It’s always good to get out of your comfort zone and last weekend that’s what I did with a group of my fellow colleagues and friends. At work we have a staff wellbeing group who do a great job organising various social events throughout the year and this trip was about exploring the Egyptian desert south-west of Fayoum.
In a convoy of 4×4’s we left New Cairo at 7am. After a quick briefing and a stop at a service station we headed into the desert. I’ve always found the desert fascinating and terrifying in equal measure and we spend most of the journey staring out at the ever-changing landscape and rock formations.
After about 2hrs we entered Fayoum Oasis and the shimmering blues of Qarun Lake became visible. We all excitedly reached for our cameras but, as usual, no photo could really do the view justice. It would have been a lovely place to have a quick tea break if we’d had time.
We actually saw a film crew set up here which was a rather odd sight in the middle of the desert!
Qarun Lake is the second largest lake in Egypt and is used primarily for irrigation, fishing and sailing. The drive through farm lands was beautiful and gave us a glimpse into a bygone era. Herds of sheep and goats passed us by and we could see workers in the fields. We soon came to a small crossroad with a few shops selling food and drinks. There were tuk tuk drivers available taking visitors to some of the nearby attractions around Fayoum and Tunis village. It was fascinating to see a snap shot of more rural life here.
We drove on and entered the protected area, on each side we could see the rocks rise up to form a plateau and the gorgeous blue, green and turquoise lakes.
This was our first stop and we got out to stretch our legs. There were a number of people on top of the rock formations and those of us who were feeling energetic also decided to try to climb them. There’s an ‘easy’ one and a ‘hard’ one. I chose the more difficult one but my shoes didn’t have the grip I needed and I was soon defeated. The ground is fine pebbles like shale and it’s quite hard to get a grip so decent shoes are a must …….it’s a long way down! The views were incredible.
At the bottom there were a few locals offering camel and horse rides but I didn’t take any photos of these or enquire about prices. I’m very reluctant to use animals as I’m not always convinced they are particularly well cared for but it’s up to you to make that judgement. Once we came back from our short hike, we had a quick snack of sweet tea and fatayer filled with cheese, molasses and honey. A much-needed sugar hit before heading further south.
We soon packed up and after a 30 minute drive we arrived at Samuel Dunes. This area has wonderful soft sand and the dunes are great for the adrenaline filled ‘sport’ of dune bashing. The car tires were let down and we went off-road. For the next 2 hours there were honestly times when I thought I might die. It was sheer terror mixed with laughter, gasps of breath, gritted teeth, white knuckles and a fair bit of bad language.
We were given a couple of chances to get out and basically play about on the dunes or simply enjoy the beauty of our surroundings. It was pristine, so beautiful and serene.
We also stopped as one car misjudged a dune and got stuck!
I’m not going to lie; it was scary. However, our drivers were really experienced and they worked as a group communicating with each other via walkie talkies. It is stomach churning though, being tossed up, down, left, right – an activity to be done before lunch!
After the dune bashing, with our nerves well and truly frayed we took the scenic route to ‘magic lake’.
Situated just behind the rock formations where we’d stopped previously this was where we were going for a late lunch, to swim and sand board. By now I was feeling simultaneously hungry and sick. So as soon as we arrived I drank tea and laid down!
My fellow day trippers took the chance to take a cooling dip in the water and freshen up.
This area is open to the public but Desert Adventures has a small area sectioned off and provided 2 portable, clean toilets and a shaded tent with rugs. Lunch was salad, pickles, bread, pasta, pasta sauce, kebab and kofta with fruit and Arabic desserts. It really was tasty and freshly prepared.
With our tummies full and sand in our hair we sat back and relaxed as the sun went down, although some of the more energetic found went off sand boarding! About 6pm with the sun setting behind us we headed back to Cairo.
What an amazing experience. It was a very long day but I have so many wonderful memories of stunning landscapes and great people.
I’d definitely recommend exploring this part of the Western desert. We paid 850LE each for our bespoke trip with Desert Adventures, other companies probably do these trips too. If you want to escape the chaos of the city and find peace, tranquility and get back to nature then this is something you’d enjoy.