When I traveled to Siwa Oasis in October of 2019, I was traveling alone, an American female in her late 40s. I received a lot of different feedback when people saw video clips of me lost and trying to locate my hotel in a remote desert town, thirty miles from the Libyan border. The majority of people thought I had lost my mind, I was naive on global issues or very brave. I know for a fact that I had not lost my mind and I am knowledgeable on global issues past what the media feeds us. I also know that I have an adventurous spirt and am an experienced solo traveler, who has ventured to almost fifty countries. I appreciated the good thoughts sent my way but I do have strong traveling wits, and I was fine!
This post was created with the travelers in mind, either male or female, who will be traveling to Siwa Oasis for the first time and looking to stay in the middle of the town. I will inform you on getting to Siwa, a decent place to stay, food to eat, places to see and what to be aware of. Also, what I plan on doing differently when I do return to Siwa Oasis!
— Siwa Oasis Location —
Siwa Oasis is located on the western border of Egypt and is one of the country’s most isolated settlements, with a population of over 30,000 people. It was not until a few decades ago that a proper road was built to the city and tourism started to open up in Siwa.
Siwa is a very remote desert oasis, about thirty miles from the Libyan border; and it feels as if you are worlds away from home, even if your home is in Cairo.
The highways from Cairo and Alexandria were in decent condition but we traveled at night, so I could not see it really. It did not feel like a rough ride though, until we were a couple hours past Marsa Matruh. That was when I realized how remote Siwa was, when the main roads were bumpy and in worn out conditions. This section was only a fraction of the drive to Siwa, the rest of the roads were okay, but this was not comfortable especially with only two hours of sleep!
— Getting There from Cairo–
There is truly only one way to get to Siwa Oasis and that is by the road. There is not a train, nor an airport, only a long road through the Egyptian dessert. For those who like to schedule your days and purchase your tickets online, you might be able to by the time you are reading this. I researched high and low, plus contacted my travel folks in Egypt and the only way to get a bus ticket was at the station. I believe at one point you could purchase your tickets on line with certain bus companies, but that was in the past and things change all the time in Egypt.
Every blog and website that I read stated different scheduled times that were one or two times a day. Just throw that all away and I will come out and tell you, be flexible on your trip to Siwa Oasis. Buy your ticket well before your trip, one to two days prior, because there may be only one bus a day when you travel. If there are multiple buses leaving Cairo, consider yourself lucky!
Your safest bet is once you arrive into Cairo, get to the bus station- Cairo Gateway (El-Torgoman). Located at: 3 Wabour El-Torgoman St., Ard El-Torgoman, Boulak, Cairo. I had a driver from my hotel bring me to this bus station and wait for me while I bought my ticket. I purchased it a day ahead with ‘West & Mid Delta’ bus because there was only one coach a day. It can fill up quickly and the departure time varies, so be flexible.
You can also rent a car, if you are comfortable with the journey and the driving. It is a very long drive, depending on traffic and road conditions, possibly 8 to 10 hours! Unless you are used to driving in this part of the world, have an international drivers license and insurance, I would suggest that you leave the driving to the experts.
From Alexandria or Marsa Matruh: These two cities also offer buses and are closer to Siwa Oasis, so the journey will not be as long. When I return, I plan on coming in from Marsa Matruh which I believe has a few more travel options than Cairo.
— The Journey —
The overnight drive to Siwa Oasis was not a straight eight hour shot. You will pick up other passengers in Cairo, Alexandria and Marsa Matruh. Plus there will be several bathroom and coffee breaks along the way. This adds up to a journey of more or less, ten hours!
I was intrigued by these all-night bus stops in the middle of the desert, they were always populated and quite safe. You can buy a drink or food from these bus stops, as well as use the bathroom. The stops were considerably clean until you walked into the primitive bathrooms. Ladies, bring toilet paper and hand sanitizer, and prepare to use a squat toilet.
Tip: Bring toilet paper and change in small amounts to use the toilets. The going rate to use the bathroom can range from 5 to 10 EGP. Just listen to how much they are charging on your way in, to make sure that they do not overcharge you on your way out.
— Siwa Oasis Bus Station —
The bus stop in Siwa is a modest building with benches and a seating area in the front. More than likely, your hotel will be picking you up from the bus station or you can take one of the “taxis” to your accomodations.
As for myself, I thought that I could walk to my accomodations but I had gotten lost because the online map was not that accurate! I walked back to the bus station and the gentleman who worked there closed up shop and gave me a ride to my hotel.
I rode on the back of a motorcycle cart through the dusty roads of Siwa, just like a local. My hotel was several Siwa blocks from the bus station and I still could not find it on foot! Once I was there, I knew how to get back to the bus station and walked there on my last day in Siwa.
Tip: Purchase your return ticket once you arrive because they will sell out. As I was boarding the bus back to Cairo, I saw many travelers turned away because the bus sold out hours prior to departure. When I boarded the bus, I was already seated towards the back meaning that the bus tickets were selling a few days prior to my arrival.
— The Town of Siwa Oasis —
The town of Siwa Oasis is not big but it is growing, especially the downtown area. When I first saw photos of the main areas in town, there were simple buildings and dirt roads. It was not until a decade ago when multi-story buildings were being constructed. Progress is good but I feel that Siwa is loosing that old world feel that people come to see.
Ladies, it is a good idea to dress modestly in this part of Egypt. This is not Cairo or Sharm el Sheik, where you can dress like a tourist, so be respectful to their customs. In Siwa, teenage girls and women wear full burqas. The girls as young as fourteen, will wear them once they are engaged but will marry at about eighteen years of age. This is why the boys and young men will curiously stare at you because they typically do not see what a woman looks like past childhood. Some interesting things that I had learned from my guide while driving through Siwa and was asking many questions.
There were a few times that I felt a little uncomfortable and covered my head with my hat and shoulders with my scarf. I was never harassed, only on the bus back to Cairo by a large Sheik but that is another story!
When I say uncomfortable, it was more of myself being well aware of my unfamiliar surroundings and being looked at. The streets and the businesses are run by men and they are used to tourists walking the streets. I still did not make eye contact, nor speak to them and I just minded my own business. There was one moment that I noticed a man and his wife, who was wearing a burqa, in the back of a motorcycle cart. I could see the man motioning to his wife about my exposed hair, so I moved my scarf from my shoulders to over my head like the Virgin Mary!
It is a safe community and they are used to tourists, so there is nothing to be fearful of. Just use ordinary precautions and ladies, dress modestly and carry a scarf with you.
— Accomodations —
There are several styles of accomodations in the main town of Siwa and the surrounding areas. Depending on what you are looking for, I suggest that you research hotels on booking.com or Tripadvisor.
As for myself, I decided on Albabenshal in the middle of town. It was very basic but what attracted me to the hotel was the sandstone structure, built how the ancient parts of Siwa used to be. I also wanted to be in the middle of town, where I could walk around and eat at ABDO restaurant, which is a block away.
Albabenshal Lodge is located directly outside the entrance of the historic Fortress of Shali.
If this is what you are looking for in a hotel in Siwa, then I highly recommend you staying here. The staff was very friendly and helpful, plus they set me up on a great tour of Siwa Oasis. The breakfasts included were very good and they also offer rooftop dining for dinner, at an additional cost.
For my food journal on eating in Siwa Oasis 👩🏻💻➡What I ate in SIWA OASIS, EGYPT | A Food Journal
— What to Do —
Siwa Oasis has several tourist highlights that every visitor sees. A good tour guide will drive you to these locations and give you a history lesson about the sites, plus negotiate the entrance payments for you. Your accomodations can set you up with a tour guide; it is best to contact your hotel before your arrival and let them know you are interested in a tour of Siwa Oasis.
— The Mountain of the Dead —
The Mountain of the Dead is a former burial ground that includes numerous terraced tombs, which were structured along the side of a mountain. The incredible result of these terraced tombs was a pyramid like hill that towers over the palm trees and desert.
These ancient tombs date back to the Egyptian 26th Dynasty and were used for burials during the Greco-Roman Period. Although, there were several important tombs within the Mountain of the dead, none of them were of the Christian or Coptic Christian faith.
For more information please visit 👩🏻💻➡ Mountain of the Dead | Siwa Oasis, Egypt
— The Temple of the Oracle —
The Temple of the Oracle has significance to those who have an interest in ancient civilizations or for those who are curious of the world beyond their backyard. Within the remains of the crumbling ancient village of Aghurmi, there is a small temple, ‘The Temple of the Oracle’ or as it is also known, ‘The Temple of Alexander the Great’.
The Temple of the Oracle was constructed during the 26th Dynasty of Ancient Egypt and was visited by Alexander the Great after it was built. The incredible story of Alexander the Great’s visit was said to have began with a flock of birds, that lead him from the shores of Marsa Matrouh to Agurmi in approximately 332 BC. While inside the oracle temple, Alexander the Great asked the Sun God many questions regarding his conquest of Egypt. The answers from the Sun God ruled in his favor because he eventually conquered Egypt, which began their period of Ancient Greek civilization.
For more information please visit 👩🏻💻➡ Temple of the Oracle – ‘Alexander the Great’ | Siwa Oasis, Egypt
— The Salt Pools —
The salt water pools, in all its turquoise and white beauty were created from the combination of a low annual rainfall and high rates of evaporation. Just as in many heavily salted lakes around the world, these blue pools of salt water have been known for its healing properties.
YES, you can also float due to the heavy amount of salt content. Just be careful not to get any water in your eyes because the burning sensation is very real!
For more information please visit 👩🏻💻➡ The Salt Pools of Siwa Oasis, Egypt
— Cleopatra’s Pool —
It is said that the Queen Cleopatra had swam here, hence the name Cleopatra’s pool. Whether or not she actually did bathe here, this is one of Siwa Oasis’s more visited site. It looked very relaxing and there was a juice bar on site for those who want refreshments while lounging.
While I was in Siwa, I did not take a dip because I had not brought a swimsuit that day. I will save that for the next time that I visit Siwa Oasis.
Tip: Ladies, it is fine to wear a swimsuit but do not be surprised if locals will leave the pool when you arrive. Do not take it offensively, they are just giving your turn in the pool with your western style swimsuits.
— Sunset at Fatnas Island —
I heard an Egyptian-American doctor say, “I now understand why the Egyptians worshiped the sun.” He said this as a small group of us watched the sunset on Fatnas Island, aka ‘Fantasy Island’.
Watching the sun go done on Fatnas Island was one of my more memorable sunsets that I have ever seen. I have witnessed many beautiful sunsets in Hawaii, Greece and around the world. Nothing can compare to making the long journey into Siwa Oasis and watch the sunset on Fantasy Island.
For more information please visit 👩🏻💻➡Traveling for a Sensational Sunset | Fatnas Island, Siwa Oasis, Egypt
— Eating in Siwa Oasis —
I had many memorable experiences of tasting the savory flavors of Siwa. Just like their small and modest community, everything I ate was simple but very flavorful. I was fortunate to not eat international cuisine like in the larger cities of Egypt, but I was treated to traditional regional dishes that were very delicious.
Traditional Siwan Dinner
Main Course: ‘Chicken, Rice and Vegetables’, also served with hummus, pita and fresh cucumber-tomato salad.
Abdu’s restaurant in Siwa Oasis is the most popular place to eat in town. The tasty menu offered Egyptian, Siwan and International dishes and the prices were very inexpensive. My meal had only cost me 60 EGP. As of 2020, the currency exchange is approximately 50 EGP to $3.15 USD. My full meal cost less than $4.00 USD!
— When I return —
Now that I have been to Siwa Oasis, I felt the magic of this isolated desert village. I do plan on returning but will do things differently the next time around. You would think after the long and tiring journey that once would be enough. On the contrary, it was the long journey that made me want to return. I felt it was a special and significant place on Earth, that was off the beaten track. That in time this village will grow into a larger tourist destination and until then, I would like to take advantage of its desert solitude.
So what would I do differently? For one, I would extend my travel time from Cairo to Siwa Oasis and take it slower. My plans are to fly into Alexandria for several days and then head to Marsa Matrouh, either by plane or on the road. I would like to check out Marsa Matrouh for a few days and then take a mini-bus to Siwa Oasis. Since MM is 4-5 hours away, there are more options for traveling there.
Siwa Oasis is not on everyone’s traveling bucket list and many do not get past Cairo or Giza. For those who want adventure and are willing to take a huge step out of their comfort zone, I believe Siwa Oasis was made just for you!
Life begins at the end of your comfort zone…
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📸 All photos are taken by me and are my intellectual property – Trixie Navarre