The city of Siwa in Egypt is built around the historic fortress of Shali. Although the country is governed by Egyptian law, it still maintains a traditional Berber government in which the leaders of each of the local tribal governments meet to dictate the rules of the region. The Siwa region has some 225 freshwater springs scattered throughout its territory, although not all of them are accessible. Easy access to hot and cold water springs has led this small, remote desert community to become a literal oasis of fruit and date growing. This contributed to Siwa becoming a popular commercial destination after the reign of Ramses II. Although the growth of the city is relatively recent in Egyptian terms. Almost nothing is known about the region before that time.

Where is the Siwa Oasis?

The mysterious oasis of Siwa lies on the edge of the Great Sand Sea, just 50 km from Egypt’s border with Libya. The area in which Siwa is located is called the Qattara Depression. Its unique history and relative isolation have made the city one of the most tranquil and fascinating destinations in the country.

Things to do in Siwa

Siwa is a tiny place compared to Cairo’s huge population of 25 million people. The Siwan region has only about 25,000 inhabitants and seems even smaller. But for its sparse population, there are plenty of amazing things to do. With a mix of hot and cold springs, huge sand dunes and an incredible history, Siwa has much to offer visitors. It may not be the easiest place to get to in Egypt, but once you get to Siwa, you won’t want to leave. We recommend some of the points and experiences that you should not miss.

Exploring the Shali Fortress

Shali Fortress, as it is known to many locals, is at the literal heart of Siwa. Strolling through this ancient and imposing city of clay and salt is like stepping back in time. The fortress of Shali, built on a hill, was the center of Siwan life for more than 800 years. When modern life invaded the ruins of Shali Fortress, many residents used walls from the original houses to combine with their own more modern structures. This makes for a unique gradient of ages as the new city slowly merges with the old.

You can still climb to the top of the fortress to take in the incredible views of the city and see this fascinating urban design for yourself, even stroll around the fortress boundaries. Sometimes it is difficult to determine whether you are in the fortress of Shali or walking among the stores in the center of Siwa.

Although it rarely rains in Siwa, when it does the fortress of Shali suffers damage. This is because it is mainly built with salt blocks.

Strolling through the tombs of the Mountain of the Dead

Gebel al-Mawta, or the Mountain of the Dead, is a mountain at the northern end of the city of Siwa that is riddled with tombs covering from the base of the mountain to its summit. It is one of the most fascinating and mysterious places to visit in Siwa. The visit to the Mountain of the Dead will allow you to visit tombs such as that of a pharaonic king and his family.

The tombs that dot the mountain date back to Ptolemaic and Roman times. In fact, one of the tombs is that of a Roman Si Amun, who decided to make Siwa his home.

But the importance of the mountain continued into modern times. During World War II, when the Italians bombed Siwa, local Siwans took refuge in the tombs. In fact, the most magnificent tombs on the mountain were discovered during this time.

Cameras are not allowed inside the tombs, but visitors can use their cell phone cameras.

Enjoying the sunset from Fatnas Island (Fantasy Island)

The magical desert sunsets are among the best in the world. During your trip to Siwa Oasis, you will not expect to be on the edge of the Great Sand Sea watching the sunset on an island in the middle of a lake; however, in Siwa you will be able to do so.

The Temple of the Oracle (Temple of Alexander)

One of the most important temples in Siwa is the Temple of the Oracle. Also known as the Temple of Amun, this 26th Dynasty temple was a focal point of the region and remained so until Greek and Roman times. The temple of Amon was visited by Alexander the Great, where he was told that he was the son of Zeus. Alexander used this information to consolidate his dominance in the region.

One fascinating thing to pay attention to is the hidden passageway that runs along two sides of the main chamber of the temple. It is large enough for a man to pass through comfortably. And if you call from inside, those in the temple chamber might think you are the voice of the Oracle. One of the local Berber tribes continued to live in this hilltop temple until not long ago. There is also a UNESCO-endorsed mosque and several village houses to explore. This is, without a doubt, one of the most interesting things to do in Siwa.

Temple of Amon

Among the ruins of the Temple of the Oracle is a single decorated wall. This wall is all that remains of what was once the great Temple of Amun. This once beautiful temple was almost completely destroyed in 1896 when a local Ottoman governor razed the entire structure to the ground with dynamite. He hoped to use the stone from the temple as a building material. It is believed that the original structure dates back to the XXX dynasty.

Taking a dip in the Siwa Salt Quarry

One of the central elements of Siwa’s economy is the export of salt. On the outskirts of the city is a spectacle that contrasts completely with the palm and desert landscape of the Siwa oasis. Here, mixed among the excavated salt mountains, are emerald blue waters that are so idyllic to behold that visitors can’t help but come close. The Siwa Salt Company runs the excavation operation surrounding the Siwa Salt Lake. But visitors can enter the quarry and bathe in the lake’s mineral-rich waters. The lake has one of the highest water to salt ratios, even higher than the famous Dead Sea. Nothing lives in the crystal clear waters due to the high salt content. But be careful, any scratches you get will sting in these healing waters.

Enjoy the local waters of Cleopatra’s Well.

With plenty of natural springs in Siwa, it is hard to understand why the mention of Cleopatra’s spring occupies such an important place in the hearts of the locals. However, this hot spring located inside the city is the place where many of the locals learn to swim for the first time. The well was never visited by Cleopatra herself, but the legendary Egyptian queen did use the water from these springs for her own baths.

The natural sulfuric spring water is a perfect way to relax after a day of exploring. Or to wash off the salt from the Siwa salt lake. The well is surrounded by cafes and small restaurants. It can be very crowded during the summer months, but during the cooler months it is still easily accessible.

Siwa House Museum

This small, locally run but internationally funded museum displays a collection of historic clothing, ceramics and artwork. Exhibits show the history of the local Berber tribes. And, incidentally, it shows how the adaptation of the locals to modern technology has changed the landscape of Siwa. You won’t find the Siwa House Museum on the Internet, in fact, they don’t even have email. But if you’re looking for things to do in Siwa, be sure to set aside time to visit.

Great sand sea safari and SandBoarding (Dune bashing)

One of the most incredible things to see in the Siwa Oasis is the Great Sand Sea. Most excursions through the Great Sand Sea include visits to some of the natural hot and cold springs scattered across the landscape. And, of course, you’ll most likely end up cruising around the world’s biggest sandbar in an old Toyota Landcruiser while checking several times to see if you’re wearing your seatbelt.

The excursion to the Great Sand Sea in Siwa

It is one of the highlights of the city. One of the most interesting things is a part of what used to be a seabed. Scattered on the stone floor were countless marine fossils, including the remains of an ancient whale! Something incredible to find in the middle of the desert, as they call it locally: “The sea of whales”.

Strolling around the city of Siwa

Among the exploration of all the fascinating things to do in the Siwa Oasis, one can highlight walking the streets of the city of Siwa itself. The streets are lined with bakeries, cafes and small restaurants. There is organized chaos in everything that happens in the city of Siwa. And everywhere you look there are smiling faces, the city is very safe.

Where to stay in Siwa

Tourism in Siwa is booming, and a number of excellent eco-lodges have sprung up in the city to meet the demand. Choosing the best places to stay in Siwa is difficult because of the great variety: there are many options. You can check prices and availability of the best accommodations in Siwa on Destinia.

Important festivals in Siwa

Several incredible festivals are held in Siwa. And, if you are lucky enough to have your visit coincide with them, you should participate in them.

Siyaha Festival (Festival of Forgiveness)

The Siyaha, or Festival of Forgiveness, is considered the most important festival in Siwa. This unique festival is celebrated for three days during the full moon in October. Every year, the locals descend on Mount Dakrur to celebrate the Siyaha, or Asihaite, in the local Berber language. During the Siwa Forgiveness Festival, all Siwans gather, eat, dance, renew their bonds and present themselves as equals. This festival is about resolving grievances and is an important part of what makes Siwa such a peaceful place to visit.

Moulid at-Tagmigra

The Moulid at Tagmigra is an important holiday in Siwa. It is dedicated to the patron sheikh of Siwa, Sidi Suleyman. The festival, often called the Feast of the Saint, includes the Zikr dance by circles of men, takes place during the late summer corn harvest. The festival takes place near the tomb-shrine of Sidi Suleiman.

Average temperature during the year in Siwa Oasis

Tabla de la temperatura media durante el año en Oasis de Siwa

Siwa Oasis photos

Other articles that may interest you...

Nile Cruise

Taking a cruise on the Nile is the best way to see many of the most important temples that the

Diving in the Red Sea

For diving and snorkeling enthusiasts snorkeling, diving in the Red Sea is a must-do activity to enjoy one of the