Wadi Rayan is a depression in the desert to the southeast of Fayum Oasis (wadi literally means "valley" in Arabic) that was made a protected area in 1989. Part of it was then declared a World Heritage Site in 2005. Wadi Rayan contains a pair of new lakes, which were actually created by a mismanaged government drainage project in the 1970s. Though just a 30-minute drive from Fayum Oasis, the lakes are surrounded on all sides by golden sand dunes and new growth that houses both indigenous and migratory birds; two bird-watching sites have been established on the southeastern side of the lake.
Though it covers around 1,800 sq. km (around 700 sq. miles), two areas are particularly worth visiting in Wadi Rayan. The waterfalls aren't of the Niagara variety, but what makes them worth visiting is the desert setting; they're nestled into the thick reeds between the two lakes and face the beach of the lower. They're a great place for a swim, but there tends to be an audience of young local males. Still, it's a good place to stop for a picnic lunch before moving on.
Wadi al Hitan, or "Valley of the Whales," is named for the ancient whale skeletons that were found on the surface of the desert. These spectacular, 40-million-year-old remains are reminders that the entire area was once covered by a giant inland sea. Declared a World Heritage Site in an effort to protect the fossils, the Orientation Center is accessible by car along a rough, unpaved 34km (21-mile) road. Be prepared to hike from there, however.