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with Ahmed Safari Camp


One of the most beautiful and mystical places in Egypt is the White Desert National Park. Not only will you walk on white, chalky grounds, but the formations standing tall around you will have you wondering if you’re still on planet earth.


The area is becoming increasingly popular with visitors and when I was there, I saw big horrible tour groups. However, it seemed that only smaller groups head to the desert to camp overnight. I highly recommend spending at least one night in the White Desert to experience sleeping under the stars and having a peek at Bedouin life.


I booked a trip for two nights and three days with Ahmed Safari Camp. They were not the most organised company and half of the time they didn’t appear to know what to do with me, because I was the only one who had booked two nights (rather than one). However, it meant that I got to meet more people!


Here was my experience:


Day 1


Ahmed Safari Camp

Pick up from accommodation in Cairo was an early one! And of course, they were an hour late, in true Egyptian timing. We were the first to be picked up and proceeded to drive around downtown Cairo to collect the other guests.


Then it was a 5 hour drive to Bahariya Oasis some 365 km away. We arrived in time for lunch in Ahmed Safari Camp’s base in Bawiti, one of the small towns located near the White Desert. After getting to know everyone in my group, they all left me. They headed off into the White Desert National Park, but I was left wondering what was going on. Eventually I was informed that I’d be spending the night there, in the Ahmed Safari Camp’s hotel. So I was assigned my room and an hour later I joined a different group for a tour around Bawiti.


During this tour, our tour guide took us in his jeep to see the following hot spots in the desert:


Hot Natural Spring

Although not much to look at, you’ll have to remind yourself that you’re in the desert, so water is scarce. The complex irrigation system of hot springs is extremely important for the Bawiti area that was once dependent on agriculture. These days the area is becoming dependent on tourism for its income.


We were taken to a pipe with gushing water flowing into a basin. And it was hot.

If you’re sensitive to hot water, do not test the water! I washed my hands there but then I love a hot, hot shower! The pipe goes metres underground to reach the water and is pretty impressive. Some springs are of a temperature that is okay to bathe in, although the surroundings didn’t make this one very inviting. Men and women should bathe separately and women should be conservative to respect the local etiquette.


Salt Lake

The desert in the west has many salt lakes. This one was located in Bawiti and crystal formations can be seen along the shore.


Pyramid Mountain - Gebel Dist

This mountain is mysteriously shaped like a pyramid and is better admired from afar. Once up close, the view of the shape of the mountain is a little lost.


Interestingly dinosaur fossils were found here in the early 20th century!


The English House - Gebel Al Ingleez

Our tour guide took us to what he called ‘The English House’. Located up a mountain, known as the Black Mountain, its name comes from being an old WWI lookout post used by a British officer to keep watch on Libyan Senussi tribesmen. Much of the house is now a pile of stones and only the base of the structure is left. However, the surrounding view is the real reason to climb up there. It’s the perfect spot to watch the sunset.

We had tea and biscuits (very english) from the base of the mountain and the light was spectacular.


Back at the hotel, we were fed a simple dinner and then I headed off to my room for the night.

 

Day 2


Breakfast was served around 9am and, shortly afterwards, the group I was with the previous day, got their ride back to Cairo and I was left alone again. I was to join a third group who were on their way from Cairo. Whilst I waited I caught up with Carter Kane (my book The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan) by the (empty) pool and soaked up the sunshine.


At lunch I met the new group and had to make introductions and friends all over again. This was not a time to be shy!


Finally, I was leaving to see the White Desert!

This group was larger so we had to bundle ourselves into two jeeps.


The drive to the White Desert National Park was a long one so we first stopped at a street side cafe for a toilet break and water. Along the way we also stopped to see a couple of interesting sites.



Crystal Mountain

This crystal formation by the side of the road is a large mountain made entirely of quartz. Unfortunately, people have come to break the formation and take crystals which is saddening. But, many existing broken pieces of quartz can be found on the formation to examine and admire.


Aqabat Valley

Our next stop was the incredible Aqaba Valley. The landscape is like an earthy version of Ha Long Bay. Huge mountain formations protrude the earth’s surface and it’s best to get a good view by tackling the soft sand and climbing the hills.

Our guides provided old boards for sand boarding, but it didn’t really provide the rush worthy of the tough climb in the sand that followed.


White Desert

Finally we entered the White Desert National Park. Our guide organised the tickets for us, although we have no idea where the ticket booth is. He sorted it out whilst we admired all the offerings of the White Desert. In true Bedouin style, limited scientific information was offered of the large structures that loomed above us. The main attractions they indicated to us were the rocks that made shapes resembling earth beings such as a mushroom, a chicken and a rabbit.


As the sun faded and turned the land and sky into tones of pinks and purples, the moon watched from the other end. It was nothing like I’d ever seen before. After a dozen snaps of the sky, I had to just sit, and watch as the sun faded. Sometimes, the view better without the distraction of a camera.


At Camp

Then, it was back to the cars to drive into our campsite for the night. Pop-up tents for guests and a large Bedouin tent had already been set up. Everything is, most likely, permanently set up as there are visitors most days during this time of year. Shortly after, a camp fire was lit as the warmth from the day’s sun rapidly evaporated. It was time to layer up and sit by the warmth of the fire.


The Bedouin guides wrapped up chicken in tin foil and cooked it over the campfire. Vegetarians aren’t catered for very well, unfortunately. But the chicken was delicious :)


Back around the campfire, musical instruments came out and other guides and their guests from nearby camps, came over to join us and fill the air with Bedouin music.


The moon was full and cast light across the desert. I'd hoped to see more stars, but the atmosphere was still beautiful as I lay on the sand listening to the music from the Bedouins.


The party didn’t go on too late as many were eager to watch the sunrise the next morning. I ended up chatting to my new friends until much later than I normally would have, as the whole experience of being in the White Desert was incredible! But, eventually it was time to call it a day.


Day 3


“It was cold. The sun had fallen and the wind, although not very strong, created a chill that seeped through your clothes and into your bones. The zip on my tent was broken and I could only close the entrance half way. The zip on the window of the tent had fallen off so the flap to close it hung loose. Air blew in through both the door and the window.

I wore a pair of thermal leggings and warm trekking trousers plus a thermal top and three other layers on top. And my jacket. Gloves. Hat. The sleeping bag was hard to wriggle into as the tent was child size and the weighty camel-hair blanket sat heavily on top.

Somehow I managed to fall asleep for a few hours. At 5:30am, I woke from the cold and had another go at the zip on the door. I forced it and managed to close it leaving only a small hole where it was broken. I used a hair clip to hold the flap on the window shut. Frustrated at not having done this earlier, I tried to sleep. But the light from the sun was already starting to appear. I decided to prep my camera equipment and headed out for sunrise. I hoped to pee before anyone else was up. There isn’t much coverage in the White Desert, and too many small mountains with panoramic views upon which to spot me. Some of the group were already up, positioned towards the east. I guess I had to wait until after sunrise.

With my sleeping bag in hand, I climbed the tallest rock near our camp. I set up the gear and then wriggled into my sleeping bag for warmth, preparing for another beautiful sunrise.”



Black Desert

Once we were fed breakfast, we packed up our belongings and got back into our cars to see any rock formations that we’d miss the evening before. It was quieter now, and few tourists were around. We were taken to a great spot for the final views and photos of the White Desert.


Then, we sped out and back on to the main road. Our last stop was the Black Desert. Due to erosion of the mountains, black powder and stones have made their way across the land creating a scene like no other.


By late morning, we were back at Ahmed Safari Camp and in a mini bus ready to head back to Cairo.


 

TOUR OR EXPLORE:


Verdict: TOUR

Whether private or with a group, I’d recommend going on an organised tour. The journey from Cairo is a long one and once you’re in the area, it would be time consuming to look for accommodation and organise a camping trip in the White Desert. If you’re looking for a personalised, quiet, more authentic experience I’d suggest going for a private tour. However, I actually met more people and had a brilliant time in the White Desert with the group I ended up with. Eventually!


Ahmed Safari Camp

I booked this tour through Dahab Hostel, Cairo for $150. The tour is priced in USD so it’s a good idea if you carry some. The card machine was unsurprisingly broken when I wanted to pay, and withdrawing so much EGP wasn’t easy. Some ATMs only allow you to withdraw a certain amount of cash. However, at the time of writing the exchange rate to EGP is very favourable so paying in EGP wouldn’t be a bad idea right now!

I’d heard other hotels or agencies charge more, and guests end up on the same tour. For 3 days and 2 nights, the price is fairly reasonable considering the long drive and food is included.


My personal experience of the 3-day tour, was not the best in terms of organisation. I travelled to the Bahariya Oasis with one group, spent the day with another group, and had to wait a while for the final group to go to the White Desert! However, as a regular traveller, I no longer get frustrated or angry at these situations. The universe was doing its thing and in this moment, it was looking for the perfect group for me :)


I ended up in a group where I made great friends (we spent the following day together visiting the pyramids) and I had the best experience!



 

Are there toilets?

At Ahmed Safari Camp hotel, there are toilets and a place to leave big backpacks if necessary but there isn't a lot of room on the bus so it's best to leave it at your accommodation in Cairo if possible.


In the White Desert there are no facilities, you literally are in the middle of the desert. "Toilets" are located wherever you can find a bit of privacy and there’s definitely no running water anywhere. It’s the perfect place if you want to disconnect from the everyday life and the busy city. However, turn your phone on aeroplane mode because you’re not that cut off! I was disappointed with the fact that I could still receive signal but for the Bedouin guides, it makes their lives much easier.


Where do we sleep?

Pop-up tents are shared in pairs but we managed to get an extra one since I was the only single female in the group. A mattress is provided, as well as a sleeping bag and a big heavy camel-hair blanket.


What shall I take?

One backpack with overnight gear. You’ll mainly just need layers for the night and essentials like wet wipes, tissues, etc. See my packing guide for desert essentials.


How long does it take to get to the White Desert?

It’s a 5 hour drive from Cairo to the Bahariya Oasis. From there it’s another hour or so but the stops on the tour break up the journey nicely.


Is food included?

All meals are included except for breakfast on the first day and lunch the last day. I’d recommend getting a cereal bar or something for the ride from Cairo on the bus. And on the last day you’re shipped off back to Cairo without lunch. There is a stop off at a shop where you can get hot food but you don’t have a lot of time to eat it! Most of us ended up getting junk food to keep us going until we arrived in Cairo.


If you have any other questions, please let me know!








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