The White Desert in Egypt is one of the most incredible deserts in the world. By visiting the White Desert, you’ll experience a magnificent lunar landscape, featuring otherworldly rock formations. Commonly, people will do a Black and White Desert tour, which, as you guessed, visits both the White and Black Deserts in Egypt. The tours also include a visit to Bahariya Oasis.
Both the Black Desert in Egypt and Baharuya Oasis are fantastic places to explore, on top of visiting the stunning White Desert. In this guide, we’re going to tell you everything you need to know about the White Desert in Egypt. We’ll talk about the awesome Black and White Desert tour as well as discuss the option of visiting independently.
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What Is the White Desert in Egypt?
The White Desert is an extraordinary remote snow-white desert in Egypt. Located in the New Valley Governorate, the desert spans 3,010 square kilometres (1,160 square miles). In the cream-coloured desert, you’ll find uniquely shaped large chalk formations.
White Desert Egypt facts: the desert was once a sea bed about 80 million years ago. The sedimentary layers of rock formed over many years by deceased marine fauna as the ocean slowly dried up. The resultant calcium rock formations were then shaped by thousands of years of sandstorms which eroded them into natural sculptures. The astonishing desolate lunar landscape was the outcome!
Just so you know, the White Desert in Egypt is also known as Sahara el Beyda, the White Desert of Egypt, White Desert National Park, White Desert Reserve and White Desert Protected Area. So, where exactly is it located?
Where Is the White Desert in Egypt?
The White Desert is located in the Western Desert region approx. 500km southwest of Cairo – the capital city of Egypt. You’ll find the Bahariya Oasis sits around 145km north of the desert, whilst the Farafra Oasis (AKA the Farafra depression) is located around 45km south of the desert. Please use this interactive White Desert Egypt map to help you get your bearings.
FYI – Egypt’s Black Desert is located approx. 35km south of Bahariya Oasis. That’s why many organised tours stop at the Black Desert during a White Desert tour, as you’ll be passing by anyway.
Why You Should Visit the White (and Black) Desert in Egypt
When most people think of Egypt, they think of the Pyramids and rightfully so. Others might think of Luxor and of all its magnificent temples. Again, that’s fair enough. But, Egypt is much more than just the ancient archaeological sites. Egypt is home to many incredible natural areas, including its many deserts.
Obviously, the Sahara Desert is one of the most well-known deserts in Egypt. But, it’s Egypt’s White Desert and Black Desert that truly deserve more praise. In particular, the natural wonders of the White Desert are seriously impressive and are some of the finest examples of the epic Egypt geology that exists.
So, what’s the best way to visit the White Desert National Park in Egypt?
Visiting the Black and White Desert: Tour or DIY?
Most people will be visiting the White Desert from Cairo. With that said, getting from Cairo to the White Desert can be done independently or with an organised tour. Certainly, these are two main options for seeing the White Desert in Egypt – either joining an organised tour or travelling there independently.
Admittedly, the White Desert is one of the most underrated attractions in Egypt, so you’ll have a great time either way. Although we usually recommend independent travel, we lean towards a Black and White Desert group tour on this occasion. This guide will explain why and help you choose the best Black and White Desert tour option for you. Despite the fact that we recommend taking a tour, we’ll also detail how to visit the White Desert in Egypt independently.
How to Get to the White Desert in Egypt
From Cairo, you have two options, which all depend on whether you choose to do a tour or travel there independently. Please note that to actually explore the White Desert in Egypt, the only way possible is by going with a 4×4 tour company. It’s only the travel component to get to the starting point of the Black and White Desert tours, in Bahariya Oasis, from Cairo, which is independent.
Getting to the White Desert Independently (It’s An Adventure)
To get the ball rolling, we recommend getting an Uber to the Torgoman Bus Station in Cairo. Regardless of where in Cairo you’re travelling from, the price of an Uber should be cheap (approx. $5USD). Personally, one of the things I despise when travelling is getting ripped off or overcharged for the simple fact that I’m not a local. Unfortunately, taxi drivers in Egypt are notorious for overcharging foreigners. So I highly recommend getting an Uber in Egypt.
From Torgoman Bus Station, you’ll then catch a five hour bus to the Bahariya Oasis. The buses usually depart at 7am and 8am. The price is usually around E£120 ($7.50USD). Thereafter, you will arrive in Bawiti; the largest town within the Bahariya Oasis. From there, you’ll need to find a nearby travel agency to arrange a 4×4 Black and White Desert tour to begin exploring the next day.
Apparently, hiring a 4×4 for an overnight tour is around E£2,000 ($125USD). Additionally, a night’s accommodation in the Bahariya Oasis is necessary as the tour would start the following morning. This could cost anywhere around $15–30USD for one night.
Black and White Desert Group Tour
Sure, getting to Bahariya Oasis from Cairo will be cheaper if you do so independently. But, it’s much easier to go on a group tour, which includes all the necessary transport to and from Cairo. Even hotel pickup.
Also, a Black and White Desert group tour eliminates the hassle of then having to find a travel agency in Bahariya Oasis, and then haggle and negotiate a price. Also, if you only have two days spare, the two-day overnight group tour is your best option. This is because doing the overnight trip independently requires an extra third day as the two-day overnight tour commences the day after you arrive in Bahariya Oasis.
Black and White Desert Egypt Tour Options
We recommend doing the three-day, two night tour if you have time. After all, it’s better value. You’ll also have more time to explore Bahariya Oasis. The three-day tour also involves additional activities on the first day, which aren’t covered in the two-day overnight tour. This includes visits to additional sand dunes, Flower Stone, Salt Lake and Hot Springs.
Basically, days 2 and 3 of the three-day tour, mirror days 1 and 2 of the two-day overnight tour. Admittedly, the two-day overnight tour is much more rushed. That’s because the first day also includes the approximate four hour journey to Bahariya Oasis from Cairo.
Of course, if you only have two days to spare, the overnight tour is perfect. That way, you’ll still explore the best parts of the Black and White Desert in Egypt. Personally, we did the overnight Black and White Desert tour and absolutely loved it. The overnight tour is the most popular option. That’s because most people can more easily squeeze it into their Egypt travel itineraries, compared with a three-day tour.
FYI – it’s also possible to do a day trip White Desert tour from Cairo. But, we don’t recommend this option as you’ll spend most of the day driving in the van, with limited opportunity to explore the Black and White Desert in Egypt.
White Desert National Park Entrance Fee
The White Desert National Park entrance fee costs E£110/$7USD. Usually, the Black and White Desert tours don’t cover this fee.
Black and White Desert Tour Itinerary
Here’s a rundown of the typical Black and White Desert tour in Egypt.
The Bahariya Oasis is a beautiful oasis located north of the White Desert. As mentioned, it’s the usual meeting and starting place for all Black and White Desert tours. The oasis is also known as a depression and is famous for its dates and olives. Surrounding Bahariya Oasis, there are many sand dunes and high cliffs to explore. But, the real adventure starts with exploring Egypt’s awesome Black Desert!
The Black Desert, Egypt
In stark contrast to Egypt’s White Desert, you’ll find the Black Desert! Located just south of Bahariya Oasis, you’ll see a land dominated by golden sand and dark-coloured cone-shaped mounds. To enjoy the landscape, you’ll climb English Mountain. From there, you’ll have incredible views of Egypt’s Black Desert. Indeed, it’s nothing like the White Desert!
Crystal Mountain, Egypt
After exploring Egypt’s Black Desert, you’ll make your way to Crystal Mountain. Basically, it’s a hill made entirely of calcite crystals! You can even pick up any broken-off crystals to inspect them closely for yourself. This was definitely one of the coolest parts of the Black and White Desert tour.
Old White Desert
After seeing Egypt’s Black Desert and Crystal Mountain, it’s time to head to the White Desert, which is what you’ve all been waiting for! It’s worth noting that there are actually two White Deserts in the national park – these include the Old White Desert and the New White Desert. On most tours, you’ll visit the Old White Desert first, which is located in the western part of the national park. Often, you’ll spend more of the second day exploring the New White Desert.
As you approach the cream-coloured landforms of the Old White Desert, there’ll be epic photo opportunities. You’ll even have the chance to sandboard!
White Desert Sunset
Certainly, one of the highlights of the Black and White Desert tour is watching the sunset in the Old White Desert. Amazingly, the White Desert turns a shade of orange and red during sunset.
White Desert Camping, Bedouin Dinner and Stargazing
After enjoying the sunset, you’ll then make your way to the New White Desert to camp for the night. Once the guide set ups camp, they’ll also cook you dinner. Expect something along the lines of potato, rice and chicken with a red sauce and hot tea. Indeed, this was a lovely experience. Eating a meal together at the end of the day was a great way to get to know the other people on our tour. There were three Japanese men and a young American family.
After dinner, it’s time for stargazing. It was spectacular to stargaze without any light pollution. Of course, you’re welcome to stay out all night to enjoy the stars. Otherwise, there’ll be a large marquee-style tent with enough room to house everyone if sleeping out in the desert is eventually too cold to bear.
New White Desert Sunrise
The following day, we recommend enjoying the sunrise at the famous Chicken and Mushroom-shaped rocks. After exploring the New White Desert at sunrise, you’ll head back to camp for breakfast. Once again, this is prepared by the guide. You’ll then explore more of the New White Desert and its other uniquely shaped rocks. This was our favourite part of the tour.
Drive Back to Bahariya Oasis Hot Springs
After exploring the New White Desert, it’s time to make your way back to Bahariya Oasis to head to some hot springs. There are actually a number of hot springs in Bahariya Oasis. Each tour group seems to stop at a different hot spring. Honestly speaking, many people in our group, weren’t that keen on the hot springs, given it was fairly hot in the middle of the day. So, it’s possible to skip swimming in them.
From Bahariya Oasis to Cairo
As mentioned, the trip back to Cairo is included in the Black and White Desert tour. But be aware that traffic in Cairo is absolutely bananas. Our driver was quite erratic, just like all of the other drivers. So, you’ll be on high alert as you join the peak hour mayhem when approaching the city.
Departing Bahariya Oasis Independently
Apparently, a bus departs the Bahariya Oasis at 3pm for the return trip to Cairo. The cost will be around E£120 ($7.50USD). If you chose to travel independently, your guide should have you back in time on the second day of the tour for the bus. So you won’t need to stay in the Bahariya Oasis that night.
Black and White Desert Egypt Recap
Egypt’s White Desert and surrounding area, including the Black Desert, is a seriously impressive natural area. Because it’s hardly known, this incredible desert is barely explored. With all of the tourists staying in Cairo and travelling to Luxor, you’ll likely have the White Desert to enjoy without the crowds. Whether you choose to do a tour for convenience or travel there independently for the adventure, you’re guaranteed a great time.
For more information on how to get to Cairo initially, accommodation in Cairo upon your return and bonus tips, continue reading below.
Overnight Temperature in the White Desert in Egypt
White Desert Egypt temperature: we recommend packing some warm clothes as it gets very cold overnight. The North Face Men’s TKA Glacier Snap Fleece Jacket is a fantastic option. For women – The North Face Women’s TKA Glacier Snap Fleece Jacket. For those travelling with a small backpack, this jacket packs away to a small size. More importantly, though, it’ll keep you very warm.
Additionally, if you plan on exploring the night sky or getting up early for sunrise, you’ll also need a down jacket. The best down jacket is the Patagonia Men’s Down Sweater Jacket. For women – Patagonia Women’s Down Sweater Jacket. Similar to the fleece jacket, it packs away compactly into a small bag. Again, this is helpful for those with limited packing space for the overnight trip.
Accommodation in Cairo
Before you head to the White Desert, you may need a place to stay in Cairo. You’ll also likely need somewhere to stay in Cairo after going to the White Desert. We booked a nice room at the Golden Star Hotel. The owner was really nice. Plus, the room was spacious, clean and well-located.
Total Costs: Tour vs Visiting Independently
- Independently: approx. $75–100USD for the overnight tour
- Group tour: approx. $100–150USD for the overnight tour
You’ll only save a decent amount of money organising a Black and White Desert tour independently in Bahariya Oasis if you’re able to share the price of a tour with a few other people. If you aren’t in a group, or there are no other tourists to share with, or you are inexperienced with haggling, you may end up paying more than you would for an organised tour! So, it may just be easier to do a tour. That way, you’ll only pay a little extra and all of the transport is covered and stress taken out of organising and haggling yourself.
Getting to and From Cairo
Most people visiting Egypt will fly into Cairo. In fact, getting to the White Desert is easiest to do from Cairo. When searching for the cheapest flights, we usually get the ball rolling with a search on Skyscanner.
If you’re flying from the UK or USA, we’re sure that you can find deal flights to Egypt. Subscribe to Jack’s Flight Club to monitor these. If you have free membership, you’ll receive one email per week which includes lots of deals. However, we highly recommend paying for premium membership. You’ll get four times as many deals emailed to you. Plus, we guarantee that by booking merely one flight deal, you’ll more than earn back the price of your membership.
Five Essentials For an Overnight Trip to the White Desert in Egypt
The tour company will provide all the camping gear. But, it’s still worth packing a few essentials.
- The North Face TKA Glacier snap fleece jacket – the White Desert will get fairly cold overnight, so pack some warm layers.
- Lightweight down jacket – when exploring the night sky, you’ll want a down jacket to keep you warm.
- Travel wallet – when travelling in Egypt, have your important documents well organised and stored to avoid any trouble.
- Anker PowerCore Portable Charger/Power Bank – because this is an overnight trip in the desert, you’ll want to take a portable charger to keep your electricals full of juice!
- Sea to Summit Aeros Premium inflatable pillow – pillows weren’t provided, so taking an inflatable pillow is the perfect solution for a decent night’s sleep.
Bonus Tips and Facts
- Pack snacks: lunch on Day 1, dinner on Day 1 and breakfast on Day 2 are provided. There will be a stop included on the journey back from the Bahariya Oasis to Cairo, but snacks there were overpriced. So, bring your own!
- Uber: it’s well known that tourists will be overcharged for nearly everything in Egypt. That’s why it’s a good idea to use Uber instead of taxis. Interestingly, there are around 80,000 Uber drivers in Cairo alone!
- Other worthwhile Egypt tours: of course, other than exploring the lesser-known White Desert, you’ll have to explore the popular tourist attractions! We recommend having a look on GetYourGuide to find another great tour in Egypt that interests you.
So what did you choose in the end? To travel independently or to do a tour? Let us know in the comments below and tell us about your experience.