As you turn off the coastal road from Marsa Matruh and begin the 300km drive along the desert road you soon begin to realise that there is nothing but Siwa ahead. The search for a picnic spot might leave you stumped, as we were, but one can find a suitable hut to feast next to or the sparse shaded benches on the side of the road.
You drive with the promise of finding an oasis at the other end and you will not be disappointed. In the middle of the rocky sandy desert emerges a blanket of green date palms surrounding the town of Siwa, which is built around the ancient Shali fortress.
One of the best things about Siwa is the low cost of the trip. Accommodation, food, taxis (donkey driven carts) will not set you back much. The price for a hotel varies from hotel to hotel, The Cleopatra Hotel, while not in the centre of town is only a five minute walk away, costs of EGP 80 per night for an adequate double room. You can find cheaper accommodation closer to the Shali fortress, which will cost EGP 50 for a double room.
Grabbing a bite to eat is simple; there are many restaurants around the town centre that do not vary in price. The menu is limited but what they do have is done well; from Egyptian favourites such as grilled chicken and molokheya to pizza, you will find something you like. It would be a surprise if a meal cost you more than EGP 60 for a main course and a drink. A favourite restaurant of ours was Abdo’s in the centre of town: simple, cheap and tasty. The staff are friendly and helpful and can recommend some good activities to do if you ask. If you want to have an alcoholic drink, however, you’re out of luck, but speak to the right guys and they can help you find some locally brewed arrack (not for the faint hearted).
Do not be afraid to explore the surrounding area; the best way is to rent a bicycle for the day by the fortress for EGP 30. While the bicycles do not have gears it’s a great way to get around and get some exercise in the fresh air. You can ride through the palm trees and even find a secluded spring to bathe in, as well as stopping for a handful of fresh dates off the trees.
It is even possible to cycle to the Temple of the Oracle, a place where it is claimed Alexander the Great was told he was the Son of God. Believe what you will, the ruins of temple are a great sight and the views from all sides are incredible. This costs around EGP 30 (and EGP 2 for Egyptians).
A must do when in Siwa is to take a trip to the desert. The trip cost us EGP 250 each, which included a seat in a six person 4 wheel drive, food for the trip, a sand board and all the equipment you need for an overnight stay in the desert. You are able to tailor the trip to your liking if you organise it beforehand. We organised our trip through Abdo’s restaurant but you can ask around and find a trip that will suit you.
The desert near Siwa is stunning, and the huge rolling dunes leave you in awe; especially when you are creeping down the side of one at an almost vertical angle. In the desert you get the chance to have a dip in three different bodies of water: a saltwater lake, a cold spring and a hot spring. I would recommend diving into all three, it is so refreshing and you feel (almost) rejuvenated. You can opt to go back to town or sleep out in the desert; I recommend sleeping away from a spring because the mosquitoes are merciless, but the guide and driver will sort this out. Try and choose a time to go when the moon isn’t so bright so that you are able to see the full blanket of stars at night.