a wetland of international importance for birds.

Agricultural drainage water accounts for 97 percent of the total inflow to the lake (3.9 billion m3 per year), followed by rain water (2 percent) and groundwater (1 percent). Sixteen percent of the lake’s water evaporates and 84 percent flows into the sea.

According to a biodiversity report by the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency, 33 species of fish, 23 species of reptiles, 112 species of birds, and 18 species of mammals live in and around the lake.

Fish species in the lake have declined significantly since the beginning of the 20th century when 52 different species were recorded. This is mostly due to the inflow of agricultural drainage into the lake resulting in lower salinity.

Shakhloba
Fishermen gather their nets twice in this island in Kafr El-Sheikh. Photo: Lina El-Wardani

We then stopped at a police checkpoint where they checked our IDs and were quite sceptical about the writer of this piece. What are you going to write? Why are you here? Did you come all the way from Cairo to write about this?

We then got on a boat heading to the beautiful islands in the middle of nowhere. This was the most peaceful and serene moment in the whole trip. It was certainly worth all the hassle. The lake is big, scenic and so diverse. On one side it is a river lined with small fishermen's houses and small motor and row boats on the banks, and on the other it is open to the fierce sea water and the mighty Mediterranean waves.

Local kids felt free to hop on and off our boat, they swam, hopped on the island, and climbed trees. They were so free, I envied them. I spoke to Adam, who was the youngest but the wildest. He is six years old but has not yet been to school.

“Maybe next year,” he says firmly.

Burullus Lake is situated in the north of the Nile Delta. It covers an area of 20,000 hectares and is 65 km long. A narrow sandbar separates it from the Mediterranean Sea. Before the construction of the Aswan High Dam, the lake received the Nile floods in late summer and autumn.

The area is densely populated, with approximately 1 million people living around the lake, of which approximately 185,000 interact with the lake on a daily basis.

Shakhloba
Lake Burullus houses are colourful and beautiful, thanks to the International Symposium of Arts that gathers artists to beautify this inspiring island. Photo: Lina El-Wardani

We then went back to the shore, to the car and went on another horrible, bumpy road to go to the other side of Burulllus. After two more hours of laborious driving, we are in paradise.

Shakhloba
The Mediterranean waves crushing the shores at Lake Burullus, Northern Egypt's Delta. Photo: Lina El-Wardani

Burulus village is where an international arts symposium is held every year. This gathers artists from all over the world to paint houses in the village for two weeks every October.

Shakhloba
Lake Burullus houses are colourful and beautiful, thanks to the International Symposium of Arts that gathers artists to beautify this inspiring island. Photo: Lina El-Wardani

The houses are beautifully painted. Here is where the lake meets the Mediterranean, so it is more breezy and raw and beautiful.

Shakhloba
Lake Burullus houses are colourful and beautiful, thanks to the International Symposium of Arts that gathers artists to beautify this inspiring island. Photo: Lina El-Wardani

Burullus occupies the northern part of Kafr El-Sheikh, which was the centre of worship for the god Amun-Re. The ancient city of Xois, which stood on the site of what is now the village of Sakha, was capital of the 6th Lower Egyptian nome (an administrative area).

The Sanctuary of the Church of the Virgin Mary is also located there. It is alleged that the child Jesus left his footprint as a bas-relief in a rock during a journey through the Delta with the Holy Family. The rock was kept hidden for many centuries to protect it from theft and was unearthed around the end of the 20th century.

Shakhloba
Lake Burullus houses are colourful and beautiful, thanks to the International Symposium of Arts that gathers artists to beautify this inspiring island. Photo: Lina El-Wardani

We had dinner and watched the sunset while staring at the waves lapping the shore.

The food was home-cooked fish, salad and rice at one of the fishermen's houses. It was arranged by our guide and delivered to the sea front café. Very simple and magical.

Shakhloba
Lake Burullus houses are colourful and beautiful, thanks to the International Symposium of Arts that gathers artists to beautify this inspiring island. Photo: Lina El-Wardani

We were determined not to take the same road home, so we took the Alexandria Desert Road, which was fantastic.

I would strongly advise that you go to Kafr El-Sheikh from Alexandria and not Cairo. It will be great if you gather a group and take a bus, a minivan or any desert-type vehicle, but not a poor sedan like I did.

Take the international road from Alexandria to Lake Burullus, park the car there, then take a boat to Shakhloba island and return.

Shakhloba
Lake Burullus houses are colourful and beautiful, thanks to the International Symposium of Arts that gathers artists to beautify this inspiring island. Photo: Lina El-Wardani

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