Thanks to its idyllic location along the Western Desert circuit route, Dakhla Oasis lives up to most tourists’ fantasies of oasis living. Traditional villages with historic mud-brick forts defend the settlements and hint to a less peaceful past.
The location has been populated from ancient times, having 150,000 year old petrified bones. Dakhla Oasis was formerly a large lake, with rock art depicting elephants, zebras, and ostriches. As the land dried up, the original occupants of the Nile Valley moved east.
Dakhla Oasis was a rich area producing wine, fruit, and cereals during the Pharaonic period. The Romans and later Christians built over ancient villages, and the surviving mediaeval walled towns bear witness to Bedouin and Arab invasions.
Mut, the deity Amun’s spouse, has been established since Pharaonic times. Despite being a contemporary Egyptian town, it offers the greatest amenities and is the most convenient for tourists. The spacious boulevards and palm trees around add to Mut’s appeal, while the ruins of the ancient town illustrate how it once appeared.
The beautiful Dar al-Wafdeen Government Hotel museum is only available by appointment; enquire at the tourist office or the Cultural Palace, where the manager, Ibrahim Kamel, is located. There are separate spaces for males, women, and tourists at the museum. Clothing, baskets, jewellery, and other household things are on display.
Old Mut Town
The Bedouin raided the residents of ancient Mut throughout most of its life. Most dwellings lack outside windows, keeping out intruders and the desert’s heat and wind. The maze of mud-brick buildings and roads winding up the hill is worth investigating.
There are still a few outlying homes occupied or used for cattle storage, and lots of low-slung, shady hallways to stroll around. The citadel offers spectacular views of the new town and the desert cliffs and dunes that surround it.
Mut Talata is the simplest to access among the town’s hot sulphur springs (Mut Three). Unless you are staying at the little hotel, you must swim in the exposed 1.5m-deep pool outside the hotel gates. Swimming in the pool is pleasant and relaxing, but the water may discolour clothing.
Bir al-Gedid (New Spring), near the Bedouin Camp, is the newest and rustiest artesian well. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect setting for a day excursion than Bir al-Gebel, where booming music and hundreds of schoolchildren quickly overpower any ambience.
This is one of the most picturesque dipping sites in the Oasis, flanked by undulating dunes and high desert cliffs. Come in the evening when it’s quieter and the stars are brighter.
A tranquil natural spring hidden behind a brick pump house is 500m before Bir al-Gebel. The springs are 5km from the turn-off, 20km north of Mut.
Regardless of your travel style, Dakhla Oasis is a must-see on every trip to Egypt.
Camel & Sand Dunes
A few kilometers south of town are some of the desert’s most accessible dunes for those without mobility. Almost every Mut hotel and restaurant provides day tours to the dunes. Sunset camel rides are also available.
Dakhla’s farmed land terminates 45km away from Al-Kharga at unusual rock formations. That trail connected Teneida to the Darb al-Arba’een to the south.
Prehistoric rock engravings include camels, giraffes, and tribal marks. Many desert visitors have left their names cut in the rock, but less conscientious tourists have lately damaged most of these intriguing pictures with their graffiti.
Visit the Islamic town of Balat, 35km east of Mut, for a fascinating glimpse into mediaeval life. Built by the Mamluks and Turks on an Old Kingdom site, this is a living testament to Sudanic-style mud building.
In the ancient town, charming alleyways twist through Gaud-like moulded seats. Palm fronds still provide protection as smooth circular walls merge.
Small doors keep dwellings cool and deceive intruders. One of the three-story mud-brick dwellings’ roofs offers impressive vistas (a small tip is expected).
Exploring Ain al-Asil, or the Spring of the Origin, requires a vehicle. After excavating here in the 1970s, oasis specialist Ahmed Fakry discovered ruins of a massive fortification and maybe a canal.
The site was abandoned during Ptolemaic times and currently is only of interest to archaeologists. Ain al-Asil lies 2km off the main road, 200m east of Balat.
In Qila al-Dabba, Balat’s ancient necropolis, around 1.5km. The 6th dynasty’s five mastabas (mud-brick buildings atop graves that served as the foundation for subsequent pyramids) are over 10m tall. A refurbished one is currently available to the public.
All five were originally covered in excellent limestone, and three were considered to belong to Old Kingdom administrators of the oasis. From October to April, it’s open until 5 p.m., and from May to September, it’s open until 6 p.m.
Pasha Hindi, the ancient Sheikh buried nearby, named this little settlement north of the major Dakhla–Al-Kharga route. The Islamic-era dome covers a Roman construction seen from within the Pasha Hindi Tomb. Locals pray for the saint’s intercession.
The sandstone Kitines Tomb was inhabited by Senussi troops during WWI and thereafter by a rural family. Some grave reliefs from the 2nd century AD portray the famous meeting Min, Seth, and Shu.
The remarkable medieval/Ottoman settlement of Al-Qasr, at the foot of the pink limestone cliffs that characterise the oasis’ northern boundary, is a must-see in Dakhla Oasis.
It’s a remarkable spot, lovingly preserved to show how other oasis communities appeared before the New Valley construction projects took over. Several hundred people still reside in a community that formerly had a thousand.