The Egyptian visa can be obtained at the airport on arrival for most nationalities for USD 15. For those few who cannot have visa at the airport, it's usually obtainable in a couple of days at the nearest embassy or consulate.
Important: Passports need to be valid for six months beyond the date of planned entry to Egypt for visa to be issued.
Permits & Escort
The Western Desert in Egypt is considered officially a ‘border zone’, with travel for both locals and foreigners restricted. At present, permits are only issued by the military authorities to foreigners if accompanied by qualified desert tour operators, and escorted by an officer from the military intelligence. We will utilise a local travel agency with appropriate expertise and contacts to arrange the permits. Permits are issued to the travel agency organising the tour. Arranging them takes between 4/6 weeks, and a photocopy of the passport is required.
The permits are given at the discretion of the authorities, sometimes in a straight forward procedure, sometimes after a long processing, sometimes not at all. The authorities may restrict the areas where permits are given, and in principle even issued permits may be revoked or rendered invalid by a change in the security situation. Once issued, the permits are valid for a particular itinerary and period only.
Due to the regulations, we must have an escorting officer, who usually joins in Cairo, sometimes in Dakhla. they tend to be cheerful young fellows with a liking for the desert, most proved to be a very pleasant companion.
On a normal trip lasting 15 days with 8-10 people, we will use three diesel Toyota Landcruisers (HZJ75) arranged through my local contacts, Oscar Tours. The agency providing the cars will also provide the drivers (usually tested and trusted drivers who proved their worth on previous trips). The lead car will be equipped with bench type seats in the rear for six. Two additional seats will be installed in the second and third cars. In addition, there is a front seat beside each driver, the one in the lead car for the navigator (myself), plus two others in the second and third cars. Note: the -75 Landcruiser is the sturdiest all terrain vehicle ever made but it's not designed for comfort ! The ride is hard and bumpy, and seat 'comfort' is rather nominal. Within the constraints of space available we'll try to make the ride as comfortable as possible, but expect some discomfort on the long drives south when the cars are completely full.
The question often arises: why is it not possible to obtain the more comfortable -65 and -80 series Landcruisers, with forward facing seats. The answer lies, like to so many other strange things in Egypt, in officialdom: The current custsoms regulations allow duty-free import of "tourist vehicles" for travel agencies. (customs duty on other vehicles can be as much as 100-150% !) Only those qualify, that have a minimum of 10 passenger seats. Yes, you guessed right: officially the -75 seats 11 ! Two beside the driver, eight in the back. That's how they do all those "desert safaris" out of Hurghada ;)
Comfort notwithstanding, the -75 is the choice of necessity for weight & volume. With over 700 litres of fuel (180l in the tanks, 500+ in 20l plastic jerrycans on the roof rack), about 800 litres of water shared between the 2nd and 3rd cars, plus food and luggage, there is not much space left for anything else. I have serious doubts whether any other model would have this offroad payload capability over such a distance (2400 kilometres self contained).
Aside the regular tool box and spare tyre we carry a second set of spare tyre, several extra inner tubes, heavy duty jacks, tyre repair kit, four heavy duty compressors to inflate tyres after deflating in soft sand, and an emergency tool kit enabling improvised fixes for a wide variety of conceivable mechanical problems. One of the advantages of the -75 and it's diesel engine is that it's fully mechanical, the engine runs even with the battery taken out.
Due to the load limit on the vehicles, we can only carry the absolute bare necessities, and this includes water. 4 litres per person per day is calculated (Usually one needs about 3 - 3.5 litres in November or March), with a 20% safety margin at the outset of the trip. This ration consists of two 1.5 litre bottles of water per day, one can each of soft drinks and beer (or two soft drinks), plus cooking and tea water. This implies, that the water carried is only for drinking & cooking, no water is available for any other use!
Maps & navigation
There are no roads or tracks once we turn off the asphalt road leading south from Dakhla to the East Uweinat agricultural project near Bir Terfawi. Navigation will be with GPS (Garmin 12), primarily using the Survey of Egypt 1:500,000 map series, mainly compiled in the thirties by P.A. Clayton and his colleagues. The maps are reasonably accurate, typically GPS verified map bearings are no more than 0.5 - 1 km off the mark.We will also have as a backup the relevant sheets of the Russian Military 1:500,000 map series, but they are much less useful in this part of the world (they only give contour information, no clue on the nature of the terrain)
The Western Desert was the scene of one of the fiercest fighting in WW II., and the northern coast and the Qattara depression was heavily mined. Though most were cleared along the coast, inland any number may remain. Given this situation, all parts of the Qattara depression outside travelled roads and tracks are better left in peace. (Our expedition courses stay well south of the danger areas.) The Long Range Desert Group was also active further south, and they have mined most of the tracks leading to Kufra and Uweinat on the Libyan side. There are no substantiated reports of them having laid any mines on the Egyptian side, however.
More recently, the tension between Egypt and Libya (there was a little publicised 3 day war in 1977) resulted in mining some of the border areas on both sides. At Jebel Uweinat there is a marked minefield blocking the entrance of Karkur Talh, and also at the low pass where the track skirts the northern spur of the mountain and continues towards the Libyan border. There are reports of mines at the pass between Jebels Peter & Paul, and may be expected at any easily blockable route close to the border. In February 1999 German tourists have ran on a mine in the southern Gilf Kebir (fortunately no injuries, but the car was a total wreck), at the western entrance of the Wadi Wassa, and the western reaches of the Wadi el Firaq are also mined. There were also reports of the el ‘Aqaba car pass at the central Gilf Kebir being mined, however the pass is in regular use these days, and is definitely clear.
Given above we will only follow known safe routes and recent vehicle tracks when in close vicinity to the border. The main task of the escorting military officer is to ensure we stay clear of mines.
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