Farafra is a remote and quiet town that feels very traditional and peaceful. It is the smallest and most isolated of the oases in the Western Desert, though it lies in a deep depression that suggests it was once much larger. Limestone escarpments encircle the depression on three sides.
Farafra connects all of the Western Desert together. Wherever your destination, Farafra always seems to be near. It is closer to Libya than to the Nile Valley. The town lies on the edge of the White Desert, an unearthly landscape of luminescent chalk formations sculpted by the wind into the shapes of minarets, animals and mushrooms.
Farafra's main source of income is agriculture, producing mainly dates, olives, beans, rice and watermelons. By drilling new wells, the agricultural area is being expanded and nowadays the oasis produces more than its own needs, and exports the excess output to Cairo and the Nile Valley.
The inhabitants of Farafra come mainly from two extended families, and have been involved in trade and contact with the Nile Valley since earliest times. Until the late-1960s, the population was less than 5,000. The New Valley Project brought migrants from Upper Egypt to the isolated oasis to cultivate the vacant fertile land. Now there are more than 15,000 people living peacefully together, though the quiet-natured Farafrans are distinctly different from the lively Saidis.
The drive to the oasis passes by the Crystal Mountain, just 10 metres to the left of the road between Bahariya and Farafra, known in Arabic as Jebel Izaz . This small hill of calcite has a flower-like growth of crystal formations around the small arch in the centre. It is the remains of a limestone cave pushed upwards by the movement of the earth, complete with stalactites and stalagmites. The glittering calcite crystal and the natural arch make it an obligatory photo stop on the route. Two flat-topped outliers are also prominent to the east of the road, and are known as the Twin Peaks.