Siwa Oasis Trip: Full Guide To Visit Siwa Independently

Introduction to Siwa Oasis

Siwa Oasis was the one place in Egypt we knew we had to get to, no matter how! In the end, it turned out to be really easy to plan a Siwa Oasis trip, but that wasn’t the story everyone else told us.

Siwa Oasis is (as it sounds) an oasis, around 50km from the Egypt-Libya border. It’s a stunningly beautiful and easy-to-navigate destination in Egypt that few people are fortunate enough to visit. It’s currently in that perfect position where the locals understand tourism well enough to have a good set up in place to welcome visitors, but it’s not yet inundated with tourists. Basically, it’s still quiet enough to enjoy yourself.

In recent years, it’s become popular for the so-called ‘salt lakes’ nearby the town of Siwa. Of course, this was one of the main reasons we decided to visit, but we were shocked to see how much more Siwa Oasis actually had to offer. This tiny little desert town had so much going on in the way of culture, history and scenic beauty.

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A view out over what looks like a forest of palm trees. In the distance there are rolling sandstone mountains and just in front of them a beautiful sandstone fortress
Views of Siwa Shali Fortress

Sustainable Travel in Siwa Oasis

Siwa Oasis is an up and coming destination, which means that, as yet, it hasn’t seen a huge influx of tourism. In many ways, this is good, as it doesn’t yet have the infrastructure to support it, but it is becoming a more popular place. The locals we encountered were extremely friendly and open to tourism, and there are now a few hotels and restaurants now in place.

If it’s your first time visiting Egypt, you can check our guide: 10 things you should know before visiting Egypt. It’s worth noting that Siwa Oasis is quite different from the rest of Egypt!

Things you need to know about Siwa Oasis

  1. There are no cars in Siwa. Transportation is mainly tuktuks and donkey carts!
  2. Food in Siwa is quite simple. It’s hard to import food out to the Western Desert so a lot of food will be local delicacies. In Siwa Oasis, you’ll find a lot of olives, dates, hummus, pita bread, tameya (Egyptian falafel), cheese and eggs. There are plenty of shops, however, selling things like crisps and chocolate if you need snacks. Those with strict dietary requirements should go prepared.
  3. While the hotels in Siwa Oasis we recommend are lovely, they are quite basic! We stayed in Mountain Camp Ali Khaled, and it was great, more information below.
  4. WiFi is sporadic and we personally didn’t get phone network anywhere around Siwa Oasis. The electricity is also prone to switching off for a few hours.
  5. Siwa Oasis can get very cold compared to the rest of Egypt. The hotels have a lot of blankets, so you won’t be uncomfortable at night, but also take a jumper/sweater for the evenings.
  6. English is not commonly spoken in Siwa. Arabic is common, but it’s not the main language of the area; that is actually Siwi (a Bedouin language). There are many people in the area who only speak Siwi, but a good amount of people will understand Arabic, so it pays to have some basic level Arabic at least.

Safety in Siwa Oasis

With our usual proviso that safety is relative to every individual, we felt extremely safe in Siwa. It’s a small desert town with mostly friendly people, and not much going on day to day. Currently, it is completely unaffected by any of the trouble in Libya and there is no cause for concern in this area. Siwa welcomes a lot of tourists annually and you can tell as soon as you arrive that the locals are very used to tourists.

Unlike much of the rest of Egypt, we did not experience much hassle here, and people generally left us to our own devices. Since the people of Siwa have benefitted enormously from tourism, it’s uncommon to see many scams or tourist harassment. Even the men here seem quite respectful of women and I experienced a lot less staring than I did elsewhere (check our post on Egypt in general for more information on this).

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Insurance for travelling through Africa

If you’re visiting off-the-beaten track places like Siwa, it’s really important to have great travel insurance. Of course we always hope that our trips will be smooth-sailing, but the fact is things can go wrong and it’s better to be covered. We use SafetyWing for our travel insurance and we love how simple they are to use and easy they are to understand. You can even book with SafetyWing while you are already away, which is a great pro.

Check the prices for your trip below.

Emma and Murray are floating top to toe in a salt lake in Siwa Oasis. They are both grinning at the camera and look very excited
Siwa Salt Lakes

Things to do in Siwa Oasis

Siwa Oasis Salt Lakes

For many people, the main attraction of Siwa Oasis is the ‘salt lakes’. In fact, they are pools within a functioning salt mine, so they’re a bit of a strange tourist attraction at all if you think about it. There are diggers around and people mining in places. In fact it doesn’t matter that the lakes are within a salt mine, because they are so much fun and make for some absolutely phenomenal photos. We didn’t find the diggers disturbing – we barely noticed them honestly.

These are a beautiful part of the area, and a great opportunity for photos. They’re also a lot of fun to bathe in and a great stop in the middle of the trip. That being said, they are not by any means the only reason to visit Siwa Oasis and only make up a very small part of the Siwa Oasis trip itinerary. Our driver was so sweet when we were here, and was going to great lengths for shots of us, even, at what point, standing on the top of his tuktuk to get ‘drone’ like pictures (completely his suggestion, not ours!). This was before we had our drone, so we were really grateful for his creativity!

Tips for visiting the salt lakes in Siwa Oasis

It may seem very obvious, but the salt lakes are extremely salty. That means it’s not really like any other freshwater bathing experience, and isn’t even comparable to swimming in the sea. Here’s what you need to know:

  • You’ll float very easily! This is a great feeling and is really fun
  • If you have any cuts or scrapes on your body, cover them with a band-aid, otherwise prepare to be in pain! Of course the salt-water is really good for cuts and scrapes but it does sting a lot.
  • We would advise taking hiking sandals, which you can take on and off as you get into the water. The rocks are sharp, so it’s tough to walk on barefoot, and kind of hurts as you’re getting into the water. You’ll want to minimise time without shoes on
  • When you come out, you will immediately want to wash off, as the water is so salty. We personally didn’t want to wait half an hour for Cleopatra’s pool so, EXPERT TIP: we took our Camelbaks full of water and hooked them up to the tuktuk, so we could have a quick rinse afterwards. This was actually genius from us if we do say so ourselves!

Just to add: we heard all of this before visiting and thought the experience would be a little unpleasant. It’s not at all and the above are minor inconveniences at worst.

A pool of fresh water in a stone well. In the background is a stone restaurant and lots of palm trees and local shops
Cleopatra’s Pool

Cleopatra’s Pool

Cleopatra’s Pool is a natural water source which fills a stone well just outside of Siwa Town. The local people believe that those who bathe in the spring will be beautiful forever. Of course, Murray had to get in and have a go!

Note: we found it pretty safe and our friend (a woman) hopped in and had a swim, however we have heard stories that it is not generally safe for women travellers to bathe in bikinis or usual tourist bathing costumes here, particularly if they’re travelling alone. We didn’t find that but we’d hate to miss out critical information like this in case someone else is affected.

We have to say, we did have a rinse here since we visited just after the salt lakes (and we were in dire need of some freshwater), but it wasn’t the best for swimming. The pool itself is really pretty (but small!) and has a sweet little cafe/restaurant on site, so you can sit around for a while and enjoy the views, however the water was a bit grimy and covered in bugs.

As a natural water source, this is to be expected, but I can’t say we felt the cleanest afterwards. The cafe, however, does some fantastic smoothies and we enjoyed a quiet afternoon here.

Responsible Travel Tip: bring a reusable cup for the smoothies, as they only have plastic cups!

A dilapidated ruin on the top of a mountain. In the background is Siwa Oasis town
The Temple of Umm Ubayd

The Oracle Temple

This temple is awesome. It’s the place where Alexander the Great claimed to have heard an oracle that named him son of Amun, an Egyptian deity. Like much of Siwa Oasis, it has beautiful views and a very unique feel. We had a guide (who spoke English!) for this part of our trip, which made it all the more interesting, as we could ask questions and learn.

The Temple of Umm Ubayd

This temple is almost completely in ruins, however it’s definitely still worth a visit! It’s very close to the Temple of the Oracle, so it’s easy to visit from there. Again, we had a guide for this part of the trip, so we were able to ask some questions.

The Mountain of the Dead

The Mountain of the Dead is a really unique place, almost like a miniature Valley of the Kings! It’s the resting place of thousands of people, including perhaps the most famous, Si-Amun. You can visit a couple of the tombs and explore the artwork within. It’s even rumoured to house the grave of Alexander the Great, though this has never been found!

A view out over a forest of palm trees from the top of a sandstone building
Views from Shali Fortress

Shali Fortress

I honestly have no idea why this isn’t the main attraction marketed for Siwa Oasis! With no disrespect to the salt lakes, this was one of the coolest things we saw in 6 months travelling around Africa and we cannot believe that more people don’t know about it. Basically, it’s a sandstone fortress and looks kind of like an abandoned Mont-St-Michel or Carcassonne in layout. It also has the most incredible views from the top and you can see it from almost every part of Siwa. This is a real must-visit for anyone visiting Siwa Oasis!

Fatnas Island

Fatnas Island is a beautiful spot in Siwa Oasis. The setting is really idyllic, and it’s a great spot to watch the sunset. This is also another spot in Siwa where you can get great smoothies (seems like a theme!). Personally we only visited the cafe here to watch the sunset, but apparently there is a pool where you can bathe if that interests you.

A traditional Egyptian carpet on a dock looking out over a lake
Fatnas Island

Dakrour Mountain

From sunset straight to sunrise! Dakrour Mountain is really pretty and a great place to visit at sunrise. If you climb it early enough, you can get amazing sunrise views over Siwa Oasis. The hotel we recommended (Mount Camp Ali Khaled) is right next to Dakrour Mountain, so at least you get a little more of a lie-in than if you stay elsewhere!

The Egyptian Western Desert

The desert near Siwa Oasis is undeniably beautiful. Personally, we perhaps did not appreciate it as much as we should have, since we’d been to a lot of deserts just before this. Even then, we found it really stunning and would definitely recommend a trip out there if you are visiting Siwa.

The desert tour we took (which we think is a pretty standard itinerary) involved dune bashing (driving over the sand dunes), a visit to a few sites in the desert (like the fish graveyard which used to be a lake), tea in the desert and a sunset dune climb. Personally, we found the drivers a little reckless, so this is one to watch out for! Otherwise, it’s pretty fun.

A plaque which reads: The Mountain of the Dead: This cemetery was the main cemetery of ancient siwa during the eras of the Pharaohs, the Greeks and the Romans. It contains hundreds of tombs carved in the rocks, 4 tombs still retain their colours.' Some text is in Arabic, some in English
The Mountain of the Dead

Planning a Siwa Oasis trip with a tour company

All information online currently recommends to visit Siwa Oasis with iEgypt, who were the same people we ended up using. Having used iEgypt, we’d probably recommend not using them, unless you are really uncomfortable travelling yourself and want a helping hand.

Though iEgypt advertise what they do as a tour of Siwa, they actually just book your bus tickets and hotels for you. There is a local driver (which they advertise as a local guide) but mostly the drivers do not speak English. They do speak Arabic mostly, so if you do as well, then you will not have a problem. You can make do, even if you don’t speak any Arabic, but it was frustrating to have it advertised as an English-speaking tour, but then have a guide who couldn’t give us any information. Not to say our guide wasn’t lovely – he was! Just not quite as advertised.

We also found this tour very expensive at $250 each for a 3 day trip (considering there was no guide included and we had to figure everything out ourselves), and would have been able to book everything they booked for us at less than half the price.

That being said, we can total understand why someone might feel more comfortable taking a tour to Siwa, in which we recommend to book with Rami’s Insight Tours. We used Rami elsewhere in Egypt and he was fantastic. Alternatively, Get Your Guide offer some great multi-day tours to Siwa!

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Murray and Emma are sitting on the seat of a motobike tuktuk
The tuk tuks!
The back of the tuktuk

Advantages of an independent trip over taking a guide

Given our time again, we really would have chosen to visit Siwa independently, not just because we didn’t enjoy our tour specifically, but also because we feel it would have been much more enjoyable independently. Here’s why:

  • Cost: yes, we have mentioned this above, but cost is obviously a huge factor. Siwa is inexpensive; the buses there are easy to organise, the hotels are cost-effective and nothing is too tricky when you’re there, so we would have rather saved the money
  • Time: for us, time was of the essence, so we needed to get going and couldn’t hang around for the last day of the tour! However, Siwa is a seriously underrated destination, and it would be an amazing place to spend longer. Sadly most tours will only allow you 3 days maximum to explore, but it’s a real hub of Bedouin culture in Egypt, and it would be fun to stick around and understand it better! You could also spend longer at a lot of the sites, and it’s a bit of a whistle-stop tour otherwise
  • Local Economy: many of the larger tour companies, including IEgypt, are based in Cairo. Essentially this means that’s where their money ends up! If you go without a tour, you have the flexibility to book tours directly with local providers and ensure that your money stays within the local economy and stimulates it.
  • Freedom to explore at your leisure. You can stay as long as you like at each site, visit different local restaurants (of which there are many in Siwa)

Why you might choose a tour of Siwa Oasis

If you are not a confident traveller, of course we can understand that you would feel more comfortable with a guide to support you.

Reasons you might prefer a guide:

  • If you have no Arabic at all and find it difficult to make yourself understood without the local language, a tour can be a good option. We didn’t really struggle with basic phrases, Google Translate downloaded and lots of gesturing!
  • If you’re unused to getting around Egypt and are not sure how to book the buses
  • You’d like to learn more of the history or information about the area

If any of the above sound like you, then we’d recommend turning to a local tour provide like Rami’s Insight Tours, who we used multiple times around the rest of Egypt.

Siwa Oasis FAQs

Do you need a military escort?

To get to Siwa: no, you do not need a military escort. From what we can understand, you did previously go through military checkpoints to get to Siwa from Cairo. We interacted with the military once only; on the desert tour. We didn’t even have our passports checked on board the bus from Cairo.

If you choose to take a desert 4×4 tour, you will need a military escort, which will be arranged by whomever your desert tour is with, so it’s nothing for you to worry about. It’s a good idea to take your passport with you just in case, but no one asked us for this. We can’t stress enough that this escort really is nothing to worry about (at least at the time of writing).

When we were in Egypt, everything we saw about Siwa mentioned this escort and somehow managed to make it sound really intimidating (even if they were trying to say it’s nothing to worry about!!). It was in fact the entire reason we ended up booking a tour, which turned out to be quite a big waste of money. Honestly, we didn’t even notice the people accompanying us were in the military.

Rolling sand dunes in the Western desert. Emma and Murray are standing at the top of one of the foreground dunes
The beautiful Western Desert

Where to find this information in case it changes:

You can usually find out on your government website if this escort is required. For example, we checked and it gives really clear information. The UK government currently lists Siwa as safe to visit (no advice against travel) and mentions that those who enter the Western desert must apply for permits. This is the same as when we visited.

In other words, you don’t currently need a military permit for Siwa Oasis and although you do need one if planning to enter the Western Desert, local tour providers will organise this for you. The UK government website also advises against using the road between Al Bawiti and Siwa. Buses between Cairo and Siwa use the northern route via Alexandria so this will not affect you either.

Murray and Hamed are standing on the top of a huge mound of salt in the Siwa salt lakes
Our guide Hamed at the salt lakes

Getting to Siwa Oasis

You have a few options.

  1. You can take a local bus from Alexandria or Cairo to Siwa Oasis with West and Middle Delta Bus Company. From our understanding, you need to book the bus in person in Cairo, Alexandria or Siwa, but it seems easy to do once you get to the booking office
  2. You can hire a private driver. It’s a 12-hour drive from Cairo to Siwa, so this won’t come cheap unless you’re visiting as part of a longer tour. However, hiring a driving would undoubtedly be a more comfortable option (though we didn’t find the buses too bad!!)

It is currently not possible to take a train all the way to Siwa, you need to stop half way. Plus, trains for tourists are normally really pricey in Egypt!

Emma is walking down a path in the middle of two gigantic salt lakes.
Siwa is a truly beautiful area of Egypt

Getting around Siwa Oasis

The best way to get around Siwa is by tuktuk! In the past, it used to be possible by donkey cart only, but nowadays, the local drivers have upgraded their vehicles somewhat, and you’ll be treated to a tuktuk most of the time. It may be possible to hire one yourself; personally we didn’t see any means of doing so.

Alternatively, you can speak to your hotel about hiring a driver for the time you’re there, like we did. The roads are bumpy and it can get a little breezy and chilly even on sunny days, so it’s a smart idea to take a jumper or hoodie every time you get in the vehicle. Our driver didn’t have too much English, like we said, but he was fantastic!

Food in Siwa Oasis

Food in Siwa is very simple, and almost all locally sourced. The pride of Siwa is their dates, which we did get to try (to be honest they are offered round so frequently that it’s pretty hard not to have chance to try them!). They’re a little firmer and less sweet than other dates we’ve tried, which makes them a bit more interesting! Other than that, the food on offer tends to be:

  • Foul (beans)
  • Pita bread
  • Honey and jam
  • Olives (another speciality of Siwa)
  • Eggs (for breakfast)
  • Stews and soups for dinners
  • Smoothies and juices (especially date smoothies)
  • Coffee
  • Tea or mint tea
A view of the whole of Siwa; the new town, the old town and the fort in the background
Views over the Oasis from Dakrour Mountain

Hotels in Siwa Oasis

We stayed in Mountain Camp Ali Khaled, which we were told was the best hotel in Siwa! This is probably not the case but personally we loved this hotel, though it’s not exactly high-end luxury.

What did we like about it:

  • The rooms are adorable – traditionally decorated, cute and cosy. We did find them a little chilly but there are plenty of blankets.
  • There is a pool! Apparently. OK, so we didn’t swim in the pool, but we heard it exists and is formed from natural hot springs – sounds pretty cool.
  • The food was tasty and simple, and they catered for us even during Ramadan
  • They have a lovely firepit area for the evenings, which becomes communal. Lots of opportunities to chat with other guests

Things to be aware of:

  • The staff speak limited English (but again this is the case in much of Siwa)
  • It’s a little out of the main town. We didn’t see many hotels in the main town area to be honest, so this was OK for us, especially as we had Hamed helping us with the driving

A longer guide on hotels in Siwa coming soon! Make sure you sign up to our newsletter at the bottom of the page to stay updated when we’ve posted it!

A huge sandstone fort, surrounded by smaller sandstone buildings
Shali Fortress and the Old Town

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    Written by Emma


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