If you can manage the chaotic streets of Cairo, driving the quiet asphalt roads that connect the Western Desert oases is a breeze. Off-road driving, however, requires a different skill set. Using a guide with local knowledge and desert driving experience is strongly recommended. It is also advisable to avoid driving at night; some drivers don't use their headlights, and those who do will blink them on and off at you as you approach, which is blinding. It's illogical and dangerous, but it's the local custom.
There are gas stations within the oases, but always, always top off your gas tank whenever you see one—the next gas station you encounter may be out of fuel.
Good car-rental agencies in Cairo offer a variety of vehicles. These rental companies have offices in all major hotels throughout Egypt and outlets in major cities, but have no representation in the oases. To rent a car, you must have an International Driver's License. Note that driving off-road may violate the terms of your rental car contract.
If you want to do some off-road exploration, you can rent a four-wheel-drive vehicle to drive to the desert, or come by bus or car and book a four-wheel-drive tour through many of the hotels or restaurants in the oases. If you do travel into the desert with your own four-wheel-drive vehicle, don't go off-road without a second vehicle and a guide. Between getting stuck and getting lost, the opportunities for fatal errors are abundant. If you're determined to sit behind the wheel yourself, you'll need to take some instruction and prove yourself competent before a desert tour agency will agree to put a guide in your vehicle or let your vehicle tag along on its tours. If in doubt, hire a driver and enjoy the adventure from the passenger seat.
Police permission is required to visit some of the more isolated destinations or to camp overnight in the desert (though this rule is often overlooked in the White Desert). Some destinations are off-limits because they are controlled by the Egyptian military. Tourist information offices can advise on the situation, but you'll either have to visit local authorities yourself or enlist a tour operator to carry out the paperwork ahead of your trip. Most permits can be obtained in less than a day, but permits to remote areas such as Gilf Kebir and Jebel Uwaynat can take up to six weeks.
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