Ancient travelers had to cross a dune belt several miles wide (and hundreds of miles long) to reach the Bahariya Oasis from the Nile Valley. These days you glide easily along the asphalt road at high speed, only slowing down to enjoy the descent that cuts through the cliffs and leads into the oasis. At this point, you must slow down in other ways, too, as you adjust to the rural way of life. Here, donkeys outnumber cars, and time is related not by the clock but according to the five daily prayers. The local inhabitants, while accustomed to seeing tourists, maintain strong traditional values that emphasize loyalty, integrity and hospitality.
Bahariya is the smallest of the four southern oases, covering about 1,200 square km (460 square mi). Its northern end, where most people live, is replete with springs, orchards, and ancient ruins—as well as a rich collection of fossils dating back to the Late Cretaceous Era. Heading south from the oasis capital, Bawiti, the relatively abundant greenery yields to the dramatic scorched earth vistas of the Black Desert.
Bahariya is deceptively rich in history. Pharaonic, Greek, Roman, and Coptic antiquities are spread across the oasis. Until recently, however, many of these sights were off-limits to the public. The situation started to change in the late 1990s after the discovery of the Valley of the Golden Mummies, one of the largest caches of mummies ever found in Egypt. Renewed interest in the archaeological heritage of the oasis has resulted in further discoveries, including the tombs that had been lost beneath sand and houses.