Travel photographer Darren Ornitz brings back photos of the alien landscape that is Egypt’s White Desert.

I recently spent twelve days in Egypt with my girlfriend. Our main goal was to visit some of Ancient Egypt and dive the Red Sea, but we also wanted to see places less explored.

While researching plans at home, I came across Hamada, a local Bedouin man who lives in Bahariya and runs desert tours to the White Desert, known for its wind-shaped sandstone clay formations. We exchanged a couple emails and planned a one-night private camping trip.

Two weeks later a van picked us up at our hotel in Cairo for the start of what would be our most memorable night in Egypt. Only 4-5 hours from Cairo, the White Desert is close enough to do a one- or two-night trip, while many decide to take up to a week exploring the desert either on camel or by 4×4. Below is a compilation of photographs taken by Taylor Griffin and me during our tour of the White Desert.



After a filling meal at Hamada’s home, we loaded up in Bahariya Oasis with fruits, chicken, and water for the trip into the White Desert. Bahariya is the base town for these tour and is about 3 hours (365km) from Cairo.


Bedouin performance

On the way to the White Desert, this is a stop at a watering spring, where Bedouin tea is served and songs and dances are performed. The spring and shade is welcome in the 110F heat (during the summer).


Desert road, Egypt

A two-hour car ride from Bahariya will bring you to the beginning of the off-road experience. The desert road from Bahariya is flat and paved the whole way. Expect numerous 130km attempts to pass other vehicles.


Desert hill

Vehicles stop at the top of the El Akabat escarpment for people to get out and view the large rock formations.


El Akabat

El Akabat, known as the “Rose Desert,” is one of the most photogenic sites on the way to the White Desert. (Photo by Taylor Griffin)


Sand dune cartwheel

There's even time for desert acrobatics. The benefit of having a private tour is that you have the freedom to hang out where you like without a strict schedule.


Limestone chalk mounds

The beginning of the White Desert is filled with limestone chalk mounds. Making your way through them can be an adventure, especially if your driver (Hamada!) prides himself on high-speed navigating.


Bedouin guide

This is Hamada, our Bedouin guide. He learned everything from his grandfather, who was a geologist as well as a guide. Hamada says, “I’m a Bedouin, the desert is a part of me and I’m a part of the desert.


Desert sand

The afternoon light catches ridges in the sand. (Photo by Taylor Griffin)


Desert sunset

A group of campers stop on the ridge of a sand dune to watch the sun set. (Photo by Taylor Griffin)


Desert supper

There are few things more peaceful than being in the silence of the desert at night. Hamada cooked us a wonderful dinner consisting of mushroom soup, chicken, rice, and vegetable curry, all over fire.


Desert camp

We slept on a rug inside the canvas shelter, while our guides preferred it out in the open. Temperatures had been in the hundreds during the day, but they cooled down to around 80 at night.


Desert sunrise

Desert sunrise.


Sun rising

Don't miss it.



Within the White Desert, there are designated general areas where you are allowed to camp. We had the option to camp with other groups and spend the night singing and dancing, but chose a more secluded area.


Desert panorama

Having climbed one of the giant chalk formations, we spotted another camping group in the distance.


Supplies on the roof

Our sleeping rugs and camping supplies were strapped to the roof. Hanging on the back of the truck while speeding through the desert was a thrill.


Inside the sandstone

Some of the limestone mounds are hollowed out, allowing for this shot from inside. (Photo by Taylor Griffin)