This guide will detail how to visit the White Desert, via the Bahariya Oasis. We will detail the main two options for seeing the White Desert. These involve either joining a group tour or travelling there independently. The White Desert is the most underrated attraction in Egypt, so you’ll have a great time either way. Although we usually recommend independent travel, we lean towards a White Desert group tour on this occasion. This guide will explain why and help you choose the best option for you.
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. However, Egypt is much more than just the ancient archaeological sites. The White Desert is just one of those places in Egypt that truly deserves more praise. The natural wonders of the White Desert are seriously impressive. It rivals other Middle Eastern countries like Lebanon with it’s unique landscape.
The White Desert | Group Tour or Solo Exploration?
Our guide will detail, in length, the options for seeing the White Desert in Egypt. To do so, we’ll run through the reasons why you would choose one over the other in chronological order of planning a trip there. To that end, we’ll discuss options for getting to the White Desert, organising your trip with locals, how much time to spend there and what to take. Plus, we’ll briefly review the highlights of the White Desert so you know what to expect in this incredible and underrated part of the world.
Getting to the White Desert
From Cairo, you have 2 options: This depends on whether you choose to do a tour or travel there independently. Please note that to actually explore the White Desert, the only way possible is by going with a 4×4 tour company, similar to exploring the Uyuni Salt Flats. It is only the travel component to get to the starting point of the White Desert tours in Bahariya Oasis that is independent.
Visiting the White Desert Independently
Independent: Get an Uber to the Turgoman Bus Station in Cairo. See Google Maps below. The price for the Uber will be around $2.50USD. One of the things I despise when travelling, is getting ripped off or overcharged for the simple fact that I am a tourist. Unfortunately, taxi drivers in Egypt are notorious for overcharging foreigners. So I highly recommend getting an Uber in Egypt.
You will catch a 5 hour bus from there to the Bahariya Oasis. They usually depart at 7am and 8am. The price is around E£120 ($7.50USD). Thereafter, you will arrive in Bawiti; the largest town within the Bahariya Oasis. From there, you will need to find a nearby travel agency to arrange a 4×4 White Desert tour to begin the next day.
Apparently, hiring a 4×4 for an overnight tour is around E£2,000 ($126USD). Splitting this between 4 people will come to around $31.50USD/person. This is assuming you have other people to share the costs with. Additionally, a night’s accommodation in the Bahariya Oasis is necessary as the tour would start the following morning. This would be around $15USD for 1 night.
White Desert Group Tour
Group tour: Getting there yourself will be cheaper. However, it may be easier to go with a group tour. They include all the necessary transport to and from Cairo. Even hotel pickup.
Also, a White Desert group tour eliminates the hassle of then having to find a travel agency in town, and then haggle and negotiate for a price. Furthermore, if you only have 2 days spare, the overnight group tour is your only option. This is because doing the overnight trip independently requires an extra third day as the 2 day tour commences the day after arriving in the Bahariya Oasis.
Admittedly though, the White Desert group tour ended up being pricier than expected. Initial research had found Dahab Hostel offering $75USD for an overnight tour and $95USD for a 2 night tour. As of May 2019, prices increased by $10USD for each tour. Although this was the case, what you actually get for the $85USD in an overnight tour is still great value. It’s totally worth it for the convenience.
White Desert Entrance Fee
Either way, the White Desert entrance fee costs E£110/$7USD. The White Desert group tour does not cover this fee.
Trip Duration – 1 vs 2 Nights?
Do the 2 night tour if you have time. It’s better value. Additionally, you will have more time to explore Bahariya Oasis. This involves additional activities on Day 1 not covered in the overnight tour. This includes visits to additional sand dunes, Flower Stone, Salt Lake and Hot Springs. Basically Day 2 and 3 of the tour, mirrors Day 1 and 2 of an overnight tour. Albeit the overnight tour being more rushed. This is because Day 1 also includes the approximate 4 hour journey to Bahariya from Cairo.
I have heard that Day 1 of the 2 night tour is nothing extraordinary. So if you only have time for an overnight tour, this will cover the best parts of the White Desert anyway.
Accommodation in the White Desert
This is taken care of by the 4×4 tour company. We camped under the stars in the New White Desert. It was spectacular without any light pollution. There will also be a large marquee style tent with enough room to house everyone if sleeping out in the desert was eventually too cold to bear.
On that note, I 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, it packs away compactly into a small bag. Again, this is helpful for those with limited packing space for the overnight trip.
This is all taken care of, but here is a rundown of the highlights.
1. The Black Desert
Who would have thought that on a White Desert tour, that there would also be an incredible Black Desert! You will climb English Mountain for incredible views of unique darkly coloured cone shaped mounds.
2. Crystal Mountain
A hill made entirely of calcite crystals! How cool!
3. Old White Desert
There will be epic photo opportunities at the entrance to the Old White Desert. You will then enjoy the sunrise here. We even had the chance to sand board!
4. New White Desert
The highlight of the trip: You will arrive here after sunset. Once the guide set ups camp, he will also cook dinner. 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 my tour. There were 3 Japanese men and a young American family.
STORY TIME: When we went out to stargaze later, one of the Americans showed me this fantastic app called Skyguide. I use it all time time now when stargazing. It’s great to get tips like that from other travellers.
The following day, catching the sunrise at the famous Chicken and Mushroom shaped rocks will be followed by breakfast. Once again, this is prepared by the guide. You will then explore the New White Desert and its other uniquely shaped rocks. They are only as good as your imagination! This was my favourite part of the tour.
SIDE NOTE: Interestingly, the White 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!
White Desert Recap
The White Desert and surrounding area is a seriously impressive natural sight. As it’s barely known, this incredible desert is barely explored. With all of the tourists going to Cairo and Luxor, you’ll likely have the White Desert to enjoy without the crowds. Whether you choose to do a group 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.
Getting to & from Cairo
Flights: Most people visiting Egypt will fly into Cairo. In fact, getting to the White Desert is easiest to do from Cairo. Using Skyscanner, I flew Beirut to Cairo with Middle East Airlines for $98USD and booked through Travelgenio. After my Egypt trip, I flew back to London for $181USD with 1 stopover. Again, I searched for flights using Skyscanner. Specifically, I booked through Kiwi.com. The first flight from Cairo to Athens was with Aegean and the second flight to London with Ryanair.
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 1 email per week which includes lots of deals. However, we highly recommend paying for premium membership. You’ll get 4 times as many deals emailed to you. Plus, it’s only ($43USD) and we guarantee that by booking merely 1 flight deal, that you’ll more than earn back the price of membership.
For Australians, we recommend using I Want That Flight for a similar flight alert service. Better yet, this flight alert system is for free! So absolutely nothing to lose by signing up to their alerts and newsletter.
Accommodation in Cairo
Airbnb: Before you head to the White Desert, you may need a place to stay in Cairo. Plus, you’ll likely need somewhere to stay in Cairo after going to the White Desert as well. Using Airbnb, I booked a room at Golden Star Hotel for $23USD/night. The owner (Whatsapp +201220328174) was really nice. Plus, the room was spacious, clean and well located. Alternatively, you could use Booking.com. Admittedly, a lot of the Airbnb’s listed in Egypt are actually hotels. So using either to book accommodation online would suffice.
Group tour: As mentioned, the trip back to Cairo is included in the White Desert group tour. But be aware that traffic in Cairo is absolutely manic. Our driver was crazy like the rest of them. So you will be on high alert as you join the peak hour mayhem when approaching the city.
Independent: Apparently a bus departs the Bahariya Oasis at 3pm for the return trip to Cairo. Cost will be E£120 ($7.50USD). If you chose to travel independently, your guide should have you back in time on Day 2 for the bus. So you won’t need to stay in the Bahariya Oasis that night.
- Independently: $74USD but could be more
- Group tour: $92USD guaranteed.
Visiting the White Desert Independently
Independent: With the Uber journey upon arriving back in Cairo, overall it’s approximately $74USD. This is assuming you can split the 4×4 costs between 4 people and are able to haggle this supposedly cheapest rate when in the Bahariya Oasis. If you are not 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 as you know by now, I didn’t go down this route, preferring to do a tour.
However, I do know that Indefinite Tour organised everything independently. If you are convinced of doing the same, you can read his experiences by visiting the link provided above.
White Desert Group Tour
Group tour: Through Dahab Hostel, the cost is $92USD. So for only around $18USD more, you have everything organised, guaranteed and super easy. It’s a wise choice!
Five Essentials for an Overnight Trip to the White Desert
The tour company will provide the camping gear. However, I had my own inflatable travel pillow anyway.
- 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.
- Pack snacks: Lunch on Day 1, dinner on Day 1 and breakfast on Day 2 is provided. Although there will be a stop included on the journey back from the Bahariya Oasis to Cairo, snacks there were overpriced. So bring your own.
- Uber: It is well known that tourists will be overcharged for nearly everything in Egypt. That’s why it is imperative to use Uber instead of taxis. Interestingly, there are around 80,000 Uber drivers in Cairo alone!
So what did you choose in the end? Group tour or not? Let us know in the comments below and tell us about your experience.
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