El-Fayoum: A Journey Through History, Nature, and Adventure

Abu Uthman El-Nabulsi, who was a governor of El-Fayoum in the 13th century said about Fayoum ‘Cool are the dawns; tall are the trees, many are the fruits, and little are the rains’. While some other visitors said ‘Paradise of the desert’ and ‘the Garden of Egypt’. El-Fayoum has plus what Nabulsi said, has a great salt lake, ancient temples, pyramids, old mosques and monasteries.

El-Fayoum is a large, natural depression in the Western Desert of Egypt. It is differing from the other Egyptian depressions in having a direct water supply from the Nile and a rich soil. Fayoum’s total area is about 4000 square kilometers. The northern part of Fayoum is entirely below sea level and contains Birkat Qarun, which lies at 45 meters below sea level. Bahr Yusuf supplies the Fayoum with a fresh water from the Nile River.

On the map of Egypt, the Fayoum appears as the bud of a great Lotus plant of Egypt, growing out of one side of the Nile stem, just below the Delta blossom.

How to get to El-Fayoum from Cairo?

By Car:

The most common and convenient way to reach El-Fayoum from Cairo is by car. The distance between Cairo and El-Fayoum is approximately 100-120 kilometers (62-75 miles), depending on your exact destination within El-Fayoum. The journey takes around 1.5 to 2.5 hours, depending on traffic conditions and your starting point in Cairo. You can take the Cairo-Fayoum Desert Road (also known as the Fayoum Road or Cairo-Fayoum Highway), which is well-paved and usually in good condition. Make sure to have a map or GPS navigation to guide you along the way.

By Bus:

Several bus companies operate services between Cairo and El-Fayoum. Buses depart from various locations in Cairo, including major bus stations such as Tahrir Square and Cairo Gateway, as well as private bus terminals. The journey by bus typically takes around 2 to 3 hours, depending on traffic and the specific bus route. It’s advisable to check the bus schedule in advance and arrive early at the bus station to secure your ticket.

By Microbus/Shared Taxi:

Another option is to take a microbus or shared taxi from Cairo to El-Fayoum. These vehicles operate from informal stations or street corners in Cairo and may offer a more flexible departure schedule compared to buses. However, keep in mind that microbuses can be crowded and may not always adhere to strict safety standards. It’s essential to negotiate the fare with the driver before starting your journey.

By Private Tour:

If you prefer a more personalized experience or want the flexibility to explore El-Fayoum at your own pace, you can opt for a private tour or rent a car with a driver. Egypt Best Vacations offers daily guided tours to El-Fayoum from Cairo through our exclusive Cairo Day Tours.

Name of El-Fayoum:

Modern Fayoumis have their own legend about the origins of their city. They say it was built in a period of a thousand days and was consequently romantically named ‘City of a Thousand Days’ – Madinat Elf-Youm, which was then corrupted to El-Fayoum. Like most other folk etymologies, it is a lovely story, but unfortunately rather a long way from the more prosaic truth. Fayoum, originally the name of the province, later applied to its main town, is derived from the Bohairic Coptic Fa-yom, the Sea.

El-Fayoum in Ancient Egypt:

El-Fayoum was a popular territory since ancient Egypt. In the Egyptian mythology, Fayoum’s lake was identified with Nun, the primeval ocean, the origin of all life; and the high land, was the primeval hill where life first exist. Another myth tells that King Menes was on a hunting trip in the Fayoum. His own dogs attacked him near the lake, but a crocodile saved his life, which carried him across the water to safety. In a gratitude, he declared the lake a sanctuary for crocodiles, so that became the cult center of the crocodile god, Sobek.

By the 12th Dynasty, a number of kings lived at Lisht nearby El-Fayoum. Later, the Greeks named the lake (Moeris) after the name of King Amenemhat I. Amenemhat I, flooded the Fayoum to create the famous lake Moeris, described 1500 years later by Herodotus. Senwosert I, erected the obelisk of Abgig, and Lahun Pyramid is the tomb of Senwosert II. Amenemhat III built the great Labyrinth and his own Pyramid at Hawara.

El-Fayoum during the Greek times in Egypt:

El-Fayoum was neglected during the latter periods until the times of the Greeks in Egypt. Ptolemy I started to drain Lake Moeris, and reclaimed 1200 sq km of excellent land. The work was continued by his son Ptolemy II, Philadelphus, who gave parcels of the new and very fertile land to his Greek and Macedonian veterans. Who settled in considerable numbers in the province. Ptolemy II, married his sister Arsinoe II. Arsinoe became a very popular queen and genuinely mourned by her people when she died in 270 BCE.

The fertile land and hard work and new techniques of the settlers combined to give birth to the (Garden of Egypt). One of the lasting innovations of the settlers was the water propelled Saqya, now the hallmark of the Fayoum. Ptolemy named one of the new settlements on the eastern fringe of the Fayoum Philadelphia ‘brotherly love’ in reference to his sister-wife Arsinoe. He also renamed the whole province in her honor, calling it Arisinoite nome.

El-Fayoum under the Romans & Arabs:

Prosperity of El-Fayoum continued for sometime during the Roman era. Under corrupt local government and mismanagement, the irrigation system, a Ptolemaic triumph, gradually fall into disrepair, and good land was lost.

Fayoum held out against the Arab armies and was one of the last parts of the country to fall. The province was defended by a Byzantine garrison and a native Egyptian force. The first governor of El-Fayoum under the Arabs was not an Arab at all, but a Copt, Philoxenos, who faithfully carried out his duty.

Fayoum gained some importance during the time of Mohamed Ali Pasha when he introduced the cotton farming into the province. Transport and communications improved in the Fayoum with the railway connection to the Nile valley in 1874. Fayoum had recovered from the slump of the Roman time during the time of the British colony when they revised the irrigation system. Land reclamation became possible.

Fayoum’s Climate:

The climate of the Fayoum is probably one of the most agreeable in Egypt. Summer in El-Fayoum is not as hot as those in Upper Egypt and winter is not as wet as in Cairo and Lower Egypt. Winter is between 15 and 20 Celsius while Summer is between 30 and 40 Celsius. Short sleeves or low necks are not recommended on country or desert trips, hats and sunscreen are.

El-Fayoum as the Garden of Egypt:

El-Fayoum earns its ‘Garden of Egypt’ title from the 17,000 acres, mostly in the central area, which are devoted to fruit-growing. Fayoum produces great deal of oranges, lemons, mandarins, guavas, mangos, pears, apples, plums, figs and apricots. All these fruits are sold fresh on the streets of Fayoum in the respective seasons. Large quantities are transported to Cairo and other parts of Egypt.

Fayoumi chickens are reputed to be the best in Egypt and have become proverbial. The chickens are bred for either eggs or meat.

Birkat Qarun:

Birkat Qarun has long been associated with mythology and historical lore, earning its name from the legendary figure of Qarun. Who is mentioned in ancient Egyptian texts and Islamic traditions. According to legend, Qarun was a wealthy man who possessed great treasures, but his greed led to his downfall. The lake is said to have been formed from the tears shed by Qarun’s widow after his tragic demise. Adding an aura of mystery and intrigue to its tranquil waters.

Birkat Qarun today, 45 meters below sea level, has a surface area of 214 square kilometers. It has a maximum depth of just over 8 meters and a volume of 800 million cubic meters. It is 42 kilometers long, and 9 kilometers wide at its broadest point. Surrounded by verdant fields and towering palm trees, the lake exudes a sense of serenity and tranquility that is truly mesmerizing. Whether you’re admiring the sunset from the shore or taking a leisurely boat ride across its glassy surface. Qarun’s Lake invites you to immerse yourself in its timeless beauty and unwind in nature’s embrace.

Beyond its natural splendor, Qarun’s Lake offers plenty of opportunities for exploration and adventure. Nature enthusiasts will delight in the diverse birdlife that calls the lake home. From graceful herons and majestic eagles to colorful kingfishers darting among the reeds. The surrounding area is also dotted with archaeological sites and ancient ruins. Providing a glimpse into the region’s rich history and cultural heritage.

Things to Do in El-Fayoum:

Wadi El-Hitan:

Wadi El-Hitan
Wadi El-Hitan

Wadi El-Hitan, translated as the Valley of Whales, is renowned for its extraordinary fossil remains dating back to the Eocene epoch, approximately 40 million years ago. During this time, the area was submerged beneath a vast prehistoric ocean, teeming with diverse marine life. The valley’s unique geological formations and fossils provide invaluable insights into the evolution of whales. Showcasing their transition from land-dwelling mammals to oceanic giants.

Plan your tour: Tour To Wadi El-Hitan And Magic Lake From Cairo

Wadi El-Hitan is a UNESCO world heritage site. As you venture into Wadi El-Hitan, you’ll be greeted by a striking landscape of desert cliffs and eroded rock formations. The valley’s main attraction is its impressive collection of fossilized whale skeletons, some of which are remarkably well-preserved. These fossils, including the skeletons of Basilosaurus and Dorudon. Offer a glimpse into the ancient marine ecosystems that once flourished in this region.

Walking among the fossilized remains, visitors can’t help but marvel at the sheer scale and intricacy of these prehistoric creatures. From the elongated bodies of Basilosaurus to the more compact forms of Dorudon. Each fossil tells a story of adaptation and evolution in response to changing environmental conditions.

Wadi El-Hitan serves not only as a site of scientific significance but also as a center for education and conservation. Interpretive signage and visitor centers provide valuable information about the geological history of the area and the importance of preserving its fragile ecosystems. Guided tours led by knowledgeable experts offer visitors the opportunity to delve deeper into the mysteries of Wadi El-Hitan and gain a greater understanding of its significance in the study of evolution.

Magic Lake:

Nestled amidst the tranquil oasis of El-Fayoum in Egypt lies a hidden gem that has captivated travelers for centuries – the Magic Lake. Enveloped in mystique and surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty. This mystical body of water beckons adventurers to uncover its secrets and immerse themselves in its enchanting allure.

Magic Lake
Magic Lake

Legend has it that the Magic Lake holds mystical powers, with tales of ancient Egyptian gods and goddesses bestowing blessings upon those who dare to visit its shores. According to local folklore, the lake is said to possess healing properties. Offering solace to weary souls and granting wishes to those who seek its embrace. Whether truth or myth, the aura of mystery that surrounds the Magic Lake adds to its allure. Drawing travelers from far and wide to experience its enchanting charm.

Whether by boat or on foot, exploring the Magic Lake is an adventure like no other. As you glide across its serene waters, you’ll feel a sense of tranquility wash over you, as if time itself has stood still. Keep an eye out for the abundant birdlife that calls the lake home, from graceful herons to majestic eagles soaring overhead. For those feeling adventurous, diving into the depths of the Magic Lake reveals a world teeming with colorful marine life, adding to the sense of wonder and discovery.

El-Fayoum Wheels:

Nestled in the picturesque landscape of El-Fayoum, Egypt, lies a unique cultural treasure that has stood the test of time – the El-Fayoum Wheels. These ancient waterwheels, also known as “sakiehs,” are not only practical irrigation tools. But also symbols of the region’s rich agricultural heritage and the ingenuity of its people.

Fayoum Wheels
Fayoum Wheels

Dating back thousands of years, the El-Fayoum Wheels have played a vital role in sustaining life in this fertile oasis. These traditional waterwheels harness the power of the Nile River to irrigate the surrounding farmland. Enabling the cultivation of crops such as wheat, barley, and cotton. The design of the wheels has remained largely unchanged over the centuries. A testament to their efficiency and reliability in an ever-changing world.

As you journey through the rural landscapes of El-Fayoum. You’ll encounter the rhythmic creaking and turning of the sakiehs, a timeless symphony that echoes across the fields. Watching these wooden structures in motion is a mesmerizing experience. As buckets attached to the wheel scoop up water from the water canal below and distribute it along channels to nourish the thirsty soil. The sight of farmers tending to their crops under the shade of palm trees, guided by the gentle rotation of the wheels, is a scene straight out of a bygone era.

Pyramid of Hawara:

Hawara Pyramid
Hawara Pyramid

The Pyramid of Hawara, also known as the Labyrinth, dates back to the reign of Pharaoh Amenemhat III during the Middle Kingdom period of ancient Egypt. Originally constructed as a funerary complex, the pyramid served as the final resting place for the pharaoh and was surrounded by a vast network of temples, courtyards, and tombs. Despite centuries of erosion and plunder, the pyramid remains an impressive testament to the grandeur of Egypt’s ancient civilization.

Plan your trip: The Hidden Pyramids Of Meidum, Hawara, And Lahun Tour

What sets the Pyramid of Hawara apart is its unique design and construction techniques. Unlike the iconic Pyramids of Giza, which have smooth, sloping sides. The Hawara pyramid features a stepped design with layers of limestone blocks. This architectural style is believed to have been inspired by the natural contours of the surrounding landscape and reflects the evolution of pyramid design during the Middle Kingdom period.

Despite its historical significance, the Pyramid of Hawara faces threats from erosion, looting, and encroaching urbanization. Conservation efforts are underway to safeguard the site and protect it for future generations to appreciate and study. By raising awareness of the importance of preserving Egypt’s cultural heritage. We can ensure that sites like the Pyramid of Hawara continue to inspire awe and wonder for centuries to come.

El-Lahun Pyramid:

Constructed during the 12th Dynasty (around 1897 BC – 1878 BC) for Pharaoh Senusret II, the Lahun Pyramid deviates from the classic smooth-sided pyramid form. Built with a mudbrick core, it has the appearance of a three-stepped pyramid today, a result of erosion over time. This method of construction, using mudbrick reinforced with a stone framework, was innovative for its era.

Lahun Pyramid
Lahun Pyramid

One of the most striking features of the Lahun Pyramid is its unusual entrance. Unlike most pyramids where the entrance lies on the east side, the Lahun Pyramid’s entrance is located on the south side. This unique placement has puzzled archaeologists for years, and even led to some early explorers searching in vain on the east side.

Plan your tour: The Hidden Pyramids Of Meidum, Hawara, And Lahun Tour

The Lahun Pyramid complex extends beyond just the main structure. The site includes a mortuary temple, eight mastaba tombs (rectangular flat-roofed structures) believed to belong to high-ranking officials, and a smaller pyramid sometimes referred to as the “Queen’s Pyramid.” Excavations at the site have revealed a wealth of artifacts, including mummies, funerary objects, and even the remains of a nearby workmen’s village.

Tunis Village:

Tunis Village’s story began as a traditional farming and fishing community. However, its transformation unfolded in the 1980s with the arrival of Evelyne Porret, a Swiss potter. Captivated by the village’s serenity, she established a pottery studio, igniting a spark that would forever change its character. Today, Tunis Village is renowned for its vibrant artistic scene.

Tunis Village
Tunis Village

Wander through the village’s narrow lanes and discover a treasure trove of art galleries and pottery workshops. Witness skilled artisans crafting exquisite ceramics, from intricate plates and cups to decorative mirrors.  The air hums with creativity, and the opportunity to learn the craft yourself through workshops adds another layer to the experience.

Wadi El-Rayyan:

Wadi El-Rayyan Falls
Wadi El-Rayyan Falls

A great new hydrological project, in the best traditions of Amenemhat I and Ptolemy I, was completed in the last quarter of the 20th century in Wadi El-Rayyan. A large depression in the desert west of the Fayoum. Water flows into this originally dry basin, 43 meters below sea level, to form two large lakes. The northern lake lies higher than the southern. So, the reed-clad channel linking the two lakes end in a row of falls a couple of meters high. These are the famous shallalat, perhaps, but they are the only waterfalls in Egypt.


El-Fayoum offers a chance to experience the warmth of Egyptian hospitality. Explore the charming villages dotting the landscape, where traditional pottery-making and carpet-weaving are still practiced. Savor delicious local cuisine, featuring fresh produce grown in the fertile oasis, and lose yourself in the vibrant culture of this unique region.

El-Fayoum Oasis is an escape for the soul, offering a chance to reconnect with history, nature, and the simple pleasures of life. So, pack your bags, embrace the spirit of adventure, and embark on a journey to this captivating oasis.