If our trip to Egypt taught us one thing, it’s how much we love the desert. When thinking of Egypt, the desert often comes as an afterthought. Initially, images of the iconic pyramids, ancient hieroglyphics, and the winding River Nile come to mind. However, having been on a desert safari through the Fayoum desert, we can attest it’s one of Egypt’s hidden treasures. Here is a closer look at our journey away from the hustle and bustle of Cairo and into the serene Fayoum desert.
The Peaceful & Serene Desert Landscape
There is something intrinsically peaceful about the landscape of the Fayoum desert. And it is far from the typical sandy planes you’d expect – it is an oasis of life and nature. This is what gives the Fayoum desert the nickname of the “Garden of Egypt.” You’re met with a never-ending stretch of golden sand spread far to the horizon, where it meets the brilliant blue skies. Among the golden yellow are patches of green as tufts of grass rise from the sand. There are also many magical lakes, with the Fayoum Depression taking center stage. The lake connects to the River Nile through an extensive canal network. These waters act as an oasis and sanctuary for migratory birds traveling south.
The landscape is truly breath-taking and serene. While on our desert safari, our problems melted away under the hot Egyptian sun. The impact was profound. It was as if the desert were all there is and all that mattered. Its contrast with the Egyptian cities arguably enhances the tranquillity of the landscape. Despite only being a few hours southwest, it feels like a million miles from the chaotic and noisy Cario.
Archaeological Sites Among the Wildlife
Scattered among the sand are several Ancient Egyptian ruins, adding depth and feeling to the landscape. On the lake’s western side lies the Qasr Qarun Temple dedicated to Sobek, the crocodile god. There are also remains of four groups of Egyptian pyramids towering above the landscape. We were sad to see these were in poor shape on our desert safari, having collapsed during ancient times. Their poor condition is because of the less substantial building techniques used during this era. However, Meidum is worth a visit, being Egypt’s first straight-sided pyramid.
We also came across an old ruin remnant of the trans-Saharan gold trade. Between the seventh and eleventh centuries, trade routes linked the Mediterranean and sub-Saharan economies that traded gold for salt. The demand for gold continued to increase, especially in north Islamic states. This led to Ghana being referred to as the “Land of Gold” before losing its domination in the twelfth century. During the Mali Empire, the trade route expanded across Egypt, passing through Cario and ending in Egypt’s interior. This second trade route grew in popularity and is responsible for the Egyptian influence on Western Sudan.
Egypt’s Fossilized Forest & Geological Diversity
Egypt’s desert landscape has unique geology comprised of several layers of rock. The majority of the surface of modern Egypt is made from limestone, below which lies a sandstone layer. These two layers of stone are what Egyptians utilize when building their infamous ancient temples and pyramids. Alongside the stone, there are also layers of sand, gravel, and mud with a thickness of 70-100 meters. And within these layers are thousands of fossils. These fossils tell a story of an understated ancient forest that traces back to the Oligocene geologic epoch.
This natural heritage area is the Hill of Wood or Gabal Al-Khashab, and it is an archaeological hotspot. Today, environmentalists have successfully put this 30-million-year-old fossilized forest under government protection. While on our desert safari, we came across several stems and tree trunks that are completely fossilized. Alongside the petrified wood, there are also fossils of mammals, plants, flowers, and fruit from essentially all geological periods. It is an undeniable must-see for any traveler.