Wadi Al-Hitan (Whale Valley) is the largest and most important site in the world for whale fossils.
The fossils belong to a now extinct subspecies of whales, which shows their transition from land animals to marine mammals: they still have hind legs. The fossils have been found on the surface in a now completely dry desert landscape, which was part of the enormous Tethys Ocean 40 million years ago.
The fossil whales were first discovered during the winter of 1902-03.
Map of Wadi Al-Hitan
- ●● Natural
Visit October 2018
I'm from the province of Fayoum, which is located by the Valley Rayyan protected and which contain Whale Valley area. It's a great area with many old fossils, which reaches into the forty million years old. We welcome all those who want to visit this attractive place
We drove to wadi al-hitan during our Egypt travel in February 2015. It was quite a drive from Cairo but great scenery on the way. It’s nice to drive through rural Egypt. The site is amazing with the skeletons and the views. I would recommend everyone to go here if you have the option. We did not camp ourselves (not so fond of camping) but I can imagine that’s a great experience too. Nearby there are some waterfalls too to explore. For in-depth photos have a look at my page.
Read more from Chris here.
In 2008 was an undergraduate working on a dig at Karanis, an early Greco-Roman site about 50 miles outside of Cairo and Wadi Al-Hitan was one of the places where we made field trips out to study. It is, beyond measure, one of the most powerfully beautiful places that I have ever been to. The vast, echoing quiet and uniquely shaped landscapes were breathtaking. Trying to come to terms with the fact that 40 million years ago we would have been on the bottom of the ocean while in the middle of the Egyptian desert was both humbling and awe-inspiring. It is not a well-traveled site but is well looked after, and worth the side trip if at all possible.
I went there with my son in July 2011, and if I read the elder reviews a lot has changed. I came with my own car and the road was, although not paved, reasonably good. It was a very hot day, we left very early in the morning from Tunis, but of course you are never early enough when the summer-sun is burning in Egypt. You do not need any police-permission anymore (anyway there is hardly police in Egypt after the revolution), you just buy a ticket before wadi el Rayyan. The first part of the road is passing sand-dunes and the lakes, beautiful!! The second part white sand, mostly flat, the white is burning in your eyes. There was only one person at Wadi Hitan, showing us where to start the 3 km long walk. We were very happy to walk on what was 40 million years ago the bottom of the ocean. Everywhere you see little or bigger sand-hills (over 6000), covering the fossile rests of all kinds of ocean-habitants. Fantastic. We were there all alone, if we were bad people we could have taken fossile vertebra's or ribs... (of course we are not). We loved the landscape so much! We were wondering who is taking the sand away after a sand-storm... We finished our walk at 10.00 h and that was just in time! I am advising you to go as early as possible in summer.
We went in April 2010 and it is an incredible place. We went with an Egyptian Guide and Driver and arrived about 4pm, perfect timing as most visitors had gone so we had the whole place to ourselves and watched the sun setting and creating amazing colours on the surrounding rocks. Seeing the 40 million year old fossils and bones was incredible - the place is covered with mangrove fossils too. We then camped overnight there - waking up at 3am to see the moon up and looking out at such stunning scenery was something I will never forget. The highlight of our tour to Egypt.
We went in October (2008) which was a perfect time of year with the afternoon sun showing off the rich colours of this pristine desert landscape. Once well inside the Wadi Al Rayan national park, there is a 35km dirt track at the end of which is a simple but orderly visitor centre for Wadi Al Hitan, nestled at the bottom of a cliff. From there a couple of short circular walks are laid out, along which fossils have been strategically laid. It’s very tastefully done however. The only trips available on the internet seem to be as part of expensive package tours but we hired a local to take us from the city of Al Fayoum. Make sure you leave before it gets dark and avoid in mid summer or if there has been heavy rain. Technically, all foreign tourists in Al Fayoum region should be accompanied by police for protection, but if you’re discreet it shouldn’t be necessary. Preferably travel with Egyptians.
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Full name: Wadi Al-Hitan (Whale Valley)
Unesco ID: 1186
- 2005 - Inscribed
The site has 10 connections.
- Whales: Fossil whale skeletons
- Dunes: sand dunes (UNEP-WCMC)
- Siraneans: Fossils include skeletons of sea cows (UNEP-WCMC)
- Sandstone Formations
- Fossils: The globally important fossils of Wadi Al-Hitan (Whale Valley), in the Western Desert of Egypt, provide dramatic evidence of one of the iconic stories of evolution: the emergence of whales as ocean-going mammals, from their previous life as land-based animals. (OUV)
- Eocene: The rocks present at Wadi Al-Hitan are all Middle to Late Eocene in age (wiki)
WHS on Other Lists
- Ramsar Wetlands: Wadi El Rayan Protected Area, 2012
World Heritage Process
- Inscribed on a single criterion only: viii. to be outstanding examples representing major stages of earth's history, including the record of life, significant on-going geological processes in the development of landforms, or significant geomorphic or physiographic features
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- Bob Parda
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