Don’t use Badawiya. They seriously overcharge and lie to you. We bought 2 tours from Badawiya in Farafra oasis in Nov 2012: an overnight tour to the White Desert and a 2-night-2-day tour to the Great Sand Sea, both starting from Farafra. The tours were very pricy but we thought quality must come with hard currency in cash. (The exchange rate here: Dec 2012: 1 € = 8 EGP, 2013/Feb it’s 9.)
The White Desert tour lasted from 3 pm to 10 am next morning (14 hours) and cost 50 € (400 EGP) per person. There may be a better option in town (Sunrise safari tour company); their White Desert tour lasts 24 hours so you will see more. We were quoted the same price for their tour, if we understood correctly (no one at el-Waha hotel really speaks English). Just make sure that you get the English-speaking guide (not the guy from el-Waha) if you want. You want to stay in the White Desert longer than Badawiya takes you. We were nevertheless so happy with the tour that we decided to take another.
So after we came back from the White Desert, we asked for a 2-night-2-day Great Sand Sea tour with start in Farafra and end in Mut (Dakhla oasis). I negotiated with Amira in their Cairo office on the phone. We were told we can leave in 2 days because it takes a day to get the permission and we agreed, roughly, what is included. We were going to have a Great Sand Sea safari between Farafra and Mut (the distance between them is 300 km and the Great Sand Sea lies between and next to them), 2 nights camping, food and drinks, guide and a night at Badawiya’s Farafra hotel. We paid 300 € for us both for the whole set. It equals an average worker’s salary in six months in Egypt. I return to the general income and price level later.
This 300 € was a lot of money for us too and the biggest expense on our 5-week trip in Egypt. We paid it even though we didn’t get any detailed information about the tour before-hand. The desert and sand dunes were the highlight of our trip and we didn’t think anything could go wrong there. Big money, big adventure. Wrong. Out of all our safari time (48 hours) we got to spend 3 hours in the Great Sand Sea! We asked our guide Jahjah (Yahyah?) several times about the programme and expressed our wish to be at the dunes. He never answered, just smiled mystically. He did repeat “It’s up to you” on several occasions but nothing really was up to us. He was our guide also in the White Desert and we knew he doesn’t talk much. There was another man driving in this tour but he never spoke to us so we don’t even know his name.
Slowly we understood that this “safari” is considered a mere transportation from Farafra to Mut (that costs by public transport 15 EGP). We drove almost all the way on the asphalt road. Besides the 3-hour stay at the sand sea, there were a couple of short stops next to the road. We camped the first night close to the road and the second in Dakhla oasis close to inhabitation. The highlight was the one-hour walk we had on the dunes, in the Great Sand Sea, where one could see only sand and sky. It was exactly what we were looking for. Had we known it’s our only time, we would have insisted on staying there longer. But nothing was told us (where we are, for how long..). The second day I hinted Jahjah: “we are going to spend this entire day at the Great Sand Sea, right?” Again no answer. We hit the asphalt road again and were taken to al-Qasr mudbrick town (already within Dakhla oasis) where a guide waited for us (he wasn’t happy with 20 EGP baksheesh we gave for his 20 minutes but couldn’t say anything in English). During our tour in the mudbrick town, Jahjah had kindly bought me local fragrance bags I wanted. I had given him 50 EGP (for 5 bags) and expected some change. I didn’t get any. I also didn’t ask, as it was a test: I wanted to know. (One bag costs 2-3 EGP.) We asked if we could spend the last sunlight hours on the dunes in a place where we can only see dunes. Jahjah agreed. But we had passed the Great Sand Sea area already around noon (as we drove to al-Qasr) and instead, we were driven to the edge of a local, small dune area that we could walk from one end to another in an hour. There were villages on both sides. We camped there and were dropped off next morning at the servee square in close-by Mut (this went as we wanted).
We were very disappointed with the tour and expressed it to Badawiya. They were not eager to handle our complaint. My first e-mail to the owner Mr. Saad Ali didn’t get us anywhere, nor the second try to their info-address, but Amira accidentally answered to my previous mail and so I got in touch with them about this issue. We didn’t seem to get far though, so we decided to spend our last day in Egypt by going to their office in Cairo (it took a GPS and several hours to find the well-hidden office). They offered us a 10 % discount on the next tour we take from them. We said it’s no good because we’re not coming to Egypt again. We also proved that we know the local prices (so they couldn’t start with any cost issues). Amira then called the owner and asked me to mail them a detailed report of our tour with my bank connection. She would talk with the owner and see how much refund we would get. We did what asked. We would have been happy with a refund of 100-150 €. In Farafra we were actually told, we can get the money back if we’re not satisfied with the tour. After some weeks and reminders we were told there is no refund because the tour went as normal (as one can see on their 5-day safari tour description page, can one?!) and because they had paid 200 € for the permission to go to the area!
This is where they were caught up red-handed. I couldn’t believe it and started investigating the matter. I asked another travel agency for help. I explained them our whereabouts at the desert, sent a picture of the old metal stuff that was on the furthest point in the desert where we stopped, and quoted the place names where Badawiya had told us we had been. The result was (as I thought) that we had been there “100 % sure” without permission. One doesn’t need a permission to go that close to the road (we drove about max 6 km into the desert off the asphalt road). Our permission was not controlled and there were no control posts or any people. Furthermore, if a permission had been needed, it would have taken a month to issue (if you go to Gilf Kebir or elsewhere close to border areas). It also came out that we hadn’t been to the places (Ghroud Karawen sand dunes and Deir el Hagar) Badawiya told us. I heard those places are far from each other and they don’t “make any sense” with the place where we had actually been. Yes, Badawiya is good at making up stories - and charging for them (or other-way round). Well, by claiming that a permission cost 200 € they actually gave away that this was how much air was in the price.
Now let’s look at the relevant, true local prices to find out if this is true. One liter petrol costs 2 EGP per liter. We drove let’s say 350 km by a jeep that took maybe 15 liters/100 km -> 105 EGP. We got 2 x lunch, dinner and breakfast. Good local restaurants charge 5 EGP for breakfast, 15 for lunch and 25 for dinner. Our meals were cooked on camp fire and were of course simple but tasted excellent and included almost everything that you get at restaurant. Let’s count by the restaurant price, we get for all meals for two 180 EGP. A 1,5 liter water bottle costs 2 EGP, we also had different kinds of teas. Let’s put 20 EGP for drinks. Then we had a guide and a driver. An average Egyptian worker earns 400 EGP a month (documentary film: Another Night on Planet, 2012) and a doctor earns double (Egypt Independent, Nov 2012, and a hospital doctor in Nuweiba). Let’s say our guides earn well: 600 EGP/month. They worked for 48 hours (equals to 6 days, though I’m not sure if they calculate it like this) which makes 360 EGP for both of them. The Badawiya hotel night in Farafra costs according to the price list at the reception 30 € (240 EGP) a night (double room) for foreigners. We get this way total costs of 905 EGP. Indeed, the 200 € went for the airy permission.
Of course, this is nothing special in the way Egyptians deal with tourists. It is in their national psyche to overcharge foreigners. There seems to be no difference between the service providers, no matter how fancy it looks outside, it’s the same inside. If you charge a price that's considered high also in a western country, the service should be of same, high standard. The customer should be given what he pays for and cut off the possible bull****. If the times are hard, as in Egypt now, the locals seem to think the solution is to charge the one client as much as one would normally charge five. Short-sighted.
Finally good advice how to book a tour in Egypt. A tour booked from abroad is the most expensive tour. You should travel independently and have lots of time. Remember there’s no guarantee that what has been agreed will be kept. Another point to keep in mind; once you hand over any cash, you will never see it again. Also never expect too much. Here we go: 1) Know the local price level (get a local friend who has nothing to do with tourism), 2) calculate the costs of the tour, 3) decide the max amount what you are willing to pay (don’t say it loud), 4) walk to the tour office, 5) demand to know the exact itinerary with a map (this is a tough one as reading maps is rare), 6) find out the actual distances (here you need a map or a GPS because distances are as much Hebrew as maps), 7) ask for the price and 8) say it’s too expensive. 9) Ask what other costs there will be during the tour. 10) Ask separately about every possible detail whether it’s included. 11) Haggle for your life. 12) Walk away. 13) Repeat steps 4-12 in other tour offices. 11) Start a new round or make your final decision (you probably prefer this by then). When you’re satisfied with the outcome, you’re good to go!
When we reached the tarred road at the last day of our desert trip and I saw our bus allready from a far distance, I realized, I had to say goodbye to the desert and my naughty camel within half an hour.
My free nomadic feeling .... I had to leave it with the camels in the desert.
I felt the tears of sadness in my eyes, to say farewell to the desert for some time.
For making a desert tour to the White Desert for one day or more, you can arrange it easily from Bawiti in the Bahariya Oasis on your way from Cairo to Farafra Oasis or you can do it in Qasr al-Farafra (told to be cheaper) .
In 1999 for the one night stay, our trip was arranged at the Ahmeds' Safari Camp (tel 802600) in the Bahariya Oasis.
In 2000 the organisation of Diaa Shawki (firstname.lastname@example.org) in Heliopolis, Cairo, (specialised in deserts) did the arrangements for the three days cameltrip.
We did the bookings for the whole trip in the Netherlands with Koning Aap and Sawadee.
The by sand sculptured lime stone yardangs in the White Desert near the Farafra Oasis in the Western Desert of Egypt make this of one of the most fascinating deserts on earth.
The rocks formed by shells of milliard shellfishes in a sea, which existed at this place many centuries ago, are soft and fragile.
Map of Farafra oasis and White Desert area
Before I travelled to Farafra I red the book " Oase Farafra" of Arita Baaijens, a dutch writer who started to travel with her own camels in the western desert many years ago. In ''Oase Farafra'' she describes the enormous changes from the isolated desert village Farafra with mud houses and old traditions, she met the first time, into the nowadays Farafra oasis. After the discovery of a lot of water at great depth, started the development of new agricultural settlements in the oasis with strangers from the Nile Valley, is the tarred road to Cairo built and came the first cars and many facilities to Farafra.
The book is in dutch and not translated yet.
Her first book of her travels in the western desert "Regen van eeuwig vuur" is translated in german "Regen aus ewigem Feuer"
You can visit her dutch and english web-site www.arita.baaijens.com with a lot of information about her camel journeys ( last ones in Sudan), the desert and camels. There are many interesting links.