Off The Beaten Path: Wadi Al-Hitan, Egypt

With the Pyramids of Giza being one of the most visited tourist sites on Earth, its surprising that there are still places in Egypt that have been virtually untouched by the tourist trail. But Wadi Al-Hitan can make that claim, with only about 1000 tourists visiting this incredible sight each year. Translating to ‘Whale Valley’ in Arabic, Wadi Al-Hitan is home to one of the worlds most incredible paleontological areas, with hundreds of prehistoric whale fossils lining the desert floor.

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Wadi Al-Hitan, Whale Valley, Egypt
Photo by Bernd Out

Wadi Al-Hitan, Egypt’s Whale Valley

The fossils where first found in the early 1900’s. However, they where left mostly untouched for the next 80 or so years due to the harsh terrain that surrounds the area. Once four wheel drives became more common, the area began increasing in interest and in order to conserve the array of fossils and specimens, the sight became UNESCO heritage listed. Today, the valley has hundreds of skeletons and fossils of not only whales, but also sea cows, sharks, turtles, crocodiles and rays. Some of the fossils are so well preserved, that there are traces of stomach contents in some of them!

Wadi Al-Hitan, Whale Valley, Egypt
Photo by Tom Horton
Wadi Al-Hitan, Whale Valley, Egypt
Photo by Mohammed ali Moussa

Perhaps the biggest oddity of Wadi Al-Hitan though, is that these aren’t the fossils of just ordinary whales. No, these fossils have one anatomical difference; hind legs. So what does this mean? Well, it appears to show that these animals were once possibly land dwelling mammals. This discovery has cemented Wadi Al-Hitan as being one of the most important areas in researching and understanding evolution.

Wadi Al-Hitan, Whale Valley, Egypt
Photo by Mohammed ali Moussa
Photo by Hatem Moushir
Wadi Al-Hitan, Whale Valley, Egypt
Photo by Hatem Moushir
Wadi Al-Hitan, Whale Valley, Egypt
Photo by Tom Horton

Getting There & About

Though it is only 150km south-west of Cairo, Wadi Al-Hitan is very much off the beaten path. The road leading into the valley is unpaved and crosses through unmarked desert sands. However that doesn’t mean it is impossible to reach. Tour agencies are becoming more popular and frequent in visiting the area. Multiple tour operators offer day trips from Cairo for some pretty reasonable prices. There are also options to camp overnight in the desert.

Wadi Al-Hitan, Whale Valley, Egypt
Photo by Hatem Moushir
Wadi Al-Hitan, Whale Valley, Egypt
Photo by Mohammed ali Moussa
Wadi Al-Hitan, Whale Valley, Egypt
Photo by Tom Horton

Despite being pretty hard to reach and in a tough environment, for those that make the journey, millions of years of marine life lays waiting to be discovered.

Wadi Al-Hitan, Whale Valley, Egypt
Photo by Dale Gillard
Wadi Al-Hitan, Whale Valley, Egypt
Photo by Dale Gillard
Wadi Al-Hitan, Whale Valley, Egypt
Photo by Dale Gillard

 


Where are you favourite fossil sights? Let me know below…

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