Visiting the White Desert in Egypt, known locally as Sahara el Beyda, is a humbling experience. It perfectly balances action, experience, nature, and tranquillity and without crowds.
Traveling through the arid areas, you genuinely start to appreciate water as a crucial element of life. Similar to Taghit in Algeria, this barren land is beautifully contrasted by oases filled with life and greenery.
While most tourists visit Egypt for its historical treasures like the Pyramids of Giza, the Great Sphinx, and the Valley of the Kings, the country’s natural wonders like the White Desert are equally captivating.
The White Desert is unique for many reasons, which we explore below, and is the ideal camping trip from Cairo. Read on to discover more about the rock formations, sand storms, and natural springs.
Where is the White Desert in Egypt?
The White Desert lies within Egypts incredibly large Western Desert. The vast Western Desert starts from the banks of the Nile and encompasses the entire desert in Egypt to the western border shared with Libya.
The White Desert is in a depression, located about 20km northeast the town Farafra and about 370km south of Cairo.
The Black Desert is a 134 km drive north of the White Desert and is the stark opposite. It consists of sand dunes capped with black volcanic rock.
The Western Desert harbors five isolated oases, of which Farafra oasis is the closest to the White Desert, then Bahariyya, Dakhla, Kharga, and Siwa.
What is the White Desert & Surrounding Area Famous For?
The main geographic attraction of Farafra is the White Desert National Park which covers more than 115 square miles (300 square kilometers) of the 378 square mile Farafra depression.
This area is famous for naturally formed stones shaped by erosive sandstorms, known as ventifacts.
The snow-white to cream color chalk rock formations are dotted across the landscape in various wind-blown forms. The environment is striking in its desolate and lunar appearance.
Look closer, and you will find barite and calcite crystals, black iron pyrites, and possibly even fossils.
The White Desert National Park is a scenic location for an overnight stay. Thanks to the isolated location, there is very little artificial light, letting you see thousands of stars when the sky is clear.
Crystal Mountain is a ridge located between Bahariya Oasis and the Farafra Oasis in the Agabat Valley. It lies south of the Black Desert and is conveniently located along the main road.
The Black Desert feels as if you have arrived on a different planet. The black volcanic hills and dolerite deposits stand in contrast to the area’s orange sand.
Day Trip From Cairo to Farafra, Egypt
Travel out of the busy city and into the desert on an overnight adventure. Your guide will collect you from your hotel in Cairo or Giza before setting off on a four and a half hour trip to Bawiti, the largest settlement in the Bahariya Oasis.
Enjoy lunch at a local restaurant in Bahariya before setting off on a 4×4 transfer to explore the lush palm groves set against immense dunes.
The driver will take you past the Black Desert, Crystal Mountain, and the huge rocks of the Agabat Valley.
The next stop is the White Desert. Admire the rock formations and the setting sun before spending the night under the stars with a barbeque dinner at a nearby camp.
Rise with the new day feeling ready and recharged for breakfast in the desert before you start your journey back to the city.
Attempting to travel on the steep routes such as Naqb As-Sillim without a 4×4 would be hair-raising. Drivers are well-equipped to navigate the pass, leading you out of the Farafra depression, which marks the end of your time in the White Desert.
How Do You Get From the White Desert to Cairo?
Travel from the White Desert along Al Farafra road to Bawiti and continue on El Wahat road to Giza and Cairo. The route is about 230 miles (370 km) and takes you on a journey through orange desert landscapes.
While you can travel to Cairo by bus, the benefit of having a private guide or taxi outweighs the savings in cost. Buses rarely have working air conditioning and can be in high demand during the holiday period.
Is it Safe to Visit the White Desert in Egypt?
Statistically, Egypt is a very safe country. While the US and UK’s foreign travel offices advise against all but essential travel to the area west of the Nile Valley, the White Desert National Park receives many group tours.
The Foreign travel offices sight terrorism as the main concern for the areas of the Western Desert near the borders of Libya and Sudan. Check with your travel insurance, as a visit to specific areas may invalidate your policy.
Whether you are a solo traveler or a family, traveling into the desert with a guide is advisable. Male and female foreign travelers are encouraged to dress conservatively to avoid unwanted attention.
Is it Legal to Stay in the White Desert?
While foreigners are not officially allowed to camp overnight in the white desert, but the reality is that many visitors do. While the laws do not permit camping overnight, so are the local tourist police turn a blind eye are unlikely to bother you. Especially if you are going on a tour with a local company.
There´s a LE20 entry free to the National Park for each night you want to spend in the White Desert. Normally the fee is included in your trip fee at least with the larger tour companies.
To access areas outside of the White Desert, you may pass military checkpoints which can require a permit or signing of a waiver.
It pays to travel with a well-reviewed guide who can share local knowledge and communicate in a local language. Outside of cities, the desert land can be owned by individuals, corporations, or the state.
It is best practice to check with private landowners before traveling across or overnighting on their land.
When is the Best Time to Visit Egypt’s Deserts?
Egypt’s inland areas experience a hot desert climate. Visit from October to March for the most pleasant weather.
Average temperatures over these six months are between 59.9F and 106.7F (31.8C and 41.5C). December and January are typically the coldest months in Egypt.
Sunrise and sunset are the best times to visit Egypt’s White Desert. During this time, the sun lights the formations in orange and pink hues. If you decide to spend the night in the desert, a full moon offers a ghostly Arctic appearance too.
Summer in Farafra, Egypt
Due to its arid landscape, Farafra and the nearby White Desert experiences a wider fluctuation in temperature than Cairo. In summer, from May to August, you can expect daily average temperatures to reach 88°F (31°C) in the Farafra. August typically experiences the highest maximum temperature of 102°F (39°C).
The cool morning and night times are the most bearable time of day during summer, with average low temperatures of 70°F (21°C).
Winter in Farafra, Egypt
While you can visit the White Desert all year round, winter is the most comfortable time. The weather in Farafra between October and March maintains averages under 86°F (30°C) and reaches high temperatures of 90°F (32°C).
The wettest month is September, with an average of 1mm of rainfall. January is the coldest month, reaching lows of 41°F (5°C), highs of 68°F (20°C), and maintaining an average temperature of 55°F (13°C).
Essential Packing List for Your Trip
When visiting the White Desert in Egypt, you will want to protect yourself from the desert conditions with a 30 SPF (or stronger) sunscreen, sunhat, and sunglasses.
The hot air in Egypt makes it necessary to keep a lotion or moisturizer handy to remedy your dry skin.
Despite the hot temperatures, it is recommended to wear a light long sleeve shirt to protect your skin from the sun, while warmer clothing is necessary for nighttime.
Comfortable shoes will be more appropriate for walking in the White Desert, however, guides are known to happily wear sandals.
While a basic first-aid kit is a smart item, toilet paper is an essential one. You will be traveling long distances between toilets, so it is best to be prepared.
Water is another crucial item to pack when traveling into the desert. Be prepared by bringing at least a gallon of water per person per day.
The landscapes in the Western Desert appear to be out of this world. If you are an amateur or professional photographer, you should include a tripod alongside your favorite travel camera or Polaroid.
This essential item will give you the confidence to capture low light and astrophotos when using a longer exposure.
What Animals Live in the White Desert in Egypt?
Alongside protecting the unique white sand and rock formations, the White Desert National Park is home to over 800 animal species.
Keep your eyes peeled during your journey in the desert for the Barbary sheep, Dorcas gazelle, Rhim gazelle, jackal, Fennec fox, Ruppell’s fox, red fox, and sand cats.
Harder to see, the smaller creatures include amphibians, reptiles, birds, and even fish. The Eqyptian weasel, pallid gerbil, Nile Delta toad, and two butterfly species are endemic to Egypt.
Notable birds found in the desert include the spotted sandgrouse, greater hoopoe-lark, and white-crowned wheatear.
Overall Experience of Egypt’s White Desert
Visiting the Black and White Desert in Egypt is not your typical bucket list location for tourists traveling in Egypt.
While the world-famous pyramid of Giza, the Great Sphinx, and Valley of the Kings are impressive, the deserts in Egypt hold their own allure.
The trip is not without its risks. It requires appropriate planning and preferably a guide who can communicate with locals or officials.
The arid landscape evokes an other-worldly feeling, and it is likely the memories from your trip to the White Desert will remain some of the best times from your trip to Egypt.
Loved your trip into the desert? Consider visiting one of Iran’s incredible deserts next.