Wadi el-Rayan showing depths of Egypt’s natural beauty

Sunday 12/06/2016
A man sits near the waterfall at Wadi el-Rayan in the Fayoum governorate, south-west of Cairo.

Cairo - While it is less fa­mous than many of Egypt’s tourist sites, Wadi el-Rayan qual­ifies as a top desti­nation. The area, a two-hour drive from Cairo, in Fayoum governorate, is a must visit for researchers of the history of mammals but also nature lovers and fun-seekers.
“This is a site that has every­thing tourists will want to see,” said Ahmed Nazir, a tour organiser in the area. “Only when they come here do foreign tourists get to know that they would have missed a lot if they had not visited this area.”
The area is a treasure of Egyptian nature. It is named after pre-his­toric whale fossils discovered in it, the earliest whale fossils found on Earth, and it is on United Nation’s cultural agency’s list of protected World Heritage Sites.
“Whale Valley” contains invalua­ble fossil remains of the earliest, and now extinct, suborder of whales, Archaeoceti. The fossils represent a major story of evolution: the emer­gence of the whale as an ocean-go­ing mammal from a land-based spe­cies. According to UNESCO, this is the most important site in the world for the demonstration of this stage of evolution. It says the site vividly portrays the form and life of the whales during transition.
The number, concentration and quality of such fossils are unique, as is their accessibility and setting in the stages of losing their hind limbs, UNESCO says.
The journey to Whale Valley is an experience in itself. The visitors’ centre in the area is a Bedouin-style building. By venturing into the val­ley, visitors take a journey deep into history as every turn in the path re­veals another set of fossils belong­ing to pre-historic mammals of the sea.
Additional beauty can be seen in this area away from the whale fos­sils. Mohamed al-Shehi, who has been offering guided tours to Wadi el-Rayan for more than a decade, describes the area as a treasure trove for photographers.
“The area has a large number of charming sites,” Shehi said. “Once visitors arrive, they are taken by the natural beauty of the place as well as the diversity of its scenery.”
In the 1960s, the government cre­ated three lakes in Wadi el-Rayan depression to hold water from agri­cultural drainage. The lakes turned the area into a huge colony of birds. The depression is now administered as a national park.
The Wadi el-Rayan waterfalls are also a top wonder. They are 20km west of the reserve. The waterfalls, where one lake drains into anoth­er, are popular, especially among Egyptian visitors.
There are large wooden rowing boats that take visitors to the mid­dle of the lake and then close to the falls in a trip that never fails to fill visitors with awe.
There is the stunning Jabal al- Modawara only 5km away. The mountain is easy to climb but it is an exact synonym of the word “beau­ty”. On top of the mountain, visitors are treated to breathtaking scenes. The mountain top is a wonderful bird-watching spot, especially to see eagles and falcons, which are in abundance.
The growing popularity of the area has drawn a large number of investors who have opened restau­rants, guest houses and hotels that cater to the needs of visitors. Some hotels and guest houses offer visi­tors an insight into the food, cos­tumes and furniture of the Egyptian countryside.
Nazir said a visit to Wadi el-Rayan costs $30-$50, depending on the package.
“It is fairly cheap compared with anything else in Egypt,” Nazir said. “This is one of the places that leave a very good impression inside visi­tors and do not exhaust their budg­ets.”
Mahmoud Abu Zeid, a medical student who recently visited Wadi el-Rayan as part of a college tour, says he fell in love with the area the first minute he set foot in it.
“It was a memorable visit because the place is very beautiful,” Abu Zeid said. “Wadi el-Rayan just taught me that some of the unknown places in our country are just a thousand times more beautiful than some of the very famous sites.”