When I started researching “Things to do in Egypt”, the White and Black Desert safari came up in my search results. SPOILER ALERT! It ties for first place with the Pyramids for favourite parts of this trip. My initial conversations with tour operators revealed that this specific tour was suspended due to the regulations of the tourism police department. Needless to say, I was disappointed, but the trip timelines were at least 3 months away, so I just kept my fingers crossed that the regulations would soften in time. I also had other reservations, if it would be a solo trip, I was a bit unnerved about taking my first camping trip (in life) out in the middle of nowhere, in a country with several travel advisories, negative press and a language I did not understand in the slightest.
At the point of finalizing itinerary details, I still received mixed responses on whether the tour could be done. To be honest, I’m still a little hazy on the restrictions I believe that the tourism police simply turned a blind eye to tour companies; in the end our tour operator (the manager Meedo at the Australian Hostel) said that it can be done. Our tour were all private, so it would be just my sister and I, however Meedo had another client doing the desert safari, so he merged our tours and lowered the cost. In this instance, I said, the more the merrier.
We began with an 8am pick up from the hostel for a 4-hour drive with a rest stop along the way. It was around 6°C that day and it gets colder at night. I’m not sure what the camping norms are, but sleeping outdoors at this temperature, for me, is extremely cold. So I sucked it up because that’s how much I wanted to do it. It even rained a bit on the drive through the Sahara desert.
First stop was the black desert located near the Bahariya oasis. It’s filled with black topped desert mountains. The Black basalt and dolerite rocks are a result of volcanic activity millions of years ago. It’s definitely something to see. Throughout the drive we were treated to Bedouin music from our guide’s village.
El Haiz village -lunch in a Bedouin Village
An integral part of experiencing a country’s culture involves indulging in food and dining. We were taken to small restaurant in El Haiz village for a Bedouin Style (seated on the floor) lunch. Our meal consisted of tuna, delicious Egyptian bread, salad, potato crisps and fresh fruit. Egyptians are big on tea, so we were also served tea in a charming little iron pot. A simple but delicious meal. We also met a young man here, also on a solo tour who would eventually join us at the campsite since we were using the same tour operator. There’s a small natural hot spring in an area near the restaurant. No swimming allowed, the water is actually trapped and used for irrigation etc. in the village.
After lunch, it was back to the vehicle and off to our next stop. Crystal Mountain is a network of ancient geological formations that have been pushed to the surface over time by the earth’s movements. One thing to note is that the crystals are actually quartz. If you look closely at some rocks in the area, you can also see embedded fossilized leaves. Bonus: I was allowed to drive the Toyota Land cruiser off-road in this area of the desert.
Made up of limestone hills set in the sands of the Sahara desert, it is said that millions of years ago this valley was all under water. Agabat when translated means difficult. As I walked around this vast valley, I felt like a very tiny spec and I’ve got the photos to prove it. Agabat is truly a wonder for your eyes. As a side note, it was really windy during my trip and for the first time I really understood why people in the desert cover their faces as the windblown sand grazed my cheek.
White desert and camping
We arrived here in time for sunset and to set up the overnight camp. At some point millions of years ago this desert would have been a sea bed. The landscape is filled with chalk white rock formations; they were carved by years of harsh desert winds into shapes like a mushroom, a chicken and a camel to list a few. Desert safari tours are usually structured so you can witness the beauty of the colour of sunrise and sunset across the snow-white rocks.
Now this was my first camping experience. There’s no physical bathroom at these camp sites, just nature. Your choice of large rocks or wide open spaces. Guys have its so much easier when it comes to taking a leak because my bare butt definitely felt the very cold night air a few times.
The guide set up camp and began dinner preparation potatoes and bar-b-queued chicken using the campfire. Now this is a pretty good idea, except when it’s a windy night, because the sand definitely gets on the chicken. It was delicious all the same. There was a dining area set up, but we all opted to eat in the tent because it was cold and windy. After dinner,, we had traditional Bedouin tea around the campfire.
On a clear night you should be able to see the Milky Way, but I was not so fortunate on my trip there. We retired to our tents in the pitch dark and my big sister tucked me in (never too old for this), because I really have no idea how to work any camping equipment or know any tricks to stay warm. She woke me up around 4 am to see the white desert rocks lit up by the moonlight. I just poked my head out the tent and looked around because it was way too cold for me to go wandering around. There, it was like being in another world and it was a very amazing sight of illumination.
In the morning we woke up in time to see the magnificent sunrise and explore the area a bit more. We saw tiny paw prints in the sand that belonged to desert foxes. We then sat down to have breakfast before heading to our last stop English mountain.
English Mountain or Gebel al-Ingleez
So named because it was used as a lookout post by British soldiers during World War 1. There are still some ruins of the post that the officers used to monitor advances by Libyan troops.
It was then time to head back to Cairo, so we thanked our guide for taking such good care of us and switched vehicles to begin the 3 hr journey back.
This safari was one of the highlights from an amazing trip. It was really hard to choose photos for this post, so flick on over to my Facebook page for more. The region is full of beauty and splendor. Would I go back? Yes! But when it’s warmer. Have you ever been on a desert safari in Egypt? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Next up, East and West Banks of Luxor.