Ins and outs


Getting there and around

Travel around the main oases is straightforward and unimpeded. Coming from Cairo, the natural choice feels like an anti-clockwise journey around the circuit beginning by going into the desert past the Pyramids at Giza and on to
Bahariyya
. Alternatively, a clockwise exploration can start in
Kharga
coming either from Luxor (via private taxi) or Assiut by bus. It's also become easier to incorporate far-flung
Siwa
into the loop, via the much-improved (but still fairly rugged) track known as the
Darb El-Siwa
, which crosses the Great Sand Sea between Siwa and Bahariyya. Permits are required to traverse this road and usually take a day to process. A 4WD is essential, as sand dunes have blocked the road at points and
there are frequent corrugations. Vehicles start in a convoy with a military escort (although they tend to split off en route). There are numerous police checkpoints, and if you don't have a local guide/driver accompanying you these will prove troublesome. Although it is relatively expensive to hire a vehicle it avoids losing days back-tracking to Cairo and is an intense and isolating experience that enables a satisfyingly complete circuit of the oases. The Tourist Information offices at either end can advise on obtaining permissions (in Siwa, they will process it for you) and put you in touch with others who want to make the trip if you wish to save costs. Overnight camping is not permitted when traversing this route (safaris have to be organized separately if you wish to explore the area more lengthily) thus the journey is around six to eight hours, depending on detours made.

The main four oases are well connected to each other and to Cairo via public transport in both directions.
Upper Egypt Travel
runs several air-conditioned buses daily plus there are also microbuses circulating, so finding a ride is rarely a problem. If you intend to travel by coach, though, it is wise to buy your ticket at least a day in advance to ensure a seat. Also bear in mind that public transport in the remote oases can be less consistent and reliable than other parts of the country so double check all schedules and call upon a bit more patience than usual. If you lack the time, or the inclination, for all this you can fly direct from Cairo to New Valley Airport at Kharga, where it's possible to get a taste of the desert, but you will be missing far more. It may be true that Kharga has more interesting monuments than some of its neighbours, but the desert itself is the star of this area and Kharga, with it's sprawling modern town, is undoubtedly a disappointment to some.

If you are interested in an extended desert expedition, it is essential to plan ahead. Organized safaris to the Gilf Kebir, especially, need to be booked months in advance plus the season is fairly short, it being way too hot from May to August and freezing at night from December to February. Security precautions taken by the Egyptian authorities mean you will have to be accompanied by armed guards for more remote parts of your journey. If you are self-driving, be prepared to provide food and all essentials for the escort. They cause no problems though the effectiveness of their protection is questionable.

Self-driving

The key to safe travel in desert regions is reliable and well-equipped transport. For the motorist, motorcyclist or pedal cyclist there are ground rules which, if followed, will help to reduce risks. In normal circumstances travellers will remain on tarmacked roads and for this need only a well-prepared 2WD vehicle. Choose a machine that's known for its reliability and for which spares can be easily obtained. In Egypt Peugeot and Mercedes are found with adequate spares and servicing facilities. If you have a different type of car/truck, make sure that you take spares with you or have the means of getting spares sent out. Bear in mind that transport of spares to and from rural Egypt might take a tediously long time. Petrol/benzene/gas is available everywhere, diesel is equally well distributed except in the smallest of southern settlements. 4WD transport is useful even for the traveller who normally remains on the tarmacked highway. Emergencies, diversions and unscheduled visits to off-the-road sites become less of a problem with all-terrain vehicles. Off the road, 4WD is essential, normally with two vehicles travelling together. A great variety of 4WD vehicles are in use in the region, Toyota and Land Rover are probably found the most widely.

Vehicles going into any desert area should have the following basic equipment:

Full toolkit, vehicle maintenance handbook and supplementary tools such as clamps, files, wire, spare-parts kit supplied by car manufacturer, jump leads, spare tyre/s, battery driven tyre pump, tyre levers, tyre-repair kit, hydraulic jack, jack-handle extension, base plate for jack, spare fuel can/s, spare water container/s, cool bags.

For those going off the tarmacked roads other items to include are: Foot-tyre pump, heavy-duty hydraulic or air jack, power winch, sand channels, safety rockets, comprehensive first aid kit, radio/telephone, emergency rations kit, matches, Benghazi burner (a double-skinned water boiler), maps, compasses, GPS, latest road information, guides to navigation by the sun and stars.

Permits

For overnight safaris, permits are generally not required, but significant detours from the main roads and extended travel on less-frequented routes will probably require one. Currently permits are required for the journey along the Siwa to Bahariyya road and expeditions to the Gilf Kebir. Any reputable travel agent will obtain the necessary permission to travel on your behalf, for a fee and with one-month's warning, but if you are self-driving it might take longer for your application to be processed. Obtaining a permit requires two photocopies of the important pages of your passport and the Egyptian entry stamp, two passport photos and an outline of your trip itinerary. Permits must be obtained in Cairo (it is not possible to arrange them on arrival in any of the oases towns) from the 26th Group Military, in front of Cinema Tiba, Raba' El Adawiya in Nasr City.

Safety

When planning a trip never underestimate the potential dangers of the desert. Driving conditions have improved significantly over the years, but there are
still relatively few places to stop for petrol, food or water so fill up on all essentials before beginning your excursion. There are no service stations between towns. You need the right type of vehicle, and the necessary driving skills to handle it in this terrain. Make sure you take enough cash with you, credit cards will not do and you will only find ATMs in Dakhla and Kharga.

The Sahara is extremely varied in its topography and climate. Each day has a large range of temperature, often of more than 20°C, with the world's highest temperatures recorded here at over 55°C, and the nights sometimes below freezing. With this in mind, it is essential that you come to the desert prepared. In addition to light clothing of natural fibres, bring sufficient layers for the cooler nights. Also essential on any desert trek or expedition are: a first-aid kit, hat, whistle, torch, rehydration packets, high energy foods, and extra water.

In the desert border areas of Egypt,
unexploded mines
are a hidden danger. Maps of mined areas are unreliable, some were never marked. Always obey the precautionary signs. Floods can move mines considerable distances from the original site. Be warned - people do die.

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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