The best (and often the only) way to reach many sites, desert safaris are organized by operators in the various oases, Cairo and Europe. Bahariya Oasis is the safari-hub of the Western Desert and the best place to arrange one at short notice, particularly to the White Desert. Longer safaris (four to nineteen days) to remoter sites such as the Great Sand Sea or the Gilf Kebir must be booked at least a month ahead and are generally restricted to spring and autumn, due to bureaucracy and the climate. Sadly, some safari outfits fail to respect the environment, leaving rubbish behind or even helping foreign collectors to plunder artefacts or minerals. All those we recommend below have good environmental credentials.
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Travel permits and escorts
Several near-fatal incidents in remote areas have prompted tighter controls on travelling in the “deep desert”, which the Egyptian Army takes to mean everywhere west of the highway between Bahariya, Farafra, Dakhla and Kharga – namely between Bahariya and Siwa, to Ain Della, the Great Sand Sea or the Gilf Kebir – but not sites east of the highway, such as the White Desert or El-Qaf.
Permits for 24 hours (£E50/person) can only be used to travel by day between Siwa and Bahariya (without leaving the road), or to Ain Della and the Hidden Valley. Doing either with a safari operator means they’ll handle the paperwork, otherwise you’ll need to submit a photocopy of your passport and visa (plus your licence and insurance if you’re driving) to NGOs in Bahariya or Siwa, which will process them in 24 hours (except on Fri & Sat).
Only registered travel agencies can apply for overnight or multi-day permits for off-road travel between Siwa and Bahariya (£E100/person daily) or to the Gilf Kebir (£E160/person daily). Expect to pay a surcharge if your safari outfit uses a partner agency to apply on its behalf, and allow a month for the application to be processed.
A soldier with a satellite phone accompanies vehicles travelling between Bahariya and Siwa in case of breakdowns. Safaris to the Gilf must have an armed escort from the Tourist Safari Police (established so that responsibility no longer lies with the army). Four guards are required for travel below longitude 27° and eight guards below longitude 23°.