Siwa Oasis is a magical place far away from the best known Egypt tourist attractions. Lush and verdant, with 300,000 gently swaying palm trees, 70,000 olive trees, 1,000 freshwater springs and almost zero pollution, Siwa is a true off-the-beaten-track gem. The most northerly of Egypt’s oasis towns, Siwa sits in splendid isolation 50km east of the Libyan border.
Yes, Siwa is a hot, dusty 10+ hour, 560 km drive from Cairo, but it’s well worth the journey to slowly discover and savour the secret Egypt tourist attractions here.
Visiting Siwa feels like stepping back in time. The town is home to Egypt’s only significant tribal Berber (Amazigh) community. These 30,000 people rarely marry outside of their own community, have a distinctive culture and speak their own language as well as Egypt’s official language of Arabic. This makes Siwa fascinating to visit.
“The famous oasis of Siwa…cannot be said to have fallen from its high estate…only it has stood still while the world went on”
Wilfred Jennings-Bramley A Journey to Siwa in 1896
Ready to get started?
3 Day Siwa Itinerary
This three-day Siwa itinerary introduces you to Siwa’s main attractions, including a trip into the Western Desert for an exhilarating sand safari. Depending on when you visit, you may need to re-order the days, to fit in with local opening times. For example, the Siwa House Museum is closed on Fridays. If you fancy spending one or more nights in the desert (recommended), you can easily extend the itinerary too.
Siwa Itinerary Day 1
1. Shali and the Old Mosque
No visit to Siwa would be complete without seeing the ancient 800-year-old fortress town of Shali (Shali Ghadi). Brilliantly floodlit at night, this multi-story old town still towers above the modern town.
The crumbling houses are built from kershif (a mix of mud bricks and salt) and palm logs. Continuously lived in until 1926, the buildings were badly damaged after three days of heavy rains. The people moved to conventional homes and only one building, the Old Mosque remains in regular use. Infrequent rains are gradually eroding this once thriving town, but it’s still a fascinating place to visit and Siwa’s #1 tourist attraction.
The restored Old Mosque is worth a visit to see its unique chimney-shaped minaret. It’s the oldest monument in Shali and the oldest mosque in the world to be built with kershif.
2. The Temple of the Oracle
Another must-visit place in Siwa is the 26th dynasty (663-525 BC) Temple of the Oracle, in the northwest of the ruined village of Aghurmi. Dedicated to the God Amun, legend tells that Alexander the Great was told that he was the legitimate Pharaoh of Egypt at this temple. The Oracle was so revered that rulers from across the Eastern Mediterranean region came to seek its advice; others feared it and sent their armies to destroy it.
From the temple there are breath-taking views of the surrounding ruined Aghurmi village, across the palm groves and olive trees to Siwa town.
Open from 09:00 to 17:00 every day. Just 30EGP to visit.
3. Cleopatra’s Pool (Ein Guba)
When you imagine an oasis, do you think of cool, clear pools in the shade of palm trees? Siwa Oasis is blessed with approximately 1,000 warm and cold-water springs that are heavenly to swim and bathe in. Cleopatra’s Pool is the most well-known of the warm water springs. According to local legend, Queen Cleopatra VII enjoyed bathing in the natural sulphuric waters here. Today, Cleopatra’s Pool is one of Siwa’s most popular attractions where tourists and locals gather to bathe, drink and enjoy local music. Tarry a while, relax and enjoy.
While Cleopatra’s Pool is the largest of the pools at the oasis, there are many others where you can cool off during a hot day. Remember to be respectful of the local culture and dress appropriately! It’s not a place for skimpy bikinis and you might need to wear a t-shirt and shorts…
4. Siwa House Museum
If you love history and crafts, you’ll find this small museum fascinating. Located in a traditional Siwan house, the museum showcases tribal life in Siwa. The splendid collection of traditional Berber wedding dresses alone makes a visit worthwhile. You’ll also see charming handicrafts like silver jewellery, decorative plates, and the beautifully embroidered, colourful clothes that reflect the Amazigh’s culture. It’s a very lovely place.
Open from 09:00 to 14:00 Saturdays to Thursdays with a very reasonable entrance fee of 10 EGP.
5. Fatnis Spring (Fantasy Island)
Wind up your first day in Siwa with a trip in a tuk-tuk (50 EGP return) to enjoy one of the most popular swimming and sunset watching destinations in Siwa. Fantasy Island is a palm tree delight where you can relax and try the delicious local palm drink with milk. You’ll probably be offered a refreshing mint tea and maybe even even to try a puff on a shisha. After the heat and dust of the day, the chilled atmosphere of this relaxing place is the perfect end to your day as you watch the sun slip slowly below the horizon.
Siwa Itinerary: Day 2
6. Great Sand Sea Safari
One of the most thrilling things to do in Siwa is to explore deep into the desert in a 4×4, surfing towering sand dunes. Choose a simple day trip or go for a few days. On an overnight trip you have the chance to sleep out under the stars, enjoy a traditional Berber meal around a campfire and enjoy a magical desert sunrise too. Wash the dust of the day off in Bir Wahed, a hot water spring, then cool down for your evening with a dip in a cold-water spring.
Friendly, safe guides organise everything for you and take the time to show you ancient Roman tombs, sites from the time of the Pharaohs plus fossils and rocky coral reefs from the Cambrian era. Ask to visit Lake Shiaata, 60km from Siwa, where you’ll be dazzled by the flamboyance of flamingos living there.
Book your trip when you arrive in Siwa – as it’s a close community, all trips are similar in price, quality and safety. A sand safari is an unforgettable experience and highly recommended. If you’re a keen stargazer, you’ll love it even more!
Prefer to pre-book your jeep safari? Fathi at Siwawi will look after every detail to make sure you have a memorable trip. Contact Fathi on (+20) 0122 4907806 or (+20) 01096830728.
Siwa Itinerary: Day 3
Rise early on the last day of your tour, for the chance to enjoy an unforgettable desert sunrise.
7. Dakrour Mountain
This mountain is popular because you can:
- Enjoy the spectacular view from the mountain at sunrise
- Try sand bathing, a traditional treatment believed by local people to ease rheumatism and joint pain. Getting buried up to your neck in hot sand is surprisingly pleasant!
- Experience the local festival in mid-October where Siwans camp at the base of the mountain for three days. They eat, talk and banish conflicts, in order to start afresh for the next year.
Dakrour is well sign-posted and your hotel/B&B will direct you to it. It’ll take you about 45 minutes to walk to the mountain from the centre of Siwa, or you could bicycle or get a tuk-tuk.
The mountain itself is not steep and it has a clear but narrow path that’s easy to follow. Time your visit to arrive just before sunrise and you’ll be treated to a wonderful view across the whole oasis, bathed in a golden light. (The easiest way to check what time sunrise will be is with the free app Sunrise Sunset)
You won’t need climbing boots, but sturdy sandals are important, as the path is covered in sand which can make the rocks feel slippery underfoot, particularly as you descend.
8. Gebel al-Mawta/Mountain of the Dead
The Mountain of the Dead is fascinating and a definite must-see for your visit. Located just 1km from the town, it’s easy to reach on foot and cheap to visit by tuk-tuk or bicycle.
Dating back to the 26th dynasty, the site is littered with ancient tombs spread over most of the mountain base and sides. Climb higher up the mountain to find the Pharaonic tombs, including the tombs of Si-Amun, Mesu-Isis and the Crocodile tomb. The tomb of Si-Amun has beautifully coloured reliefs of a man making offerings and praying to Egyptian gods.
Climb to the highest peak for the ultimate panoramic view of Siwa.
More recently, Siwa was occupied by Allied forces in World War II and it was bombed by the Italian forces in 1942. During this time, local people took shelter in the ancient tombs.
Open daily: 09:00 to 17:00. Entrance fee 40 EGP
After your trip to the Mountain of the Dead, relax, enjoy local food and maybe take a dip in one of the oasis pools, before heading out to see your final desert sunset at Lake Siwa.
9. Lake Siwa – The Great Salt Lake
The lake is 95% pure salt, used by Siwans for thousands of years to build their houses. The salt is also harvested to make lamps which are believed to have healing properties. The waters of the lake are crystal clear and wonderful to swim in. The high salt content also means you won’t drown, even though the lake is four metres deep!
The best time to visit the Great Salt Lake is at sunset when it’s fabulous for photography. Relax here with local Bedouin tea and enjoy watching the birdlife. The lake is a haven for bird watchers, with many migratory birds resting here on their long journey to/from Europe to Africa.
Where to Stay in Siwa
Siwa has a good mix of accommodation, from quirky little guest houses and Airbnb’s to luxurious spa hotels. My favourite places to stay in Siwa are:
- Siwa Safari Gardens Hotel: A boutique hotel, built in the local style, with a pool fed from a freshwater spring. This cosy, spotlessly clean hotel is hidden away from the hustle and bustle of the town, but well worth tracking down.
- Siwa Relax Retreat (Adults Only): With a peaceful lakeside location providing prime sunset watching views of Siwa’s West Salt Lake, this hotel is an ecolodge, natural Spa and certified massage centre. You’ll be rather spoiled here…
I often use Airbnb when traveling and my experience has been great. I’ve met interesting people and stayed in quirky places. Find all the Airbnb listings for Siwa here. If you’re new to Airbnb, use this link to bag a discount of up to £23 off your stay.
When to Visit Siwa
Siwa is a desert town and it can get uncomfortably hot from May to September. If you like heat, visit during the summer when the town is less busy, but if you prefer a more moderate temperature, avoid the summer months. Siwa can also get cold, especially at night. Here’s how to be prepared:
From March to May it’s sandstorm season: Spectacular sandstorms can blow in without warning at this time of year, settling in and blowing for six to twelve hours, so pack sunglasses and a headscarf. Daytimes are warm and dry with zero humidity and temperatures ranging from 20 to 30 Celsius. Nights remain warm but pleasant, ranging from 15-20 Celsius.
From June to September: daytime temperatures are hot. Expect it to be 30+ Celsius, sometimes over 40 Celsius. While there’s no humidity, the heat can be uncomfortable and tiring (I visited in August when it was 46 degrees!!). Try to sightsee in the early hours and relax inside or in a pool when the temperature rises. It can be hard to sleep as temperatures at night remain very warm, so book a room with aircon, as night-time temperatures will range from 20 to 30+ Celsius
October is my favourite time to visit. Expect an average daytime temperature of 22 Celsius and temperatures at night to dip below 20 Celsius. You’ll sleep more easily but need a jacket.
From November to February: daytime is bright, sunny and warm in the sun, rather like late Spring in the UK. Take a jacket though as the temperature range is from a cool 15 to a warm 25 Celsius. Night times temperatures plummet to 10 Celsius or below. You’ll need that jacket…
How to Get to Siwa
As a remote desert town, getting to Siwa takes time. The airport isn’t open to commercial flights, so the nearest airports are Alamein, Alexandria, Cairo and Marsa Matrouh (via Cairo). I’ve always found the cheapest fares with Momondo or Skyscanner, because they check prices and availability with all the airlines flying to Egypt.
Many Siwan hotels will offer to pick you up from the airport, however, you may want to rest for a day after your flight, before your (long) journey to Siwa. Ask your Siwan hotel to pick you up from a hotel in Cairo or Alexandria or travel onward to Siwa independently.
Getting to Siwa from Alexandria:
Coach (10 hours)
Location: Behind Sidi Gaber Station
Company: West Delta Bus
Depart: 9am. Return: 07:00, 10:00; 15:00 and 22:00. Frequency: Daily
Price: 33-35 EGP
Car (7 hours)
Alexandria to Marsa Matrouh: 3 hrs; Marsa Matrouh to Siwa: 4 hrs
Getting to Siwa from Cairo
Coach (10-12 hours)
Location: Almaza Bus Station, Heliopolis
Depart Cairo: 18:45 Arr Siwa: 05:35. Frequency: Wed, Fri and Sun
Return: 20:00. Frequency: Sat, Mon and Thur
Price: 60 EG
Car (9 1/2 hours)
Cairo to Wadi Natrun: 2 hours
Wadi Natrun to Alamein: 1.5 hours
Tip: Coaches in Egypt are generally safe and good quality, however the toilets on board are horrific!! Don’t sit anywhere near the loo (you’ll gag at the smell) and only use the loo if you’re desperate. Take wipes/toilet paper and be prepared for it to be unsanitary. More importantly, if you’re a solo woman traveller, dress conservatively, choose a seat near the front and sit with other female passengers. Find more tips for women traveling solo in Egypt here.
Don’t Forget Your Insurance
Siwa is remote. If something happens to you, you need to be sure you’re well looked after. Travel insurance covers you against any cost or losses if something goes wrong when you’re away. It will help you if your holiday plans are disrupted or your accommodation gets cancelled, and it’s essential if you injure yourself or if your possessions are stolen, lost, or damaged while travelling. I buy an annual travel plan from World Nomads because their rates are fair, and their customer service is outstanding.
FAQs for Your 3 Days in Siwa
Do I need a guide to visit Siwa?
You won’t need a guide if you’re only going to explore Siwa, as most of the town is easy to reach on foot or bikes. If you’re planning a trip into the desert, you’ll need a local guide who will also organise all the trip logistics for you, including your permit to visit the desert.
Is Siwa safe for solo female travellers?
Yes. As a small town with a strong tribal bond Siwa is very safe and female harassment is virtually non-existent. It’s a welcome break from the constant cat-calling and inappropriate touching women travellers often experience in more popular tourist destinations such as Cairo, Luxor and Aswan.
Find more tips for women traveling solo in Egypt here.
How should I dress?
Dress comfortably but conservatively. Find out more with our women’s packing list for Egypt.
Should bring my swimsuit?
Yes. There are plenty of amazing fresh water springs in Siwa and the surrounding desert to swim in. Remember that Siwa is predominantly as Moslem town, so it’s best to leave the skimpy bikinis at home and opt for a modest one-piece swimsuit. Take a t shirt and old shorts you don’t mind swimming in too, as you might need to be more covered up at some of the pools closer to the town.
What is the tipping etiquette in Siwa?
Tipping (known as ‘baksheesh’) is important to the people who will serve you in Siwa, as wages are generally low in Egypt. Read this guide to tipping in Egypt.
Are there any snakes or scorpion in the desert?
They are rare and you’re unlikely to see any. Your guide will know what to do if any do appear.
Do I need to bring mosquito repellent and/or a mosquito net?
There are no mosquitos in the desert, but you will find them in the town, so don’t forget your DEET-based mosquito repellent. Take a plug-in mosquito killer for your room and consider wearing mosquito bands too.
Can I get vegetarians/vegan food in Siwa?
Yes. Restaurants in Siwa cater well for vegetarians, as Egyptian cuisine relies heavily on legumes, vegetables and bread. Egyptians do eat meat, but it’s a luxury and it’s not as plentiful as in other countries. Egyptian puddings are usually fruit such as figs, dates or oranges. The local dates in Siwa are delicious!
Is tap water safe to drink?
What is the currency in Siwa?
The currency is the Egyptian Pound (EGP) which you can get from ATM’s, banks and currency exchanges. Credit cards are accepted, but many places prefer cash, and you’ll need a supply of small notes for tipping (‘baksheesh’).
What are your favourite Egypt tourist attractions? Let us know in the comments below.