Bahariya Oasis is the most accessible of the desert circuit oasis, at 365km from Cairo. Surrounded by ridges, the oasis’ bottom is filled with lush date palm plantations and hundreds of cool springs.
The conical hills that dot the valley floor may have originally been islands in an ancient lake. During the Pharaonic period, the oasis produced wine that was marketed across the Nile Valley and as far as Rome.
Its advantageous position on the Libyan–Nile Valley trade routes guaranteed its longevity. The Golden Mummies and easy access to the White and Black Deserts have put Bahariya Oasis on the tourist map in recent years.
The sandy alleys of the region’s contemporary administrative center seem unimpressive at first. Take a stroll through its rich palm groves, relax in one of its numerous hot springs, or explore its tranquil back lanes, where donkeys still outnumber combustion vehicles.
Until recently, Bawiti was a sleepy agricultural village, but it is now bustling with visitors visiting the desert and the Golden Mummies. Upon arrival, expect to be hounded by pushy touts before you even get off the bus.
The area’s antiquities (including Alexander’s Tomb and Ain al Muftella’s Temple) have lately been accessible to the public. A few miles outside of town are mud-brick cottages and palm plantations, many with night-time springs. The Black Desert, Gebel Dist, and Gebel Maghrafa may be viewed on a day excursion or overnight safari. There are many places to stay at Bahariya Oasis.
1- Alexander’s Temple
The only spot in Egypt where Alexander the Great’s picture and cartouche may be seen is southwest of Bawiti, just outside Ahmed’s Safari Camp. Alexander was known to have visited Siwa, but not Bahariya, therefore his similarity here seems confusing. The corrosive desert winds and some careless repair have left this site barren, with little traces of its former glory.
2- Ain al-Muftella
The Temple of Ain al-Muftella is made up of four 26th-dynasty chapels located somewhat south of the spring. The 26th dynasty high priest Zed-Khonsu-ef-ankh ordered the majority of the structure (but is still closed to the public).
Archaeologists believe the chapels were established in the New Kingdom, then enlarged in the Late Period and afterwards added to by the Greeks and Romans.
All have been substantially refurbished and have wooden roofs for protection.
3- Al-Hilwa Qarat
Near Bawiti, on the way to Farafra. In the New Kingdom, this was a necropolis, the last resting place of successive rulers, the oasis’ most powerful individuals. The 18thdynasty Tomb of Amenhotep Huy is the only engraved tomb surviving, though it is empty currently. The fading reliefs here formerly depicted Amenhotep’s afterlife fantasies: feast tables laden with fruit, cakes, flowers, and wine barrels.
Other attractions in Bahariya are featured in tours by the various safari companies in Bawiti. Most can be done on foot in cool weather. Gebel Mandisha is a 4km long ridge of black dolomite and basalt that extends east of Bawiti.
The flat-topped Gebel al-Ingleez, commonly known as the Black Mountain, was named after a WWI observation station. Captain Williams, a British commander, kept an eye on the Libyan Senussi tribesmen.
A pyramid-shaped peak visible from much of the oasis, Gebel Dist. Dinosaur bones were discovered here in the early 1900s, disproving the widely accepted idea that dinosaurs exclusively existed in North America.
Paralititan stromeri, a large dinosaur, was discovered in 2001 by University of Pennsylvania researchers.
The finding of this gigantic herbivore, which perished 94 million years ago on the side of a tidal channel, suggests that Bahariya was originally a swamp like the Florida Everglades. Gebel Maghrafa is 100m distant (Mountain of the Ladle).
Visit the picturesque hamlet of El-Agouz to get a peek of what Bawiti was like before cement took over.
Families expelled from Siwa for their women’s promiscuity purportedly created the settlement, 3.5km east of Bawiti.
It has mud brick structures amid the waving palms and residents who grin like it’s going out of style.
It then circles back to Mandisha through El-Agouz, which is off the Bahariya–Cairo route. For directions, take any microbus travelling east from Bawiti and inquire for El-Agouz.
Ain Gomma, 45km south of Bawiti, is one of the most beautiful springs we’ve seen. This little spring is surrounded by the huge desert on all sides, and the views are breathtaking.
A shaded, comfortable café sells tea and soft beverages. It’s tough to get there without a vehicle, although many safaris to the White Desert stop here on way. Stay close at Under the Moon Camp.
Museums (Al-Mathaf) Since the discovery of the Golden Mummies in the 1990s, interest in Bahariya’s ancient history has grown. Yes, the museum is in a wartime bunker, but don’t let that put you off.
The mummies repose here. While the patterns are formulaic and the execution is inferior, the painted faces demonstrate a trend away from stylised Pharaonic mummy adornment towards Fayoum realism.
Under the elegant wrappings, the embalmers’ work appeared sloppy: several corpses perished before embalming, indicating that these mummies indicate the end of mummification.
Regardless, they serve as a poignant reminder of Bahariya’s age.
This little mound among the Bawiti dwellings was probably created by centuries of trash. Two well-preserved 26th-dynasty tombs were looted and utilised as group burial grounds by the Romans.
Rock-cut This is an interesting look at Bahariya in its prime. Although Zed-Amun-ef-ankh was not a government official, his elaborate tomb paintings suggest his riches and rank.
Trader, presumably a wine merchant or landowner, profiting from Bahariya’s booming wine-export industry.
His tomb has just one chamber, four round (rather than square) pillars, and seven squat fake doors. His son Bannentiu’s tomb is nearby.
It has a four-columned burial chamber with an inner sanctuary and exquisite reliefs representing Bannentiu with the gods.
The most intriguing images surround the tomb’s entrance. On one side, the moon is portrayed as a source of life, accompanied by the goddesses Isis and Nephthys. The opposite side of the entryway depicts the sun’s journey.
The Oasis Heritage Museum, 2km east of town on the way to Cairo, is advertised by giant ceramic camels staring wistfully into the street.
Men hunting or playing siga (a game performed in the mud with clay balls or seeds), women weaving, and a painful-looking barber/ doctor meeting are among the situations depicted in clay.
Old oasis gowns and jewellery are also on show. Look for the ‘Camel Camp’ sign, which advertises the simple and pricey lodgings.
These are the nearest springs to centre Bawiti, opposite El-Beshmo Lodge. The vista over the oasis gardens and desert beyond is spectacular, but the spring is not swimmable.
To bath in the hot sulphurous spring of Bir al- Ramla, 3km north of town, you may feel exposed to the donkey traffic passing by. Women must be well-covered.
Bir al-Mattar, 7km northeast of Bawiti, has cold springs that flow into a concrete pool where you may cool yourself in the heat. The water is highly mineralized and may discolour garments.
Visit one of the best springs at Bir al-Ghaba, 15km northeast of Bawiti. It’s a long way out here, but nothing beats a moonlight hot bath on the edge of the desert.
Ain Segam spring located near Mandisha hamlet on the Bahariya–Cairo route. Take a plunge or bring a picnic and relax in the shade of the swinging palm fronds behind a massive pump house on the edge of a thick palm grove.