Are you interested in a true adventure? Camping in the White Desert in Egypt was the most adventurous, magical, and unique thing I did during my stay in the country.
Keep reading for the ULTIMATE guide to visiting Egypt’s White & Black Deserts in 2023! ⤵️
What Is The West Desert? (Home To Black & White Deserts)
The West Desert in Egypt is the vast expanse of barren desert west of Cairo between the Nile and the Libyan Border.
Thought to have been grassland in prehistoric times, home to the mythical oasis of Zerzura, and fought over during World War II, the West Desert has a rich and varied history but today is now the best known for its magical and moon-like landscape.
The West Desert can be further divided into the White and Black Deserts , as well as Bahariya Oasis , and Siwa Oasis .
To the south, there are also Dakhla Oasis and Kharga Oasis, but they’re not as popular with tourists.
Do You Need a Tour Guide For The White Desert?
Unless you’re arriving in Egypt with your own off-roading vehicle and camping equipment, yes!
There’s no public transit to get to Bahariya Oasis, which is considered the gateway to the White and Black Deserts. Once you’re there you need a 4×4 vehicle, camping equipment, as well as extensive knowledge of the area.
How Much Does It Cost To Visit The White Desert?
We did a 3-night / 4-day tour which cost $400 per person. There’s also the option to do 2-night/ 3-day which costs around $300.
For a more budget-friendly option, there are also 1-night tours available for $150 per person (2,773 EGP, 143 Euro), but I highly recommend doing at least a two-night trip!
If you would like to visit Siwa Oasis as well as the Black and White deserts, an organized 4-night / 5-day tour will cost $900 per person. This tour is more expensive than the other options because you stay in a hotel for two nights in Siwa.
What’s Included In A Tour Of The White Desert
- Transportation from your hotel in Cairo to the desert and back
- A private driver and cook
- Tents/ campsite set up for you
- Unlimited fresh bottled water
- Entry fee to White Desert National Park
- 3 freshly-cooked meals a day
- Endless Mint Tea!
What’s Not Included In A Tour Of The White Desert
- Tips for the drivers and cook
- Any alcoholic drinks you want to have in the desert (we bought some wine off a smuggler in Bahariya Oasis for 15 USD per bottle).
- A tour guide: Neither our driver nor cook really spoke English, so some of the finer details like the history of the sites we were visiting were lost.
- Toilet paper/wet wipes: I don’t know if it’s just the guides were bashful around three women and didn’t want to talk about it, but we were sure happy we brought our own toilet paper and wet wipes to the desert!
How To Book A Tour Of The White Desert
We did a 3-night tour, which I would recommend if you have enough time in Egypt!
Here are the tours I recommend for visiting the West Desert:
👉 4-day / 3-night tour of the West Desert
👉 2-day / 1-night tour of the West Desert
If you want to take a longer 6-day tour that also visits Siwa Oasis, you can arrange that with this company Egypt Western Desert Tours, by emailing them at email@example.com.
What’s The Best Time Of Year To Visit The West Desert?
Egypt isn’t the scalding-hot desert year-round most people think it is! In the West Desert, there are only two seasons, summer and winter.
Summer goes from March to October, and Winter is from November to February.
If you visit in the summer months it can get very hot, around 90F (32C). In winter it’s much more moderate, with highs at around 75F (23C).
Keep in mind that the desert gets cold at night! Even if you go in the summer when it’s very hot, you’ll need a jacket or coat (or a nice warm camel hair blanket) for the nights.
We went in late October/Early November (On Halloween, in fact) just at the start of the winter season and it was perfect moderate weather. Not too hot in the day, not too cold at night!
How Long Should You Spend In The White Desert?
I could spend a whole month traveling around the vast West Desert, but the lack of wifi and modern plumbing might get old. How long should you Spend in the White Desert?
The “perfect” amount of time to spend camping in the West Desert is 2 nights at 3 days so that you can experience both the Black and White Deserts.
If you’re really strapped for time (or on a strict budget) you can do a 1 night 2-day tour. You can’t do a day trip to the West Desert because it’s a 5-hour drive from Cairo each way and there won’t be enough time to see anything!
For a more adventurous experience, you can also do a 5-day, 4-night tour that will take you far west to Siwa Oasis as well. I wish we had done this because Siwa Oasis is most easily accessed via a tour.
We did a 3-night 4-day tour which included one-night camping in the Black Desert, I wouldn’t recommend this! The Black Desert is gorgeous, but it’s not a good place to camp.
Due to its proximity to the Bahariya Oasis, there were a ton of flies in the Black Desert that ruined our time there. We loved spending 4-days in the West desert, but if you want to do a longer tour, I would recommend requesting to not camp in the Black Desert!
How To Get To The West Desert From Cairo?
If you book a tour of the West Desert it will include private transportation from your hotel in Cairo to Bahariya Oasis, which is the gateway to both the White and Black deserts. This is what we did and the drive was around 4.5 hours each way.
You shouldn’t drive yourself to the West Desert. Once you get to the desert you need an off-road 4×4 vehicle, so it would be very difficult to visit the White and Black Deserts without a tour.
Plus, unless you’re accompanied by a guarded traffic convoy that is dispatched from the office of tourism, you’re likely to just be turned back at the first police checkpoint.
How To Get To Siwa Oasis Without A Tour
If you just want to visit the Siwa Oasis there’s an overnight bus that runs from Torgoman station in Cairo daily for 60 EGP (around $3).
The bus company is called “West & Mid Delta Bus Company” and I’m having a hard time finding information on this company online, all of the emails I sent bounced back, but according to their website and Rome to Rio, buses to Siwa are still running.
Is Camping In The White Desert Safe?
Is the West Desert safe for travel? Yes! If you take a tour of the West Desert, as I did, you will enjoy a fully private transfer from the door of your hotel directly to the campsite.
Although Egypt’s border regions are known areas unsafe for tourists since they’re pretty much surrounded by areas of contention on all sides with Sudan, Israel, Palestine, and Libya. The West Desert and White Desert National Park within it are not areas of conflict.
The West Desert is close to the Libyan/Egyptian border but you need a special permit from the Egyptian Ministry to go anywhere near it.
The closest you can get as a tourist to the Libyan border is Siwa Oasis, which we didn’t visit but thousands and thousands of tourists do every year without mishap.
Is The White Desert Safe For Women & Solo Female Travelers?
Is camping in the White Desert safe for women? Also 100% yes! We were three female travelers, a little hesitant about camping in the desert alone in the beginning.
I’m happy to report not only with our guides perfect gentlemen, but it was also the only time we spent in Egypt sans harassment and catcalling, an absolutely stress-free trip!
Is There Cell Service In The White & Black Desert?
Yes and no! While there definitely is not any wifi, our guide had a dual SIM card cell phone that enabled him to always have a little bit of cell service in case of emergencies.
If you’re buying a local SIM card for your cell phone in Egypt, which I highly recommend since you need an Egyptian number to access all public wifi in Egypt, I would recommend the company Orange.
I had bought Telcel at the Cairo airport and I had no service in the West Desert, but our guide who had Orange did receive at least one bar.
What You Need To Know To Prepare For Your Trip To Egypt
✔️ You need a visa! You can get a visa on arrival at Cairo Airport at a money exchange counter before you reach the baggage claim. The kiosk doesn’t accept cards, so you need to have $25 dollars cash.
✔️ You will likely need an Egyptian SIM card: These can be purchased after you exit customs at Cairo airport, it was very inexpensive at around 1 USD per GB of data. All of the kiosks should accept credit card, I recommend going with Orange.
✔️ Egypt runs on cash! Cash is definitely still king (or Pharoah) in Egypt. Our organized tour to the West Desert was paid for in cash, as were most of our hotel stays in Egypt.
✔️ No toilet paper: Very few public bathrooms in Egypt will have toilet paper (or even a toilet seat). Instead, they use a Shatafa, which is an Arabic bidet. A lot of westerners don’t feel comfortable using a Shatafa, so it’s recommended to carry your own TP with you.
19 Reasons Why You HAVE To Visit The White & Black Deserts When You Go to Egypt
1. Sustainability & Leave No Trace Camping For Guilt-Free Travel
Keeping beautiful places beautiful is important to me as I hope it is for everyone! Although we had to depend on bottled water out in the middle of the desert, all trash was carted off back to civilization when we packed up the campsite in the morning, and no permanent structures are put up.
Once camp was packed up no one would be able to tell a full campsite, including a kitchen (!!!), had been there just the night before.
2. You Can Take Photos Under a Natural Arch
One of the most famous photo spots in the Western Desert is the “Window Into The Desert”. The Window is a natural arch made from hundreds of years of sand eroding into chalk.
Our tour stopped here on the second day and made sure we had lots of time for photos!
3. The Freshest Food You Will Ever Have
I never know what to expect in more remote locations with food. It seems like the food is either always really good, or really bad, no in-between.
I’m thrilled to report that the meals we had on our trip with Egypt West Desert Tours were phenomenal. Probably some of the best food I’ve ever had.
We had two guides come with us on our tour, one was a cook and the other a driver. They were both locals from Bahariya Oasis (fun fact, people from Bahariya Oasis are called “Waḥātī people, which means “of the oasis” in Arabic.
In contrast to the super-ultra-meaty Arabic food we had in Cairo and Luxor, what we had in the desert was very light and more reminiscent of Mediterranean food.
One of the friends I was traveling with is a vegetarian, so the local cuisine was great for her (seriously, sometimes the only veg thing we could find for her in Cairo was a bowl of hummus! 😅)
Every. Single. Meal. Was made fresh by the cook who worked out of the big tent kitchen our guides would set up every night. I don’t know how he did it!
It was like magic, he would pull out a cooler, disappear into the cooking tent, and reappear with an amazing 3-course meal! The fantastic food definitely made the trip into the desert all the more special.
If you’re not a big fan of vegetarian food, the guides also BBQ’d chicken over the bonfire!
4. You (Might) Have the Chance to See Some Desert Foxes!
The White Desert national park is home to the Fennec Foxes. They’re nocturnal animals, and a lot of lucky campers in the white desert get to experience them up close because they’re drawn to campsites by the smell of food.
The foxes are shy, and unfortunately, we didn’t get to see any while we were camping in the White Desert.
However, when we woke up the morning of the third day we did get to see a bunch of cute little fox paw prints tracking around our campsite. So they are there, you just need to be a bit more observant (or stay up a bit later) than we did to see them!
5. You Can Picnic At A Natural Oasis
The most special and memorable lunch of my life! On our third day we got to have lunch in a natural oasis. Usually, an on-the-go lunch is something like sandwiches, but our cook set up a little kitchen right on the oasis amid the palm trees.
6. Have Fresh Dates Picked Straight from the Tree!
The first stop we made was Bahariya Oasis, a small town in the desert built around a natural lake. The biggest industries in Bahariya are West Desert Tourism and date farming. We were given a drive-through tour of the gorgeous date palm plantation on the first day of our trip.
Faster than you can say “hmmm, wonder what a fresh date tastes like” our cook was scrambling on top of the car to pick us some.
We got SO many dates we were able to snack on them throughout the rest of our trip into the desert!
7. Experience Sleeping Under the Stars In The Desert
Every night our guides would sleep out under the stars next to the campfire, so on the last night, we decided to try it out for ourselves.
If you live in a city, when is the last time you ever actually got to see stars at night? In the White Desert, you’re far away enough from society you can see a full sky.
Not 20 minutes would go by without at least one shooting star streaking across the desert! And since the sand doesn’t hold heat at night it was a perfect temperature to camp out with our sleeping bags.
8. Your Camp Is Set Up for You
The camp is 100% set up by the guides every day. I think all we did to help was hold some ropes, but it seemed like we were more getting in the guide’s way than actually helping 😅 .
There’s the main tent, which I thought was going to be a “living room” or maybe for the guides, but it’s actually the kitchen tent! And then there are pop-up tents that we used for sleeping which were super easy to set up.
9. Take a Bath at a 400-Year-Old Roman Spring in the Middle of the Desert
We spent 4 days in the Western Desert camping, for most people that’s too long to go without a shower, especially if you’re working up a sweat san-surfing in the desert.
Luckily, you can take a bath on the second and third day of your travels in the desert, in an Oasis!
400 years ago when the Romans were still in Egypt they were camping in the West Desert. They needed water, so they dug a spring that grew into the Oasis that’s still there today.
Just remember there’s no privacy, so your baths are all going to be had while fully clothed!
I got to wash my hair in the Roman Oasis, which left it feeling SO soft and lovely after. I think it’s Magic Water.
Our guides said you could drink from the spring but I didn’t give it a try.
💡 Tip: The first spring we were taken to was very high in Mineral content and totally stained my clothes (and skin). If you decide to swim in the spring make sure to wear dark colors! The Oasis we visited a few days later didn’t have this problem.
10. Have Fun Dancing in the Moonlight
On our last night in the desert, we were told the guides had a “surprise” for us. It turned out to be an Egyptian bonfire dance party (!!!) with live music and endless mint-tea.
It was here I learned why Egyptian men use “Shakira” as a catcall. Even though Shakira is Colombian, she dances like an Egyptian!
The guides all got up and started shaking their hips to the drumming and singing in unison. This was a show!
What made it extra fun was our small 3-person group met up with another tour camping in the desert for the party, but the other tour was a group of Ukrainian retirees.
I love a goofy time, and dancing the night away under the stars with Ukrainian Octogenarians and hip-shaking Egyptians really was a night to remember.
11. Experience The Other-Worldly Black Desert
The Black Desert in Egypt gets its name from the black volcanic Basalt rocks that are sprinkled all over it.
The black rocks are piled into hundreds of mounds that look like tiny volcanos, dotting the horizon as far as you can see.
We camped our first night in the Black Desert. I wouldn’t recommend camping there because there was a huge fly problem, but it’s an amazing place to spend a few hours!
12. You Can Sandboard The Dunes In The Small Sand Sea
In the West Desert you have the opportunity to Sand Board the Sand Waves in the Small Sand Sea (try saying that 10 times fast!)
The Great Sand Sea is an area of the west desert near the Siwa Oasis where sand dunes stretch for miles.
Named for the endless rolling sand dunes which resemble waves in an ocean, the Great Sand Sea is unfortunately not currently open for tourists due to its proximity to the Libyan border.
Luckily for us, right next to our campsite in the White Desert is an area nicknamed the “Small Sand Sea” which has similar rolling sand dunes to the Great Sand Sea, but it’s much more easily accessible.
We had a fun afternoon riding sandboards down the dunes, scrambling back up the hill, and doing it all over again.
Note: Sandboarding is quite a workout! We definitely earned our mint tea and Oasis shower after an hour of climbing the sand dunes.
13. You Can Climb Pyramid Mountain
Pyramid Mountain, or as the locals call it, Gebel al-Dist, is a stunning pyramid-shaped formation that was created alllllll the way back in the Upper-Cretaceous period.
Located only a few kilometers outside of the Bahariya Oasis, we got the honor to climb this beautiful ancient formation.
Fun Fact: Fossils found on Pyramid Mountain in the early 20th century were what proved to researchers that dinosaurs existed outside of North America!
14. Enjoy Endless Egyptian Mint Tea
Mint Tea is much more than a beverage in Egypt – it’s a tradition and an important part of the culture.
Green Tea was first brought to Egypt by merchants in the 18th century, sugar soon followed and led to the classic combination we enjoy today of imported tea and sugar with the native fresh mint.
Every meal you have in Egypt will at least be accompanied by the option to enjoy some Mint Tea, but in the desert the tea is essential!
All night we got to enjoy sipping Mint Tea (with LOTS of sugar!) heated over the bonfire and poured from up-high, in the traditional Egyptian style!
Tip: Mint Tea is very bitter without sugar! But if you’re watching your sugar intake you can soak a fresh date in your tea instead of a sugar cube, it cuts the bitterness and makes for a healthier drink.
15. Have the White Desert All to Yourself
The West Desert is a welcome break from the crowded hustle of Egypt’s other attractions, like the Pyramids of Giza or the temples along the Nile.
Lots of companies bring tour groups into the White Desert to camp every day, but you would never know! During our whole 4 days in the desert, we didn’t see another tour group until our guides took us to a bonfire party on the last day.
16. Ride On Top of an Off-Road Vehicle Through the Desert Dunes!
Ok, does everyone have to do this on their tour of the West Desert? No, but we really wanted to!
The all-terrain vehicles that the tour guides drive into the desert all have gridded cargo carriers on top that are great for loading up camp gear and hanging onto if you want to take an adventurous drive through the desert!
17. You Can Take Your Own Crystal From Crystal Mountain
On the third day, we visited “Crystal Mountain” (locally known as Gebel al-Izzaz). Made up of Calcite and Barite crystals, Crystal Mountain is ancient. Like, puts the Pyramids of Giza to shame ancient.
Called a “hydrovolcanic structure”, Crystal Mountain was formed when intense heat resulting from volcanic activity in the area met water or steam at some point.
Ok, so full disclosure, Crystal Mountain is more like Crystal … Mound. It only came up as high as my hip. BUT STILL! It was amazing to see natural crystals shooting out of the desert sand.
Bonus, you can take stray pieces of crystal you find on the ground home! (But never ever break bits of the formation off!)
I’ve heard of some people taking crystals they picked up in the White Desert to the goldsmiths in Luxor and Aswan (Egypt is pretty famous for jewelry) and having their crystals turned into pendants.
We didn’t get a chance to do this since we visited Luxor and Aswan as part of an organized tour, but it sounds like the perfect souvenir!
18. Experience The Alien-Like Landscape In The White Desert
The White Desert in Egypt is probably the closest you can get to being on the moon without taking off in a spaceship!
The White Desert’s moon-like landscape is a product of thousands and thousands of years of wind and sandstorms eroding chalk into unique rock formations called Ventifacts.
My favorite during our time there was one formation that had been weathered into the shape of a rubber duck!
19. It Will Be the Most Memorable Thing You Do in Egypt
Or at least, it was the most memorable thing we did in Egypt! Riding on top of an off-roader through a moon-like landscape, totally alien to anything I’ve ever seen before.
Camping under the stars. Singing around the bonfire with endless quantities of Egyptian mint tea. The four days we spent in the West Desert are some of the most memorable times of my life.
If you get the chance to go to Egypt, definitely make a stop in the Western Desert!
What To Pack For The West Desert
- A portable charger! You can charge your phone with a car converter while the van is driving but there weren’t enough outlets for the three of us. I brought this portable charger, and it was more than enough for just my phone for the 4 days.
- A travel pillow: I sleep better with a good pillow, and while we were provided with camping equipment this didn’t include a nice, fluffy pillow – so I was happy I brought my own!
- Warm clothes: It’s not freezing in the desert at night but it can get pretty chilly! You’ll want to have at least a sweater or puffer jacket for nights.
- Sunscreen and bug spray: They said there were no mosquitos in the West Desert, but there were a LOT of flies in the Black Desert! The sun is also crazy strong.
- A Sunhat: Sun hat, sunscreen, and lightweight clothes that cover your body all are important when visiting anywhere in Egypt, especially the desert areas!
- Sunglasses: While we never got caught in a sandstorm during our time in the West Desert, I’ve heard that they are pretty common!
- Sturdy Shoes! If you’re going to climb Pyramid Mountian or walk on the slippy rocks in the Black Desert I would at least pack a pair of hiking sandals. I use Chacos!
- Wet Wipes and Hand Sanitizer: Besides the opportunities you will have to swim in the natural springs, you’re going to be without modern plumbing during your stay in the desert. Hand sanitizer and wet wipes come in handy to wash your face and hands while out in the elements.
Planning a trip to Egypt? Read more here:
- 20 Essential Travel Tips for Your First Trip to Egypt
- Safety Tips for Women Traveling to Egypt
- Ultimate Guide for Camping in the White Desert in Egypt
- 10 Best Day Trips from Luxor
- ULTIMATE Do-It-Yourself Egypt Itinerary!
- Dealing With The INSANE Harassment at the Pyramids of Giza
- 10 Best Hollywood Movies About Egypt
- Complete Guide To Using Uber In Egypt