Look up ‘middle of nowhere’ in the dictionary and you might find the town of Sallum, a mere 12km from the Libyan frontier. Nestled at the foot of Gebel as-Sallum and lying on the Gulf of Sallum, the town was once the ancient port of Baranis. While a few Roman wells testify to its history, it is now mostly a Bedouin trading post that still sees few international visitors – though this may change, as Libya’s border is now easier than ever to cross.
The sea here, as along the rest of this stretch of coast, is crystal clear and aquamarine in colour, but don’t think about frolicking in the water – dumped rubbish lines the sand, government property surrounds the town, permits are needed to be on the beach after 5pm, and the whole town reeks like stale garbage.
On the eastern entrance to the town there is a modest WWII Commonwealth War Cemetery, commemorating the destruction of hundreds of British tanks by the Germans at nearby ‘Hell Fire’ pass.
Sallum has a National Bank of Egypt branch, where you pick up your Libyan visa (US$15) before heading to the border. An ATM accepts international cards and the bank will exchange foreign currency into Egyptian pounds but not Libyan dinars. If you’re heading into Libya and want cash before crossing the border, you’ll have to deal with the moneychangers on the street by the bus stand. They’ll find you.