Exploring Siwa

By Rawan Abdel Latif

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Known for its natural hot springs, Siwa Oasis is an underrated treasure near the western border of Egypt, and is home to many historical monuments dating back to the pharaohs, breathtaking natural landscapes and the Great Sand Sea.

 
As temperatures soar during the summer time, our group of friends decided to travel mid-April, when there was still a lovely spring breeze. In order to get the full Siwa experience, we turned to eMZee Club, one of the organizers for desert and diving trips around Egypt, who had planned a visit to Siwa during Easter break that included a day of sightseeing and a day of off-roading.

A group of five cars, we made our way to Marsa Matruh first via the new Dabaa’ road, where we stopped for coffee before continuing another 300 kilometers on a one-lane road to Siwa, making the total number of kilometers travelled reaching an estimated 800.

Our first impression of the city was how beautiful and eco-friendly it was. All the buildings were basic, even the gas stations seemed like they had not been upgraded for decades. However, locals choose to live that way, away from any effects of technology, preserving their beautiful culture and avoiding straying away from their roots. Large, intertwining palm trees surround each road, landmark and pool of water, creating a peaceful and cozy atmosphere that I have yet to feel anywhere else.

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Accommodation and Transportation

We arrived at the city at around six in the evening, where we checked into the Paradise Hotel before making our way to dinner. The hotel was very basic, offering the bare necessities, but that was just what we wanted, and it added to the eco-logical element of living by the desert. It had a restaurant that did not offer a large variety of food, but was of great quality, and everyone who worked there was extremely hospitable and friendly.

The hotel was also right next to most of the markets, and not too far away from the hot springs, proving to be the perfect location. We moved around the city mostly by car, occasionally moving on foot when we visited the markets and certain monuments. There is however what the locals call “Taxi Siwa”, a tok tok that can take you to any place you want.

Historical Monuments

Mountain of the Dead

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On the outskirts of Siwa, you can find The Mountain of the Dead, a large hill that holds the tombs of 1,400 people, aside from those of higher ranks whose tombs are engraved with detailed depictions from the time of the pharaohs.

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Many of the tombs were unfortunately affected by the second world war, however, one of the tombs we entered was large, with side rooms, and had inscriptions of Nut, the goddess of the sky, as well as Anubis, the god of mummification and afterlife.

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Another tomb we entered was for the creature known as Nebr Batut, one of the oldest tombs in the area as the inscriptions were monotone. The third tomb we visited had the drawings of Isis and Osiris, and a king and queen of Egypt, who were married siblings.

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You can climb up to the top of the mountain, where you get to see the remarkable view of Siwa, as well as its beautiful oases and the palm trees that surround it.

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Cultural and Natural Heritage Center

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This center gathers all of Siwa’s traditions, heritage and unique characteristics, where visitors can get a first-hand look at the locals’ roots. Also included is a screening room that plays documentaries as well as a computer with a search engine that further adds to visitors’ knowledge of the area.

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In the museum, you get to see what women’s traditional clothing for certain occasions were, like a woman’s wedding dress, the dress she wears three days after the wedding when her cousins are visiting, as well as a black printed dress that she wears when her mother comes to visit after seven days of marriage.

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We also got to see their detailed, heavy silver jewelry, as well as their beautifully woven bread baskets, the agriculture tools used, kitchens and ovens and the room in which the children would gather around their grandmother, who would be responsible for teaching them manners and the local way of life.

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Temple of the Oracle of Amun

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This temple, dedicated to the god of the sun Amun, is said to be the only one in Egypt that worships one God, which has several buildings around it that the locals built in high grounds to feel safe.

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One of the famous visitors to this monument was Alexander the Great, during his time in Egypt.

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Natural Landmarks

Hot Springs

On our first night, we made our way to the camp: Aman Ykden. Secluded in the middle of palm trees, this camp was not only home to a natural hot spring, but it also offered food and beverage services, presenting guests with their famous hot drink “Louisa”, the perfect taste between ginger and lemon, as well as a Bedouin area set for a campfire and a tent.

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In the shape of a small pool, the water was steaming hot. This natural source of water is known to be a healing therapy that people travel especially to Siwa to try.

On our second day there, they set up a tent where we enjoyed a perfect Bedouin dinner of charcoaled chicken and goat that was cooked in the sand underground, a method very common in Siwa.

We also visited the Cleopatra Eye on the second day, another hot spring in the middle of Siwa, also with a seated lounge area beside it. It is larger than Aman Ykden, however, it is less secluded, as it is located on a popular road.

Salt Lakes

On the edge of Siwa, as you approach its desert, there is an endless number of salt lakes. If you have a local tour guide along with you as we did, he will be able to take you to one of the larger lakes, where you get to experience swimming as you would in the Dead Sea, constantly afloat.

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However, if you do decide to swim, I would advise avoiding any water contact with your eyes or any injuries, as the water is extremely salty.

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Great Sand Sea

On our final full day, we prepared the necessary permits to enter the famous desert known as the Great Sand Sea, which parts of it was originally underwater, and so you can still pass through it and admire different fossils of sea creatures, most of which are surrounded by bars to preserve them.

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Although only a small section of it is open for off-roaders due to the security conditions, the area is vast and beautiful, the dunes proving to be like no other in Egypt, forming incredible wave-like shapes, a haven for off-road lovers.

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Aside from the adventure, you can also visit Beer Wahed, a natural spring in the middle of the desert, which is smaller than the rest of the ones in Siwa, however, is a great spot to relax and cool down from the sun.

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As we got permission to stay in the desert overnight, we made our way to the Semens camp at sunset, a large area surrounded by rocks that the locals lit up with candles, creating a breathtaking atmosphere.

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There were many people in the area, both foreigners and Egyptians, all seated in different tent-like areas waiting for their dinner. Sitting down by the camp fire, the locals provided us with their traditional Louisa drink, before setting up a long table filled with pasta, duck and chicken, the meat cooked in the sand in a barrel with a campfire on top, which we luckily got to witness.

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There is something magical about relaxing by the fire, listening to music in the middle of the desert, with a candlelit dinner and away from any cellphone reception.

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Locals and the Markets

The locals I have met there were hands down some of the friendliest, most welcoming people I have ever met. Most of them are very well educated and are able to speak several languages fluently. I was also surprised by the amount of foreigners that were visiting Siwa, and after talking to some of them, I realized that a lot of the expat community here regularly travel to Siwa, despite the long commute and security issues.

As expected, the markets there were incredible and endless, all stocked up with beautiful colored bags, clothes, bracelets and carpets, to name a few, as well as their well-known local oils and food and drink products.

We spent our last morning in Siwa, hours before leaving, walking around the market and buying as many souvenirs as possible, vowing that we would return once more.

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