Touring the White Desert in Egypt

One of our most memorable adventures in Egypt was an overnight stay in the White Desert. It takes about 4-5 hours to get there by car from Cairo and has a unique landscape that must be seen to be believed.

How the White Desert was Created

The White Desert and its nearby neighbor, the Black Desert form a part of the world’s largest desert, the Libyan Desert (1600 sq. km). Here is what you can expect to encounter during  an overnight stay:

  • Black Desert. The black color is derived from basalt, an igneous (volcanic) rock. Underlying the basalt is sand comprised of pulverized Bahariya sandstone and quartz.
  • Crystal Mountain. Located in between the Black and White Deserts. The mountain consists of a significant portion of quartz, effectively the crystallization of chalk.
  • New White Desert. Absolutely amazing! This place is the whole reason to do the overnight trip. The desert consists entirely of white chalk, the result of the sedimentation of the cretaceous sea (chalk is effectively limestone — stone that has been formed formed from the sedimentation of organic elements out of a fluid, such as a river, lake or ocean — that has been broken down or reduced to a finer powder-like composition). The wind and sand have eroded three-story building-sized blocks of chalk (called inselbergs, meaning prominent steep-sided hills of solid rock, rising abruptly from a plain of low relief ) into all sorts of shapes (animals, mushrooms, etc). Further, on the ground, there are small iron pyrites and marcasite that are naturally formed into every conceivable shapes; walking around the desert is almost like walking along the seashore, picking up small shells. There is also an “old” white desert – not quite as impressive, but it is close and worth a visit.

How Far is the White Desert from Cairo?

The White Desert is only about 4-5 hours away from Cairo. You can arrange transportation with a driver, or use a local bus. Typically, you will be picked up in the morning from your hotel, spend the night in the oasis (not as charming as it sounds), and depart early the next morning for the desert. We opted to stay only one night, but encountered other travelers who were on longer adventures.

White Desert Tour

We highly recommend organizing your tour through Peter Wirth at International Hot Springs Hotel ( He arranged our private overnight tour with a 4×4-driving local Bedouin guide (as well as our transfer from Cairo); we were absolutely delighted with the service, the fireside dinner, our guide and, of course, the scenery.

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