Qattara Depression - Egypt

 
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Expedition Qattara Depression

An expedition, deep into the remote area of the Great Sand Sea and via the marvelous oasis Siwa, into Africa's largest depression; the Qattara Depression.

Egypt's Great Sand Sea and Qattara Depression is a journey to another world, one of beauty and adventure. The immense Western Desert, which lies west of the Nile, is one of the most fascinating expanses in the Sahara and one of the most isolated. The Qattara Depression lies below sea level and is covered with salt pans, salt marshes and sand dunes and the Great Sand Sea is one of the largest expanses of sand in the world. Nothing lives here but wind, and nothing moves here but sand.

This is a journey of contrasts. It will show you the variety of the deserts in the western part of Egypt. Across escarpments and along the enormous sand dunes of the Great Sand Sea weaving to find our way through the sand to the oasis Siwa. On our way we'll passes wrecks of cars and trucks left behind by the Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) who operated in North Africa during World War II.  We'll pass 'the pillar rock' (Sakhret el-Amud), sand dunes and Bir Russia (a spring) before we arrive in Siwa Oasis, about 60 km east of the Libyan border. Discover here the old city Shali, the temple of the Oracle or enjoy the street live. The Berbers have their own culture and are very friendly.

We leave Siwa and drive into the Qattara Depression. The Qattara Depression contains the second lowest point in Africa at 133 meters (436 ft.) below sea level. Via the uninhabited oasis al-Areg and via Tabagbag we visit the only permanent settlement of the Qattara Depression, the Qara oasis. It is inhabited by 300 people. We follow the escarpment to Ain al-Qattar (a spring that lay about 60 meters (200 ft.) below sea level). Via Bir Abu Gharadiq we drive to the eastern corner of the Qattara Depression, to the uninhabited oasis of el-Maghra. This oasis is located in a desolate, but magnificent stretch of desert. Via al-Alamein we finally arrive in Cairo.

 

 

 

Trip Highlights

the small depression Ain Della

the endless sand dunes of the Great Sand Sea

Al-Maktura and a 1940 4WD Ford truck of the LRDG

Sakhret al-Amud (pillar rock) and Bir Russia inside the Great Sand Sea

the ancient treasures and magnificent salt lakes of Siwa Oasis

to the remote area of the Qattara Depression

Tabaghbag and the beautiful scenery of al-Areg Oasis

the only permanent settlement of the Qattara Depression; Qara Oasis with the abandoned settlement Qaret Umm al-Sughayyar

the uninhabited oasis el-Maghra in the Qattara Depression

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Route Qattara Depression

 

day 1   Arrival Cairo

day 2   Cairo - Ain Della

day 3   Ain Della - Great Sand Sea - el-Maktura - Sakhret al-Amud - Great Sand Sea

day 4   Great Sand Sea - Bir Russia

day 5   Bir Russia - Bir Wahed - Siwa Oasis

day 6   Siwa Oasis

day 7   Siwa Oasis - al-Areg Oasis

day 8   al-Areg oasis - Tabaghbag - Qara Oasis

day 9   Qara Oasis - Hisj al-Qattar

day 10  el-Qattar - Bir Abu Ghardiq - el-Moghra Oasis

day 11  el-Moghra Oasis - al-Alamein - Cairo

day 12  Departure Cairo

 

 

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   Travel dates / Price

  Duration

12 days / 11 nights

  Minimum Group size

6 persons

 

  Travel dates

 

 

 

 

Price

The price is 'tour only' and do not include international airfares.

 

Included:

  • all airport transfers and transport

  • Toyota Landcruiser 4x4 on expedition (3 persons per jeep)

  • GPS navigation and satellite phone

  • converter 24V-220V (can be used for charging guest's batteries or loading phone, etc.)

  • all necessary off the road permits National Authorities

  • overnights at hotel in Cairo and Siwa, is based on double occupancy (single supplement is available)

  • overnights camp

  • during camp tent, sleeping mattresses, sleeping bags and blankets

  • full board during the expedition (3 meals a day)

  • mineral water, tea and coffee

  • meals specified in program

  • sightseeing mentioned in program

Not Included:

  • international flights, visa ( 25) and insurances

  • meals unless specified, alcoholic drinks

  • entrance fees unless specified, optional sightseeing or activities during free time and personal expenses

  • tips for guide and drivers

Note: A prepayment for the permits has to be paid directly after reconfirmation. Final payment becomes due one week before the starting date of the expedition.

 

Price:

on request

 

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Itinerary Expedition Qattara Depression

 

It is a true expedition into the remotest reaches of the Egyptian desert. Please note that the itinerary below offers our planned program of the expedition. However, adverse weather and other local considerations can necessitate some change of the program during the course of the expedition. Flexibility is required in planning as the National Authorities may change regulations of access to restricted areas. One of these cases, can be the cause that we may have to change our program.

 

 

Day 1: Arrival Cairo

After your arrival at the Cairo International Airport you'll be transferred to your hotel.

 

Day 2: Cairo - Ain Della

In the morning we drive towards Bahariya Oasis. Bahariya is the closest oasis to Cairo but is the most distant oasis in time. Here the Bedouins live traditional. Bawiti is the main town of the oasis. In the Greco-Roman times Bahariya was very important. Many tombs and temples remains from this period. But also of the times of the pharaoh's colorful tombs as Qasr Selim remains. The landscape of Bahariya is dominated by dozens and dozens of small black-topped mountains. The ground is overlaid by colorful limestone and basalt from the Eocene period.

After lunch we load our 4x4 land cruisers and start our adventure. On our expedition towards the remotest parts of the Western Desert we'll first encounter Ain Della.  Ain Della is a spring located in a small depression, situated 100 km northwest of the Farafra Oasis. At this tiny green spot east of central Sand Sea, there grow a few palm trees that have guided travelers out of the surrounding deserts for ages. The word della means 'the guiding one'.

Meals included: 1 breakfast, 1 lunch, 1 dinner

 

Day 3: Ain Della - el-Maktura - Sakhret al-Amud (pillar rock) - Great Sand Sea

After breakfast we will head deep into the remote landscape of the Great Sand Sea, and weaving to find our way through the sand of the Great Sand Sea to el-Maktura and the old Ford-truck of the LRDG. During the Second World War the Gilf Kebir and the Great Sand Sea was the site for various British operations. Army petrol cans and other remains and wrecks can still be seen in this area. An abandoned LRDG vehicle lies between two crested dunes about 70 kilometers southwest of Ain Della, the nearest source of water to the central Sand Sea and the jump-off point of the LRDG. The Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) was a British Army unit during World War II. The truck we will be seeing is a bogged-in 1940 4WD Ford Truck.

Then we drive to the north towards Sakhret el-Amud, also known as Pillar Rock, about 260 km south of Siwa Oasis.

Meals included: 1 breakfast, 1 lunch, 1 dinner

 

Day 4: Great Sand Sea - Bir Russia

The Great Sand Sea covers 72,000 kilometers and is larger than some countries. There are some dunes in the sea that are not only 100 meters high, but also 100 kilometers long. The first European to enter the Great Sand Sea, and the man who named it, was the German explorer Gerhard Rohlfs (1831-1896). In 1874, Rohlfs surveyed the Libyan Desert for the Khedive Isma'il. This immense area, which is 650 kilometers long and 300 kilometers wide, was formed during the Quaternary period. It contains dunes up to 100 meters in height arranged in parallel ridges in a northwest-southeast alignment. These dunes can be as much as 150 km long and are separated from one another by large flat areas one or more kilometers wide, known as interdunal corridors.

Bir Russia is located 150 km from Siwa oasis and can only be accessed by driving through the high sand dunes of the Great Sand Sea.

Meals included: 1 breakfast, 1 lunch, 1 dinner

 

Day 5: Bir Russia - Bir Wahed - Siwa Oasis

We continue our expedition via Bir Wahed towards Siwa.

Bir Wahed is a spring in the middle of the sand dunes. The warm water coming out of the ground has formed a natural Jacuzzi.

Siwa is one of the most fascinating oases situated on the edge of the Great Sand Sea. Siwa is different; it is not Egyptian, but North African. Most Siwans are Berbers. The Siwan language, traditions, rites, dress and tools are mostly alien to the other oases in the Western Desert.

We check in at a hotel.

Meals included: 1 breakfast, 1 lunch

 

Day 6: Siwa Oasis

Today you have a full day free to explore this fascinating oasis by yourself. You can walk around Siwa, to visit the local market and to see the old village. In and around Siwa there are many things to see. Everyone can explore this beautiful village by themselves or we can visit the highlights together in the morning.

Shali was constructed during the 11th and 12th centuries CE. A group of survivors of a violent Bedouin attack decided to build a fortress on one of the hills in the oasis. The fortress was called Shali, a Berber word meaning 'the City'. It was intended to fortify the Siwa oasis against invasion by Egyptians or by Libyans. The houses of Shali were built of kershif, a dried-mud mixture that could not withstand rain well. In 1926, Shali was destroyed by heavy rains that beat down on the city for three consecutive days. A few abandoned and unsafe ruins remain.

The temple of the Oracle has commanding position on the peak of Aghurmi mountain and is hidden within the town as if its divine nature needed to be concealed, its secrets protected. The temple was built of stone in the Egyptian style by the Pharaohs Apries and Ahmose II during the 26th dynasty (624-525 BC). Greek influence can be seen in the Ptolemaic columns added later. Alexander the Great loved this sacred place that dominates the oasis and provides a stunning view of crystalline lakes. The famous Cleopatra's Bath, also known as 'Spring of the Sun', is known for its temperature changes in the course of a day. The water temperature climbs continuously until the middle of the night, when the water boils furiously. After midnight it cools down again until dawn. At the foot of the mountain Aghurmi is the temple of Amun, also known as the Temple of Umm Ubaydah. It is dated to the 30th dynasty and is built by Pharaoh Nectanebo II. Sadly, just a single remaining wall bears witness to the temple's past splendour. Both the temple of the Oracle and the temple of Umm Ubaydah were dedicated to the worship of Amun. Many tombs of Gebel al-Mawta, 'the Mountain of Dead', are dated from the 26th dynasty and from the Greco-Roman period. Some of the tombs have nice decorations. The tomb of Si-Amun has wonderful murals.

Meals included: 1 breakfast

 

Day 7: Siwa Oasis - al-Areg Oasis

In the morning we take the road from Siwa to Qattara Depression. When we leave Siwa, the route leads via birket Zaytun, a saltwater lake, over dune fields into the uninhabited al-Areg oasis. Al-Areg is by far the most spectacular oasis in this area of the southern part of Qattara Depression. Al-Areg, 'the Cripple', has a formidable escarpment which must be descended to reach the soft depression floor. From the white chalk cliffs of the escarpment you have a wonderful view. Inside the oasis are a lake and some tombs.

Meals included: 1 breakfast, 1 lunch, 1 dinner

 

Day 8: al-Areg Oasis - Tabagbag - Qara Oasis

At the western end of Qattara Depression is the hidden Qara Oasis. Via Tabagbag we drive through the Qattara Depression towards the abandoned settlement Qaret Umm al-Sughayar (means 'Mother of the Little One') in the remote Qara Oasis. Umm al-Sughayar is a picturesque mud brick village on a hill. In the past it could only support a limited number of people. Because of the remoteness of the area, the lack of water, the poor soil, and the limited space in the village, life was and is harsh at Qara. Heavy rainfalls destroyed the mud brick walls of the old settlement and forced the inhabitants to build their new houses under the hill. About 170 people live in Qara.

Meals included: 1 breakfast, 1 lunch, 1 dinner

 

Day 9: Qara Oasis - Ain al-Qattar

The Qattara Depression contains the second lowest point in Africa at 133 meters (436 ft.) below sea level. The lowest point in Africa is in Djibouti (Lake Assal). The northern side of the Qattara Depression is bounded by steep escarpments. Salt marshes, clay and salt pans are situated under the escarpment, about a quarter of hard crust, scrub and sticky mud that flood occasionally. Via the escarpment we drive to Hisj al-Qattara, a spring where the water is dripping slowly. The spring lay about 60 meters (200 ft.) below sea level. There are six semi-permanent salt lakes in the depression. In the northeastern area of the depression el-Maghra, three along the most southerly margin; Sitra, Bahrein and Nuweimisa. And along the southern edge; el-Areg, Ain Tabaghbag and al-Watya.

Meals included: 1 breakfast, 1 lunch, 1 dinner

 

Day 10: Ain al-Qattar - el-Maghra Oasis

Continue via Bir Abu Gharadiq towards the uninhabited oasis of el-Maghra (Moghra). It lies 34 meters (108 ft.) below sea level. El-Maghra, the one oasis in the depression, is located in the desolate eastern corner of the Qattara Depression. There is a salt lake and it has five water wells.

Meals included: 1 breakfast, 1 lunch, 1 dinner

 

Day 11: al-Maghra Oasis - Al-Alamein - Cairo

Today we drive to Cairo to our hotel. We expect to reach Cairo in the afternoon. You can spend the rest of the day free in Cairo, but on our final night we have the option to head out together for a farewell dinner.

Meals included: 1 breakfast, 1 lunch

 

Day 12: Departure Cairo

Transfer to Cairo International Airport for departure.

Meals included: 1 breakfast

 

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