The historic town of Siwa stands on an isolated oasis situated in the Western Desert region of Egypt, approximately 550 km west of the capital Cairo, 305 km south-west of Marsa Matruh and some 50 km from the border with Libya. Extending some 80 km in length and 20 km in width, the oasis is one of the most isolated settlements in the country. Siwa nonetheless holds a special appeal for many travelers on account of its isolation and unique character, its natural beauty and its historical associations. The town has a population of around 25,000.
The inhabitants of Siwa Oasis are ethnically Berber and their mother tongue is a Berber language called Siwi, though nearly all Siwis speak Arabic as a second language and many can also speak some English.
This oasis is not a stereotypical palm grove with a watering hole for animals, Siwa Oasis is a vast region of date palms and olive trees extending over the horizon, with villages and a central lake.
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Siwa has a typical desert climate. It is extremely hot in the summer days and cool in winter nights.
The West Delta Bus Station is the city's main transportation hub and is located near town's main square, up the street from the bank. Buses to Marsa Matruh and continuing to Alexandria leave three times daily at 10AM, 5PM, and 10PM. Booking ahead is well advised.
There are direct night buses from Cairo Gateway Bus Station to Siwa, leaving daily at 7:45PM and costing 60LE. These buses return to Cairo daily, leaving at around 8PM.
To reach Siwa from Cairo on days not served by the direct bus, or to reach Siwa from Alexandria, catch a bus (or shared taxi) to Marsa Matruh, costing 25-35 LE. From Marsa Matruh, buses run to Siwa daily at 1:30PM and 4PM, costing an additional 20 LE.
There are regular buses from Alexandria, leaving at 8AM, 11AM and 3PM, air-conditioned and with modest prices. Journey time 9 hrs. The bus stops three times so you can buy a cup of tea and use the very basic toilets.
From Marsa Matruh
Busses leave Marsa Matruh at 7AM and arrive at Siwa at 11AM.
There is no bus service from Siwa to Bahariyya. The road to/from the Bahariyya Oasis is in bad shape and must be driven by a 4x4. Drivers will make the journey when they have enough passengers, for a price starting from 1200 LE per vehicle. One must try to negotiate a bit and look for other passengers to share the price.
Shared taxi service is erratic, but is available between Siwa and Marsa Matruh costing at least 20 LE. The shared taxis arrive/depart in front of Abdu's Restaurant (across from the Yousef Hotel). Confirming in advance is highly recommended.
Bicycles are the best way to explore Siwa and surroundings, and Chinese gear-less models can be rented for 10 LE per day (5 LE half day). Before accepting a bike, however, check that it is sturdy, that the brakes are functioning well and that the handle bars are not cracked or bent. Note that driving on sand covered streets can be quite a challenge for inexperienced cyclists.
By donkey cart
Donkey cart drivers are mostly children who have been riding donkeys for several years. Prices for this mode of transport are negotiable - just make sure the price is clearly agreed before setting off - and run from around 3 LE for a short trip within the downtown up to 30 LE for longer journeys. To get a few people and their backpacks from the bus station to town center can be as cheap as 1.5 LE. An afternoon trip to Cleopatra's Well will probably cost about 20-25 LE.
- Siwa Oasis. 300,000 palm trees, 70,000 olive trees, 300 freshwater springs.
- Shali. Old town.
- Temple of the Oracle (Situated on the hill of Aghurmi, about 4 km east of Siwa Town). Built in the 6th century BC, dedicated to Zmun (Zeus). Kings unsuccessfully sent armies to destroy this temple due to the power of the oracle. Visited by Alexander the Great, who asked if he was the son of Zeus. Poorly restored. Nearby village is worth a look. 25 LE Adult, 15 LE Student.
- 1 Temple of Amun/Temple of Umm Ubaydah (200m further from the Temple of the Oracle). This structure is almost completely destroyed, owing to its dynamiting in 1896 by an Ottoman governor eager to acquire building material. An inscribed wall represents all that remains to be seen. Based on earlier drawings by pioneer explorers, however, scholars have deduced that the temple was erected by the pharaoh Nectanebo of the 30th Dynasty.
- 2 Cleopatra's Bath. A natural hot spring feeds this rock pool, a popular swimming hole for locals and visitors alike. The cafe offers a choice of cold and hot drinks and food, and you can get an uninterrupted view of the pool from the café or the Bedouin tent.
- Fatnas Spring (6 km west of Siwa town. Go past the Council Building and take a left at the first fork. Continue around the Shali and follow the signs.). Idyllic setting among palm trees and lush greenery. Great place to watch sunset. Small Cafe.
- Gebel el-Mawta / Mountain of the Dead (located about 1 km north of the centre of Siwa Town). tombs open when the guardians are present, daily 7AM-2PM (Fridays 7AM-noon). This hill features a large number of rock cut tombs, mostly dating back to the Ptolemaic and Roman periods (3rd century BCE - 2nd century CE). Make sure you see the tomb containing the 1500-year-old Graeco-Roman mummies which are in excellent condition. 20 LE Adult, 10 LE Student, Baksheesh expected.
- the Tomb of Siamun - beautifully colored reliefs
- the Tomb of Mesu-Isis - contains a mummified skull
- the Tomb of Niperpathot - inscriptions and drawings
- the Tomb of the Crocodile - deteriorating wall paintings show a yellow crocodile
- Gebel Darkur (4km from Siwa town). Get thrown into a bath of hot sand for 20 minutes at a time then drink tea. Supposedly good for rheumatism.
- Excursions to Bir Wahid (12 km southwest of Siwa.). Hot spring out at the dunes of the Great Sand Sea. Spend a night on a desert safari in a 4x4. Experience enormous rolling sand dunes. Sandboarding can be done at a small additional cost, ask before departing. Swim in the hot and cold springs in the desert - excellent, although the hot spring is filled with (possibly rusted) minerals which will leave orange stains on clothing and towels. This may or may not be due to the pipe which supplies the pool. The cold spring is in fact lake-sized with very cold and clean water. Visit the fossilized sea remains in the desert. Sleep overnight at a touristy Bedouin camp, dinner provided. More than likely, the driver will leave and return at 8AM to drive back to Siwa town - although the Bedouin caretakers will look after you. 100 LE + US$5 permit, Haggling necessary.
- Excursions by car safari (around the oasis outskirts). A nice trip by van or car can take you to a hot water spring in a camp next to Darkur, to the eastern lake, to zaytoun abandoned village, to Abu Shoruf cold spring and to the outskirts of the Great Sea of Sand. Cheaper than jeep safari. Around 50 LE per person, no permit needed. Around 50 LE per person, haggling necessary.
- [dead link] Abu-Zahra Bedouin Safaris. One of the most famous families working in the safari business with a good manner and well-known with the high care about keeping the environment clean.
- View the Equinox sunrise over the Amun Oracle from the ancient ruins of Timasirayn temple (12km west of Siwa town, 4x4 required). On March 21st and September 22nd only, view the annual spring and fall Equinox sunrise over Aghurmi/Amun Oracle from Timasirayn temple. Be sure to get there early, and don't forget to bring your zoom camera and/or binoculars, as well as a sweater or jacket. In late 2013, an announcement was made regarding the surprise Archaeoastronomy discovery of precise spring and fall Equinox sunrise alignments over the Aghurmi mound/Amun Oracle when viewed from Timasirayn temple in the Western Sahara desert. This major discovery now places Timasirayn and Siwa Oasis in the same company as other famous Equinox aligned temples and locations such as Angkor Wat in Cambodia; Tikal in Guatemala, South America; Chichen Itza at El Castillo, Mexico; Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, Mexico, etc.
- Jewelry - 50-150 LE
- Wedding dresses - Famous for red, orange, green, and black embroidery, embellished with shells and beads - 250-500 LE
- Baskets - woven from date palms
- Siwa Dates are the best in Egypt, and perhaps the whole world. Apart from regular dates, they are also sold stuffed with almonds and chocolate. Shops specializing in dates are located around Market Square, and prices range from 7-8 LE for a 500-gram box.
- Abdu's Restaurant (around the corner from the town center). 8:30AM to midnight. Small, popular place. Offers a breakfast and a variety of entrées such as pasta, vegetable stews, couscous, meats, and salads - all freshly made, so be prepared to wait. 6-25 LE per entrée.
- East-West (on the road leading from the town center to the bus station). fresh fish, pigeon, and pizzas. 3-15 LE.
- Dunes Restaurant (Sharia Torrar). Tables set under the palm trees. Pancakes, smoothies, stuffed pigeon. Sheeshas, live music. From 8-25 LE.
- Alexander Restaurant (off central market square). Pizza, vegetable stews, great chicken and curry. Slow service. From 5-15 LE.
- New Star Restaurant & Coffee Shop, Sharia Subukha (Opposite Siwa Safari Paradise). Set in a beautiful palm grove. Usual food. Sells traditional clothes and crafts From 5-20 LE.
- Zeytouna (Central Market Square). Popular Cafe
- Bakri's Cafe, Sohag Rest House (Central Market Square). Great place for sheesha and backgammon
- [dead link] Nour El Waha Restaurant, Seboukha St (opposite Shali Lodge), ☎ . Nour El Waha is a popular hang-out in a palm grove opposite Shali Lodge. The food is a mixture of Egyptian and Western cuisine. Sheesha is available at night. Enjoy the food & the music & the traditional siwa tea in a romantic ambiance. LE 2-5.
- abou Ayman, town center (at Shali entrance). very good grilled chicken & Kofta (1/2 chicken @ around 20 LE)
- Albabenshal Siwa Restaurant, Market Square (Just to the left of Shali Main gate, Fortress of Shali). Good food & dessert (feteer (meat/veg) @ 15 LE 1/2 chicken @ 20 LE. Don't miss the Konafa and the date chocolate fluf cake. You can have a drink on the roof.
Siwan Tea. This is a red tea that is commonly found on desert safaris and is available in most restaurants. 500g boxes of red (or green) tea leaves are sold in date/olive shop and cost about 15 LE.
- Arous al-Waha (Bride of the Oasis) Hotel (just north the town center - near the bank & Police station), ☎ . Check-out: noon. rooms with private bath with hot and cold water, but no air conditioning (except for some rooms). single 38 LE, double 50 LE, triple 75 LE.
- 1 [dead link] Cleopatra Hotel (Just south of town center, near the Military Intelligence). Probably the best value in Siwa. Staff will only clean rooms when requested to do so. Single 14 LE w/o bath, 18 LE w/bath; Double 25 LE w/o bath, 30 LE w/bath; Triple 38 LE w/o bath, 42 LE w/bath.
- Palm Trees Hotel (Sharia torrar, Town centre, in the market). Bed bugs have been reported. Opt for the "chalets" rather than rooms in the main building. Bathrooms can be quite grotty, and don't count all of the toilets being functional. Very large, nice garden with trees and fire pit, where the staff will sit at night with guests. Roof terrace with a view of the oasis and Shali, can be used to hang clothes to dry if needed. Laundry done at 1 LE per piece. 15 LE for a private room with a shared bath.
- Yousef Hotel (just around the corner from the town center and directly across the street from Abdou restaurant, in the market). A very clean, quiet hotel. Extremely clean private bathrooms with endless hot water. Roof terrace with a view of the town, beds are comfortable, and most rooms have balconies. Single 8 LE w/o bath, 15 LE w/bath; Double 16 LE w/o bath, 20 LE w/bath.
- Albabenshal Hotel. Boutique hotel. Albabenshal offers 11 guest rooms on three levels, connected through a network of alleyways and terraces that look over central Shali and the palm groves beyond. Inside, guest rooms are furnished and decorated in authentic Siwan style, with colorful Bedouin carpets, palm frond chairs, tables and beds, and linens of fine Egyptian cotton embroidered by women of the oasis (Siwa Creations). On the main terrace, the Albabenshal Restaurant serves a diverse offering of Siwan dishes. 375 LE for double room.
- Shali Lodge. 16 rooms. Just a few minutes’ walk from downtown Siwa along a palm-covered dirt road, the 16-room Shali Lodge has simple yet elegant rooms furnished with palm frond chairs, tables and beds, complemented with colorful Bedouin carpets. Highly regarded restaurant with several different places to eat. Specialities include date omelet, lamb casserole or vegetarian tajin, each flavored with fresh herbs of the oasis. 375 LE.
- Siwa Safari Paradise Hotel, ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Overpriced and tacky. Bungalows and main building. De luxe hotel with air conditionning, cafeteria, restaurant, swimming pool. Visa card is accepted
- Siwa Shali Resort. 200 m swimming pool.
- Siwa Villa, Shali (behind the Old Shali), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Traditionally restored boutique hotel. Run by an English family who live in the oasis. LE 150 for a room; LE 1,000 for the whole villa.
- Taghaghien Island Resort (Taghaghien Island in Lake Siwa (7 km from the town)), ☎ . Single from 200 LE; Double from 300 LE.
- [dead link] Ghaliet Ecolodge, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Peaceful boutique garden hotel located in the palms near the Amun Oracle and Amun Temple. With restaurant, swimming pool, roof terrace and small bazaar. 13 unique guest rooms. Request one of the upper rooms with skylight windows for a special sleeping under the stars experience. Request one of the lower rooms with small backyard gardens for your own outdoor privacy.
- 2 Adrere Amellal: Desert Ecolodge. 40 rooms. With no electricity, the rooms are softly lit with a dozen beeswax candles. From USD200.
- Tamazigh (Around the corner from Adrere Amellal). 8 rooms. A more intimate and more luxurious version of the Adrere Amellal. Large spring-fed swimming pool in lush garden. Some rooms are made entirely out of salt, including the bed and bedside tables.
As a very conservative and traditional town, Siwa is extremely safe. There is no risk of theft or physical violence as long as travelers behave according to expected norms (see 'Respect' below)
Mosquitoes can be a small nuisance.
- Women should not wear clothing that reveals the shoulders, breasts, or legs.
- Public displays of affection are prohibited.
- Alcohol should not be consumed in public.
- Male travelers should avoid contact with the local women as doing so is considered a rude and hostile act.
- Tourist Information, phone 4602338, in the municipal building, open Sa-Th 8AM-2PM, F 6PM-8PM
- Gas Stations beside the mosque in Shali and behind Hotel Arous al-Waha
- telephone office, post office, police across the street from Hotel Arous al-Waha
Buses to Alexandria leave Siwa at 7AM and 10PM, journey time 8 hrs. Buses to Marsa Matruh leave Siwa at 7AM, 10AM and 2PM, journey time 4 hrs. Booking in advance is advised but ticket sales start on the afternoon of the outbound journey.
Alternatively a group of up to 15 persons may rent a minibus to Alexandria or Marsa Matruh, and onward to Cairo from there.