It’s 7 am on a chilly December morning in Cairo, Egypt. I’m excited (and slightly hesitant) to go on an overnight camping trip in the White Desert. It’s my first time camping and I have no idea what to expect. All I know is that I’m in for some beautiful landscapes. My mom is a trooper and has decided to come along on the adventure.
By 7:30 am my mom and I are sitting in a car with our tour guide, Mido. I’ve barely slept thanks to late night packing, so I’m in dire need of coffee. Mido points out some of Cairo’s famous sites on our way out of the city. Once we officially make it out of Cairo, I sit back and drift off into a half-sleep; we have a couple of hours until we arrive at the rest stop.
So, where exactly was I going on this grand adventure? Well, let’s take a step back to explain why I decided to visit Egypt in the first place.
Since I’m part Egyptian and have family living in Cairo, I’ve had the fortune of visiting Egypt several times in my teens. My family and I would spend a good chunk of the summer chilling at my grandma and aunt’s houses, sleeping by day and meandering through the streets of Cairo by night. Thanks to deathly hot summer temperatures and a general lack of resourcefulness on my part, the only places I’d visited in Cairo were the Citadel, the Pharaonic Village, and the Great Pyramids. I’d also visited Alexandria, Hurghada, and Sharm el Sheikh, but was fully aware (and slightly embarrassed) that I hadn’t even scratched the surface of Egypt, despite the fact that I’d spent nearly eight months there over the course of five years.
This time around, I was determined to actually see what Egypt had to offer and my digging led me to stumble upon the Black Desert and the White Desert. Once I saw pictures of these mystical places, I knew I HAD to visit, which led me to partner with Egypt Tailor Made to experience their Overnight Camping Black and the White Desert tour. For those of you who know me, you know that I don’t camp. Call me a princess but I really, really value toilets and running water and genuinely fear bugs. I am so not one with nature. Let’s just say that my first camping experience was quite…interesting. More about that later. Now that you have some context, let’s get back to the tour.
We arrive at the rest stop and buy some snacks and my mom and I commiserate about the state of Egyptian bathrooms (I’m usually not that much of a diva but this was a whole other level of gross bathroom). Anyway, I digress. After driving for a little bit longer, we switch over to a 4×4 desert car and meet our local Bedouin guide Ahmad, who is an expert at navigating the area. Our first stop is the Black Desert, so named thanks to the millions of black volcanic rocks dotting the desert landscape. Although volcanoes haven’t been a part of the Egyptian landscape in tens of thousands of years, wind and erosion left behind all these rocks that make the desert look like another planet. Pretty cool, huh?
At this point, it’s late afternoon and we are starving. We stop by this little hut restaurant and feast on Egyptian beans (ful), tuna, and salad. Although the meal is simple, that ful was some the best I ate in Egypt.
After lunch, we head over to Crystal Mountain. Funnily enough, Crystal Mountain isn’t really a mountain. Rather, it’s a large rock ridge consisting of stalagmites and stalactites. The ground is littered with tons of loose crystals, making the entire area sparkle in the sunlight. It’s pretty magical, because sparkles.
After taking a thousand photos or so, we clamor back into the car to our next stop – El Aqabat, a small valley at the edge the White Desert. El Aqabat means “the punishment” in Arabic; named so because it was particularly difficult for camels to get across during the good ole caravan days. Thanks to the soft-as-a-baby’s-bottom sand in this area, our car also struggled a bit to get in and out of El Aqabat.
At this point, it’s getting close to sunset so we drive to the White Desert, where we will be camping for the night. Although the area looks like it’s filled with snow, all that white is naturally formed limestone rock formations. Even the giant rocks are shaped naturally by the wind! Mido leads us around the desert and we all have way too much fun spotting various animals and shapes in the rocks. I swear someone is secretly carving these shapes out!
We pile into the car once again and drive for about ten minutes before stopping in the middle of the White Desert. Mido announces that this is where we’re camping for the night. My mom and I glance at each other, quickly realizing that camping did not mean an official campsite like we’d assumed. It meant pitching a tent in the middle of the desert. Oh boy. Mido confirms that there is indeed no bathroom so my mom and I promptly decide that we’ve had enough to drink for the night. This would have been an excellent time to have a SheWee (teehee) – lesson learned!
By now the temperature is rapidly falling, so all of us huddle into the Bedouin camp area. Mido and Ahmad start a fire for us and Ahmad starts chopping veggies and boiling water for dinner. The food smells amazing (and tastes even better). While we’re waiting for dinner to cook, we snack on fruit and drink tea. I ask Mido about the political situation in Egypt because I’m curious and it quickly starts a passionate and interesting discussion about politics, religion, and culture.
Everyone goes silent once dinner is served and for good reason – everything tastes delicious. We’re each served a giant portion of grilled chicken, broiled meat, steamed rice, chicken soup and veggie stew. I’m drooling just thinking back at how good that dinner was.
After dinner, Ahmad serves us some Bedouin tea (it’s really strong and a bit sweet). So much for our promise to avoid liquids! As we’re drinking the tea, one of the Bedouin guides at the nearby camp walks over and invites us to join them for music around the campfire. My sleep deprivation is hitting hard at this point but we agree to join the other camp for a bit. Our companions turn out to be a Korean family who has been traveling for an entire year together. Crazy!
Their guide (whose name has since escaped me) sang some hilarious Arabic and Bedouin songs and the Korean dad even contributed a song about how he can’t live without his wife (as translated by her). SO CUTE.
Now it’s officially REALLY COLD so my mom and I decide it’s time to cozy up in our tent. We scurry away from the camp to brush our teeth and go to the bathroom, giggling at the fact that we are in the middle of the Egyptian desert in January, all thanks to me. I’m actually exhausted at this point, so I have no problem falling asleep. Surprisingly, the tent combined with our four blankets is really warm, and I sleep like a baby.
The next morning we wake up to a beautiful sunrise, looking more than a little worse for wear. Sunrise at the White Desert is breathtaking, though. After breakfast, Ahmad and Mido take apart the tent and we start the drive back to Cairo.
On to the review part:
I loved my experience with Egypt Tailor Made and cannot say enough good things about the company. They were professional and organized, and my guide, Mido, answered all my questions about Egypt, the deserts and more. He took a ton of photos for us and never rushed us to the next stop. Plus, he made sure we were comfortable at all times.
I had arranged the tour directly with the owner of the company, Walid, and he called on our drive back to Cairo to make sure everything went smoothly. A+ for customer service.
The only thing I would have done differently would have been to ask for more details about the camp. I mistakenly assumed we would be at a campsite, and probably would have planned a little better had I known we wouldn’t be glamping.
Other things to note:
- There won’t be any phone signal once you start heading into the desert. Plan accordingly.
- Bring warm clothing. Even though it’s warm during the day, it’s surprisingly cold at night.
- If you can, plan your trip for spring or fall to avoid cold winds and chilly nights.
- If you’re female and squatting isn’t your thing, invest in a SheWee. Also, don’t forget toilet paper and hand sanitizer.
- Bring snacks if you tend to get hungry during the day! You can also buy snacks at the rest stop but they’re mostly junk food.
Book your spot here! Prices start at $150 per person.
Egypt Tailor Made
Abou Al Hol Street
Tell me: What’s the most breathtaking landscape you’ve ever seen? Share in the comments below!
Like this post? Pin it and save it for later!