Siwa Oasis Travel Guide 2022

Siwa Oasis Travel Guide 2022

 

The Siwa Oasis is a hidden gem of Egypt.  I only visited it because various people I met up and down the Nile recommended it, but I’m so glad I did.  With less tourists than the rest of Egypt, it’s the perfect place to chill in a laid back atmosphere and explore a multitude of off-the-beaten-track attractions.

 

Why Visit the Siwa Oasis?

Siwa doesn’t have the big draws of the pharaonic civilization – there are no mummies, few hieroglyphics and no huge temple complexes.  But this is also partly what gives it its charm.  Siwa is a pleasant oasis of lakes and palm trees in the middle of the desert just 50km from the Libyan border (but don’t worry, it’s totally safe).  It’s a great place to chill and take time out after the hustle and bustle of Luxor and the dirty sprawl that is Cairo.

Me on a bicycle with a straight road disappearing into the distance behind me and water on either side.

Several kilometres of perfectly straight road connect the town of Siwa with the salt plains. Perfect for the causal cyclist.

 

Top Sights of the Siwa Oasis

The amount of things to see and do in this little oasis in the desert blew me away.  These are the star attractions:

Wonder the Streets of the Shali Fortress – At the centre of the modern town, you’ll find a sprawling maze of alleyways winding between the mud walls of ancient buildings.  This is the Shali Fortress – the old town of Siwa.  Many of them are now uninhabited, but some are still lived in to this day and a few have been extensively renovated.  Look out for the mosque with the beautiful mud minaret near the centre of the old town.  Entry is free.

Climb the Hill Behind the Shali Fortress – Just behind the old town is a rocky hill that looks unscalable from most angles due to its many vertical sections.  However, climbing it is actually quite easy and the views from the top are more than worth the effort.  From the old town, head around the left side of the hill and you’ll find a path to easily ascend to the plateau just below the top.  From here, walk around the hill in either direction and you’ll find another path leading to the summit.   

Mud staircase with craft stands on either side.

The entrance to the Shali fortress. Everything is made of mud.

Mud minaret inside with wooden beams sticking out of it

The recently renovated mud minaret of the Shali Fortress.

Me standing on the top of the hill behind the Shali Fortress with a beautiful view of the old town and Dakrur Mountain.

Climb the hill behind the Shali Fortress for amazing views.

Soak in the Warm Waters of the Almaza Hotspring – I was in Siwa in January and it was really cold, so soaking in this beautiful hot spring was the perfect way to warm up.  There is a lot of misinformation about the hotsprings online, but according to locals, Almaza is the hottest, as it’s next to where the water actually comes out of the ground.  

The Almaza hotspring stays open late and one of the best times to go is in the evening.  It’s a great way to relax after a busy day.  They also serve drinks (no alcohol) and food here.  Apparently, there is a 70 EGP entrance fee, but we were never charged, possibly because we turned up independently instead of arriving on a bus full of tourists.  In the early evening, it can get very busy, due to the tour buses.  We arrived about 10:30pm, when most were leaving and it was really tranquil.  

Explore the Salt Plains and Lakes – To the east of Siwa, you’ll find the salt plains and lakes.  The lakes take the form of small pools of extremely saline water where you can float like a cork (if you’ve ever visited the Dead Sea, this is similar).  There’s also an industrial salt production operation, with mountains of salt piled high, which is fun to explore.  

The area makes a great bicycle trip from the town, as you cycle several kilometres along a perfectly straight man-made road through the middle of a beautiful lake.  There’s even a cute little cafe halfway along the road to stop for a break, perched on a little island just off the road.  At sunset, while we were cycling back, the whole lake turned a soft pink colour.  It was a beautiful end to a beautiful afternoon.

Me standing next to a salt pool with my reflection in the purple-coloured water

The salt pools of Siwa are beautiful, but a bit cold in winter.

Deep blue salt lake with mounds of salt in the background.

The salt lakes are man-made, but still beautiful.

Me standing in front of a mountain of salt with Anna climbing it in the background.

Industrial-scale salt mountains.

Pink skies over a lake of the Siwa Oasis with a string of islands next to the long straight road.

At sunset the sky and the lake turned a brilliant pink. On the islands to the right is a little café in the centre of the lake – perfect for the weary cyclist.

Anna cycling with the pink sky and lake in the background.

Homeward bound (or on to the next adventure).

Hike Dakrur Mountain – Dakrur mountain is a bit like a giant version of the mountain in the centre of town.  It’s steeper, but not overly difficult to climb and again well worth it for the beautiful views from the top.  

The easiest route is to walk up between the two peaks from the eastern side.  From there, there’s an easy path to the summit of the southern peak on the western side of the mountain.  To climb the northern peak, follow the small path around its eastern side and you’ll eventually find a path that will take you up to the summit from the northern side of the mountain.  

Explore the Temple of the Oracle – A small ruined temple and one of the few examples of ancient Egyptian artwork similar to the Nile region in Siwa.  The temple is marked as the Temple of Umm Ubayd on Google Maps.  Not that spectacular, but worth checking out if you’re in the area.

Explore the Temple of Amun – A large temple complex on a hill on a hilltop with views over the surrounding countryside.  This temple is made of a mixture of stone and mud and some parts have been renovated.  

Hike the Mountain of the Dead – Otherwise known as Gabal al-Mawta, the mountain of the dead affords beautiful views over the surrounding area with the added bonus of tombs to explore.  

Me standing on top of the summit marker on Dakrur Mountain.

Maybe I got a little too excited to have reached the top of Dakrur Mountain!

Reddish-coloured rock formations on Dakrur Mountain.

The colourful rock formations of Dakrur Mountain.

Me standing in front an ancient wall covered in ancient drawings.

The Temple of the Oracle has some interesting Egyptian artwork.

Mud buildings of the Temple of Amun with Dakrur Mountain in the background.

Another hill another beautiful view.

Watch the Sunset from Fatnas Island – This is a lovely spot to watch the sun set over Siwa lake.  Don’t think that you’ll be alone, however – every tourist in Siwa descends on this spot at sunset to admire the view.  Consequently, the best viewing points are occupied by outdoor cafes that provide comfy seating on the lake’s edge and serve drinks (no alcohol).  We had a couple of beers we’d brought in from Cairo, so found a spot just outside the cafes to enjoy them.

Visit Cleopatra’s Spring – You can theoretically swim in this spring, as some local boys were doing when we were there, but it’s an ugly concrete pool with trash floating on it surrounded by overpriced tourist shops.  I wouldn’t bother.

The sun setting over Siwa lake with palm trees in the foreground

The sunsets on Fatnas Island are to die for.

Me, standing in front of a concrete pool with rubbish floating in it and palm trees in the background.

Cleopatra’s Dirty Pool

 

Best Restaurants in Siwa

There are roughly two types of restaurants in Siwa – those that are targeted at foreign tourists and those that are targeted at locals.  The ones targeted at foreigners are, as expected, generally more expensive, but often have a range of more exotic dishes that locals don’t eat on a day-to-day basis.  On the other hand, you can’t beat sitting on the floor in a good local restaurant enjoying delicious everyday Egyptian cuisine followed by sweet tea, all at knock-down prices.

For local restaurants especially, go and explore – there are many surprises hidden in plain sight through the streets of Siwa.  However, I would particularly recommend these restaurants:

  • Restaurant with unknown name – the sign was completely in Arabic, so I have no idea what this restaurant is actually called, but you can find it here: https://goo.gl/maps/mrzmECnLiHXZ4ptD6.  The food was delicious, including several dishes (see photo below) and half a grilled chicken that I was so hungry I forgot to photograph when it arrived.  We were the only foreigners in the place (and Anna was the only female), but the staff were super friendly and one of them spoke basic English.  Afterwards, we had sweet Egyptian tea.  It cost just EGP 70 (€4/$4.50) for the two of us.
  • Ola Restaurant – typical tourist place, but very chill atmosphere with a beautiful courtyard.  If you’re feeling adventurous, try the Siwan camel stew.  It’s delicious (but very heavy).  Average cost of a meal for two people is around EGP 200 (€11.50/$12.75).
  • Abdu Restaurant – another tourist place, this one has a good selection of Egyptian and Siwan dishes.  It’s also very popular and gets really busy.  Average cost of a meal for two people is around EGP 200 (€11.50/$12.75).

Me and Anna eating local Egyptian food while sitting on the floor.

Eating Egyptian style at the most local of local restaurants.

A bowl of bright red camel stew with large pieces of meat on top.

Be sure to try camel cooked Siwa style (at Ola restaurant).

A stuffed flatbread.

These flatbreads come stuffed with any number of different fillings – even chocolate! At Abdu Restaurant.

 

Accommodation in Siwa

There’s a large range of accommodation options in and around the Siwa Oasis, so check out the usual sites.  We stayed at the following:

  • Qasr El Salem Hotel – decent budget hotel with a swimming pool (which it was far too cold to use in January).  They have a choice of older rooms (around EGP500/€25/$27.50 per night) in the main building or newer more luxurious ones next to the pool (around EGP650/€32.50/$35.50) and a decent breakfast is included.  Prices may be higher during peak seasons.
  • Hidigda Camp – basic but charming hut with a mattress and a shared bathroom for EGP300 (€15/$16.50).  Includes one of the best breakfasts we had in Egypt.  The real highlight of this place is that it’s just two minutes walk from the entrance to the Almaza hot springs.  However, it’s several kilometres from the centre of town.
Me standing at the entrance of a hut made out of dried grass.

The grass huts at Hidigda Camp are basic but comfortable (and they provided unlimited blankets in winter!)

Traditional Egyptian breakfast with many different dishes.

Egyptian breakfasts are generally delicious and include many different dishes (at Hidigda Camp).

 

Getting Around Siwa

The Siwa Oasis’ myriad attractions are spread out over a wide area comprising a number of villages, mountains, lakes and millions of date palms.  It’s too big for most people to walk comfortably, so your options are the following:

  • Bicycle: Siwa is the perfect size for pedalling around and it’s practically flat, so quite easy going on a bike.  This was our primary means of transportation for the first two days.  Prices started on the high side, at EGP 80 per bike per day, but we managed to bargain them down to 160 EGP for two bikes for two days.  This was the same price as we paid in Luxor, although surprisingly the bargaining was easier there than here.  
  • Hitchhiking: Often, even if you’re not looking to hitchhike, friendly locals will stop and offer you a lift if they see you walking.  We did this once, riding in the tray of a three-wheeled motorbike cart and the driver went out of his way to drop us in the town centre.  After we got off, he grinned, waved and drove off without the slightest suggestion of asking for money.
  • Tuk tuk: these are ubiquitous throughout Siwa and you’ll easily find someone who’s happy to take you to your destination for a few bucks.
  • Tour or private car and driver: These can easily be arranged at the various agents in the town centre or through your hotel.
Me and Anna sitting in the back of a motorized tricycle cart.

Hitchhiking Siwa style!

 

Getting There and Away

There is a daily bus from Cairo at 10pm every day, departing from the West and Middle Delta Bus Company ticket booth located on the spaghetti junction behind the Egyptian Museum, five minutes walk from Tahrir Square (Google Maps location: https://goo.gl/maps/Yq5Zrz5rNYn9Wfjg9).  The ticket costs EGP 260 (€15/$16.50) one way and the journey takes 9 hours, arriving in Siwa about 7am the next day.  

The bus will stop at a couple of checkpoints along the way.  The (usually very friendly) soldiers check everyone’s documents (passports for foreigners) and sometimes make everyone get off the bus to check their bags.  In my case, they found the four cans of beer I’d bought in Cairo and asked “where’re your documents?”  I played dumb and they said “beer passport!”  I almost cracked up laughing.  At that point, a local who spoke better English stepped in to help and explained that they wanted to see the receipt, which I didn’t have.  The soldier just put them back in the bag and let me take them on to Siwa anyway!

The bus times for the return journey to Cairo can vary, as it depends how busy they are.  When I was there, they’d added an extra bus due to high demand, so there was a 18:30 service and a 19:30 service.  Either way, it seems they all depart in the evening and run overnight.  Just ask for the times at the bus station ticket counter.  

There are no scheduled flights to Siwa and no railway line, so your only other options are a rental car or to hire a car and driver.  

A modern bus parked on a street at night.

The buses to Siwa are relatively expensive, but modern and comfortable.

Alcohol (or Lack of) in Siwa

Alcohol is not sold anywhere in Siwa (at least, not openly).  You can bring it in, but keep your receipt, as they may ask for it at checkpoints (see section Getting There and Away).  You can easily buy alcohol in Cairo, the most popular place being a chain of bottle shops called Drinkies.  There’s one conveniently located five minutes walk from the bus stop on Mahmoud Bassiouny Street (Google Maps location: https://goo.gl/maps/MuqMV4ERa8D8Zvbr6).

Two cans of beer marked Stella, but with a different logo to the Belgian beer, with me in the salt pool behind

The most popular beer in Egypt is Stella, but not as we know it. I enjoyed these smuggled cans while floating in the salt pools.

 

More about Egypt

I’ve spent a total of about a month in Egypt on four separate trips, so I’ve seen a large part of the country.  The major draw is, of course, its incredible history and amazing cultural sites, but it’s also a great place to chill out.  For more travel tips and off-the-beaten track ideas, check out my other articles on Egypt: