Located less than two hours away from Cairo, Wadi El Rayan is one of Egypt’s most famous nature reserves. Named after King El Rayan Ibn El Walid who had lived in the area with his army, the nature reserve is part of El Fayoum governnate and located 40km away from El Fayoum itself.
The Wadi El Rayan reserve consists of seven parts; the (loosely translated) upper and lower oases, El Rayan Oasis, El Rayan Falls, El Modawara Mountain (or Jabal El Modawara in Arabic), El Rayan Mountain (Jabal El Rayan) and Wadi El Hitan (The Valley of the Whales). All these areas are full of amazing landscapes such as oases, mountains, rock formations and waterfalls.
Egyptian wildlife can also be seen in the area including white gazelles, Egyptian gazelles, sand foxes and fennec foxes, as well as rare species of resident birds, migrant birds and various kinds of eagles and falcons.
The area is also a major attraction to archaeologists due to the volume of marine fossils and archaeological remains found in there. Wadi El Hitan is named after the pre-historic whale fossils discovered in the area, which are considered to be the earliest whale fossils ever found and earned the valley its position on the UNESCO list of protected World Heritage sites.
El Rayan’s waterfalls are about 20km away from the reserve’s gate on the left side of the road (of which nearly two kilometres are unpaved). The waterfalls are beautiful but the unfortunate lack of attention by authorities makes them look worn out; not the best sight for a tourist. We recommend not spending much time here and investing your time instead in the fascinating protectorate.
Only five kilometres away, Jabal El Modawara is the definition of beauty. When you climb this amazing mountain– which isn’t too bad to climb by the way– the view from above will easily take your breath away. It’s also a great spot for bird-watching, especially if you plan on catching a glimpse of eagles or falcons.
Venturing further past Jabal El Modawara, adventurers may take a right and drive east for 30km on a dirt road to Wadi El Hitan.
Arriving in Wadi Hitan itself is quite an experience. Although the visitor centre is built as a Bedouin-style building; it does feel a little disorienting to come across it after 30km of off-road hiking. As you venture past that, you are literally taking a walk through history as every turn in the path set out in the valley reveals another set of fossils belonging to pre-historic monoliths of the sea. Unfortunately, many of the remains were only partially fossilized but you still get a feeling of the sheer size of these animals.
Although the dirt road is made for saloon cars, it isn’t recommended without a 4x4 as it is quite a rough ride. If you’re stuck without a 4x4, and plan on keeping your car in one piece, you can head to the waterfalls or any local lodge and ask locals for a Peugeot station wagon to drive you in all the way; the locals drive station wagons better than some of the most seasoned off-road drivers!
The magic continues throughout the rest of Wadi El Rayan, you can enjoy barbequing, hiking and climbing; and if you’re into photography, you’re in for a real treat.
Make sure to bring enough cold water, sunglasses and maybe a hat; it’s extremely hot all over the protectorate. Also, a 4x4 vehicle can definitely make your trip easier; as mentioned before some places can’t be reached by regular cars, which means more walking in the sun!
Wadi El Rayan is open every day from 8:30AM till 5:30PM. Entrance costs 2LE for Egyptians and 5LE for vehicles, foreigners have to pay 3USD (around 15LE) for entrance.Readers must note that the road to Wadi El Rayan is not smooth; the freeway has barely any gas stations or rest houses until the entrance gates of El Fayoum governate.
The 40km distance between El Fayoum and Wadi El Rayan has lots of two-way roads with poor lighting; so be careful if you’re driving at night. That being said, such a beautiful landscape is definitely worth the trip.