- Travel time : 2 hours mid morning weekday. Return 3 hours evening- dark- definitely not recommended. Speed limit 90 KMH (likely you will be passed by everyone at this speed)
- Very heavy truck traffic (all sizes) especially evening/night.
- Four lane divided to hotel turn 85km) , then narrow windy 2 lane with all sorts of vehicles to Hotel (15km).
- What to do? Many sites listed in various web pages but we went to Wadi El-Rayan - recommended as think amazing to see these lakes in middle of desert..
At the planning stage I found an online booking site for this Helan Auberge Hotel and booked 3 triple rooms to accommodate easily two families with five adults, teen, two pre-teens and child, total of 9. The online booking worked well at link above. We booked about 1 week ahead for one night Dec 27th. Hotel has office/number in New Maadi but we did not get much joy talking to them.
Auberge Garden at night
We all live in Maadi, Cairo. Our two families packed up and we decided to take three vehicles, two new sedans and our older 4x4 jeep. There was discussion that we could fit in two vehicles but I insisted on taking Jeep as our ultimate destination was Wadi - Hitan (Valley of Whales). Would be good as back up for any car stuck and to ferry youngsters off road for wee bit of adventure.
We knew of the new overpass road to Giza area, but none of us knew how to get on the Fayoum road from this new route so took "dead donkey canal" old route. As was mid morning we had usual problem getting through the traffic onto the two lane divided highway for Fayoum. About 50 km down the highway one encounters a toll station (3LE) but just at that point my friend driving Jeep flashed and we pulled over. He had lost the clutch linkage in Jeep. So we abandoned said Jeep and carried on in two sedans,
You can Google Earth the route but for quick directions remember the entire highway is in desert then you enter farming land and a few km from start of the farm land there will be a road veering to right and actually has huge sign saying amongst other things Wadi El-Rayan. The road is a windy two lane with every type of vehicle one can expect including lots of trucks of every size, tractors pulling an amazing array of trailers, and live stock one may expect to be found in farming/fishing area. About 1/2 way in we encountered the recent remains of a truck taxi and mini bus taxi head on collision. Not a pretty site, but damn good reminder to take really slow and be ready for anything and everything; including persons standing in middle of lane holding a rack of fish for sale.
The Auberge Hotel
Pics from Hotel Website
Unloaded and checked in with no grief but young girls on reception desk must have been in training as did not know much - except to get copy of everyone's passport. It was noon time when we checked in and one room was ready. as check- in posted time is 2 PM.
We just stored all baggage in one room. Then time for a walk about. Weather was gorgeous being 27th DEC and sunny temperature about 23C. Nice garden with very fine pool and cornice type walkway on lake. Noticed the lake had a really strong salty fishy smell, but much better than Cairo Pollution. Huge lake in middle of desert is quite a site.
Garden Area Movie
Few Pools Rules - YIKES but typical - click to enlarge for a laugh
Our triple rooms were OK size with two design types. We had the one with king size bed with small couch in tiny sitting area that had pulled out for single bed. Other type was larger with two double beds and same pull out couch but had a chesterfield and table as chairs in middle of room. Decoration was an attempt at 30's when was owned by King Farouk and was pleasant enough. Grandmother type decor. Triples are all on ground floor with balcony garden access but can't really see lake unless you stand on a tall chair or ladder. Double rooms seem to be on 1st floor and lake view.
Now on to lunch as all hungry. We chose to sit outside so pushed several tables together. Previously we saw a large entourage of Egyptian business men all decked out in suits and they were being seated for lunch about same time. So, we guessed correctly our service was going to be slow - and it was. But I had already cornered a waiter and told him his life depended upon me getting a Sakara beer in very quick time - that worked. But then slow went to snail pace. We finished about 1 hr 45 minutes later. Prices typical for 4 stars with meals about 35 LE, sandwich about 25 LE, Beer expensive at 30 LE and local wine at 40 LE per glass. Of course 10% sales tax and 12% service tax need to be added. For the 6 in my family lunch cost 270 LE.
Girls wanted to go explore Fayoum village - kids wanted to explore and try ice cold swimming pool. Yup more beer for men staying with kids and why not.
About 2 hours later girls returned from Village, or City of Fayoum with some stories. Totally lost, saw small water wheel. The highlight was when they stopped to ask 2 girls directions and older man jumped in front of girls to help out. They laughed when he first said "see that building - well don't go there" and then "see that road - don't go there". Conclusion by my oldest teen was Cairo look completely civilized traffic wise compared to Fayoum. BTW all our girls speak fluent Arabic so take a hint if a foreigner venturing into city on there own. Think about a taxi guide or similar. Little if any English spoken on street or shops.
Took us forever to find number of a car rescue service but in end succeeded. About 7 PM rescue truck launch from October 6 city and later we left from Hotel. Took us 35 minutes to get back to the toll station but he had Jeep already loaded. Gave him key and asked him to store Jeep till we returned and advised where to deliver. Fast note is we paid 750 LE for all services plus storage when all was finished. At least we had Jeep rescued, as left to long it would likely be dismantled.
Supper we all took at different times and was A la carte. service was fine and staff friendly. Us adults sat down about 9:30 PM as I had to arrange to go back to Jeep and arrange car carrier to return it to Cairo. So, at supper we all trickled in at different times and ordered independently. Only one other table was occupied so staff was not overworked. Few beers and wines of course and sat till after 11:30. Restaurant closes at 11:30 but does have room service 24 hours. We paid 670 LE for all including a few hundred for beer and wine.
TV's in rooms, cleanliness OK, but rooms not very sound proof. Minor maintenance as sink did not drain, electronic card room key stopped working. No heat from AC, and pretty chilly in rooms. At night I kept hearing a water pump starting and stopping which was irritating, and that was after colleagues next door finished watching a movie that I was not enjoying as much as them. But, slept great in comfortable warm bed. Breakfast was typical Egyptian fanfare and is open buffet.
Check-out was painless and used my master card. Did not seem to be any porters around so plan to carry your own. And car park is across the 2 lane highway but no problem crossing as huge speed bumps both sides of hotel so not to worry about getting run down from speeding vehicle.
In end for 2 triple rooms for 6 persons, ($135 0r 735 LE each room per night incl breakfast), lunch supper, NOT CHEAP, but what is these days............................... Noted on bill the room rate was 621LE and Breakfast was added separetely at 114 LE so total was 735 LE. I questioned this but guess they split it up for tax reasons or something but total room rate was correct.
Tourist police will ask you often where you plan to go. They are not being intrusive it is their job. To explain better, the next day we were planning to go to the Wadi and when we were leaving parking after collecting car documents the Tourist police asked our destination and our cell phone number. But wanted to refuel first. So we turned right to service station about 8 km back and on way phone rang. Policeman wanted to know if we were actually going to Cairo or Wadi's. We explained and he was actually helpful for us to locate the station. On our return low and behold they had a police truck assigned to escort us to Wadi Protected Area. He explained it was their orders to ensure foreigners have a safe journey. Not from fear of locals but break downs, getting stuck, getting lost etc. Usually they will pick you from Protectorate Gate but, I think by coincidence, we met at Hotel and escorted out and back, and were helpful, funny with kids, and nice journey partners. No charge they insisted but remember politeness goes a long way for very little.
Grandson with our Tourist Police
Wadi El Rayan Protected Area
Definitely worth a visit even it only to get away from Cairo noise, air pollution, chaos, keep your sanity. This brochure by WRPA explains better than I for all details of interest to visitors.
From Auberge Hotel head west along Lake Qarun and follow signs and you will find your way. Following map is a duplicate of one found in brochure mentioned above. Click on pic to enlarge.
At the WRPA your first encounter some 40 km down road with turn you don't want to miss, is the entrance gate where nominal guest fees will be charged. Our primary target was Wadi Hitam or Valley of Whales. We drove to end of pavement where road splits to Wadi Hatim and Springs Oasis Road. From there it is graded road in both directions. Turn to right side for Wadi Hatim. But, as we discussed road with Police, who mentioned we could make it in our rather low slung cars, a car approached us returning from the Wadi Hatim Road. Young Egyptian couple, also in sedan, said they got a 5 km up the road and it is rough and with sand drifts across road they did not want to attempt to cross for fear of getting high centered and stuck. So that made our decision and returned back to Wadi Rayan Visitor area. On the road you will see nice views of the lake from an elevated vantage point.
The road to visitor area is only a few km's but was very rough with wash board - like to shake you and car apart so have to take it very slow. At the visitors site there are a few cafeteria sites you can park right up to, or go further as possible to parking area to be closer to water falls. The pics below I think tells the story. We also ate fresh fish from lake and salad. Fish is perch type so many bones but very tasty others mentioned but I cannot vouch for that as I do not like fish with bones. There is a large beach area on this fresh water lake with several shaded sitting areas. Just one note of warning - toilets are fairly new but in horrible filthy condition.
Water Falls in Action
beach area massive with several bamboo hut type structures for families and shade - a few shown