Situated a mere two hours outside of historical Cairo in Egypt is the Wadi El Rayan National Park, a prehistoric park famed for its presence of ancient whale fossils. The park is a treasure trove of archaeological delights and has earned its place on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list.
There are seven distinct ecological regions within the reserve, sprawling across an impressive 1759 square kilometres of terrain. The upper and lower lakes, deep-set valleys, springs and mountains characterise this diverse landscape. An impressive waterfall connects the lower and upper lakes.
The most alluring landscape attraction is the stark scenes of honey-coloured sands contrasting the unusually blue waters of the lake. Sandboarding, swimming, hiking and jeep safaris are just a few ways of revelling in the natural scenery of the park.
This national park one of the most easily accessible reserves from Cairo, and is located a mere 75 kilometres from El Faiyum city, the closest desert oasis to Cairo. Visitors would need to fly into Cairo and arrange their onward journey to the park, which is merely an hour away.
The national park supports one of the last remaining populations of the rare slender-horned gazelle, Dorcas gazelle and Fennec fox. The rare Rüppell's fox occasionally makes an appearance in the interior of the park. Other rare species to spot include the Egyptian deer, white deer, the sand fox and wolf.
In total, there are nine mammal species and 11 reptile species. Birds are accommodated in this park, but most of them are migrant. Resident birds do occur, but there are only 13 species present in the park. The main birds to spot include falcons, in particular shain, deer and free falcon.
Wadi El Rayan National Park has warm temperatures year-round, but the best time to visit is outside of the crowded tourist season. This tends to be from March to April and October/November. Weather-wise, this time of year is more comfortable.
Summer season is June to August, and this is when the temperatures soar. Overall, the best time to visit is during their winter—which is still hot. Winter is from October to April.
Because of its proximity to the busy capital of Cairo, Wadi El Ryan National Park is a go-to destination for outdoor pursuits and sightseeing. The park is geared towards tourism and offers a delightful array of activities, most of which can be experienced as day tours from Cairo or El Faiyum, home to the largest oasis in the country.
Whale fossils from 40 million years ago were discovered in the valley, which now houses a historical museum. The park was given UNESCO status because of the history of whales. Tours to the valley should not be missed. Jeep safaris are popular and introduce visitors to the lakes and waterfalls of the area, and include thrilling journeys into the heart of the sandy desert. These excursions are a great way of covering vast terrain, providing plenty of scope for spotting local wildlife.
The Mudawara mountain—which is more rock formation than a mountain—has three distinct summits, all popular with hikers. Because of the tall dunes and sandy terrain in certain pockets in the park, sandboarding has become a popular activity. Swimming in the waterfalls connecting the two distinct lakes is also an option for the adventurous.
Cairo is only two hours away from the national park, and many visitors opt to stay in the busy hub of Egypt. Typical city hotels and establishments of international standing can be found in the capital. For a more tranquil stay, El Faiyum is an option.
Most of the hotels in the area envelope and overlook the oasis. Visitors will find abundant resorts and large inns in these cities. Most accommodation options have swimming pools and are designed according to typical Egyptian architecture. There are many beautifully appointed establishments reflecting Egypt’s heritage.