Qasr al-Farafra

Two decades ago Qasr al-Farafra had a frontier atmosphere, and only a few timid one-story buildings spilled down from the fortress hill to meet the sparse traffic on the Cairo road. These days, the village has spread to both sides of the road. The discovery of water has been changing the area's demographics, with scores of Egyptians from the Nile Valley homesteading in the oasis (20,000 at the last count). The increase in population has helped to bring some measure of prosperity—enough to expand Qasr al-Farafra—but despite this rapid growth, it remains one of the most enchanting places in the desert. Sitting in the village is an experience in itself because the locals enjoy mingling with the travelers who come through (rarely are there more than 20 travelers here at a time).

The best way to savor the village and the surrounding desert is by walking. A meander through the maze of alleys in Qasr al-Farafra still gives you a sense of oasis life before the road linked Farafra to the rest of Egypt: old men gather and debate in front of the mosque, children play in the street, families leave their doors open and welcome in passersby for tea. The palm groves behind the town are replete with date palms, as well as olive and fruit trees. Visitors are welcome to wander the paths, but should not enter fenced areas uninvited.

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