Siwa is a town in the Western Desert region of Egypt.
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.
Note: 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.
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 10:00am, 5:00pm, and 10:00pm. Booking ahead is well advised.
There are direct night buses from Cairo Gateway Bus Station to Siwa, leaving every Sunday, Wednesday and Friday night at 7:45pm and costing 60LE. These buses return to Cairo on Mondays and Thursdays and maybe Saturday.
To reach Siwa from Cairo on days not serviced by the direct bus, or to reach Siwa from Alexandria, catch a bus (or shared taxi) to Marsa Matruh, costing 25LE-35LE. From Marsa Matruh, buses run to Siwa daily at 1:30pm and 4:00pm, costing an additional 20LE.
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 600LE 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 20LE+++. 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 10LE per day (5LE 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.
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 3LE for a short trip within the downtown up to 30LE 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.
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.
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.
Cleopatra's Bath, A natural hot spring feeds this rock pool, a popular swimming hole for locals and visitors alike. Restaurant onsite with fresh salads for 5LE
Fatnas Spring, 6km 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, tombs open when the guardians are present, daily 7AM-2PM (Fridays 7AM-12noon), located about 1 km north of the centre of Siwa Town, 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.
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.
Excurisons 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 8:00 AM to drive back to Siwa town - although the Bedouin caretakers will look after you.
Excurisons 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 then jeep safari, Around 50LE per person, no permit needed. Recommended and honest driver: Anwar (+20) (0)10 739 8012 .
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 around 7 to 8 LE for a 500 gram box.
Abdu's Restaurant, 8:30am to midnight, around the corner from the town center, 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.
East-West, on the road leading from the town center to the bus station, fresh fish, pigeon, and pizzas.
Dunes Restaurant, Sharia Torrar, Tables set under the palm trees. Pancakes, smoothies, stuffed pigeon. Sheeshas, live music.
Alexander Restaurant, off central market square, Pizza, vegetable stews, great chicken and curry. Slow service.
New Star Restaurant & Coffee Shop, Sharia Subukha, Opposite Siwa Safari Paradise, Set in a beautiful palm grove. Usual food. Sells traditional clothes and crafts
Zeytouna, Central Market Square, Popular Cafe
Bakri's Cafe, Sohag Rest House, Central Market Square, Great place for sheesha and backgammon
Dreamers, Opposite the Arous-al-waha Hotel, Sheesha, reggae music
Nour El Waha Restaurant , 2046 460 0293, 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.
Sweets shop - patisserie, Walk from main square to bus station, it's on the last alley on the left before the bank, A great sweets shop owned by 2 experts from Aswan. Cheap, delicious, place to sit.
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.
Palm Trees Hotel, Sharia torrar, Town centre, Bed bugs have been reported. Opt for the
Yousef Hotel, just around the corner from the town center and directly across the street from Abdou restaurant, 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.
Albabenshal Hotel , Boutique hotel. Highly recommended. Albabenshal currently 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.
Shali Lodge , 16 rooms. Just a few minutes’ walk from downtown Siwa along a palm-covered dirt road, the 16-room Shali Lodge is centrally located but also peacefully set apart. After a day full of exploring ruins, tasting dates and swimming in freshwater springs, Shali Lodge welcomes travelers to the natural comforts of Siwan hospitality: simple yet elegant rooms furnished with palm frond chairs, tables and beds complemented with colorful Bedouin carpets. Shali Lodge claims one of the few highly regarded restaurants in Siwa. Your dining settings range from the terrace, shaded by date-palms that sprout through the floor to a downstairs den, strewn with cushions and warmed on crisp nights by a wood-burning fire. Savor a date omelet, lamb casserole or a steaming bowl of vegetarian tajin, each flavored with fresh herbs of the oasis.
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.
Jewelry - 50LE to 150LE
Wedding Dresses - Famous for red, orange, green, and black embroidery, embellished with shells and beads - 250LE to 500LE
Baskets - woven from date palms
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.
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.
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Kevin Gabbert, Peter Fitzgerald, hany boshra, Donovan Govan, optional, Seb Ruiz and Colin Jensen, Liorv, Warriorvoyager, Vidimian, Morph, WindHorse, Cacahuate, Fipe and Pjamescowie
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