What do you expect to see when you visit a desert? Could that possibly be white sand? Most likely not. But this is exactly what you will see at the phenomenal White Desert in Farafra, one of the most amazing places to visit in Egypt. Known locally as el Sahara el Beida, this desert is the main geographical attraction that draws numerous tourists to the town of Farafra. The White Desert boasts an amazing chalk-white landscape dotted with several lunar-like formations. The large, gravity-defying chalk rock formations in the area are wonders to behold.
Farafra is a small town of several thousands of people, most of whom are Bedouins. It is located in a small oasis of the same name, the Farafra Oasis. The White Desert is situated north of Farafra and is the main draw of visitors to the area. Aside the amazing desert in its vicinity, the area is also attractive for its isolated, rural feel as well as several natural hot springs it boasts of.
The White Desert was actually under water in the distant past, which probably explains the reason why the area has unusually white sand. When sea water receded from the area, marine animals formed the sedimentary rock layers as their dead bodies settled beneath the ocean. The area must have served mammals and other types of animals in the period after the water dried up before subsequently becoming a desert.
The unusual chalk-rock formations in the White Desert are similar to those found on some other planets. These formations result from the disintegration of a plateau, which causes softer sections to be blown away during sandstorms while the harder rock parts remain standing. They are given different names that somewhat describe their shapes such as inselbergs, ice cream cones, crickets and mushrooms.
This spectacular desert, which has been named the White Desert Park, is today a protected area where you must use specially designated routes when using 4WD vehicles. The New Desert portion is only accessible when driving in 4WD vehicles. But you can use normal vehicle to access the Old Desert, which is the outer portions of the White Desert closest to the road. There is plan to penalize drivers who fail to keep to these designated routes.
The White Desert Experience
There are different ways to experiencing this impressive natural phenomenon to maximum effect. Diverse types of tours are available to visitors, with most of these tours commencing from either township of Farafra or Bahariya. You should expect to sleep at least a night in the desert. One night in the White Desert promises to be a memorable one as you get a good opportunity to behold wonders of sunset and dawn out there. The night is very silent, unlike what you are used to in the city, and some of the rock formations can appear rather spooky on some nights as they reflect the glow from faint light.
The White Desert also has several other attractions in its vicinity. One of this is Qasr el- Farafra. This small village used to have a mud-brick fort, or qasr, to which the people run whenever they were under attack. The fort is no longer standing but you can still see the remains of the old village, which has become one of the most spectacular places to visit in Egypt. You will love the view of the palm gardens comprising olives, date palms and orange groves which you can find at the mouth of the town.
There are also several hot springs in the proximity of the White Desert. The most notable among these hot springs or wells are Bir Sitta (well 6), Bir Sab’a (well 7) and Bir Ithnian wa ishrin (well 22). These wells are ideal for relaxation after a visit to the desert, given their warm temperature and slightly sulfurous nature.
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