Siwa is an oasis lying to the West of the Nile Valley. Siwa has very strong historical and cultural ties to the Nile Valley to the extent that Alexander the Great may have had it as the first thing he visited in Egypt upon conquering it.Today, Siwa offers for native Egyptians -along with Sinai Mountains and beaches- some of the most interesting visiting places after the Nile Valley countryside. In this collaborative article, Siwa's culture, geography as well as all logistical details will be explained for the most intellectual explorers by the Community of SaharaSafaris.
- 1. Getting There
- 2. Transportation in Siwa
- 3. Where to Stay
- 3.1. Budget Lodges
- 3.2. Medium class lodges
- 3.3. Exotic lodges
- 4. Places to Visit
- 4.1. Old town of Shali
- 4.2. Siwa Museum
- 4.3. Abo Shorouf
- 4.4. Maraqi
- 4.5. Desert Safaris
- 4.6. Handicrafts
- 4.7. Qaret Om el-Sagheir
- 4.8. Aghurmi
- 4.9. Cleopatra Spring
- 4.10. Gebel El-Dakrur (Takrur Mountain)
- 4.11. Gebel el-Mawta
- 4.12. Fatnas Island
- 4.13. The House of Siwa
Siwa is 306 KM from Marsa Matrouh to the southwest. It is about 750 KM from Cairo through Alamein and 600 KM from Alexandria.
From Alexandria, 4 buses are scheduled per day: 8 AM, 11 AM, 2 PM and 10 PM. The buses leave from the new Buses station near Carrefour, Gharb El-Delta co. Tickets are 33 LE one way.
From Siwa, 2 buses leave to Cairo (and back) weekly: Monday and Thursday at 8 PM.
From and to Matrouh the bus leaves 4 times a day at 7 AM, 10 AM, 1 PM and 4 PM. The bus ticket is 12 LE on way. If you miss the bus, there are microbuses all the day to and from Matrouh (for 13 LE).
Using private car is an easy and enjoyable way. In the 70s, there were gazelles and Ibex jumping around the road from Matrouh to Siwa but no more.
I took the bus from Cairo to Matrouh at 12 midnight (50 LE) reached Matrouh about 6 AM. I couldn't wait for 7 AM bus so I took a microbus to arrive at Siwa 10:30 AM and still have a full day to enjoy.
Transportation in Siwa
2 LE/hour or 10 LE/day. You can rent a bike and do most of the visits in one day.
Written on it Siwa taxi, you can use it for short distance, long distance and even you can make a deal for the complete tour.
- 100-130 LE/day for a long tour including the temple, Abou Sherouf spring, Senoussi village and a visit to Gaafar Ecolodge
- 50-70 LE for the long distances like the temples in the west, the water springs east and west, price depend on both distance and time.
- 40 LE to Taghaghein Island, and the temples at Maraqi.
- 35 LE to the nearby hot spring in the east.
- 20 LE to Abo-Shrouf depending on time.
Those prices are for one hour and increases by 20 LE per hour.
You can find such trucks downtown and recommended drivers are:
- Soliman @ 012-975-0865
- Ali @ 012-806-9689
Where to Stay
Siwa's lodges are of exceptional quality because they all show great nature in the lodge and not only around it and in all levels of qualities up to exotic decadent luxury. Almost everywhere you find exotic nature of Siwa is reaching you even in the budget class.
That makes great variety in prices starting from 10 LE per night and up to $400 :) that caters even for European royalties.
Located 5 minutes walk away from the main square of Shali, with good location- Has 3 levels of accommodation:Room with external bath: 17 LE Room with a bath: 23 LE for single and 45 LE for doubleThere are rooms with air condition and TV: 85 L.E. with an excellent view on Shali.
Located in the main square, the hotel has a restaurant on the roof with good view of Shali and prepares normal and local food and is reasonably priced. Room with bath, a view on the market and Shali: 50 LE Room with fan and water heater, a side view room with TV, receiver and fridge: 70 LE, Room (Triple): 120 LE
Located close to the main square, in front of Kenouz, clean, good service and menu for reasonable prices Rooms start from 50 LEDouble room: 180 LE
Palm Trees Hotel
Located two blocks away from the main square, 15-25L.E. for bed with external bath (single-double), 35-45 LE for double- triple with a bath, 50 LE for Siwan chalet in the garden of the hotel.
Located in the main square 10-16 LE for single-double with external bath, 15-25 LE single-double with internal bath. (not advisable).
Medium class lodges
The following hotels most have a natural water pool and some have 3 stars rating, prices are around 150 - 300 LE
Kenoz Shali Lodge
Located few minutes’ walk from the main square- Built in Siwan style- Their Restaurant has a very good chief- Prices are moderate (try Romanneya, and vegetable kouskous)
Siwa Safari Paradise
3 stars- Has a natural water pool- Few minutes’ walk to the main square.
has a natural water pool- on the way to Aghouramy more than 1 km from the main square- the rooms have TV, fan, water heater and fridge- 90-140 LE for single-double room, 110-160 LE for single-double room with air condition all on B&B.
Few KMs from the main square- it is an island in the western lake of Siwa with lodging and day use facilities
Located a long walk from the main square- no pool- about 150 LE for B&B. Mainly used by official events. Very good hotel, I tried it couple of years ago.
Relatively new, it is between the gardens in the eastern side of Siwa. I'm not sure whether the owner is an SS member or is it just similar names.
Far from the main square, has a natural pool, prices from 160 - 280 LE
Near Gebel El-Dakrur (Takrur)- usually used in the summer by people who come to experience curing by sand burying.
Desert Rose Hotel
"Desert rose" is not just a name for the hotel but I find it giving the real meaning, after leaving the "noisy" town and starting the journey after the signs for the hotel, you pass a long distance (by bicycle/donkey cart/car) where there are the gardens on your right side and the borders of the desert for the other side.
It is located about 3 kms away from downtown on the way to Bir Wahed (#1) in an area called "el-Shahayem" (southwest of Siwa), I felt as if I'm on the borders with the great sand sea as the old asphalt ends only about 200 meters after the hotel (my personal conclusion that this asphalt was paved when king Fouad visited the oasis). There are only 8 rooms with external bathroom, prices on B&B are 70, 120, 180 LE for single, double or triple room respectively, but you'll add everyday transportation to move anywhere (about 20 L.E. each time), they can prepare Siwan food. Check the photos in the link at the end of this message.
Located in the northeast of Siwa in the area of Gebel el-Mawata. It is built and operated by a local Siwan person named "Gamal Youssef" who is originally a builder, the lodge consists of only 6 rooms (planning to build more) each room with internal bathroom, TV, fan and heater. Prices on B&B are 120, 160, 190 L.E. for single, double or triple room respectively. Contact 046-460-1745, 010-762-5862 or 010-099-9255. The lodge is still new, and can prepare Siwan food.
Talking with Gamal (the owner) he told me about the problems that he's facing as a local and not an investor to operate such a place. He is a builder and built every part of it by his own hands, cost him material and finishing about 240,000 LE. Now to get a license from tourism authority he has to pay some fees where the lodge is priced as a value of 2 Million LE! He also stated that some non-Egyptians bought houses in Siwa and operating them as lodging facility, marketing through Internet and accepting the guests officially as friends not tourists, and so they pay nothing for tourism authorities.
Anyway, enjoy the photos :)
Adrar Amellal Eco-lodge
(you need to get a permission from "Kenouz lodge" to visit the place, as the two places have the same management) In the Siwan language it means the White Mountain, sometimes also called Ga'far for the Shrine of a good person in the area named "Ga'far". It is located about 17 kms to the west of Siwa at the western end of the western lake.
There are several places for having breakfast and dinner (about 5-6 places, check the photos), and sounds a great idea. Lunch is served in the garden (between palm trees) where there is a natural water pool.
Adrar Amellal Eco-lodge is built using the Siwan material in building, in a normal room price may be $250 - 350 per night and reaches 400 $/night in the royal suit (check the photo of it), as much as I know a desert safari is included.
However, there are some people who disagree with such a lodge, some locals say that a poor man can't build a house anymore as such eco-lodges increased the prices of building material, for example a palm stem which used to cost 1 LE is now for 6 LE. Palm stem is used as ceiling and must be used in a special time of the year otherwise it will need some "treatment" before being used in building.
The eco-lodge is known to be owned by an environmentalist/investor from Cairo, but some people says that on paper it is owned by a local so as to get a lot of funding/aid. Anyway, it is not my subject :)
enjoy the photos on the following link:
One more "resort" I would like to point to is "Royal Cleopatra International Touristic Resort", it is just behind Gebel El-Dakrur (Takrur) and I guess it was targeting the guests of burying in sand, it is the first photo in the previous link :)
Siwa Safari Gardens Hotel
this resort is a relatively new hotel, it is managed by mr. sami who is a very helpful and nice guy, the rooms are really good, clean, equipped with everything (bathroom, AC, TV, Satellite, heater, minibar, etc..) there is a Wireless internet signal in the lobby free for guests, the hotel's garden style is really authentic and nice, palm trees, bonfire place, arabian a3da, etc... there is a natural water spring in the center of the garden and during certain hours of the day it heats and u could see smoke coming out of it :)
the food is nice, dates cheesecake is a great savory dish to try there, so is milk with she3reya at breakfast. the staff is REALLY helpfull specially mostafa at the restaurant and ihab who is available day and night. its location is 5 minutes walking from downtown and there is a place to park your cars outside the hotel.
if you are a group (more than 10 persons) from saharasafaris you could discuss a discount with mr. sami the manager, just mentioning the fact you are a member of sahara safaris would give you credit with him based on his experience with us :)the rates range around 200 LE per person per night. you should contact reception for price updates
hotel website: http://www.siwagardens.com/aboutSiwaGardensHotel.html
excellent tripadvisor review: http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Hotel_Review-g303857-d1631099-Reviews-Siwa_...
Places to Visit
There is a lot to be seen in Siwa, the basic visits that could be made in one day are all in the eastern side. There previous tour could be done by bicycle, donkey cart or car but for the first two will, take more time. There is a professional Siwan archeologist for such a tour if you're interested, his name is "Fatehy Diab", he also has some great researches.
Old town of Shali
Back to the main square, you can end your tour visiting the Old City of Shali
Shali in the Siwan language means "town", sometimes also it is called the citadel.
Shali was built in 1203 to protect the Siwa from attacks by the desert Bedouins. It is built from "karsheif" which is mainly from the local salty soil in Siwa. It was partially destroyed in 3 days heavy rain in 1926.
Shali used to have one main gate that closes by sunset and was called "Bab Inshal" (as much as I remember it mean the main gate), it was divided between eastern and western Siwans, each living in the east/west half of Shali. The houses sometimes reached 7 & 8 levels (floors) as there was no chance for horizontal extensions.
My aunt who visited Siwa in the 80s three times told me that there were people still living in Shali and didn't leave it, and that you have to be with a local to have the chance to "discover" all the way between its streets.
To compare Siwa before the heavy rains and now please check the link
in the third photo, you'll notice new buildings down Shali; it is a hotel less than 2 years old and is named "Bab Inshal" also made by the same owner of Adrar Amellal.
Siwa museum behind Gebel el-Mawta.
Far to the east there is Abo Shorouf spring where you can swim and enjoy a lot of beautiful scenes, it is about 25 kms to the east of Siwa.
In the west (about 20 kms) there is an area called Maraqi where there is more than a temple to be visited.
Siwa is famous also by desert safaris; there are several shops in the market offering such service. To make a Desert Safari and to enjoy the Sand Dunes you have to be guided by one of the expert drivers (I recommend Sayed: 010-689-3687) and you have to get an army permit (for Egyptians 5 LE for Foreigners $5). Such safari costs 70-100 L.E per person for 4 hrs tour including visiting Bir Wahed (#1), the cold lake and watching sunset over dunes (Highly recommend for sand surfing lovers).
There is also the handcraft centre at the entrance of the oasis in the north.
Qaret Om el-Sagheir
It is a small oasis 130 kms from Siwa, and need special permission to be visited.
This is another oasis similar to Shali with its own important points of interest such as Temple of Amun.
Temple of Amun
From the main square: The Oracle temple, then the destroyed temple of Amun “Um e'beida”
Siwa is famous in history by the Oracle Temple where Alexander the great travelled for almost 18 days in the desert to visit. No one knows what he was told there but he conquered the world after that.
The Oracle Temple is located on a huge rock called "Aghurmi" about 3 kms to the east of the main square, Aghurmi rock is suffering old age and is almost broken (split to two halves) from the place beneath the oracle, but some restoration work was done to save the temple from collapsing.
Over years people started to build their houses on the top of Aghurmi and around the temple, but they're now ruins. The restoration mission started by restoration of the mosque there to win the respect and cooperation of the locals.
In the rocks of the wall of the temple, there are signs for marine fossils.
(Photos will be in another message)
Temple of "Um Eibeida"
Not far from the oracle temple, this temple was completely destroyed in 1898 by an officer to build a house from rocks, that time there was no kind of awareness towards archaeological sites. However, construction of the temple and the drawings on its walls was previously registered by some traveler/explorer.
To the east of Siwa, it is believed that Cleopatra used this spring for bathing. In the 90s of the 20th century, the wall of the spring was covered by ceramic!! Now it is removed to keep its original look. People swim in the pool, but ladies must show some respect to the local community traditions and ethics by not showing much of skin (bikini should not be worn). Check the photos to see how local kids look strangely (and may be offended) at some tourists not respecting their culture.
Gebel El-Dakrur (Takrur Mountain)
The mountain is to the east of Siwa, famous for curing rheumatic disease by burying in the sand, usually in the summer (June, July & August). At this mountain an annual celebration takes place; the celebration lasts for three days during the full moon in October after the dates and olives harvest season.
There is more than one opinion about how the mountain gained its name, the one I remember is that the area was a slave trading point, where slaves used to come from Dakar. (sorry can't remember other opinions now).
You can start the day by visiting Gebel El-Mawta (Mountain of the Dead).
Located in the northern part of the oasis, it is the first archaeological site you meet on arriving to the oasis (it will be to the left). It contains many tombs from the Pharaonic time, four of them having drawings on their walls. It was used by Siwans and English soldiers as a refugee in the World War II. Several drawings and paintings were destroyed or removed and taken by English soldiers. If you know any who got such paintings you can help to get more info about the tombs' owners. There are some ruins in front of the mountain.
The big mosque is just off the main square on the way to Gebel el- Mawta, it was built by King Fouad, and there is a shrine beside it.
At sunset you can go to Fatnas Island on the western lake. This tour could be done by bicycle, donkey cart or car but for the first two will, take more time. There is a professional Siwan archeologist for such a tour if you're interested, his name is “Fathy Diab”. He also has some great researches.
Fatnas is is an island in the western salty lake, famous with the magnificent sunset view. The salty lake was created from agricultural drainage water. However, few years ago an agricultural drainage project took place to solve the problem of excessive waste water taking the borders of water away from the island, but tourism to the island wasn't affected. The locals say that the project was just like a "pain killer" and not "curing" the problem. There is a fresh water spring where people can swim.
Please check the photos on the following link
The House of Siwa
The Grandmother... and the Gun.
Built recently to describe how the traditional houses of Siwa were built, it also shows how the daily life used to be, the traditional dresses and the jewelry.
In the entrance of the house there are three 'ladies' wearing three different dresses used to be wore by the bride on the first, third and seventh days after the wedding, on the first day for her friends (ladies of course), on the third day for her aunts, and on the seventh day for mother (yes, the mother doesn't come except on the seventh day). Check the photos (the link in the previous message) for more details.
There is a warm corner in the house where the grandmother used to sit every night and gather the children around her for storytelling, stories about their history, heroes and ethics. The guide said sadly "but now the hero on TV is the one having the gun in his hand not the one with good manners", I heard it couple of years ago, but understood it last October when I attended the celebration, All the kids having the plastic gun in their hand and shooting at each other. Personally I was shot twice before the kind old man tell the kids not to play or bother older guests. I think as a "Siwan kid" after watching TV that "the hero is the one having a gun in his hand not the one having ethics as the grandmother used to say :("
I uploaded more photos for written articles in the house of Siwa; you can download each of them, zoom in and read, the link is http://www.worldisround.com/articles/345617/index.html