Depression in the Western Desert of Egypt

Travel Warning WARNING: Several western governments have issued travel warnings to many areas in Egypt. The UK Foreign Office recommends against non-essential travel to most of the Western Desert region, and the US state department recommends against all travel.
Government travel advisories
(Information last updated 01 Mar 2023)

Bahariyya is an oasis in the Western Desert of Egypt. It is 370 km from Cairo, the closest of the five western oases, and it serves as a staging post for reaching the others.

Understand Edit

Bahariyya's main fertile strip, centred on the town of Bawiti, is about 90 km long by 40 km wide. This is separated from the secondary oasis of El Heiz by a strip of scenic Black Desert, while further south lies the even more dramatic White Desert. Near Bawiti, the Valley of the Golden Mummies has revealed hundreds of burials with gilded face masks, and thousands more probably remain to be excavated. Large dinosaur bones have also been discovered, such as the fearsome Bahariasaurus, thought to be a type of allosaurus.

Bahariyya does not have an airport and never quite gained a railway. In 1916 a British narrow-gauge military railway was built at remarkable speed from the Nile valley towards Bahariyya, to counter-attack Senussi troops from Libya who'd occupied the western oases. It had to stop short at the sand dunes of Abu-Muharriq (more poetically known to the Brits as Blockhouse 6), whence camels took supplies the last 50 km onwards. The Senussi retreated as swiftly as the railway advanced so it achieved its strategic goal. After 1919 it did not have a military use nor (unlike the similar line built to Kharga) a commercial use. So, it fell into decay.

Bahariyya has a hot desert climate, 40 °C and above in summer and 10 °C in winter, and almost zero rainfall. Like the other oases, all the area's supply is “fossil water” from the bedrock aquifer, a non-renewable resource.

Get in Edit

All aboard for Bahariyya

By bus Edit

  • 1 Bawiti bus stop.

From specific destinations:

  • Cairo – Upper Egypt Buses run 3 or 4 times a day from Cairo Turgoman Square. 350 km/6 hr (including a rest break) to Bawiti in Bahariyya. LE100. Some buses continue to Farafra Oasis—these formerly continued to Dakhla Oasis, but it is not known if this link is still running in 2020.
  • Farafra Oasis – Likewise the bus to Cairo starts in Farafra.

By road Edit

The road to Bahariyya is asphalt and suitable for standard vehicles. Especially with a group, it may work out better to hire a microbus or taxi privately. You will find them around the bus station.

A dirt track goes west from Bahariyya to Siwa. It is being upgraded to asphalt and buses used to run this way. The road is closed in 2019 by the military, or least foreigners are not allowed to go that way.

Get around Edit

The sights are strung out along the highway and you need a vehicle to reach them. A standard car will do for all except the White Desert, where you need 4WD to explore the dirt tracks. These are well-pisted and signed so you don't need expedition-grade vehicles or skills provided you stick to the tracks.

See Edit

Burial from the Valley of the Golden Mummies, now in Bawiti Museum
Within the tomb of Baennentiu
Gebel el-Marsus in the Black Desert
  • Bawiti has three mosques—all central:
  • the Friday Mosque
  • the modern el-Mutawi Mosque, and
  • el-Bawiti Mosque with the tomb of the town's founder Sheikh el-Bawiti.
  • 1 Bawiti Museum. Shows tomb bodies (which are not mummies, but preserved) and other local artifacts. Your ticket is also a day-ticket for the other nearby antiquities, which have no ticket sales on site. In Nov 2019 it cost LE100.
  • Ain el-Hubaga – Opposite the museum is the start of an ancient aqueduct system that remained in use into the 20th century.
  • 2 Qarat Qasr Salim graveyard (400 m north of the museum). Dates to the 26th Dynasty circa 600 BC. It has richly decorated tombs, especially those of Baennentiu and of his father Djed-Amun-ef-Anch.  
  • 3 Qasr (west of Bawiti). An older village that has now merged into it. There is more old architecture here. See Senussi (or Libyan) Old Mosque, the tombs of Sheikh Hamad and Sheikh el-Badawi, and the scrappy remains of a Roman triumphal arch. The Temple of Bes is closed off.
  • 4 Chapels of Ain el-Muftilla (3 km west). Of similar date, these four chapels to Amasis are decorated, though patchy and faded. The conical tomb nearby is of Sheikh el-Badawi.  
  • 5 Qarat Hilwa. The tomb of Amenhotep Huy, a governor from the 19th Dynasty (Bronze Age circa 1200 BC), decorated with scenes of his family and funeral rites.  
  • 6 Temple of Alexander the Great (5 km west of Bawiti). The only temple he had built in Egypt. It is a modest affair of two sandstone chambers dedicated to Amun-Re. 45 auxiliary rooms served the temple attendants.
  • 7 Valley of the Golden Mummies. Makes a great title for a film (probably with Woodie Allen), but the "valley" is a flat plain, the bodies weren't mummies, and as for gold... in any case this graveyard from Graeco-Roman times was only unearthed in 1995 and is still an active archaeology site, and tourists cannot enter. See some of what they found in Bawiti Museum.    
  • 8 The look-out post. On a little hill, an hour's stroll east of Bawiti. This is where in the First World War the Brits swept their binoculars across the terrain to see what the Senussi were up to.
  • 9 The Black Desert (southwest of Bawiti). A 30-km expanse of sooty black hills, contrasting sharply with the ochre desert sand. It is formed from crumbling black basalt; the area was volcanic 30-70 million years ago. There's a striking formation at Gebel el-Marsus. Nearby along the highway is the grave of René Michaud of Switzerland, who established a Bawiti hotel but upped and died in 1981 while taking a drive here.    
  • 10 El Heiz. A satellite oasis, separated from Bawiti by the Black Desert. There are several wells, historically important but not much to look at, and some ramshackle remains. Check before making a trip whether any special permission is needed to visit these. They include the church of St George and Roman fort at Ain Ris, and rock tombs and an old adobe village at Ain el-Izza.  
  • 11 Crystal Mountain (along the highway to White Desert). A natural arch lined with crystals of calcite. These are soft and can be easily scratched—so please don’t.    
  • 12 White Desert National Park (accessed from the highway 30 km north of Farafra). See Farafra that page for details, but it is easily done as a day trip from Bahariyya 100 km away. It is a remarkable area of limestone and chalk wind-sculpted into strange shapes. You need a 4WD vehicle to explore the lengthy off-road trails.    
  • Several other sites in Bawiti remain closed. As of 2020 these include the Ibis Galleries, the Temple of Hercules and the Hill of Sheikh Subi.

Do Edit

  • Hot springs – Several springs bubble out of the ground at 40°C and above, laden with minerals. So, you might expect a major spa industry here, but there is not one. Springs you can visit yourself are clustered northeast of Bawiti:
  • Biʾr Ramla ("sand spring") – 2 km away
  • Biʾr en-Naqba ("pierced spring") – 3 km away
  • the sulphurous Biʾr el-Maṭar ("airfield spring") – 7 km away
  • Biʾr el-Ghaba ("forest spring") – 11 km away, and
  • Biʾr es-Sīqām – 1 km east of Mandisha.
  • Dig deeper into Egyptian history. The sights mentioned on this page might interest any tourist, but there's much more for archaeologists to explore. The German description of Bahariyya (on sidebar left) runs to 32 pages of documentation.
  • Big expeditions – Any out-of-town excursion gets marketed as a "safari", accurately enough since that is just the Arabic word for a journey. And it gets labelled an "expedition" if it drives out of sight of the main highway for long enough to spread a rug on the ground and serve coffee - again accurately, if it is properly prepared for all that might befall amidst axle-busting rocks and no mobile signal. But Bahariyya is also the usual departure point for full-on expeditions, for instance to Gilf el-Kebir, the remote southwest corner of Egypt bordering Libya and Sudan. These last 2-3 weeks and need to be very robust and self-sufficient, led by people who know the terrain and techniques. Glamping they're not.

Buy Edit

  • Bawiti has a scattering of little grocery stores, the largest is Abu Ala on main street, open 24/7.

Eat Edit

Almost all the eating places are on the main road through town, but Oasis restaurant and coffee shop (open 24 hours) is on the southern bypass.

  • Bakar is the most convenient for east side of town, open daily 5PM–midnight.
  • Cafe Ouled Rached central on main street does enjoyable food. Open 24/7.
  • Baraka is west of centre where the roads fork for Siwa and Farafra. Open 24/7.
  • Abu Helmy is a little further along the Siwa road, and the most convenient for Qasr neighbourhood. Open 24/7.

Drink Edit

  • Mint tea is always a good choice in these regions.

Sleep Edit

  • All the hotels offer excursions or safaris into the desert, so it should not be beyond them to offer you a pick-up from the bus stop.
  • 1 Qasr El Bawety Ecohotel, Bawiti (North edge of village), +20 128 728 3667. This hotel is set up like a small village, with 28 rooms in traditional style. B&B double LE450.
  • 2 Old Oasis Hotel, Bawiti (north edge of village), +20 122 875 9088, . Simple hotel in bosky spot among 100-year-old date palms, olive and banana trees, on hill with views of the oasis and desert. Rooms start at LE90.
  • 3 Desert Safari Home, Bawiti (east edge of village, 2 km to centre), +20 127 570 9430, . Mid-range place in traditional building, cleaning variable, most visitors found it value for money. B&B double LE400.
  • Western Desert Hotel & Safari, Bawiti (behind police station), +20 23 847 1600, . Basic to mid-range place in modern building, cleaning erratic, but the 22 rooms have en suite, TV and a/c and there's a roof-top garden. B&B double LE500.
  • 4 Hotel Desert Rose Eco Lodge, Bir El Mattar, Bawiti (5 km north of main highway), +20 1228 233 731, . Eco-hotel built in traditional style, has eleven rooms with sofa, two single or double beds with mosquito nets, bathroom with shower and veranda, and fan but no a/c. With restaurant and outdoor cafe. B&B double LE1,000.
  • 5 B&W Sahara Sky Camp, +20 103 342 2531.

Go next Edit

  • Siwa – The next oasis west—a long way west. From there you can reach the Med coast at Marsa Matruh.
  • Farafra – The next oasis south, about a 90-min drive. The main sight is White Desert, which you can easily reach from Bahariyya.
  • Dakhla Oasis – If you can find transport onward from Farafra.
  • Kharga Oasis – You can loop through from Dakhla and back to the Nile valley at Asyut.
  • Cairo – Or just go back.

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