White Desert national park is one of the main attractions in the Farfara depression. Thousands of years of sand storms and winds shaped chalk into some of the most amazing views you will ever see. And that is not it, it is also one of the most amazing places to do some star gazing. It is a simply unbelievable destination, if it is not on your bucket list, it definitely should be.
WHITE DESERT TOUR PRICE
Although you could go and camp in the desert on your own, without a guide I would not recommend it. White desert is one of the places you will enjoy much more, doing it as a tour. You get an experience guide, that knows the desert inside and out, they take care of the sleeping arrangement so you don’t have to bring your own sleeping bag and you get to eat some amazing food prepared by the locals.
We did a lot of research and though at first sight the prices for White Desert tours are quite overwhelming we managed to find a fairly cheap one. One of the hostels in Cairo was offering the tour so we decided to stay there. 2 birds with one stone, we got to book a great tour for a great price and the hostel itself was pretty amazing, especially thanks to the staff!
Booked: DAHAB HOSTEL in Cairo
Price: 75$ for one night, 95$ for 2 nights
WHITE DESERT ON A BUDGET
We booked a two-night tour, since the difference of 20$ gets you a room, 3 meals and another short trip around the area. We didn’t have to rush things and we got some peace and quiet, which was nice after spending a few days in Cairo. If you have the time and the money, try to go for a 2-night tour.
One more thing you will have to pay is an ”entrance fee” to the White desert, it’ some sort of permission that you can camp there. You will pay it before you start heading to the desert. We paid 120LE (6€) but if you do a little bit of research online you will find that it costs everything from 1€ to 8€, so it’s a little bit of a rip off. If you decide to do it on your own, nobody really checks in you did pay, if somebody does you can pay it on the spot.
CAIRO TO BAWITI
The tour starts with a pick up at your accommodation and a short drive to one of the bus stations. For this tour you actually take one of the mini buses that locals use so it was an experience by itself. They will tell you a certain hour you will leave but it probably won’t happen so be ready to do some waiting. The whole drive takes around 5 hours with one short break. The bus will drop you off in a small village called Bawiti where your driver will be waiting to take you to the camp like hotel (Ahmed Safari Camp). There you will be served a traditional Bedouin food.
One downside of booking a tour, you will have to wait and follow the group. In our case the people that are joining us on the tour were a few hours late. But it is Egypt, so get used to the fact, nothing will go according to plan that you had beforehand. Thankfully people are very accommodating so they will make sure you don’t miss anything.
BAWITI TO WHITE DESERT
The real adventure starts one you start heading to the White Desert. It’s an hour and a half drive on the main road, until all of a sudden you will drive into the desert and as much as you will want to remember where you are going, you will be lost by the second or third turn. Thank god, the local drivers know every turn and will get you safely to the first stop, the Mushroom rock. First encounter with a White Desert, that gives you an idea of what you are about to see.
Next stop is something they call a Chicken Mushroom (they sure love their chalk mushrooms, I have to say). As the name says it’s a sculpture of a chicken next to the mushroom. You will stop there for the sunset. There will be a few groups stopping as well, but even that will not destroy the view of the sun slowly setting behind the sculptures, colouring the sky in all shades of pink. You will have some time to walk around, before every group starts heading in their own direction to the camp spot for the night, that is a personal choice of every guide.
CAMPING IN THE WHITE DESERT
Once you have a perfect camping spot, the guide will start preparing the camp site and of course a Bedouin dinner. Chicken baked on coal next to the fire, vegetable stew, Egyptian rice. It doesn’t get more traditional and more delicious. If you get lucky, you will be able to see a few animals that come near the site and see if you have some leftovers from dinner they can get. But no worries, they are more scared of you than you should be of them. After dinner is Bedouin tea time and you will start seeing millions and millions of stars.
Word of advice, if you want to see them really well go away from the fire and let your eyes adjust to the dark, you will be able to see a night sky like never before.
It can get quite cold in the desert overnight so be prepared. Pack extra warm clothing. You will get a sleeping bag and a thick blanket but because of the wind and in case you want to walk around before bed or wake up for the sunrise, it’s good to have some extra warmth guaranteed. Once everyone settles down and the fire goes out you will really be able to say you are sleeping in a 5-million star hotel.
MORNING IN THE WHITE DESERT
If you are lucky, nobody snored at night so you got some good night sleep. By the morning it gets a little bit colder, which forces you to wake up for the sunrise. And trust me, you don’t want to miss it.
After taking in all of the amazing sunrise colours, it’s time for breakfast and some coffee or tea. While the guide is repacking the jeep, you will have some free time to walk around and see different sculptures from the ‘Black Man’, the ’Dragon’, to the ’Rabbit’’ etc. Before you leave the White desert behind you, you will be able to climb a small hill that will give you an amazing view of the area, including all the sculptures I mentioned before on one side and an ‘’Ice Cream’’ field on the other side.
FROM WHITE TO BLACK DESERT
On the way back to the hotel, you will stop in another part of the national park, the Black Desert. First you will get to see Crystal mountain, which is not actually a mountain but it is in fact a smaller hill made entirely out of crystals.
Heading to the Black Desert, you will see marvellous gold hills covered with black rocks owe their looks to the ancient volcanic activity. There are no sculptures, since the rocks are much harder than chalk in the White Desert. You will once again get a chance to climb no one of the nearby hills, that will get you a great view of what the Black Desert has to offer.
After you are finished admiring the wonder that is the Black Desert, you will head back to the hotel. If you booked one night, that will be the end of the tour for you. If you booked two-nights, you are in for another traditional Bedouin lunch. You will have some free time to rest and get rid of the huge amount of sand you somehow managed to bring back from the desert.
In the afternoon you will get a chance to do a short trip around the area. The driver will take you to a hot and cold spring, another famous part of the Black Desert, you will get a chance to see some proper sand dunes (you can’t really see those in the White or Black Desert) and you will finish the trip with a sunset over the Salt Lake where you can also go for a swim. Most of the people only come for one night, so it’s possible that you will do the afternoon trip as a ‘’private’’ tour.
BAWITI TO CAIRO
Once you come back from the afternoon sightseeing, the tour is pretty much done. They will once again serve you some traditional Bedouin food and then you have free time, take advantage of the silence and try to get some good night sleep.
After breakfast in the morning, you will wait for people to come from the night in the White Desert (one-night tour) and the guides will sort out the transfer for you to the mini bus station or if there is enough people, a company car back to Cairo. If you ask, the driver will gladly drop you off at your accommodation.