Between the Gilf Kebir and Siwa Oasis lies the awesome immensity of dune fields that the explorer Gerhard Rohlfs named the Great Sand Sea (Bahr er-Raml in Arabic). Covering 72,000 square kilometres (roughly the size of Ireland), the Sand Sea extends for an average of 650km from north to south and 300km from east to west. Roughly two thirds of this consists of parallel seif dunes, sometimes over 100m high and as much as 150km long, separated by flat “corridors” one or two kilometres wide, whose northwest–southeast alignment is determined by the prevailing wind.

While these seif dunes are ever-moving, satellite imaging has shown that they sit atop stable whalebacked dunes. Elsewhere in the Sand Sea, where seif dunes have descended escarpments, they have reformed as crescent-shaped barchans. Though shifting sands seem the only “life” in the Sand Sea, a little vegetation exists, lying dormant for years until a brief shower of rain revives it.

This spectacularly alien terrain has long fascinated explorers and scientists; now tourists are venturing in to marvel at its wonders. A brief excursion from Siwa Oasis to Bir Wahed will let you experience its colossal dunes without spending a fortune, while the following sites can be visited on deep-desert safaris.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Egypt features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

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
12 captivating pictures of Egypt

12 captivating pictures of Egypt

Rough Guides author and photographer Anthon Jackson has travelled to over eighty countries, from Morocco to Indonesia and Ethiopia to India, capturing many of h…

16 Mar 2015 • Anthon Jackson insert_drive_file Article
Video: things not to miss in Egypt

Video: things not to miss in Egypt

The oldest tourist destination on Earth, Egypt has a multitude of things to see and do. There are ancient pyramids, crumbling temples and vast deserts to explor…

13 Jan 2015 • Site Editor videocam Video
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month