The Siwa Oasis is the most remote in Egypt, earning it the name “furthest oasis” from the Arabs. Mentioned in Ancient Egyptian texts it became famous as the home to the oracle of Amoun, mentioned by the Greek historian Herodotus and visited by Alexander the Great.
It took Alexander 2 weeks of marching to reach the oasis from the coast, a distance of just over 300 km. He was only saved by the timely intervention of 2 crows who led him to safety when lost. Today there are 2 routes to choose from. The first a good tarmac road from Marsa Matrouh, the second an unsealed road passable only by 4×4 from the oasis of Bahariyya for which special permission is required. Most people arrive from Cairo either by public bus – change at Alexandria, or by private vehicles hired from the many small operators who offer excursions there.
There are several hotels to choose from, from ones offering health treatments, to an Eco-lodge and several built in the ruins of the deserted Berber town. The modern town is small, with a thriving high street offering shops selling foodstuffs, some souvenirs and lots of olives and dates, the local specialities.
If you feel inspired to visit the Siwa Oasis and Egypt then read our Travel Guide to Egypt for plenty of ideas and advice. And then search for your ideal Egypt adventure holiday with our selection of exciting and inspirational tours.
The most famous site in Siwa is the Oracle of Amoun itself. Situated on a small rock outcrop to the east of the oasis, it offers long views over the lush date palms to its west, and the salt lakes that ring the fertile lands. The temple remains still stand to the height of the old roof, although much of the finer detail such as inscriptions and decoration have been taken.
The rock outcrop is called Aghormy and as well as the temple there are also later remains of Berber houses, built here for its excellent defensive position. Sitting there today, with few visitors, it is possible to imagine Alexander receiving the news of his divinity as son of Amoun and being told he must conquer the whole world in his father’s honour.
Other monuments include the Temple of Amoun nearby, mostly ruined but with a few inscriptions left and the Mountain of the dead, riddled with Ptolomy and Roman tombs.
Other sights are more recent but no less fascinating. Shali, the old town, was started in the 12th century and only abandoned early last century after a huge storm washed away many buildings. It is possible to wander its crumbling streets and climb to its high point for sunset.
Another favourite – and with some great local Cafes to chill in – is Cleopatra’s bath. This spring waters over 200 acres of lush garden, but where is bubbles to the surface in a large circular pool it is possible to swim but please show respect to the locals in changing and the swimming gear you bring.
Siwa gives off a calm feeling of timelessness and peace. A great way to explore is by bike which can be hired in the town centre, and with little traffic, flat tracks and reasonable distances you can see all you want to. Sigh posts may be few and far between, but the friendliness of the inhabitants means there is always someone willing to direct you, whether they understand you or not! It’s hard to get lost. The historical sites rise out of the date palms to give you something to head towards, and if you reach the desert sand, turn around!