How to Get to Siwa Oasis and the Siwa Salt Lakes

Far from the best-known Egypt tourist attractions, you’ll find the vast expanse of Siwa Salt Lake and Siwa Oasis, a lush and verdant desert town that will mesmerize you with its haunting beauty.

Egypt’s most northerly oasis town, Siwa is splendidly isolated 50 km east of the Libyan border. Siwa Oasis is the perfect place to discover a different aspect of Egypt with 300,000 gently swaying palm trees, 70,000 olive trees, 1,000 freshwater springs, and almost zero pollution.

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If you're planning a trip to Egypt, don't miss the chance to spend a couple of days in the ancient Western Desert town of Siwa Oasis. Packed with historical ruins, hot and cold springs to bathe in and jeep safaris into the desert too, Siwa Oasis is a real off-the-beaten-track experience

Siwa Oasis is one of Egypt’s must-see tourist attractions

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.

Visiting Siwa Oasis is 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 community, have a distinctive culture, and speak a unique language as well as Egypt’s official language of Arabic.

One of the best ways to visit this remote town is on a Siwa Oasis tour from Cairo like this one, where all of the logistics are taken care of for you.

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
View of Zaytun lake, Siwa oasis, Egypt
Zaytun lake, Siwa oasis, Egypt

Ready to get started planning your trip to Siwa Oasis and Siwa Salt Lake?

3 Day Siwa Oasis Itinerary

This three-day Siwa itinerary introduces you to the things to do in Siwa, including a journey into the Western Desert for an exhilarating sand safari.

Depending on when you visit, you might need to re-order the days to fit in with local opening times. For example, the Siwa House Museum closes on Fridays. If you fancy spending one or more nights in the desert (recommended), you can easily extend the itinerary.

One of the must-see Egypt tourist attractions in Siwa Oasis
Siwa Oasis

Siwa Oasis Itinerary Day 1

1. Shali and the Old Mosque

No visit to Siwa Oasis 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 city.

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. Today, the Old Mosque is the only building in regular use. Infrequent rains are gradually eroding this once thriving town, but it’s still a fascinating place to visit and the most popular of Siwa’s tourist attractions. Infrequent rains are gradually eroding this once thriving town, but it’s still a fascinating place to visit and the most popular of Siwa’s tourist attractions.

Pro Tip: Visit the restored Old Mosque to see its unique chimney-shaped minaret. It’s the oldest monument in Shali and the oldest mosque in the world 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, 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. 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.

Pro Tip: From the temple, enjoy the breath-taking views of the surrounding ruined Aghurmi village, across the palm groves and olive trees to Siwa town.

Open daily from 09:00 to 17:00, it’s just 30 EGP to visit.

3. Cleopatra’s Pool (Ein Guba)

Oasis Pool Siwa Oasis

When you imagine an oasis, do you conjure up an image of fresh, clear pools in the shade of gently swaying palm trees? Siwa Oasis 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 of all the warm water springs in Siwa.

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 tourist attractions where visitors and locals gather to bathe, drink and enjoy local music. Tarry a while, relax and enjoy.

Swimming at Siwa Oasis
What I needed to wear to swim in one of the oasis pools!

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 be respectful of the local culture and dress appropriately! 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!)

Read Next: Check Out What to Pack for Trip to Egypt

4. Siwa House Museum

You’ll find this small museum 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 very reasonable entrance fee of 10 EGP.

5. Fatnis Spring (Fantasy Island)

Wind up your first day in Siwa Oasis with a trip in a tuk-tuk (50 EGP return) to enjoy one of Siwa Oasis’ 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 have a 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.

Siwa Oasis at sunrise - one of the best times to visit the Lake Siwa.One of the must-see Egypt tourist attractions in Siwa Oasis
Sunset at Siwa Oasis

Siwa Oasis Itinerary: Day 2

6. Great Sand Sea Safari

One of the most exciting things to do in Siwa Oasis is to explore deep into the desert in a 4×4, surfing along towering golden-hued dunes. Choose a simple day trip or go for a few days.

On an overnight trip, you can sleep under the stars, enjoy a traditional Berber meal around a campfire and enjoy a magical desert sunrise too. 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 Oasis!

Taking a sand safari is one of the best of Egypt's tourist attractions
On a sand safari in Siwa Oasis

Wash the dust of the day off in Bir Wahid, 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 (what a great collective noun!) living there.

Taking a sand safari is one of the best of Egypt's tourist attractions
Driving our into the Western Desert

Pro Tip: Book your trip as soon as you arrive in Siwa, as it’s a close community, and all tours are similar in price, quality, and safety. A sand safari is an unforgettable experience and highly recommended. I think this is the best of the Egyptian tourist attractions in Siwa!

If you prefer to pre-book your jeep safari, Fathi at Siwawi will look after every detail and will make sure you have a memorable trip. Contact Fathi on (+20) 0122 4907806 or (+20) 01096830728.

Siwa Oasis 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 famous 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 Siwan folk camp at the base of the mountain for three days. They eat, talk and banish conflicts to start anew 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/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 the sun rises and you’ll be treated to a beautiful view across the whole oasis, bathed in a golden light.

Pro Tip: The easiest way to check what time sunrise will be is with the free app Sunrise Sunset

Dakrour mountain Siwa
Panorama of old city Shali and mountain Dakrour in Siwa oasis, Egypt

Pro Tip: You won’t need climbing boots, but sturdy sandals are essential, as the path is covered in sand which can make the rocks feel slippery underfoot, mainly 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. The Mountain of the Dead is 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. 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.

Pro Tip: Climb to the highest peak for the ultimate panoramic view of Siwa.

More recently, Siwa Oasis was occupied by Allied forces in World War II and attacked by Italian bombers in 1942. During this time, local people took shelter in the ancient tombs.

Open daily: 09:00 to 17:00. Entrance fee 40 EGP

Siwa Lake at Sunset
Siwa Lake at sunset

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 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 long journey to/from Europe to Africa.

Where to Stay in Siwa Oasis

Siwa has an eclectic mix of accommodation, from quirky little guesthouses and luxurious spa hotels., to fabulous eco-lodges. My favourite place to stay in Siwa is the 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 completely spoiled here.

Find more places to stay in Siwa Oasis here

When to Visit Siwa Oasis

As a desert town. Siwa can get uncomfortably hot from May to September, so it’s good to understand the best time to visit Siwa Oasis. If you like heat, you’ll enjoy visiting during the summer when the city is less busy, but if you prefer a more moderate temperature, you are better to avoid the summer months. Siwa can also get cold, especially at night. 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 need a jacket.

From November to February: the 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 chilly 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 Oasis and Siwa Salt Lake

The local airport isn’t open to commercial flights, so the nearest ones are Alamein, Alexandria, Cairo and Marsa Matrouh (via Cairo).

Pro Tip: 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 Oasis from Alexandria:

Coach (10 hours)

Location: Behind Sidi Gaber Station
Company: West Delta Bus
Depart: 9 am. 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 Oasis 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

Pro Tip: Coaches in Egypt are generally safe and of good quality; however, the toilets on board are horrific!! Don’t sit anywhere near the loo (you’ll gag at the smell): only use it 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.

SEE ALSO: How I made the huge mistake of not taking Imodium to Egypt!!

Don’t Forget Your Travel Insurance

The Siwa Oasis location is remote. When things go wrong, travel insurance protects you against any costs or losses. It will help you if your holiday plans are disrupted or your accommodation gets cancelled; it’s essential if you’re injured 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 Oasis

Q. Do I need a guide to visit Siwa Oasis?

A. 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 by bike. If you’re planning a trip into the desert, Siwa Oasis tours with a local guide will organise all the trip logistics for you, including your permit to visit the desert.

Q. Is Siwa safe for solo female travellers?

A: 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 inappropriately touching women travellers often experience in more popular tourist destinations such as Cairo, Luxor and Aswan.

Related Post: Tips for women travelling solo in Egypt here.

Q: How should I dress?

A: Dress comfortably but conservatively. Check my women’s packing list for Egypt.

Q: Should I bring my swimsuit?

A: Yes. There are plenty of amazing freshwater springs in Siwa and the surrounding desert to swim in. Remember that Siwa is predominantly a Muslim town, so leave the skimpy bikinis at home and opt for a modest one-piece swimsuit.

Pro Tip: 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.

Q: What is the tipping etiquette in Siwa?

A: Tipping (‘baksheesh’) is essential to the people who will serve you in Siwa Oasis, as wages are generally low in Egypt. There’s a good guide to tipping in Egypt here.

Q: Are there any snakes or scorpions in the Egyptian desert?

A: They are rare, and you’re unlikely to see any. Your guide will know what to do if any do appear.

Q: Do I need to bring mosquito repellent and a mosquito net?

A: There are no mosquitos in the desert, but you’ll find them in the town, so don’t forget your DEET-based mosquito repellent. Take a plug-in mosquito killerir?t=greyglobetrot 21&l=ur2&o=2 for your room and consider wearing mosquito bandsir?t=greyglobetrot 21&l=ur2&o=2 too.  

Q: Can I get vegetarian/vegan food in Siwa?

A: 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!

Q: Is tap water safe to drink? 

A: Don’t drink the tap water and don’t brush your teeth in it either! While bottled water is cheap and readily available, take a reusable water bottle and a steripen as a sustainable alternative to plastic bottles and to save money.

Q: What is the currency in Siwa?

A: 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’.

Read all of the Egypt Travel Posts here

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Have you been to Egypt and to Siwa Oasis? What was your experience like? Did I include your favourite Egypt tourist attractions in Siwa? Do let me know in the comments below – I love to hear from you.

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Coralie Thornton

Coralie is an over 50s travel writer based in Yorkshire in the UK who writes engaging travel tips, destination guides, and detailed itineraries about the UK, Europe and beyond to inspire boomer travel. When she's not travelling, she's either planning a new trip, exploring locally in the UK, visiting castles and cathedrals, or finding somewhere new to enjoy afternoon tea.

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