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Sunday, 19 July 2009

Trip to Wadi Rayan

Trip to Wadi Rayan - 18th July 2009

Yesterday, a friend, her son and I made a trip out to Wadi Rayan, in the Fayoum area, about 1.5 hours drive out from Cairo (Giza side).

Wadi Rayan is one of Egypt’s ‘protectorates’. These are approximately the same as Britain’s National Parks – designed to preserve or encourage natural habitats. Further out along the same route is Wadi Hitan where the prehistoric whalebones are located. You need to organize a four-wheel drive though for that apparently, so we didn’t pursue it this time though it is somewhere I am keen to visit.

There’s a downloadable PDF file with more information available in the links at the bottom.

My friend collected me at my home around 930am and we went down to the Fayoum Road (if you are coming from Cairo, then the head of the Fayoum Road is near the pyramids, at Al Ramaya Square (Midan Ramaya). The Meridian Hotel is on the opposite side, and it is the road to the left of the Alex Desert Road. (By the way, there are microbuses from Fayoum at all hours of the day and night from Al Ramaya if you wanted an adventure!)

At some point en route, there is a Toll – its 3LE for cars, and you also have to pay the Toll coming back out again.

We just drove straight until we started seeing signs for Wadi Al Rayan and followed those. In several areas the signs are just in Arabic so learn the shapes! Here I made a picture showing the Arabic, then – reading from right to left – how the letters are said in English (approximately), then at the bottom how you read it in English.

It’s really very surprising to come across these beautiful lakes out in the desert area. Lake Quaran is left over from when the whole of Egypt was under the Tethys Sea millions of years ago. The other remaining remnants of this sea are The Black Sea and The Caspian Sea. It used to be thought that the Mediterranean was also a remnant, but it is actually a much younger sea.

We drove round Lake Qaran. We enjoyed the drive out, it’s farming country so the landscape is quite green and attractive – though some of the ‘smells of the countryside’ are a bit strong! Around an hour and a quarter after leaving, we got to the entrance to the Protectorate.

Foreigners are sometimes required to have a police escort – I’m not entirely clear where this would have happened as we didn’t need to have one.

Entrance for foreigners (resident or non-resident) is $US3 (about 17LE). For Egyptians, it’s just 2LE.

The main visitor’s centre (with the waterfalls etc) is about 15km from the protectorate entrance. It’s a desert track so keep your eyes open for the signs painted on boulders (but they are in English!) indicating the way to go. If I remember rightly it was approx. 14km straight ahead, and then turn left for 1km. You will see all the vehicles and cafes on the edge of the lake.

We parked up and went over to the ‘conveniences’. The ladies’ was full of laughing and chattering Egyptian women changing in to their bathing gear - burquinis for the adults

The ladies’ consists of two ‘squatty bogs’ and two sinks. The whole place is swimming in water on the floor and don’t imagine you will be able to wash your hands! I recommend you take hand-sanitizer with you!

We found the waterfalls and were amazed. Ok, we’re not talking Niagara here, but the fact that they exist is amazing. I didn’t realise until just now that the waterfalls were only created in 1966 using excess water from Lake Quaran to create the Upper and Lower lakes. The waterfalls are from the Upper to the Lower Lake.

Slide show (can take time to load on slow connection).

Yesterday was Saturday, and we were the only foreigners there. It was heaving with people splashing in the water, jumping off the waterfalls, generally messing around! Other people I know have been during the working week when it’s much quieter.

I made a short video with my camera phone (nearer the top of the page). You can see guys jumping off the top of the water at around 1:09 on. There’s a group of women in the pool beneath the waterfall and every now and then they started ululating (traditional “singing” sound usually done at weddings).

You won’t see me jumping around in there because I have had sciatica for 3 days so didn’t want to risk skidding over (that’s my story and I’m sticking to it ;)

My friend and her son went down to the Lower Lake as he was keen to swim, but they said the water’s edge was actually full of rubbish and other unpleasant debris, so they didn’t risk it.

It’s a shame about the rubbish because it is such a beautiful area. We did see some vans parked around the place (further back along the road) indicating some kind of clean up going on, I don’t recall the name though.

There are a few cafes, but I didn’t see any offering food – though we didn’t look hard because we had brought fuul sandwiches with us. We just had colas.

There is a stall selling nice baskets (25-35LE the smaller ones), glazed ceramic pots (not sure of the price as we didn’t ask about those) and so on, and also cheap Chinese plasticons.
The Visitor’s Centre was not open when we got there, so we didn’t get to see inside it.
On the way back, my friend bought freshly-caught fish from the roadside vendors.

There seemed to be quite a few resort areas along the edge of Lake Quaran.

Apart from Wadi Rayan, there is Wadi Hitan (the whale valley where the prehistoric whalebones can be seen), Madinet Madi where Greek and Roman remains may be found and the area is rich in geological and biological interest.

We drove past a hotel called Helnan Auberge – we didn’t go in, but I have looked it up on the internet and it seems really nice – if you wanted to stop somewhere very different in Egypt!

A nice day out if you want a change from Cairo!

Links: (Links checked and replaced where necessary Feb 2012)

TourEgypt article about Greek and Roman ruins

Further info about Lake Qarun

photos of the area from 1999

PDF 5.3MB DOWNLOAD Official guide to Wadi Rayan and Fayoum Area

(The original link to this guide is defunct so I found a copy on my computer and have uploaded it here. If anyone in officialdom would like to contact me if this is not ok, please let me know.)

Helnan Auberge Hotel at Lake Qarun, Fayoum

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