The Western Desert and Oases – واحات الصحراء الغربية
Get really off the beaten track
The Western Desert is spectacular and unspoiled. And in tourism terms largely empty. The ever-changing landscape is endlessly fascinating.
At Djed we have traversed every route in the Western Desert
A very different Egypt
The Western Desert and its oases lie far away from the densely populated Nile Valley. Here you’ll find a very different Egypt. Desolate landscapes dotted with medieval villages and archaeological sites. Many hot water springs and thousands of palm trees. The landscapes change dramatically as you move from place to place.
Exploring the Western Desert
Spend a night sleeping under starry skies in the open air among the surreal wind-carved rock formations of the White Desert. It’s a magical experience. Start your day with bread baked in the hot sand, and finish it with a plunge in a hot spring. Gaze at the surreal rock formations of the White Desert and enjoy a campfire dinner. It’s all possible.
A journey along the Forty Days Road
The main oases are Bahariya, Farafra, Dakhla and Kharga. They are linked by a 900 km asphalt road which runs through them from Cairo to the Nile Valley at Luxor. The road follows the ancient Darb el-Arba’in, the Forty-Day Caravan Road’. The oases are also connected by many unmarked desert paths across the sand. Here are numerous ancient sites and beauty spots to see.
Siwa, on the edge of the Great Sand Sea, is the most isolated oasis of Egypt. Due to its remoteness and isolation Siwa ‘s own culture has remained intact. It’s an idyllic place and best meets the perception of an oasis. Date palms, olive trees, freshwater springs and mud brick houses, amid an immense sea of sand.
Alternative route from Cairo to Luxor
Travelling into the Western Desert and its oases is a fascinating alternative route from Cairo to Luxor. You can visit most of the sites in about five days using a combination of private air-conditioned minibuses and 4WD jeeps. However, if you choose to go on a real desert safari, there are many possibilities: jeep safaris, camel riding, camping in the desert and trekking.
Western Desert Oases
Western Desert – Djed Favourites
- Bahariya See the treasures of the Valley of the Golden Mummies; jump into one of the many hot and cold springs; climb the English Mountain for a beautiful panoramic view over the palm groves
- White & Black Deserts Explore geological marvels; take a nature walk through its lunar landscape; camp in true Bedouin style beneath a tapestry of twinkling stars
- Farafra Enjoy the tranquillity of this small oasis with hectares of palm groves and natural springs; swim in the freshwater lake of Abu Nus which is also a bird watcher’s paradise
- Dakhla Wander through the medieval villages and fortresses; explore Pharaonic, Roman and Coptic sites at almost every turn in the road; when the sun begins to go down, head to Mut el-khorab, an idyllic spot to watch the sunset
- Siwa and The Great Sand Sea You are surrounded by adventure. Spin out into the desert and you’ll be greeted only by the sight of rolling sand dune and deserted temples. Cycle around the old village and take a swim in Bira Wahed, one of the many freshwater lakes
Bahariya Oasis – واحة البحرية
Approximately 360 km south-west of Cairo, Bahariya is its closest oasis. It is no longer isolated either, being a mere four-hour drive from Cairo. Ancient ruins dot the area, as do the natural springs.
Bahariya Oasis sits in a depression and consists of several villages, the largest is Bawiti. They are all surrounded by black hills, desert dunes, natural springs and a picturesque world of expansive palm groves. There are many interesting excursions available, most famously to the recently discovered Valley of the Golden Mummies, as well as the remains of a small Temple of Alexander, the Chapels of Ain al-Muftillah and the well-preserved tombs of Qarat Qasr Salim. Visit the Heritage Oasis Museum, where some of the finds from the surrounding monuments are on display, including golden treasures from the Valley of the Golden Mummies.
Bir el-Ghaba and Bir el-Matar are two of the best hot and cold springs in the area and are popular bathing spots for the locals. For wonderful views climb nearby English Mountain, ‘Gebel el-Ingleez’, an idyllic spot to watch the sunset, and the highest point in the oasis. End your day with a swim. There is nothing quite like a moonlit hot bath on the edge of the desert, followed by a delicious Bedouin-style dinner around a campfire under twinkling stars.
Bahariya is the ideal base from which to explore the natural rock and sand formations of the White Desert, the Black Desert and Crystal Mountain.
White & Black Deserts
White & Black Deserts – الصحراء البيضاء
A barren region that occupies the entire western half of Egypt, but which is split into sub-deserts. The mesmerizing White Desert and the Black Desert, each other’s opposites, are two amazing geological wonders.
The White desert: A natural phenomenon 45 kilometres to the north-east of the Farafra oasis, roughly mid-way between Bahariya and Dakhla. A unique landscape filled with wind-eroded rock formations. The mixture of chalk and white limestone outcrops have been sculpted by the wind into weird and suggestive shapes, rising up from the sand. All bear clear witness to the presence of water and an ocean seabed in the distant past. The White Desert is not called surreal for nothing.
The Black Desert: The Black Desert: A massive area marked by black mountains, renowned for its spectacular charcoal-coloured basalt canyons. Cliffs rise above dark-tipped sand dunes covered with a layer of black powder and iron rocks. Waking up amongst the mountainous plateaus is one of the highlights of any trip into the desert. Allow plenty of time for stops to get up close to this spectacular scenery.
There are more natural wonders in the White Desert protectorate, including the Djara Cave, located approximately 150 kilometres west of Farafra and the White Desert. This dripstone cave was first recorded in 1873 by the German explorer Gerhard Rohlfs and contains prehistoric cave paintings and incised rock art.
Crystal Mountain & Aqabat Valley
Crystal Mountain & Aqabat Valley – جبل الكريستال و وادى العقبــــات
The road to the White Desert can be traversed on 4WD desert safaris from Bahariya Oasis or Farafra Oasis. This truly remote region has a rugged beauty, with extraordinary sand dunes at the base of dramatic mountains and wadis.
Crystal Mountain: a small hill by the side of the road, with arch-like rock formations that have lumps of quartz rocks shining like crystals in the sun. En route to the White Desert, the road curves through the bedrock cliffs of the Aqabat Valley, known as the ‘Desert Rose’.
To make a desert trip even more epic in scale, we suggest travelling further off-road to Farafra. For an overnight stop at the Karawien Sand Dunes, near the El-Mufid lake. The road traverses a vast panorama of dunes at the base of rock formations, and then passes the springs of Ain Khadra and Ain el Serw, known as the ‘magic spring’. These springs date back to Roman era and still provide natural bathing pools. Experience the silent of the desert with a campfire under a starlit night sky.
Farafra Oasis – واحة الفرافرة
Beautiful Farafra is the smallest and least visited oasis in the Western Desert, located near the spectacular wind and sand-sculpted rocks of the White Desert, roughly midway between Bahariya and Dakhla. The medieval town of Qasr-al Farafra has domed doorways and old houses around a huge mud-brick fortress, all surrounded by breathtaking countryside scenery of lush palm groves.
Farafra nestles gently among many natural springs and life-giving wells. A short journey in any direction from the oasis will take you to beautiful irrigated agricultural areas and palm groves. A favourite excursion is to Farafra’s nicest hot springs at Bir Sitta and Ain Bishay. These springs sit among the dunes; all offer water heated by nature alone, and amazing sunsets are guaranteed.
Another highlight is the Badr Museum. Badr is a local Bedouin artist who paints and sculpts along traditional themes. The small Badr Museum is in a traditional house that displays different aspects of Bedouin social life. The walls of many Farafra houses are beautifully decorated with his work, a lively combination of traditional Islamic themes and local Egyptian folk art.
Dakhla Oasis – واحة الداخلة
The large Dakhla oasis lies about 195 km to the northwest of Kharga and 260 km southeast of Farafra and is Egypt’s most historically interesting oasis. It is home to Pharaonic, Roman, Coptic and early Islamic antiquities, which contrast perfectly with the desert’s beautiful landscape. With its 14 villages, dozens hot and cold springs, thousands of acres of palm trees, Dakhla is considered to be one of the most beautiful of the Egyptian oases. Despite its increase in size and population of the villages, it has retained its charming natural beauty and heritage.
The region is home to several medieval villages and fortresses, including Mut, Qasr, Bashendi and Balat, with a backdrop of shimmering dunes that roll away as far as the eye can see. Each has its own unique atmosphere, with what are said to be the oldest surviving early Islamic quarters. Domed doorways, mud-brick walls and old houses that are still inhabited, unexpectedly well preserved, and little changed since medieval times. Wander through these villages and admire the historical buildings that reflect the Islamic architectural style, and climb to the rooftop of the Ayyubid madrassa for beautiful views of the surroundings.
Not only is Dakhla home to natural beauties, it has also a spectacular series of ancient sites. Even its capital, Mut, is named after the ancient goddess of the Theban Triad. A few kilometres north of Mut lie the Amheida cemeteries, comprising the Roman tombs of Qaret al-Muzawaka and the Roman sandstone temple of Deir al-Haggar.
Visit the ancient necropolis of Qila el-Daba and the ruins of the Old Kingdom settlement at Ain Asil, close to the village of Balat. Along with the ancient remains of Dakhla, there is also the brick-domed Tomb of Pasha Hindi, ancient mastabas and cemeteries around the medieval villages of Bashendi and Tineida on the eastern edge of the oasis. Archaeologists have been working at Dakhla for years, but the oasis still has many more treasures hidden beneath its sands.
Kharga Oasis – واحة الخارجة
Kharga is the oasis closest to the Nile Valley, approximately 285 km west of Luxor and 700 km south of Cairo. Lying in a wide natural depression, it is surrounded by outstanding desert scenery and many ancient sites.
The area around Kharga contains many archaeological sites, mainly deserted forts, monasteries and temples dating from the Roman period, such as the temple of Ain-Nadura and the monastery of Al-Kashef. Near the modern city of Kharga lies the 2700-year-old temple of Amon at Hibis, one of the few surviving Persian monuments in Egypt; its rich reliefs are well preserved. One kilometre north of Hibis lies the Bagawat Christian cemetery, where mudbrick tombs are painted with biblical scenes, there are the ruins of an early mudbrick basilica and hundreds of unexcavated chapels.
For an overview of antiquities found in excavations throughout the Western Desert Oases, nothing can beat a visit to the recently constructed Kharga Heritage Museum, which houses artefacts ranging from Pharaonic times right through to the Islamic period.
As you journey between Luxor and Kharga, following the ancient ‘Forty-Day Caravan Road’, you’ll pass a number of Pharaonic ruins and deserted forts, such as Qasr el-Ghueita and Qasr el-Zayyan, both situated strategically on hilltops, surrounded by sand dunes – pitch a tent at one of the camping areas around the deserted forts, and amazing sunsets are guaranteed.
Fayoum, Wadi Rayan & Valley of the Whales
Faiyum – الفيوم
Sandwiched between the fertile Nile Valley and the unspoilt wilderness of the Western Desert, Faiyum is not a true oasis. It’s watered by a channel of the Nile running into a natural desert depression. It is hard to believe that this tranquil paradise of unspoiled beauty with lush fields, waterwheels, a large salty lake, hundreds of kilometres of flowing sand dunes and thousands of hectares of lakes is located less than 100 kilometres southwest of Cairo.
Archaeological Sites Faiyum’s history stretches all the way back to Pharaonic times. The road from Cairo to Faiyum City leads you past pyramids, Ptolemaic and Graeco-Roman temples, ruined ancient towns and historic churches and monasteries.
Lake Qarun A large salt-water lake surrounded by breath-taking natural beauty in which it’s possible to swim – a desert can sometimes feel like a beach gone wrong. It is a tranquil spot, perfect for relaxing and watching the abundant bird life, best viewed during a boat trip on the lake. If you don’t mind getting some sand in your food, there’s never a problem finding a quiet spot for your picnic rug.
Exploring Wadi Rayyan is an adventure in itself, with the waterfall its star attraction. There are plenty of opportunities for jumping off rocks and sliding down waterslides before floating downstream under the desert sun. You’re never too far away from great campsites beneath a vast midnight-blue sky illuminated by twinkling stars, with sand in every direction.
Wadi al-Hittan Out in the middle of the desert, and only accessible by 4WD vehicle, there is the man-made natural haven of Wadi Rayyan and the Valley of the Whales, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. This area is rich in wildlife and geology with the fossilized remains of Prehistoric whales and other marine life that stretch back some 40 million years.
Suggested Western Desert Itinerary
Experience the best of the Western Desert
Looking for a desert adventure?
Have a look at our 5 days suggested itinerary; an alternative route from Cairo to Luxor. » Request a quote
If you think Egypt is just Pharaonic Opulence on the Nile, think again
Prepare to be overwhelmed: in both fauna and landscape, the Western Desert Oases are laid back and surprisingly unspoiled.
The Western Desert – Djed Style
The beautiful and vast Western Desert is utterly spectacular. Yet in tourist terms, it’s largely empty. At Djed, we know the off-the-beaten-track Western Desert. We’ve clocked up thousands of kilometres travelling to every location in this area. The camp locations can be remote, often difficult to reach. But our private transport is made as easy and comfortable as possible. Here is our suggested itinerary for exploring the Western Desert and its oases.
5 Days Western Desert Oases Hop – Cairo to Luxor
Day 1 » Cairo to Bahariya (360 km)
Leaving the capital, we head west towards Bahariya Oasis. There’s time to freshen up before driving by 4WD into the area around the village of Bawiti and the surrounding desert. Jump into one of the many hot & cold springs. Climb the English Mountain at sunset for a beautiful panoramic view over the palm groves. From here it’s back over Gebel Dist, the pyramid-shaped mountain that watches over the oasis, to the hotel in Bahariya.
Day 2 » Bahariya to the White Desert (175 km)
The morning will be spent exploring the Valley of the Golden Mummies, the temple of Alexander, Ain al-Muftillah and the tomb of Amunhotep Huy at Qaret al-Hilwa. We continue across the desert via the Black Desert and Crystal Mountain. This region occupies the entire western half of Egypt. The sub-deserts include two amazing geological wonders, the mesmerizing White Desert and the imaginatively named Black Desert. We will reach the White Desert around sunset. Take a nature walk through its lunar landscape while dinner is cooked by your Bedouin guides around a campfire. Sleep under the stars in the open air or in tents. Tents and sleeping bags are provided.
Day 3 » White Desert to Dakhla via Farafra (300 km)
Get up early to see the sun rising over the ever-changing dunes before driving the short distance to Farafra. Enjoy the tranquillity of this small oasis with its hectares of palm groves. Swim in the freshwater lake of Abu Nus, which is also a birdwatcher’s paradise. Wander through the maze of alleyways in the medieval town of Qasr-al Farafra with your guide. Also, visit the small Badr Museum. Drive on south to Dakhla Oasis where you will visit the Amheida cemeteries, comprising the Roman tombs of Qaret al-Muzawaka and the sandstone temple of Deir al-Haggar. Another highlight is a walking tour of the medieval village of Qasr El Dakhla. Finally, we head further into the oasis for the night.
Day 4 » Dakhla to Kharga (195 km)
En route to Kharga, visit some medieval villages and fortresses, including Mut, Balat and Bashendi. Explore Pharaonic, Roman and Coptic sites at almost every turn in the road. Go off-road through the Abu Tartur desert plateau to the Roman Fortress at Qasr al Labakha, and then head west to Umm el-Dabadib, the most unexpected and startling of the sites near Kharga. This area, dominated by marching sand dunes, has retained its charming natural beauty and heritage. Here we will set up camp in the desert on the edge of our final oasis, Kharga.
Day 5 » Kharga to Luxor (285 km)
After driving into Kharga, visit the mudbrick mausoleums and underground galleries at the Christian cemetery of al-Bagawat, the temple of Amun at Hibis, and the temple of Nadura, strategically located on a hilltop with beautiful views of the area. En route to Luxor, our first stop will be the imposing Roman mudbrick fortress of Qasr el-Ghueita with a temple dating back to the Pharaonic era within massive outer walls and surrounded by desert. Here we turn east and travel towards Luxor.