Wadi Degla – Egypt’s Grand Canyon

After a few days in Africa’s largest city you might feel the need for a little respite. Cairo is a wonderfully vibrant, exciting and dynamic place but the pollution and the constant sound of car horns can sometimes become a little overwhelming.

Imagine my delight then to hear that the city has a nature reserve right on it’s doorstep.

It was an old school friend of mine, who has lived in Egypt for the past 18 years, that first told me about Wadi Degla. I decided I needed to explore. You see, he had said the magic word. Fossils.

At first I was a little sceptical. Could this dirty, litter-ridden monster of a city really have a peaceful haven within hopping distance of the centre?

Wagi Degla is known as Egypt’s Grand Canyon! A grandiose title maybe, but I must admit the landscape really is impressive.

Fossils Galore!

What you see today is the remains of an ancient limestone seabed. Some 50 million years ago all of Cairo, and indeed much of Egypt, was covered by the Mediterranean sea. In this warm water huge populations of seacreatures and plankton thrived. When they died their remains settled on the sea bed and over time formed the limestone we see today.

Of course limestone means fossils and there are plenty to be found in Wadi Degla as well as some patches of petrified trees too!

Wadi means valley or dry river bed in Egyptian and the huge canyon is thought to have been carved out by water around 2 to 5 millions years ago, after the sea levels had dropped.

Wadi Degla’s canyon stretches for some 12km and the reserve covers roughly 60 square km. It was designated a protectorate back in 1999 when the closest suburb, Maadi, was still mostly orchards. Since then Cairo has continued its relentless growth and now really does threaten the edges of the reserve. Unfortunately the status of ‘protectorate’ doesn’t really offer much protection under the actual law, as pointed out in a recent report looking into the difficulties and conflicts created by having a reserve so close to the city.

Escape to the City’s Playground

Many Cairenes use Wadi Degla to walk their dogs, picnic, cycle or even camp. And there are some hopeful information boards describing the exciting flora and fauna you could see. Red foxes, hares and eagle owls.

I didn’t see any of these beasties but I did find lots of snail shells. A particular odd sort of snail, the Sphincterochila Boissieri I believe, a snail that actual lives in desert conditions.

Arriving early in the day we spent a lovely few hours enjoying the peace, but as the distant city rumbled into life the smog and dust could be seen creeping into the canyon. Unfortunately I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention the unfortunate pile of litter, some rather aggressive dogs and the huge marble quarry which appears to be slowly encroaching on the edges of the protectorate. With the best will in the world I can’t see Wadi Degla remaining untouched for very much longer. It feels as if Cairo swallows everything in its path.

Practicalities

Getting to Wadi Degla is relatively easy. Take the metro to Maadi and then take a taxi from outside the station. The ride should cost around E£30 to close to the protectorate entrance. You may find the taxi doesn’t want to take you all the way however, as the road becomes pretty rough. There are minibuses that leave from the edge of Maadi and will drop you about a km away but its a bit of a walk from the metro to catch one. They cost E£3 one way.

There are no facilities in the reserve. You will have to carry everything you need. It can get very hot, so bring sun block, a hat and lots of water.

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