The magical scenery of the White Desert in the northern portion of the Farafra depression enchants travelers and stirs the imagination. The desert here appears dusted in a layer of snow with a forest of chalk monoliths rising from the ground, their wind-sculpted forms resembling mushrooms, camels, birds, whales, and elephants. The outcroppings are all that is left of an ancient seafloor, its thick layer of calcified deposits scoured and shaped by the elements.
The desert extends from the west of the oasis, where a forest of inselbergs (chalk monoliths) rise up from the ground, across the highway to the so-called "Old" and "New" White Desert, where safari operators prefer to camp. The surreal landscape is best viewed at sunset when the monoliths turn shades of orange, pink, and violet in the dimming light. The show continues into the night as the entire desert shimmers in the pale light of the moon, its chalk columns rising above a snowy field.
For this reason, many travelers
enjoy camping in the White Desert, which was declared a national park in 2002. Tours can be arranged easily in Cairo, Qasr al-Farafra, or Bawiti—the latter offering the best prices. If you do it on your own, you'll need to get permission from the police in either Farafra or Bahariya. All visitors must pay $5 park entry fee and £E10 to camp overnight.
Much of the White Desert is accessible by car or motorcycle, though a four-wheel-drive vehicle is required to reach the more remote sections. Be sure to bring food, fuel, sleeping bags, and water, and then just pick a spot. Supplies, including warm camel-hair blankets, are available in Bawiti or Qasr al-Farafra.
Qasr al-Farafra, Egypt