Unlike its neighbour the surreal White Desert, the Black Desert is more sedate. Stark in golden yellow sand topped with volcanic glistening black pebbles, the Black Desert’s volcanic mountains often resemble a scene from a Star Wars movie. The strangely shaped mountains and the valley floors are scattered with small volcanic black stones and the soft undulating dunes are streaked with orange and brown. Though not as startling as the White Desert, the Black Desert is also gorgeous and one can climb to the top of its hilly peaks to take in stunning panoramic views of the surrounding area. The best way to experience this desert is from Bahariya Oasis and many people prefer to hike there instead of moving deeper into the Western Desert.

bahariya oasis is a beautiful date palm-shaded oasis

A beautiful date palm-shaded oasis

The iconic Black Desert beauty

The surrounding area is beautiful beyond words and what makes it all the more special is the vast emptiness of the place. Since for most travellers, the Black Desert is a ‘passing through’ point to an ultimate destination in the White Desert, there are no touristic infrastructure and the whole area is absolutely uninhabited. From the top of one of the peaks, the views reveal a series of volcanic cones, glistening mountains, and an undulating empty desert. Only the odd highway bisects the empty space like a lifeline and from a distance, the passing flat-bed trucks look like mere toys. Except for the trucks, one can see hardly any sign of life in the Black Desert and if you are lucky, you might see the big-eared desert fox slinking behind the boulders.


The Black Desert is an interesting day trip from Bahariya Oasis

The Black Desert is an interesting day trip from Bahariya Oasis

What makes Bahariya Oasis so popular?

The jumping-off base for most White and Black Desert tours is Bawiti, a moderately sized village in the Bahariya oasis. Located just 365 kilometers away from Cairo, Bahariya is the most accessible of the Western Desert oases trail and has well-established tourist infrastructure. Blessed with ample groundwater and lots of natural springs, the Bahariya Oasis is like a Garden of Eden and is covered with shady date palms. A substantial amount of olive plantation is also done here and the greenery creates a wild contrast with the surrounding landscape of rocky hills and sandy dunes. The beauty of the Western Desert of Egypt can be seen here and in recent years, stunning archaeological finds, such as that of the Golden Mummies have put Bahariya firmly on the tourist map. Bahariya’s prosperity, however, is not a recent phenomenon and during the Middle Kingdom and the Roman times, the oasis was a center of agriculture. The strategic location of Bahariya Oasis on the Libya-Nile Valley caravan routes made it an important pit-stop in the Western Desert and its local wine’s popularity traversed along the Nile Valley all the way to Rome.


The stark landscape surrounding Bahariya Oasis

The stark landscape surrounding Bahariya Oasis

Things to do and see in Bahariya Oasis

Today, Bahariya Oasis is a popular tourist destination, especially for the residents of Cairo and it offers a peaceful rustic getaway. Apart from the popular White and Black Desert tours, there are plenty of things to do in and around Bahariya and some of them are the –

  • Al-Ghurabi Sand Dune – Literally known as the “Raven Sand Dune”, it is an extension of the Abu Muharrik dune system, which is home to one of the world’s longest shifting dune.
  • Crystal Mountain – Locally known as Gebel al-Izzaz, the Crystal Mountain is an enormous monolithic hunk made up of sparkling quartz crystal.
  • Gebel al-Ingleez – Also known as the English Mountain or Black Mountain, this site is named after a World War I lookout post, from which Captain Williams, a British officer had monitored the movements of the marauding Senussi tribesmen coming from Libya.
  • Gebel Dist – It is an impressive pyramid-shaped mountain that is famous for its fossils. Well preserved dinosaur bones were found here in the early 20th century, thus making the Gebel Dist an important archaeological site.
  • Lake Marun is one of many salt lakes scattered all over the Western Desert of Egypt. This one is known as an important stopover for migratory birds and is also a very photogenic place.
  • Hot and Cold Springs – The Bahariya Oasis is riddled with numerous natural hot and cold springs that are known to have therapeutic prowess. While some of them are public, most good accommodations in Bahariya have channeled the natural spring waters for their guests to enjoy in privacy.
  • Date Plantations – The date gardens of Bahariya Oasis are medicine for the soul. Since they are all private properties, a guided tour or requested entrance is mandatory.
  • Camel Farm – There are numerous camel farms in Bahariya, some of which even offer camel tours. Look into one to see these fuzzy humped “ships of the desert” from up close.
  • Tombs of Bawiti – Tomb of Bannentiu, Tomb of Zed Amun Ef Ankh, Temple of Ain Al Muftella, Qarat Qasr Salim, and the Temple of Alexander
    At Safari Camp in Bahariya Oasis

    At Safari Camp in Bahariya Oasis

    Sweet, minty Bedouin tea with a view

    Lazing in one of the natural pools near Bahariya Oasis

    Lazing in one of the natural pools near Bahariya Oasis

    Traditional pigeon houses

    Locals near Cleopatra's Bath in Siwa to be seen in Siwa travel

    Laidback local life at Bahariya Oasis

    Sand, vegetation, and lots of water

    The Lake Marun near Bahariya Oasis

    The Lake Marun near Bahariya Oasis

    Salt crystals on the banks of Lake Marun

    A local of the Bahariya Oasis

    A local of the Bahariya Oasis

    Okra, olives, dates, and

    A friendly resident of the camel farm

    Local hibiscus called karkade are grown in Bahariya Oasis

    Local hibiscus called karkade are grown in Bahariya Oasis

    Sand dunes of the Western Desert

    bahariya oasis local

    And a local resident with his donkey cart

P.S – This blog post is part of the weekly series called the Cairo Chronicles. Every week, Maverickbird will try to focus on a new theme, emotion, and beauty of expat life in the exciting, maddening city of Cairo.

Follow the rest of the offbeat Egypt series here