Farafra (Farāfra, واحة الفرافرة) is an oasis in the Western Desert of Egypt about 200 km north-south and 90 km east-west including various satellite oases such as Abu Minqar.
Towns and villages
- 1 Farafra Town (Qasr el-Farafra, مدينة الفرافرة) – Largest town of the same name with the fortress and accommodation.
- 2 Abu Minqar – The southernmost village of the oasis. It is 50 km south of Farafra town, but 70 km by the highway, winding over a barren ridge; there’s no accommodation but buses and taxis often take a rest-stop here. The “limestone mountain” is a striking formation seen from the edge of the village.
- 3 Ain Gallaw – A village 6 km south of Farafra town with an underground water channel and ancient rock tombs.
Farafra has few antiquities and the main reason to visit is White Desert National Park. It is also a staging post towards Dakhla Oasis, as it has been since ancient times.
Farafra has a hot desert climate, 40°C and beyond in summer and 10°C in winter, and zero rainfall. All the oasis supply is “fossil water” from the bedrock aquifer, a non-renewable resource.
- 1 Main bus stop (on main drag at the crossroads with the road east to El Wahat).
From specific destinations:
- Cairo – Upper Egypt Buses run at least daily from Cairo to Bawiti, the main village of Bahariya Oasis, taking 5 hr. From there, some of them fork west to Siwa Oasis, while others continue south to Farafra, another 3 hr. The bus fare is around LE100.
A taxi between Farafra and Mut might be LE500. The old caravan route was 200 km, a four day haul—see Dakhla Oasis for why the modern highway swings away west to take 300 km.
The main fertile areas of the oasis are in the shape of a bird perching on the cable of the main highway, one wing curling north and the other west, with Farafra town at its feet. There is another fertile patch 30 km south, then the highway crosses a desert ridge to Abu Minqar.
The highway is tarmac but you need a 4WD vehicle to explore the White Desert, and a very robust off-road vehicle for expeditions further out. Beware that although the map shows a road east from Farafra via el Gara to the Nile valley, you can only drive as far as El Wahat—east of there is a rugged caravan trail.
- 1 el-Qasr. The fortress is crumbling on a ridge at the south edge of town, dates from medieval times. Probably there were Roman or even earlier fortifications here but nothing has been found of these. It seems to have been a secure warehouse not a military building. Within is a roughly square compound with thick walls and a single gate, alleys, various store rooms, and a cistern 15 m deep.
- 2 Museum of Badr Abd el-Moghni Ali, ☏ , (mobile). Badr Abd el-Moghni Ali is a local artist, born 1958, and this adobe building displays his sculpture and other works. LE80.
- 3 White Desert National Park. Accessed from the highway 30 km north of Farafra town, it is a remarkable area of limestone and chalk wind-sculpted into strange shapes: mushrooms, rabbits, camels, use your imagination. Here and there, springs feed vegetation and draw wildlife to drink. Six tracks wander through it: you’ll need 4WD, and please stay on the track to avoid wrecking the landscape. You can hike, but the sun is hot and distances are long. The main features are along Track 1 (purple signposts) which starts from the main entrance and makes a 65 km loop east of the highway. Within 2 km this passes the rock formations of el-Qayem (“the tents”) and el-Ghurab (“the mushrooms”). After another 7 km is a limestone cliff also called The Mushroom. The track then heads north for 30 km past a series of springs with rest areas. It then goes west for 20 km past the twin peaks of el-Musurriya before emerging back onto the highway. The other tracks are shorter and share part of their routes with Track 1, except for Track 3 (also purple) which is west of the highway. It passes el-Babein (“the two gates”), Wadi Bidensi and el-Qabur (“the chisel”) before looping back to the highway.
- 4 Crystal Mountain. Just east of the Bahariyya-Farafra highway, it is a natural arch lined with crystals of calcite, which is soft and can be easily scratched—so please don’t.
- 5 Wadi al Ubaiyid. It cuts across the plateau 50 km northwest of Farafra town. There are several important archaeological sites here, with evidence of settled Stone Age farming from before 5000 BC. You may only enter this area by official permission, with an escort and a robust off-road vehicle. Main sights are Hidden Valley, Al Ubaiyid Cave which has rock-carvings (avoid midday when the sun shines into the cave and it is difficult to see the carvings), and the rock formations of Infidel Rock and Sphinx Valley.
- 6 Ain Bisai. 5 km west of the highway and 10 from Farafra town is an archaeological site with Roman fortifications and graves.
- 7 Sheikh Marzuq. On the highway 30 km south of Farafra town is a tiny collection of buildings, one of the few “old” villages in this oasis.
- 1 Ain el-Bilad (El Balad) (south of the fortress at Aqua Sun Hotel). A hot spring and bath, and formerly the main supply to the town but it dwindled mid 20th century. The supply is now from Biʿr Sitta (Well 6) and others; their water comes out at 40°C and is sulphurous. Recheck the location, the GPS marker seems to be more like southeast instead of south of the fortress.
- 2 Gilf Kebir National Park (along highway southeast towards Mut in Dakhla Oasis). The area southwest is a vast desert terrain, occupying the corner of Egypt between Libya and Sudan. Going there is a full-on expedition, taking 2-3 weeks, and only by military permission. For more details see Dakhla Oasis, the usual entry point.
- 3 el-Gara Caves. You will also need an expedition to reach these caves with stalactites way out in the desert east of Farafra towards Asyut. Do not drive on the terrain immediately overlying the caves, or they woll collapse.
Eat & Drink
The hotels are your best bet.
- 1 El-Waha Hotel, Farafra, ☏ , (mobile), ✉ email@example.com. Basic hotel near museum. budget.
- 2 Aqua Sun Hotel, Farafra, ☏ . Near Well 6, has 21 rooms with a/c, restaurant, and pool fed from the hot spring. mid-range.
- 3 Badawiya Hotel, Farafra, Gamal Abdel Nasser St, ☏ , (fax), ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Adobe building with 22 two-level chalets and restaurant. mid-range.
- 4 Rahala Safari Hotel, ☏ , (fax), ✉ email@example.com. 13 double rooms with a/c, ten en suite and 3 with shared bathroom. mid-range.
- 5 Sunrise Hotel, Farafra, ☏ , , (mobile), (fax), ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Similar style to Badiwiya hotel. mid-range.
- Dakhla Oasis – Buses previously continued south from Farafra via Abu Minqar to Mut (which has buses to Kharga Oasis). It is not known if these are running in 2020.
- Otherwise, lanes branch off to the various outlying stretches of farmland but with no through routes. There is only one through-highway, so (except by expedition) your choice is south to Dakhla Oasis or north to Bahariyya Oasis.