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Al Fayoum

Less than two hours from Cairo, the vast salty Lake Qarun comes into view and the arid monotonous plains are replaced with a lush patchwork of farming plots, sunflowers swaying in the breeze, and tall date palms with water buffalo lounging in the shade beside them.

This large fertile basin, about 70km wide and 60km long, is often referred to as an oasis, though technically it’s watered not by springs but by the Nile via hundreds of capillary canals, many dug in ancient times. The area harbours a number of small but important archaeological sites; slumped, stubby remains of pyramids and crumbled remnants of once vast Ptolemaic cities that were major centres of crocodile worship. Fayoum is also the base for adventures out to Wadi Rayyan's desert lakes and to Wadi Al Hittan, where prehistoric whale skeletons sit amid a sweep of rock-outcrop dotted sand.

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