Desert trips can be what you want it to be. There is no such thing as a fixed schedule per day or daily itinerary; it’s just time and space you share with yourself or others in a wilderness of sand, mountains and oasis’s. In the desert everything is possible but nothing is compulsory.
The name Fayoum originates from the hieroglyphic word Fayoum, which means "the Sea" a reference to the large inland lake, Karoun. Fayoum is not a true oasis since it depends on Nile water, not underground springs or wells. The ancient Bahr Yussef canal runs through the center of the city and irrigates the land.
The Dakhla Oasis is a collection of fourteen different settlements, dominated on its northern horizon by a wall of rose-colored rock. Fertile cultivated areas growing rice, peanuts and fruit are dotted between sand dunes along the roads from Farafra and Kharga in this area of outstanding natural beauty.
The capital, Mut, named after the ancient goddess of the Theban Triad, houses the Museum of the Inheritance, a traditional house, with an intricate wooden combination lock. Rooms, with sculpted clay figures, are arranged to display different aspects of Dakhla culture and family life.
Al-Kasr, about 35 kilometers from Mut, was originally a Roman settlement, which later became the medieval capital of Dakhla. The old town is a labyrinth of mud-walled alleys narrowly separating houses with elaborately carved wooden lintels; there is also an Ayyubid mosque here. You can climb to the rooftop of the 10th century Madrassa for wonderful views of the surrounding area. Bir al-Gbel, a palm-fringed salt lake where you can camp and picnic, is on the road back to Mut.
Other day trips from Mut include the 1st-century Al-Muzawaka tombs and Deit al-Hagar, a temple that was originally dedicated to the Theban Triad and later rebuilt by the Romans. After exploring the temple, you can bathe in the hot mineral spring nearby. You can also visit Bashendi to see Roman tombs and a factory where carpets are still woven with scenes of Dakhla life. Nearby is Balaat village, a trading post with ancient Nubia, archeologists are still uncovering dozens of 6th dynasty mastabas.
Farafra, known as Ta-iht or the Land of the Cow in Pharaonic times, is a single village. The most isolated of the New Valley Oasis, it is renowned for its strong traditions and godliness. According to folklore, the villagers once lost track of time and had to send a rider to Dakhla so they could hold the Friday prayers on the right day.
The oldest part of the village is on a hillside next to a peaceful walled palm grove. A short distance away there are hot mineral springs at Bir Setta and swimming at El-Mufid Lake. As in other oasis many of Farafra's houses are painted blue to ward off evil eyes but some houses are also decorated with landscapes, birds and animals, the handiwork of local artist, Badr. It is a combination of a house, museum and studio exhibiting his paintings and ceramics situated in a garden full of sculptures made from objects found in the surrounding desert.
Another local, known as Mr. Socks, sells beautiful hand-knitted camelhair sweaters, socks and scarves.
Kharga used to be the last but one stop on The Forty Days Road, the infamous slave-trade route between North Africa and the tropical south. Today, it is the biggest new valley oasis and its modern city houses 60,000 people, including 1,000 Nubians who moved here after the creation of lake Nasser.
Outside the main center is the Temple of Hibis; built on the site of an 18th dynasty settlement of Saites, Persians and Ptolemies; one of the few Persian monuments in Egypt, the 6th century BC temple is well preserved with painted vultures and huge reliefs of Darius greeting Egyptian gods on the outer walls.
Ten kilometers away, the Necropolis of Al-Bagawat contains 263 mud-brick chapels with Coptic murals, including the Chapel of Peace with images of Adam and Eve and the Ark on its dome and the Chapel of the Exodus with frescoes of Pharaonic troops pursuing the Jews led by Moses, out of Egypt. Pharaonic monuments include the al-Hhuwaytah Temple, which dates from 522 BC, and the Temple of Amenebis.
The thermal springs at Bulaq and Nasser villages to the south are famous for water temperatures of up to 43° Celsius and reputed to be suitable for the treatment of rheumatism and allergies. Camping facilities are available near both villages.
Further south is the Baris Oasis, the second largest settlement in Kharga. Houses are designed in traditional Nubian style by Hassan Fathy and remain uninhabited; local people refused to live in them because of their similarity to tombs and building stopped in the late 1960s.
Ancient monuments include the Temple of Dush, dedicated to Isis and Serapis. Its name derives from Kush, the ancient Sudanese capital that traded with Egypt along the Nile. Archeologists are still unearthing the ancient city of Kysis with which a temple is associated; and elaborate system of clay pipes and abandoned Christian church, suggest that Kysis was abandoned when its underground springs dried up but the exact date remains a mystery.
"The stars speak of man's insignificance in the long eternity of time; the desert speaks of his insignificance right now."
A trip to the White Desert is something that no visitor to the new valley should pass up. Travelers coming from Bahariya will cross through the Black Desert, passing the tiny oasis of El-Hayiz on the way. Nearby there are some Roman ruins, including a church with Coptic graffiti. Bahariya and Farafra are separated by huge golden sand dunes, which make a stunning photograph during the journey.
Once through the Al-Sillim Pass you enter the White Desert, a unique landscape of surreal wind-eroded rock formations that is particularly magical at sunrise or sunset. Here, as the moon rises over the white crags, it is easier to believe that you are surrounded by icebergs and snowdrifts or on a lunar landscape than in the middle of the desert. On moonless nights, you can sit around a driftwood fire as the galaxy spreads above you and the sky is lit by shooting stars. Camel and jeep trips, including a hot meal and fresh bread, made in the sand Bedouin-style, can be arranged from Farafra.
Set in a depression covering over 2000 square kilometers Bahariya Oasis is surrounded by black hills made up of ferruginous quartzite and dolerite. Most of the villages and cultivated land can be viewed from the top of the 50-meter high Jebel al-Mi'ysrah, together with the massive dunes, which threaten to engulf some of the older settlements. Wildlife is plentiful, especially birds such as whitears; crops (which only cover a small percentage of the total area) include dates, olives, apricots, rice and corn.
Bawiti is the largest village in the oasis; its picturesque hillside quarter overlooks lush palm groves irrigated by the Ain al-Beshmo, a natural spring hewn from the rock in Roman times which gushes water at 30° Celsius.
The neighboring village of Al-Qasr was built on the remains of a 26th dynasty temple nearby at Qarat Hilwah; you can still see tombs with paintings dating from the same period. Famous for its mineral and mineral springs, including Bir Mathar and Bir al-Ghaba, Bahariya is recognized among local Bedouin for their informal music and poetry recitals. You can go on desert excursions by day and spend your evenings relaxing in the cafes smoking shisha, playing backgammon and listening to authentic Bedouin music. Travelers can now go on either to Siwa, via a new road, or to Farafra, taking in a night in the White desert en route.
The four New Valley oasis‘s are situated along a dead, prehistoric branch of the Nile that is dependent on springs and wells tapping water under the desert. Isolated from each other and from the rest of the outside world these oasis’s have only been accessible to tourists since the 1980s.
Siwa, the most inaccessible of all Egypt's oasis’s until very recently, is also one of the most fascinating. On the edge of the Great Sand Sea, its rich history includes a visit from Alexander the Great to consult the Oracle of Amun in 331 BC.
Siwans have their own culture and customs and they speak a Berberf language, Wiwi, rather than Arabic. Many women still wear traditional costumes and silver jewelry like those displayed in the traditional Siwan House museum in the town center. Siwa remains one of the best places to buy jewelry, rugs, baskets and traditional robes and headdresses decorated with antique coins.
Shali, founded in 1203, superseded the original settlement, Aghurmi. Built of salt-impregnated mud of kharsif, the fortress-like community expanded upwards rather than outwards. Situated among thick palm groves, walled gardens and olive orchards, with numerous freshwater springs and salt lakes, modern Siwa clusters beneath the remains of ancient Shali.
You can climb through the ruins of the old city for magnificent views of the entire oasis. Walk, hire a bicycle or ride in a caretta (donkey cart) to outlying sights and bathing places. These include 26th Dynasty tombs with murals and inscriptions at Jebel al-Mawta (The Hill of the Dead) and the Oracle of Amun, and acropolis temple dating from around 550 BC.
Near the Oracle are the ruins of the Amun temple and the famous Cleopatra Bath, a deep pool of bubbling water where you can bathe in. Another favorite bathing spot is Fatnis Island on the salt lake of Birket Siwa, which is surrounded by palm trees and beautiful scenery.