Western Desert

Wherever you are in Egypt, the desert is never far away. Its presence is tangible, omnipotent, mystical. Spanning from the western banks of the Nile to Libya and extending south all the way to Sudan, the Western Desert constitutes more than two-thirds of Egypt's total area and supports less than 2% of its population. Though more accessible than ever before, the region is still not a tourist destination, it is a traveller's destination, and only travellers of a particular sort are drawn to this captivating land: those in search adventure filled with beauty, challenge and insight.

There are four major oases that make up what has come to be known as the Great Desert Circuit. Nearest to Cairo is Bahariyya, an easy set-off point for safaris into the Black Desert and awash with peaceful camps from where day hikes up dramatic mountains or meanders through timeless palm plantations bewitch those who linger. Farafra, a remote and quiet village clutching on to tradition, lies on the doorstep of the White Desert, a psychedelic wonderland of luminescent rock sculpted by the wind to resemble minarets and mushrooms. Dakhla, with its soft pink sands and enchanting medieval settlements, has a palpably warm demeanour in which it is easy to lose the sense of being on a tourist trail. And although the government's New Valley reconstruction project of the 1970s and 1980s infiltrated Kharga with hordes of Delta workers and concrete structures, here lie many of the desert's chief archaeological treasures.

Nestling on the Libyan border, Siwa, brimming with rolling dunes, crumbling temples, fields of palms, bubbling springs and a language and culture all its own, personifies the enchantment of the oasis experience. It's possible to link Siwa to the inner oases from Bahariyya more easily now than in the past, and go for a mega-circuit of the desert via the Darb El-Siwa road. And for the ultimate adventure, the immense plateau of the Gilf Kebir with its prehistoric rock art is a two-week safari across the Uweinat Desert, Egypt's final frontier.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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