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Monday, 16 December 2019

Exploring Egypt: The Black and White Desert

Lina El Wardani , Tuesday 30 Jul 2019
The black and white Desert
Clear sky, amazing rock formation and the best sand dunes. Egypt's Western Desert. Photo: Mohammed Hassan
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I woke up to the sunrise with nothing but the vastness of white everywhere around me. I opened the window of my small tent and witnessed the magic.

The black and white Desert
Waking up to this amazing sunrise in the white Desert. Photo by: Mohammed Hassan

For her seventh birthday, my daughter did not ask for a big party, or a bicycle, or even a toy. She asked for a camping trip in the desert. The Black and White Desert in the Sahara seemed the best option, as it is only 500 kilometres away from Cairo.

The black and white Desert
That is not snow, this is just the beautiful white Desert. Photo by: Mohammed Hassan

The road from Cairo to the Western Desert is smooth, it takes you slowly but surely from the busy capital to an imaginary Neverland where everything is white.

The black and white Desert
The road to the Western Desert is smooth, short, safe and magical. Photo by: Mohammed Hassan

How can a place be so magical?

The White Desert, which was designated a protected area in 2002, occupies a surface area of around 3,000 km2. On the road from Farafra and the Baharya Oasis, we were lost in amid fairy tale rock formation in the White Desert. Some rocks looked like animals, others like mushrooms, and others still were amorphous. My kids, with their imagination, perceived so many shapes that we adults could not see. "This looks like a stegosaurus," and "that looks like a cloud," while "that one looks like a baby racoon."

The black and white Desert
The mushroom rock is a famous post card photo, and this is where we parked our cars and set up our tents. Photo: Mohammed Hassan

Millions of years ago, the White Desert was submerged beneath ocean, and the white chalk that formed its rocks was deposited from this sea 80 million years ago. Amazingly enough, you can still see some sea fossils and seashells in the middle of the desert today.

The black and white Desert
Safari here in the western Desert is maybe the best in Egypt. Photo: Mohammed Hassan

On our first day, we did a lot of off-roading with our jeeps.

The sand dunes are so soft, they are the best I have seen in Egypt so far.

The black and white Desert
Amazing rock formations in the white Desert, let your imagination take you to wherever you want to go or see. Photo: Mohammed Hasan

We then watched the sunset, set up our tents, and gathered around a fire for an amazing four-course meal in the middle of nowhere under millions of stars. Afterwards, we had Bedouin sweet tea and toasted marshmallows on the camp fire. After dinner, our hosts started the entertainment with Bedouin music, dance, and amazing songs to which we danced the night away.

The black and white Desert
The black Desert where you see the remnants of volcanic eruptions. Photo by: Mohammed Hassan

On the second day, we did some hiking and a little exploring in the northeast of the White Desert, in an area called Aqabat, or “obstacles” in English. In the middle of this area lies the Mountain of Twin Peaks. We then had little rough drive to the ancient site of Wadi Al-Ubayid, or the White Valley.

The black and white Desert
It is almost impossible to sleep and leave this beautiful sky at the white Desert. Photo by: Mohammed Hassan

The Black Desert

We then drove to the Black Desert, which consists mainly of mountains formed primarily out of small volcanic rocks, which lay against a backdrop of orange and brown.

The black and white Desert
Amazing hike in Egypt's Western Desert where the magic doesn't stop. Photo by: Mohammed Hassan

We found many beautifully shaped stones, evoking the images of flowers, butterflies and many more formations. My daughter tried to sneak one away in her pocket, but I told her she couldn’t, and we buried it somewhere in the desert where we can return later and dig it up.

The black and white Desert
The Black Desert. Photo by: Mohammed Hassan

The Crystal Mountain

The highlight of the trip was the Crystal Mountain. We went up the mountain and the kids would collect the endless, amazing looking crystals or barite stones. And again, they were not allowed to take these home.

The black and white Desert
A walk among the rocks, or a hike in the mountains at the Western Desert can clear the mind. Photo by: Mohammed Hassan

We went with a group called Ghamer, which we found by mere chance on Facebook. This is a group of spirited travellers brought together by the desire to travel and learn and enjoy.

Everything was organised with an excellent attention to detail. The service providers and local partners were just perfect. They understood hospitality and service and took this to a whole new level of perfection. The food was clean, simple and delicious. It was not brought from Cairo, but grown in the local community.

The black and white Desert
The Western Desert is the perfect safari destination. Photo by: Mohammed Hassan

We had lunches and dinners in local restaurants and in the desert, making sure our money goes to the local community. We had our portable toilet, we had a compost, and a garbage recycling system. We left nothing behind in the beautiful desert.

The black and white Desert
Rock formations in the Western Desert. Photo by: Mohammed Hassan

The tents were very clean and we took our own sleeping bags. We slept at night guarded by the beautiful Alice, a German shepherd who belonged to our host. She fought wolves, foxes and God knows what, but she was active all night.

The black and white Desert
The White Desert. Photo by: Mohammed Hassan

Practical information

The best time to go is between September and April. Some people prefer the summer so they can take photographs of the amazing Milky Way on moonless nights. 

For those who like camping, the local guide who set up our tents and took care of the safari is named Atef Sabri. He also has a farm where we had a delicious lunch, and his team is the best I have seen in terms of hospitality, cleanliness, safety and we generally felt well taken care of. Here is his phone number: 01223640154. 

Hotels

If camping is not your thing, there are many hotels. I would recommend the Bawati hotel, or the Hot Spring Hotel. Rooms there are around EGP 1,200 a night.

What to bring

If you are going camping or on safari, try to travel light, a backpack with two sets of clothes, hiking shoes, sweat pants, and a swimsuit if you want to go to the springs. You can also bring a torch light and a power bank, a sleeping bag, a book, and music. I did not use mine as I was too busy admiring the magic of nature and taking in the silence.

The black and white Desert
Moonless nights in the Western Desert. Photo by: Mohammed Hassan

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