Bahariyya is an oasis town in Egypt‘s Western Desert. As the closest of the five Western Oases to Cairo, it serves as a jumping-off point to other destinations in the desert. Bahariya Oasis is easy to reach from Cairo (you will pass through much desert), Bahariya is in the middle of Egypt’s Western Desert, about 365 km south-west of Cairo and it is the best starting point for the Black and White Desert. Set in a depression covering over 2000 km2, Bahariya Oasis is surrounded by black hills made up of ferruginous quartzite and dolorite. The oasis is provided with water by many springs. The most famous of these, a thermal spring with medicinal and restorative properties, comes out in the Bedouin village of Bawiti. Wildlife is plentiful, especially birds such as wheatears, Bahariya Oasis might also appeal rock hounds. Golden Mummies were discovered – ‘Valley of the Mummies’ is the biggest of its kind. Estimates are the four-mile strip of desert holds 5,000-10,000 mummies. The mummies are covered with a thin layer of gold and wearing gypsum masks. Sumptuous gilded death masks depict lifelike faces of real people, rather than stereotypical images. They were found in four tombs in the town of Bawiti in Bahariya Oasis.
There are regular bus services from Cairo to Bahariyya and back. Buses start from Turgoman Square bus-station in Cairo. Buses start early in the morning (7AM/8AM) and also during afternoon. It typically takes about 5 hours by bus for the Cairo-Bahariyya trip. One way cost is typically about 35 LE. Seats are numbered but Egyptians regularly will take your seat or demand that you get up from where you’re sitting if you’re in the first row. On some buses they will have the TV blaring. Sometimes all speakers don’t work. If you end up sitting near a speaker that does work or the only one that works, don’t be afraid to ask to switch your seat. Be firm and demand it.
It is also possible to rent a microbus privately to go to Bahariyya. Microbuses are available at the same place (El Moneeb bus-station). A one-way trip costs about 300-400 LE. Time taken is 3½–4 hours depending on breaks.
- The Black Desert is about half an hour’s drive away from Bahariyya. It consists of an area of the Sahara Desert which consists of small mountains and hillocks which are sooty black in color. The combination of the black stones covering the hills along with the orange/ochre ground of the desert makes for dramatic viewing. A climb up one of the hills rewards the visitor with an excellent view of a fascinating landscape.
- White Desert National Park is a large expanse of the Sahara Desert characterized by white chalk formations. Centuries of erosion have moulded the rock into fantastic shapes and has resulted in a spectacular sights which have become extremely popular with visitors. The White Desert National Park is located about 100 km from Bahariya off the road that goes to Farafra. The usual way to go there is via a 4X4 – though there is also the option of going on a walking tour once you reach the place. More adventurous travelers can pack a sleeping bag, food and a lot (a lot!) of water and ask the driver of some Bahariya-Farafra bus to stop in the middle of the desert (there are at least two Upper Egypt buses daily plus a variety of local transports). This should be arranged in either of the oases before the bus takes off, as the driver will probably require a consent of the Tourist Police first. After one or two days in the desert, you will run out of water – just return to the road and hail another bus (if you are spotted by the police, you may be taken to the nearest checkpoint for your safety, do not worry).
Except the museum or going for the desert, there is not much to do/see here.
- Deserttrekking (White desert), White desert,Bawiti, Bahariya Oasis, ☎+20 12 59 89 733. 24 hr. US$30.
- Oasis Heritage Museum. It is split in 3 parts: a mummies museum (about 6-8), two well-conserved tombs and a third one (?). The first two can easily be joined by foot, but you need a car to get to the third. LE 45.
- Desert safari. Bahariya serves as the main departure point for safaris in the Western Desert ranging from one-day-trips to the nearby White Desert to long-range expeditions to the remote Gilf el-Kebir near the Libyan border or the Great Sand Sea. Since the desert is not a children’s playground, it is strongly recommended to book a tour with a local operator who is familiar with both the imminent dangers and the hidden beauties of the Western Desert. Most of them offer 4×4 (usually a Toyota Land Cruiser), camel or hiking tours with overnight and open sky camping in the desert – with all meals prepared on site. Even though network coverage is fairly good – at least in the White Desert area – make sure your guide has a satellite phone.
- Western Desert Tours, ☎+20 12 716 0782, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Established by native Bahariyyans in 2000. Organizes 4×4, camel and hiking tours to all places of interest in the Western Desert area.
- Desert-blanc (Mandeshy), Bawiti,Bahariya Oasis,Egypt (White desert &oases tour operator), ☎+20 12 6845 495. 24 hr. The white desert and safari trips, camping, trekking, sand surfing. US$30.
- Desert Safari Egypte, bawiti (baharyia), ☎+20 1 86 82 47 51. Organizes tours in 4X4, camel and hiking tours in the white desert, the western desert, siwa, farafra, dakhla, kharga.