THE WADI EL GEMAL NATIONAL PARK
To book an excursion or safari package please contact Steven@marsaalam.com or via WhatsApp on +201284332337.
The Wadi El Gemal Nationa Park ( Wadi El Gemal meaning “Valley of the Camels” ) is an extensive area of land and coastal water lying to the south of Marsa Alam. It includes many diverse ecological habitats and a rich variety of animal and bird types, including several endangered species. The area was designated a national park by the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency in January 2003.
The park covers a total of some 5,000 square kilometres, including several islands, a stretch of mangrove rich coast line and an extensive mountainous area inland which surrounds one of Egypt’s largest desert wadis.
The Wadi El Gemal area acts to channel any water from the mountains towards the coastline, but some is trapped underground which is a key factor supporting the national park’s vibrant ecosystem.
The valley is most easily accessed by an entrance from the coast road located approximately 45 km south of the small town of Marsa Alam. Do not try to enter on your own as it is easy to get lost inside the national park and it might be difficult for rescuers to find you.
I recommend you contact Steven via his email at firstname.lastname@example.org who can arrange a park safari with an experienced and licensed local tour guide.
Animals that inhabit the wadi include many rare species, such as the nubian ibex and the hyrax as well as wild donkeys, camels and gazelle.
WHAT IS A WADI ?
It’s a seemingly dry desert river valley, which only floods when occasionally the desert experiences a heavy rainfall. Some water however percolates down into the surrounding mountains and experienced locals know how to access it through springs and wells.
THE ABABDA BEDOUIN
In this area the local population is the Ababda Bedouin, who have many rich and colourful traditions, many of which are endangered by the pressures of modern life and the economic exploitation of the area and its resources.
Traditionally nomadic, some still work herding their goat flocks through the network of wadis in search of grazing land and water. They are renowned for their skilled animal tracking abilities.
MINERALS AND MINES OF WADI EL GEMAL
The wadi has long been known as an area rich in minerals and here you can find the world’s oldest emerald mine dating back to pre-Roman times. There are also rich deposits of gold and lead in the area and just outside the National Park boundary lies Egypt’s most productive gold mine at Sukari -some 23 km west of Marsa Alam, close to the road which connects the town with Esna on the Nile.
HISTORIC SITES OF WADI EL GEMAL
The ancient emerald mining settlements can still be seen if you go on an organized safari tour. The most well known is the Roman settlement of Sikait, which they called Mons Smaragdus, meaning “Emerald Mountain.” You can wonder through the village, see a temple dedicated to the god Isis cut out of the rock and also visit the actual mines.
If you have time, you can also explore the Roman town of Umm Kabu, where the emeralds brought down from the mountains were prepared for transportation inland to the Nile, from where they would be sent north towards Alexandria, before being shipped across the Mediterranean to Rome.
Other sites include the emerald processing town of Marfuah where there is a nearby hill with great panoramic views over the surrounding area and Appollonia, where you can view the ruins of an ancient Roman fort.
THE FUSTAT “ECOLODGE”
The ecolodge or “fustat” (one of several Arabic terms for tented encampment ) lies just a short distance from the main entrance on the coastal road and was built in 2005 using traditional materials and architecture.
Its staff are employed to educate visiting tourists on the ecology, geology and history of the valley. Apart from a restaurant it also has a small cinema where visitors can view a documentary about the area, its wildlife, inhabitants and history.
COASTAL MARSH AT RAS BAGHDADI
Near the mouth of the wadi there is a small delta and marsh of around 500 square metres. Here is where the water from a fresh water spring combines with sea water and deposits of alluvial sediment brought down thousands of years ago during the wetter Pleistocene period.
Some types of vegetation, which are relatively salt tolerant, flourish. These include mangrove, tamarisk trees and salvadora persica, better known as the toothbrush tree, as traditionally its twigs were used for toothbrushes.
Wildcats, foxes and gazelle can often be seen here due to the relative abundance of fresh water.
Mangroves can tolerate relatively salty water because their roots filter the sea water and the salt crystals are excreted through their leaves and if you look at a Mangrove leaf under the sun you can often see the shiny salt water crystals on it.
Mangrove performs a crucial role in the coastal eco system by providing protection for birdlife and is one of the few places in the desert environment suitable for nesting. Its cover also enables baby fish to hide from predators and their roots protect the coast from erosion and were also traditionally used by the Bedouin for house construction and its foliage as an animal feed.
Further up the wadi you can find acacia trees usually along the edges of the valley floor. These have evolved over thousands of years to survive the arid conditions of the desert with extraordinarily long roots enabling them to reach the ground water deep below the surface.
THE DORCAS GAZELLE
This species of gazelle can be found in a few southerly areas of Egypt’s Eastern Desert region and the Wadi El Gemal area is probably the most likely place that you will be able to find them. They are adept at desert survival, being able to absorb moisture from the vegetation they eat.
WADI EL GEMAL ISLAND
With its beautiful coral reefs, extensive sea grass beds, crystal clear waters, and amazing wildlife this island is one of the top destinations for visitors.
You can get there by a day boat from Shams Alam diving centre. Steven can arrange this for you – email email@example.com. The island is a haven for dugongs, turtles and a vast variety of migrating sea birds and has been designated as “an important bird area” by Bird Life International.
In order to ensure the Island’s fragile ecology only twenty tourists are allowed to visit the island at a time for a maximum of three hours and only during daylight hours.
THE GREEN SEA TURTLE
The Green turtle lives and breeds in the coastal waters and on the mainland and island beaches of the Wadi el Gemal National Park. They are the only known sea turtle that is totally herbivorous and some are thought to live up to a hundred years and can weigh up to 140 kg – that twice the average human weight !
PLANTS AND VEGETATION
The area supports a fascinating variety of vegetation. If you are an amateur botanist or want to learn more you can obtain a book on plant life in the Wadi El Gemal National Park from Amazon. The author, Tamer Mahmoud, documents how the local population use the vegetation of the wadi for fodder, medicine, fuel and food.
DESERT SAFARIS AND EXCURSIONS
Steven’s Taxis can arrange a private safari trip to the park which can be designed around what you want but might typically include, if it is a half day trip from your hotel, exploring the valley with its mangrove and acacia trees as well as a visit to the ancient emerald mines and the ancient Egyptian temple built during the Roman period. The safari usually includes at least lunch, tea and soft drinks but Seifein can tailor make a package to suit your interests.
After your trip around some of the highlights of the valley, you can enjoy a cool-off swim at Gullan Bay prior to your return transfer to your hotel. For more information contact Steven at firstname.lastname@example.org and let him know what sort of trip you would like and he will give you a price which may vary according to the number of passengers, what’s included and the location of your hotel and he will then confirm this in writing.
The main entrance to Wadi El Gemal is situated 45 km south of Marsa Alam town while Sheikh Malik is located around 75 km north and is therefore more suited to hotels in the El Quseir region. Please let Steven know if you have a preference.
There are also some alternatives to the Wadi El Gemal excursion which might be more suitable depending on the location of your hotel, your budget and your interests. The locations of these often change due to the seasons and availability. Safari trips are normally available every day of the week except for Saturdays and Sundays.
1. A JEEP SAFARI FOR JUST 50 EUROS PER PERSON
You will have your own guide who is an expert on the natural history and local anthropology of Egypt’s Eastern Desert. The jeep will come to pick you up from your hotel at around 14.45, returning to the end of the day at about 20.00.
You will visit one of the famous wadis (valleys) and travel through the desert in a 4X4 Toyota Land Cruiser. After a 20-25 minute ride into the desert, there will be a stop where your guide will explain the area’s striking geological features. You will then continue by jeep to discover more fascinating secrets of the local desert and its surprisingly rich and varied plant and animal life. Towards the end of this first stage of the excursion, you will be able to explore a site where you can closely examine ancient rock art dating back to about 20,000 BC.
This will be followed by a visit to a Bedouin village, where you will meet the local Bedouin and their families and learn about their way of life and traditions and enjoy a typical Bedouin meal preceded, as is local custom, by coffee.
Finally, and for some the highlight of the tour, you will be able to take advantage of the absence of any light pollution and the normally cloudless sky, to observe the stars through a powerful telescope and to enjoy the desert silence for a short period before you are finally driven back to your hotel.
A truly unique excursion to remember for a lifetime !
2. THE SUPER SAFARI FOR 55 EUROS PER PERSON
This includes a pick-up and transfer from your hotel around noon with a return around 8.00 pm. You can enjoy a thrilling half hour quad ride, a brief camel ride as well as a jeep to take you to a Bedouin village and return to “base camp” to partake in a Bedouin meal and a traditional show. You will learn a lot about Bedouin skills and culture and see some truly spectacular desert scenery.
3. THE QUAD SAFARI FOR 50 EUROS PER PERSON
This includes a pick-up and transfer from your hotel around noon returning around 8.00 pm. Enjoy the thrill of a three hour quad bike safari with several stops at points of interest in the desert. Then you will return to “base camp” for a quick break followed by a camel ride and a 30 minute quad ride, this time along the beach at sunset. Then comes an invite to a Bedouin meal in the desert along with a traditional show, before finally returning to your hotel with some unforgettable memories of desert scenery and Bedouin culture.
You can also check out camel safaris and excursions to the remote the camel market at Shalateen on our desert safaris page. To book any of the safaris above please contact Steven by email at email@example.com or via WhatsApp on +20 1284332337.