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Siwa Oasis is an oasis (an isolated area of vegetation in a desert) in the western Egypt, in Mersa Matrouh (Matruh) governorate about 30 miles (50 km) east of the Libyan border, and 348 miles (560 km) west from Cairo. From geological standpoint Siwa Oasis is a depression, a piece of land sunken below the surrounding area. The average depth of Siwa is 59 feet (18 m) with the deepest point 197 feet (60 m) below sea level. Siwa depression is relatively small in size - 52 miles (82 km) long with the average width of about 12 miles (19 km). The total area of the geological formation is 395 sq. miles (1022 sq. km). To compare, the nearby Qattara Depression (east from Siwa) is about 7,500 sq. miles (19,500 sq. km) with the deepest point at 436 feet (133 m) below sea level. The area is known for its springs (by some accounts about 1,000) and several salt water lakes.
The Siwa Oasis is one of the most isolated settlements in Egypt with the known history that goes back to 10th century BC. It cultural and administrative center is the historic town of Siwa. Shali Ghadi, the ancient fortress of Siwa made of mud-bricks and palm logs and almost completely succumbed to time and elements remains a prominent landmark rising above the modern town. Among other historic places of interest is the Temple of the Oracle in the abandoned village of Aghurmi nearby. That's the place Alexander the Great visited in 331 BC (as alleged by his historians) to consult the Oracle of Amun when he conquered Egypt, and where he was confirmed as a divine character and Pharaoh of Egypt. But the notoriety of Oracle of Amun goes far beyond Alexander the Great. The Oracle at Siwa was held in high regard by Greeks who used to send envoys to Ammonia (currently Mersa Matrouh) and travel further to the oasis to consult with the Oracle.
Today, the town of Siwa has a population of around 25,000. The inhabitants of Siwa Oasis are Berbers, and their native language is Siwi although everybody speaks Arabic. For centuries Siwis were almost completely isolated from the rest of Egypt contributing to the development of their own distinct Berber culture. One of the things that visitors find unusual when visiting Siwa are the traditional mud-brick houses. Built with the salty soil of the Oasis, a convenient building material strengthening the walls of the houses, they do not last long. The salt literally melts in the rain making the houses unstable and dangerous for living. As a result many houses stay abandoned and left to the weather to finish them up.
Agriculture is the main activity in the oasis today. The presence of salt (to some degree even in fresh water springs) makes it difficult to cultivate many type of crops. However, date palms and olive trees are thriving. The area is also well known for its crafts. Better means of transportation, roads and communication technology contribute to the gradual opening of the area and its population to the rest of the world. In recent decades, tourism has become an important source of income contributing in its turn to the development of tourist industry infrastructure. Things like new hotels and Siwa's own small airport certainly contribute to the growth in number of travelers to the area. However, Siwans continue to be loyal their own culture and customs and retained much of their heritage. With its very traditional community, Siwa Oasis still remains off the beaten track.
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What Makes It Special
For many people an oasis is a tiny place in a desert with a couple of palms and a hole in the ground with water coming from it. This idea of an oasis is sometimes exaggerated even further with a idealistic image depicting a line of all sorts of wild animals gathering peacefully around the water hole to wait their turn to satisfy the craving for water.
Even if you are not one those I described above, you may be surprised by the vastness and beauty of the Siwa Oasis with date palms and olive trees spreading beyond the horizon. But there is more than just vegetation, springs and lakes. Siwa Oasis has a unique culture, rich and fascinating history that goes back to the times of ancient Greece and Alexander the Great. Nevertheless, the Oasis remains off the beaten path as one of Egypt's most isolated desert areas. And if all this is not enough for you, keep in mind that the Siwa Oasis is also a wonderful place to relax, swim and eat some olives and dates.
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Directions To Destination
International travelers arrive to Egypt by air to Cairo International Airport (IATA: CAI), the primary port of entry to Egypt. It is 9.3 miles (15 km) from the center of Cairo. The shuttle bus service (depart from the Airport every 30 minutes and trip to down town costs about $6 (35 LE) per person or $12 (70 LE) for groups or private use.
Upon arrival to Cairo you can reach Siwa Oasis by:
- Domestic flights to Alexandria by Egypt Air. Alexandria is served by Alexandria International Airport (also called El Nouzha Airport, IATA: ALY) located about 4 miles (7 km) from the city center. Keep in mind that there are no direct flights to Alexandria from Europe or Americas. From Alexandria, travelers to Siwa proceed to their destination by bus or by car (see below for more information on bus).
- Domestic flights to Mersa Matruh Airport (IATA: MUH) by Egypt Air (the city of Mersa Matruh). In many respects this is a route similar to the above to Alexandria. The difference is that there are seasonal operations with international flights from and to Zürich, Bologna, Milan, Rome, Verona, London, Manchester. Usually, flights are scheduled between June and September only. For more details on such flights check Web sites of Neos s.p.a (an Italian airline), Thomson Airways (a UK charter airline) and
Edelweiss Air AG (Switzerland based charter airline). Similar to the route from Alexandria, travelers to Siwa proceed to their destination by bus or by car.
- Charter flight directly from Cairo to Siwa landing at Siwa Oasis North Airport (IATA: SEW). Keep in mind that there are no scheduled flights to the Siwa airport. If you are interested in a charter service, one of the places to inquire about it is International Air Charter
While planing for the routes described above, keep in mind that Siwa is about 466 miles (750 km) from Cairo, 330 miles (530 km) from Alexandria and 186 miles (300 km) from Marsa Matruh.
Using a train can be an alternative to flying to either Alexandria or Marsa Matrouh. A trip Cairo-Alexandria by train is 129 miles (208 km). It takes about three hours by express train and two and a half by a "special" train. The 1st class one-way ticket for an air-conditioned express from Cairo to Alexandria is about $10 (LE 50). From June to September, there is also a train service between Cairo and Marsa Matrouh. The trip takes about seven hours in an overnight sleeper train with prices between $45 per person in a double compartment or $60/person in a single compartment (including dinner and breakfast)
Siwa Oasis can be also reached from Cairo by bus. The Western Delta Bus Company runs a daily service from Cairo to Marsa Matrouh where you need to transfer to the bus going to Siwa. The bus leaves Turkamen Bus Station in Cairo early in the morning. It is a 500 kilometer trip to Marsa Matrouh that takes five hours to complete. The fare for VIP is $10 (60 LE). From Marsa Matrouh bus trip takes four hours and costs $2.50 (15 LE). Finally, there is a direct night bus from Cairo to Siwa departing from Turkamen Station in Cairo later afternoon and arriving to Siwa early in the morning. The same bus goes back to Cairo from Siwa bus station. The bus ticket is about $10 (60 LE).
If you want to travel to Siwa by bus from Alexandria: buses from Moharam Beck Bus Station depart four times a day to Siwa. The trip takes 8 hours and costs $5 (30 LE). Another option is to use minibus. They depart from Moharam Beck Station and you will have to change mini-bus at Marsa Matrouh to Siwa. The total cost of the trip is about $7.50 (45 LE) per person.
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Best Time To Go
The best time to travel to Siwa is in the spring and fall: from March to May and from September to November. During these months the weather is mild and pleasant. The average high temperature is about 77 °F (25 °C) in March, up to 93 °F (34 °C ) in May and vice versa in the fall months.
Siwa is famous for its pure air and blue clear sky. Summers are very hot with average high 100 °F (38 °C) in July, winters are chilly with average low 39 °F (4 °C) in January. Average annual precipitation is only 0.35" (9 mm).
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Where To Stay
- Taghaghien Island Resort (Taghaghien Island, Siwa - Matrouh, Siwa) located four miles from the center of Siwa town. Rates are from $110 per room for double occupancy bungalow (all taxes, service and breakfast are included). Hotel has 30 rooms.
- Taziry Ecolodge Siwa (El Maraky Village, Siwa) located 10 miles from the town of Siwa, overlooking the White Mountain and Ghary Lake. Rates are from $145 per room for double occupancy. Prices are per room (all taxes, service and breakfast are included). Hotel has 30 rooms.
Research and book hotels in or near Siwa, Egypt
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Sightseeing - ruins of Amun and Oracle Temples. The 4-wheel safari excursion in the desert, bathe in hot or cold springs at the oasis. Watch the stars in the desert.
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Useful Visitor Information and Tips
Before traveling to Siwa, we recommend to check the US Department of States Web site regarding the latest alerts and travel information in Egypt.
While incidents of violence are rare, purse-snatching, pick-pocketing and petty theft do occur while traveling in Egypt. It may be a good idea not to leave valuables such as cash, jewelry, and electronic items unsecured in hotel rooms or unattended in public places. Single women should beware of cases of verbal abuse.
The major tourists' decease in Egypt is food poisoning or diarrhea. Drink bottled water, (tap water is not safe to drink) avoid ice cubes in your drinks, try not to buy any not bottled drinks and fruit or food from street vendors. Hospitals are basic outside of Cairo. If you need medical help seek treatment in the capital of Egypt.
Check your medical insurance for coverage of the costs of medical treatment and transfer to your country of residence.
It is hot and dry in the desert. Light cotton clothes, sun block, hat, sun glasses and a bottle of water will all serve you well. A pair of sturdy shoes is helpful too - the terrain is sandy and rocky at the same time.
One of the most convenient ways of transportation inside the Oasis is donkey cart. Negotiate and set the price before the trip. The ride within downtown of Siwa is around 3 LE. A donkey cart is good for 4 people but the less people the faster you get to the place of destination. You can hire a cart for the hole day. The price is about $11.75 (70 LE).
There are a lot of springs in the Oasis where you can bathe. Among popular springs that allegedly cure some diseases are the Kegar well (67°C ) and the Cleopatra's Bath (Spring of Juba or Ain el-Hammam), 29°C. The latter has been known from the times of Herodotus who described it in one of his books.
There are several salt lakes in the Siwa Oasis fed by underground springs. Birket Siwa, the largest lake (20 sq. miles or 43 sq. km) and Birket al-Maraqi (5.6 sq. miles or 9 sq. km) are in the western part of oasis. Birket Azmuri, and Birket Zaytun, both about 10 sq. miles (16 sq.k m), are in the eastern part. There is no fish or life in the lakes - too much salt in the water. There are many mountains and hills in the Oasis. The most famous: Gebel al-Mawta , Gebel al-Dakrur, Gebel Hamra and Gebel Baydai.
Siwa Oasis is located in Egyptian portion of Libyan Desert which in its turn is a part of Sahara Desert. The Western Desert consists of sandy and rocky plateaus. The variety of landscapes in the desert is amazing including mountains like Jebel Uweinat 6496 feet (1980 m) and the Gilf Kebir plateau. The Great Sand Sea is located in Western Desert and borders with Siwa Oasis. It is the one of the largest sand accumulation in the world - a huge area (58,000 sq. miles or 150,000 sq. km) from Siwa to the south is covered with dunes going for hundreds of miles one after another. Some of the dunes can be as high as 350 feet (about 110 meters). The 4 wheel safari excursion in the desert can be a thrilling experience if you travel to the Siwa Oasis.
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