One kilometre beyond Tunis, a well-signposted spur-road turns off the lakeside highway towards Wadi Rayan, a separate depression 15km outside the oasis which has become a man-made wildlife haven. The idea of piping excess water from the Fayoum into the wadi was first mooted by the British but only put into practice in 1966, when three lakes and a waterfall were created, vegetation flourished and the area became a major nesting ground for birds.

Wadi Rayan is now a nature reserve harbouring the world’s sole known population of slender-horned gazelles, eight other species of mammals, thirteen species of resident birds and 26 migrant and vagrant species. The prehistoric fossils of the Valley of the Whales also come under its auspices, supported by several foreign NGOs.

Lakes and waterfalls

Initially cultivated, the valley gets sandier the closer you get to Wadi Rayan’s azure lakes, where hordes of visitors descend on Fridays and holidays to sunbathe and play ghettoblasters on the beach. The lake is too saline for swimming, but boating (and floating in rubber tyres) is popular, and its tatty lakeside cafés are always busy.

From the main lake a track leads to the waterfalls (shallalat). The only ones in Egypt, they’ve appeared in countless videos and films despite being only a few metres high, and are usually busy with families enjoying the novelty of an outdoors power-shower, surrounded by reeds and sand dunes.

Birdwatching, dunes and springs

About 10km beyond the visitors’ centre, the road passes a hill known as Al-Mudawara which you can hike up for a spectacular view of the reed-fringed lake and desert scarp beyond. Soon afterwards is the turn-off for the Valley of the Whales, followed by a signposted turning to a birdwatching site by the shore. Besides the ubiquitous cattle egrets, grey herons and little bitterns, there are hard-to-spot wagtails, skylarks, kestrels, kites and Senegal coucals.

Further on, magnificent seif dunes 30m high run parallel to an inlet fringed by tamarisks, with three sulphur springs nearby, before the road crosses a boring stretch of desert to return to the oasis. All of this route can be done in a 2WD car, unlike the route to the Valley of the Whales, separated from Wadi Rayan by the Garet Gohanimeen (Mountain of Hell), so-called because the light of the setting sun appears to transform it into an inferno.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Egypt features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Middle East and North Africa: 10 spectacular sights off the beaten track

Middle East and North Africa: 10 spectacular sights off the beaten track

The Middle East and North Africa have plenty of world-famous attractions – Petra and the Pyramids, the Valley of the Kings and the souks of Marrakesh, the mi…

27 Mar 2018 • Gavin Thomas
24 breaks for bookworms

24 breaks for bookworms

1. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas In 1971, fuelled by a cornucopia of drugs, Hunter S. Thompson set off for Las Vegas on his “savage journey to the heart of …

02 Mar 2017 • Eleanor Aldridge camera_alt Gallery
7 amazing African journeys

7 amazing African journeys

Africa is a continent of wild open savannahs, terracotta sunsets, thousands of vibrant green hills and rugged coastlines. Here, you can be chugging along on …

06 Jul 2016 • Harriet Constable insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Privacy Preference Center

Necessary

Mandatory - can not be deselected. Necessary cookies help make a website usable by enabling basic functions like page navigation and access to secure areas of the website. The website cannot function properly without these cookies.

PHPSESSID,aelia_cs_selected_currency,cookie_notice_accepted,RS,bp-message,bp-message-type,id,UIDR,w3tc_logged_out,__cfduid
__cfduid

Statistics

Statistic cookies help website owners to understand how visitors interact with websites by collecting and reporting information anonymously.

__utma,__utmb,__utmc,__utmz,_ga,_gid,__atssc,__atuvc,__atuvs,di,dt,ssc,ssh,sshs,uid,uit,xt
__utma,__utmb,__utmc,__utmz,_ga,_gid
__atssc,__atuvc,__atuvs,di,dt,ssc,ssh,sshs,uid,uit,xtc

Marketing

Marketing cookies are used to track visitors across websites. The intention is to display ads that are relevant and engaging for the individual user and thereby more valuable for publishers and third party advertisers.

__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID,__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll,c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs
__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID
__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll
c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs