Siwa: The Forgotten Oasis

When planning a vacation inside Egypt, what are the destinations that first come to your mind? Let me see, Sharm El-Sheikh, North Coast, Aswan, or maybe Dahab?  Have you ever thought of crossing the Western Desert of Egypt to that little oasis called Siwa? Maybe not. (below image of Siwa by: walidhassanein)

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Where is that?

Siwa is about 305 km southwest of Marsa Matrouh governorate; that’s a long distance to consider especially if you will be coming from Cairo; you will probably ponder does it worth the trouble? Let me assure you that it totally does.  The oasis of Siwa is an untainted place with lots of intact natural sights. It’s a large spread of lakes, natural springs, hills, and palm trees with mesmerizing views.

You can walk among stretches of palm trees enjoying the quietness and serenity of the vast green spaces resting around you. You can dip yourself in one of the many natural springs the oasis is famous for. Or, you can spend a day-out driving through the Great Sand Sea where you will be greeted with endless sand dunes. Oh and if you are a nature lover then you can delight in sunsets and sunrises as you have never seen before or spend the night camping under a star lit sky. Intrigued yet?! (Sand Dunes by: Ernie R.)

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Take me there!

You are probably asking yourself how to get there. Well, there are few ways to make it to Siwa:

  1. You can drive. Go all the way to Marsa Matrouh; then head south in the direction of Siwa for a duration of approximately 3 hours.
  2. You can take the bus. Which leaves Cairo at night (10:00 pm) and reaches Siwa early in the morning (around 7:00 am). A round trip costs about EGP 240; you can take the bus from either Almaza station, Al-Torgoman (that’s in Ramsis), or Abdel Moniem Ryad in Tahrir. The buses are spacious, comfortable, and air conditioned.
  3. You can fly. Usually in summer time there are domestic flights to Marsa Matrouh, you can fly to Matrouh then take a bus to reach the oasis minimizing the amount of time spent on the road. (below image in Siwa by: Thom Chandler)

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Now what?

Now that you are there you should be wondering what to see and do, and how to get the best out of your trip to Siwa; here is a list of suggestions to help you with that :)

Sightseeing

There are few historic sites to be visited in the oasis which are:

  • The Mountain of the Dead; the mountain/hill holds tombs dating back to the 26th Dynasty during the Ptolemaic period. It has a bundle of them; only a few are discovered and can be entered. The most famous one would be the Si-Ammon tomb with wall paintings that look like they have been painted yesterday. You can go all the way up the hill to enjoy a panoramic view of the oasis from the top. (One of the tombs there by Marwa El Agroudy)

tomb mountain of the dead

  • The Fortress of Shali; it’s a 13-century mud brick fortress where the people of Siwa used to live. Unfortunately 3 days of nonstop rain helped in tearing it down leaving only the remains of what used to be a fortress. You can still walk the labyrinth of ruins which will lead you to the top passing through a mosque that’s still operating. The fortress is a great spot for watching sunrises or sunsets offering  a panoramic view of the oasis as well. (Shali Fortress by: Arian Zwegers)

Siwa, the old town

  • The Temple of the Oracle, also known as Aghurmi or Amun Ra Temple. The temple was made by the Greeks and it’s where Alexander the Great headed when he visited Egypt for the first time. (Amun Ra Temple by: Thom Chandler)

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  • Bilad Al-Ruum area or Beld Al-Ruum Tombs  is where the Romans used to live; the area includes some Roman tombs and the remains of a stone temple.
  • The remains of the Temple of Umm Ubayda which was dedicated to Amun. Only one wall of the temple stands now with remaining inscriptions visible at some parts.
  • Siwa House Museum; it’s a typical Siwan house with displays of traditional Siwan objects like jewelry, wedding costumes, and instruments.

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Water Springs

Siwa has a wide range of natural water springs; cold springs and also hot ones. Here are some suggestions:

  • Cleopatra’s Bath or the Spring of Juba; it’s a stoned pool near the Temple of Amun and is considered to be one of the most famous springs in the area. It offers cool refreshing water fed by a natural spring. (Below photo of Cleopatra bath by Vyacheslav Argenberg)

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  • Ain Abu Shrouf or Abu Shrouf Spring; one of the largest and most beautiful springs in Siwa. Its water is cool and so clear that you can see the bottom of it with fish swimming around. It’s believed that the fish is what’s keeping the water clear.
  • Bir Wahed; a freshwater lake in the middle of the desert. It can be a great escape from the heat of the day and an appropriate option for a refreshing splash.
  • Kegar Well; it’s a natural hot spring in the desert of the Great Sand sea. Its sulphurous water can reach over 60 degrees. That spring feels like a hot Jacuzzi where you can relax; it’s also believed that the water can cure some diseases such as psoriasis and rheumatism.

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Nature

That nature in Siwa is just beautiful; it’s a combination of greenery and desert colors with a hint of water landmarks.

  • Fatnas Lake is a huge lake with a small freshwater spring in the entrance to the shore. It’s an excellent place to relax watching the sun sets while enjoying a cup of Louisa tea –is black tea with lemon grass; lemon grass is named Louisa by the Siwans hence the name and this is how they drink their tea-, you will need to watch out for the mosquitoes though.
  • Dakrour Mountain is the highest point in Siwa. The mountain is one of the few hiking spots in the oasis; it’s mostly hiked for watching the sunrise/sunset. One can also marvel at the endless fields of palm trees visible from the top. (Dakrour Mountain by Marwa El Agroudy)

dakrour mountain

  • The Salt Lake; it’s too salty you can float. It offers a floating experience similar to the one you get in the Dead Sea; it’s also a great place for watching sunsets.
  • Adrère Anesbar; it is a hill side providing views of the salt lake and Adrère Amellal which means the White Mountain in Siwan language. The area of that mountain holds one of the most beautiful Eco-Lodges in the oasis which goes by the name Adrère Amellal where it hosted Prince Charles and his wife Camilla Parker Bowles, the Duchess of Cornwall. (Adrère Amellal Island by Laila Said)

adrere amellal island

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Activities

With all the scenery Siwa offers you would think there is nothing to Siwa but nature; actually there is more to Siwa than just that.

  • Off- Roading in the Great Sand Sea is considered to be one of the most famous and enjoyable day trips in the oasis (a personal favorite). Siwa owns some of the highest sand dunes in the country making it a  great location for some sand-boarding. A portion of the Great Sand Sea is actually thought of to be part of the ocean in ancient time; petrified sea shells can be found in some areas. (Off-Roading in Siwa by: Marwa El Agroudy)

off roading

  • Cycling is also popular in Siwa with two shops for rentals; you can rent a bike for a quick ride or even to tour the oasis on two wheels. (Cycling in Siwa by: walidhassanein)

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  • Camping; desert camping is absolutely one of my favorite activities to do in Siwa. You can sleep in a tent or simply take your sleeping bag outside and sleep under a sky full of stars; enjoy a BBQ Bedouin dinner; and if you are into stars or star trails photography then you are definitely in for a treat.

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There is more?!

Siwa is famous for the production of dates and olives. You can find all different sorts of products such as dates, dates jam, olives, olive oil, olive oil soap and olive jam (yes, you read that right; jam) in the local market. It’s also popular for the making of rugs (Kelim), silver jewelry, products like lamps and ashtrays made entirely out of petrified salt, but mostly for its handmade embroidery that comes in several forms from wedding costumes to shawls. Siwa is also known for its natural remedies such as sand-bathing which is said to be very good for rheumatism. (A Siwan sunset at Adrère Amellal Island by: Laila Said)

Siwans are humble and very simple in their living, conservative to a great extent but very generous at the same time. The children are simply adorable; they will greet you if you are passing by and will not mind being photographed or to spend some time with you.

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With all of that to offer, Siwa can be striking and a special enriching experience. Have you changed your mind about Siwa yet? Let us know in the comments below :)

Our Readers Comments

  1. I’m interesting

  2. I have just come back from Siwa (30.30.11. 2015 ),and I feel that you have uunder rated it. I is really fafantastic, the resort I stayed at has a hot spring bath in it’s grounds which are really large, the staff were helpful and friendly. It is called Siwa Shali Resort. It is about 6km outside Siwa center, it might be difficult to find, but they sent someone to show us the way. I believe there are a number of good places to stay, one I was told by a Siwan has no electricity and lots of other old world features.

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