Places to Visit in Egypt: The White Desert
Africa Egypt North Africa Trips

Places to Visit in Egypt: The White Desert

In January 2016 on our second trip to Egypt, we had to look more closely to find unique things to do that we could day-trip from Cairo. Although very cool, our trip into the White Desert felt dangerous (probably because the Egyptian government didn’t allow trips out into the White Desert in the first place). The information we found online regarding the trip was ambiguous, and the tour guides assured us that the journey was safe. We successfully arranged a day-trip out into the White Desert (a rare thing), but we were really glad that we had decided against spending the night. If you want to plan a trip to the White Desert in Egypt, be sure to check with the Egyptian government authorities to make sure it’s legal. If it’s not, DON’T GO.

In the winter of 2015/2016, we traveled to Cairo and lived there for 8 weeks while Lydian and I took Arabic language lessons at Cairo University. On our weekends, we went on outings, mostly in Cairo because the more rural areas of Egypt aren’t especially safe or accessible for foreigners. In September, 2015, for example, a convoy of Mexican tourists had been gunned down in the White Desert when they stopped to eat a picnic lunch. A variety of rumors about this event were propagated through the news. Recently, (in 2017), I read a story saying that a helicopter buzzing over the desert opened fire on the group. Other stories made claim that soldiers in SUV’s started shooting at the group. Our tour guides tried to play the event down, though one of them admitted that they personally knew and had spoken to the guides who had taken the Mexican group into the desert. According to their story, the Mexicans’ guide was just as confused as everyone else about what had happened and why their group had been mistakenly identified as Islamist militants.

On our way into the White Desert from Cairo, we stopped at the purported location where the terrorists gunned down. There was a sort of convenience store in the middle of nowhere, dunes on all sides, and  Arabian men and much testosterone dominating the scene. Lydian and I were the only women we saw while we were there.

Rural areas in every country are always a more risky bet in terms of safety, but they’re also more interesting culturally than cities, in my opinion. The White Desert in Egypt is a spectacular thing to see, but the locals weren’t very enamored with us as Americans. In fact, Lydian and I could understand just enough Arabic to pick up that our guides were trying to avoid the Egyptian police as we were baja-ing on the dunes. At the time of our visit, tourism in the White Desert was illegal. Our guides had failed to tell us this. Luckily, we’d signed up for a day-trip from Cairo (a rare thing) and we weren’t caught out there and nothing happened to us. If you want to plan a trip to the White Desert in Egypt, be sure to check with the Egyptian government authorities to make sure it’s legal. If it’s not, DON’T GO.

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