Safaris in the African savanna can be expensive. Go on a two-day guided excursion in Kruger National Park in South Africa, for example, and it will cost you upwards of $400 — and that’s just per person. If you’re strapped for cash but still long for that safari feeling, and it’s not the wildlife you care so much about, consider a different kind of safari: the Sahara safari.
In Egypt, on the northwestern edge that borders Libya, lies the sand-swept expanse of the Western Desert. This is one region of the broader Sahara Desert, home to many indigenous Bedouin people. Here, you can easily find a significantly more affordable — and equally stunning — safari experience.
While you won’t spot any lions, giraffes, or cheetahs in the Western Desert (though you will spot a desert fox or two), you’ll feast your eyes on some of the wildest sights you’ve ever seen, including the milky rock formations of the White Desert, the ashen landscape of the Black Desert, and towering sand dunes, canyons, and mountains. Together, they make up an beautifully bizarre scene.
Hire a reputable tour company in Cairo or book one online in advance. Western Desert Tours and Desert Safari Egypt, which were founded by and employ local Bedouins, are both highly recommended. A two-day, one-night tour by 4X4 jeep will cost around $100-$150 per person, and includes camping, meals, and entrance fees. Be sure to factor in the additional expense of tips, and expect to pay more if you want to trek by camel.
From Cairo’s Turgoman Square station, hop on a public bus (160 LE RT) to Bahayira Oasis. Or, for an extra $50-$100 pax on top of your safari price, hitch a private transfer with your tour company. If you want to spend the night before or after your excursion in Bawiti village, there are plenty of accommodation options, many of them operated by the same groups that run the safaris.
Do’s & Don’ts
- DO stock up on essentials while you’re in Bawiti village, as it will be your last chance. Pack a plastic bag (to transport your garbage out of the desert), waterless cleansers, emergency water, and toilet paper.
- DON’T attempt to do a desert safari on your own. First, all trips require official authorization. Second, at more than 260,000 square miles, the Western Desert is difficult to navigate. Compound its vastness by its limited number of oases (only five), and you’re set up for disaster if you get lost.
- DO check on security concerns before you go. By and large, the Western Desert is safe for tourists, but on rare occasions it has been the site of armed insurgencies.
- DON’T cut costs by choosing a cheap operator that does not adhere to sustainable travel practices or help the local community. Many native Bedouins make their living off of tourism. Support them.