Siwa Oasis, Egypt’s Desert Treat for Off-Beaten-Path Travelers
SIWA, Egypt—Once Egypt’s most inaccessible oasis, Siwa lies in the Western Desert, 31 miles from the Libyan border. Surrounded by the dunes of the Great Sand Sea, Siwa is considered not only the loveliest oasis in Egypt but one of the best places in all of North Africa.
Siwa has been famous since antiquity when it was home to the Oracle of Amun whom Alexander the Great visited in 332 B.C. and who proclaimed him to be the son of Zeus. The ruins of the Temple of Amun, once dedicated to the Egyptian sun god Amun and which housed the Oracle, still stand a few miles and a short donkey cart ride outside the town of Siwa.
Siwa is an island of lush palm groves, fresh air, and natural springs—both cold and hot—in the midst of hundreds of miles of scorching desert. The town and surrounding villages are home to nearly 30,000 people who are mostly Berber and speak the local language Tasiwit, also called Siwi, as well as Arabic and English.
The faces of Siwa’s local woman are always covered with a black veil in the nomadic tradition, which persists despite the steady flow of tourism to Siwa. However, tourists, and the few Westerners who have stayed to build homes in Siwa, usually dress in Western style. Even still, don’t be too surprised if you earn a few stares, especially for foreign women.
There are ample lodges and hotels in the town that has catered to tourism for decades. The men of Siwa are gracious and hospitable hosts. They’ll happily help you arrange transportation—be it donkey cart, motorcycle tuk-tuk, or Jeep—to venture out into the sand dunes for half-a-day or a several day camping trip.
You can fly to Marsa Matrouh from Cairo during high season, May – September, and then take a bus or shared van from the Marsa Matrouh bus terminal, which takes 3 to 4 hours. Directly from Cairo, it’s about an 8-hour drive by car or 12 hours by local bus. From Alexandria to Siwa it is about 8 hours.