Lake Qarun is a popular weekend spot for Cairenes looking to cool down, and the lake edge is dotted with cafes and wedding pavilions. It’s not a big swimming spot, but even the sight of an expansive lake on the edge of the desert is refreshing, and you can rent a rowing boat. The lake is now an important bird area where thousands of migratory birds rest during their winter migration pattern south, including large numbers of flamingos.
Before the 12th-dynasty reigns of Sesostris III and his son Amenemhat III, the area that’s now known as Al Fayoum was entirely covered by Lake Qarun. In an early effort at land reclamation, both pharaohs dug a series of canals linking Qarun to the Nile, and drained much of the lake.
Over the past few centuries, the lake has regained some of its former grandeur due to the diversion of the Nile to create more agricultural land, and it now stretches for 42km. However, since it presently sits at 45m below sea level, the water has suffered from increasing salinity. Remarkably, the wildlife has adapted, and today the self-proclaimed ‘world’s most ancient lake’ supports a unique ecosystem. Chances are that you’ll spot countless varieties of birds here, particularly in autumn, including a large colony of flamingos, grey herons, spoonbills and many duck species.