Egypt's Desert Oasis - Siwa
Posted on September 08 2016
Pyramids and tombs... that's pretty much what i had expected to see on my trip to Egypt some time ago. I mean, how could you go all the way to Egypt and somehow not run into the Pyramids of Giza, the Sphinx, Abu Simbel, and the many temples and tombs dotting the shores of the Nile. I knew that wasn't going to be enough for me, however, and decided to dig a little deeper to find some "off the beaten path" location to travel to. In the past, that's always gotten me into trouble (traveling to landmine littered temples in Cambodia, hiking some remote mountains in search of 5,000 year old cave paintings in Thailand, only to find a shrine with what seemed like a human baby embalmed in a glass jar and several men hovering around me in military fatigues! you get the idea!). So, when i approached my traveling companion about finding some non-touristy places in Egypt to try to visit, there was a significant amount of grumbling involved. Still, i persevered and got my way!
I was fortunate enough to have stumbled upon a Lonely Planet ThornTree thread by a lone traveler asking for advice on how to get to this desert oasis located near the Libyan border. He had me at "Libya", which sounded so exotic and yet within reach. The desert oasis, called Siwa is located on the western border of Egypt, and approximately a 5 to 6 hour drive west from Alexandria.
Siwa's history goes as far back as the 10th millennium BC! Known as the home of the Oracle of Amon, whom Alexander the Great consulted dating back to around 300 BC, current day Siwa is home to approximately 20,000 berbers, and is considered one of the most isolated settlements in Egypt. We stayed in the town of Shali, which consisted of a main square, homes made of kershef (a mix of sand and mud), labyrinth of tiny streets and beautiful relaxing hot springs. If you need a place to relax after visiting the pyramids, this place is it!
Our trip to Siwa involved a very long drive from Alexandria with several military checkpoints along the way. Our driver informed us that the checkpoints were necessary so the military could radio ahead to the next stop to inform them of our vehicle. Apparently there were known to be snipers hiding along this particular stretch of long highway, waiting to raid a passing vehicle! Putting that aside, this stretch of road passed through El Alamein. (The War Museum and cemetery were worth visiting, just to give us some sense of history). The rest of the journey to Siwa included a lunch stop involving, as it turns out, not so fresh fish at a roadside stand. I should have known better, but at the time, it seemed like a good idea! (We got pretty sick that night). We had made plans to camp in the outskirts of the oasis the first night, so we could be one with nature. Well, the gastro-intestinal issues certainly made sure of that!
Despite the effort involved in getting to Siwa, and enduring some food poisoning, Siwa was still by far, one of the most captivating places i've ever visited. As you approach Siwa, you can see lush greenery consisting of date palm trees surrounded by miles and miles of desert sand. We rented bicycles and rode through the old town of Shali. We plucked fresh dates off the date palm trees and simply just soaked in the berber culture and community. I highly recommend a trip to Siwa if you have the time. We stayed at the Shali Lodge, after a night of camping. The hotel was absolutely stunning and blended into the surroundings due to the use of kerchief, so it didn't stand out, unlike some of the more modern hotels in the area. The pictures I took hopefully speak for themselves. Have you been to Egypt or Siwa? If so, leave me a comment! I'd love to hear your experiences!
Scrawny wild camels in the Libyan Desert
Hot springs and our camp site
Typical Siwa home made from kershef
Cute kids selling their wares on the Mountain of the Dead
Same cute kids!
Another view of the oasis
Siwa at sunset