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Far from the hubbub of the best-known Egypt tourist attractions, Siwa Oasis is a lush and verdant desert town that will mesmerise you with its haunting beauty.
Siwa is Egypt’s most northerly oasis town, splendidly isolated 50 km east of the Libyan border. With its 300,000 gently swaying palm trees, 70,000 olive trees, 1,000 freshwater springs, and almost zero pollution, Siwa is the perfect place to discover a refreshingly different aspect of Egypt.
Siwa is a hot, dusty 10+ hour, 560 km drive from Cairo, but it’s worth the journey to discover and savour the secret Egyptian tourist attractions here.
Siwa is home to 30,000 tribal Berbers (Amazigh). They rarely marry outside their community, have a distinctive culture, and speak a unique language, as well as Egypt’s official language of Arabic.
These people are Egypt’s sole significant community of Berbers, and visiting this incredible town feels like stepping back in time.
One of the best ways to visit this remote town is on a Siwa Oasis tour from Cairo, where all the logistics are taken care of for you.
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The Best Things to Do in Siwa Oasis
Here’s exactly what to add to your Siwa itinerary, including an unmissable journey into the Western Desert for an exhilarating sand safari and the best star-gazing experience ever!
1. Shali Fortress
No visit to Siwa would be complete without seeing the 800-year-old ancient Egyptian fortress town of Shali or Shali Ghadi. Brilliantly floodlit at night, this multi-story old town still towers above the modern city of Siwa.
Shali residents lived in houses made from ‘kershif’ (a mix of mud bricks, salt and palm logs) until heavy rains in 1926 forced them to move to more conventional homes.
Infrequent rains are gradually eroding this once-thriving town, but it’s fascinating to peep into what Siwa would have looked like over 800 years ago!
2. Shali Mosque
The Old Mosque in Shali was built in the 13th century, making it the oldest monument in Shali. It’s the oldest mosque in the world, built with kershif.
Look out for the unique chimney-shaped minaret and the ancient builders’ handprints on the walls!
Amazingly, the Old Mosque is the only building in Shali still in regular use today.
3. The Temple of the Oracle of Amun
Another must-visit place in Siwa is the 26th dynasty (663-525 BC) Temple of the Oracle, northwest of the ruined village of Aghurmi. Dedicated to the God Amun, legend tells that Alexander the Great was told he was the legitimate Pharaoh of Egypt at this temple.
Rulers from across the Eastern Mediterranean region revered The Oracle highly, and they came to seek its advice; others feared it and sent their armies to destroy it.
Open daily from 09:00 to 17:00; it’s just 30 EGP to visit.
4. Go on a Great Sand Sea Safari
One of the highlights of any trip to Siwa is a 4×4 sand safari, where you will “surf” along towering golden-hued dunes with a professional guide. You can go for a simple day trip or (much, much better) go for a few days.
Wash the day’s dust off in Bir
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 (what a great collective noun!) living there.
5. Camp Beneath the Milky Way
On an overnight trip into the desert, you can try a traditional Berber meal around a campfire, sleep under the stars, look up at the Milky Way, and enjoy a magical sunrise.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sky so dark or stars so bright as they were in the Western Desert at Siwa!
6. Bathe in Cleopatra’s Pool (Ein Guba)
When you imagine an oasis, do you conjure up an image of fresh, clear pools in the shade of gently swaying palm trees? The town of Siwa is blessed with approximately 1,000 warm and cold-water springs that are heavenly for swimming and bathing. Cleopatra’s Pool is the most well-known warm water spring in Siwa.
According to local legend, Queen Cleopatra VII loved bathing in these natural sulphuric waters. Today, visitors and locals gather to bathe, drink and enjoy local music at Cleopatra’s Pool. 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.
PRO TIP: Remember to respect the local culture and pack the right clothes for Egypt! Once you’re outside the major tourist cities in Egypt, there’s no place for skimpy bikinis when swimming. You might need to wear a t-shirt and shorts (or even something that covers you from neck to ankles and wrists in Siwa!)
7. Visit the Siwa House Museum
This small museum is fascinating if you love history and crafts. Located in an old 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 beautifully embroidered, colourful clothes that reflect the Amazigh’s culture.
Open from 09:00 to 14:00, Saturdays to Thursdays, with a reasonable entrance fee of 10 EGP.
PRO TIP: Watch out for local opening times. The Siwa House Museum closes on Fridays!
8. Swim in the Fatnis Spring (Fantasy Island)
Take a trip in a tuk-tuk (50 EGP return) to enjoy one of Siwa’s most popular swimming and sunset-watching destinations. Fantasy Island is a palm tree delight where you can relax and try the delicious local palm drink with milk.
PRO TIP: Try a refreshing mint tea, and don’t turn down the chance to puff on a shisha. After the heat and dust of the day, the chilled atmosphere of Fatnis Spring makes a perfect end to your day while you watch the sun slip slowly below the horizon.
PRO TIP: Pre-book your jeep safari, as the limited spaces fill up rapidly, especially during the peak tourist season. A sand safari is an unforgettable experience and highly recommended.
9. Dakrour Mountain
This mountain is famous for its spectacular view over Siwa at sunrise from the summit.
You can also try sand bathing, a traditional treatment believed by locals to ease rheumatism and joint pain. Getting buried up to your neck in hot sand is surprisingly pleasant!
PRO TIP: In mid-October, Siwan folk camp at the base of Dakrour Mountain
Dakrour is well sign-posted, and your hotel/B&B can direct you to it. It’s a 45-minute walk to the mountain from the centre of Siwa, or you could bicycle/get a tuk-tuk.
The mountain is not steep and has a clear but narrow path that’s easy to follow. Time your visit to arrive just before the sun rises, and you’ll be treated to a beautiful view across the whole oasis, bathed in a golden light.
PRO TIP: You won’t need climbing boots, but sturdy sandals are essential, as the path is covered in sand, making the rocks feel slippery underfoot, mainly as you descend.
10. Gebel al-Mawta/Mountain of the Dead
The Mountain of the Dead is fascinating and a definite must-see for your visit. It’s easy to reach on foot and cheap to visit by tuk-tuk or bicycle (1 km from the centre of Siwa Town).
The site dates back to the 26th dynasty, and ancient tombs spread over most of the mountain base and sides. Higher up the mountain are 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.
PRO TIP: Climb to the highest peak for the ultimate panoramic view of Siwa.
When Allied forces occupied Siwa in World War II, the town was attacked by Italian bombers in 1942. 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.
11. Swim in Lake Siwa – The Great Salt Lake
The lake is 95% pure salt, used by the Siwan people 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 pleasant to swim in. The high salt content also means you won’t drown, even though the lake is four metres deep!
PRO TIP 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 journey to/from Europe to Africa.
Where to Stay in Siwa
There are plenty of amazing places to stay in Siwa, from quirky little guesthouses to fabulous eco-lodges. Here are a few favourites, including the fabulous but very affordable eco-lodge where I stayed on my last visit!
- Siwa Relax Retreat (Adults only) I’ve stayed here and recommend
- Panta Lodge Siwa
- NaInshal Siwa – a beautiful, authentic house in the centre of Siwa
- Sleep In Siwa – an incredibly popular, family-run guest house
The Best Time to Visit Siwa
As a desert town. Siwa is hot from May to September. If you like heat, love the summer as the city is less busy, but if you prefer a more moderate temperature, avoid the summer months. Here’s the best way 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. 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 you need a jacket.
From November to February: the daytime is bright, sunny and warm in the sun, like late Spring in the UK. Take a jacket though, as the temperature range is from a chilly 15 to a warm 25 Celsius. Night times temperatures plummet to 10 Celsius or below. You’ll need that jacket!
Do I need a guide to visit Siwa?
You can travel to Siwa independently; however, it’s a long and arduous journey by public transport. This highly rated 3 day tour from Cairo, including hotel/airport pickup included, is a safe and hassle-free way to see all of Siwa’s attractions!
Even if you travel independently, you will need a professional guide for any Siwa Oasis tours into the desert to 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 robust 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 that many women travellers experience in other places in Egypt, such as Cairo, Luxor and Aswan.
Related Post: Tips for women travelling solo in Egypt here.
How should I dress in Siwa?
Dress comfortably but conservatively. Check my women’s packing list for Egypt for more detailed guidance.
Should I bring my swimsuit to Siwa?
Yes. There are plenty of amazing freshwater springs in Siwa and the surrounding desert to swim in. Remember that Siwa is predominantly Muslim, so leave skimpy bikinis at home and opt for a modest one-piece swimsuit.
Pro Tip: Pack a t-shirt and old shorts you don’t mind swimming in, as you might need to be more covered up at some of the pools.
What is the tipping etiquette in Siwa Oasis in Egypt?
Are there any snakes or scorpions in the Egyptian 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 a mosquito net?
Can I get vegetarian/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 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!
Great dishes to ask for include Koshary, Hummus, and Ta’Ameya.
Is tap water safe to drink in Siwa?
Don’t drink the tap water, and don’t brush your teeth in it either or you could end up with a nasty case of Delhi Belly!
What is the local currency in Siwa?
The currency is the Egyptian Pound (EGP) which you can get from ATMs, banks and currency exchanges. Credit cards are accepted, but many places prefer cash, and you’ll always need a supply of small notes for ‘baksheesh’.
How deep is the Siwa Oasis?
The oasis is located is a deep depression that is 19 m below sea level. Siwa Salt Lake; however, is 4 m deep.
How long should I spend in Siwa?
Three days and two nights is the ideal time to spend in Siwa.
More Egypt Travel Guides
- Safety Tips for Solo Women Travellers in Egypt
- What to Pack for Travel to Egypt – A Guide for Women
- Travel Mistakes I Made in Egypt
- 56 Awesome Quotes About Egypt to Inspire Your Trip
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