Even though there are some fascinating sights hidden in the dense palm greenery of this oasis, Siwa's main attraction is its serene atmosphere. Siwa is different than Egypt's other oases; it is more remote, more relaxed and more beautiful. Strolling through the palm groves or riding a bike to a cool spring for a swim is all part of this oasis's slow, soothing, far-from-anywhere charm. Hang out with Siwans and other travellers, have a picnic, ride a donkey cart, explore the dunes by 4WD and soak it all in.
One of Siwa’s most impressive sights is the oasis itself, which boasts more than 300,000 palm trees, 70,000 olive trees and a great many fruit orchards. The vegetation is sustained by more than 300 freshwater springs and streams, and the area attracts an amazing variety of bird life, including quail and falcons.
Siwa is a pleasant town centred on a market square, where roads skedaddle off into the palm groves in nearly every direction. The proliferation of motorcycles and 4WD cars zooming around the main square may mean it's not as peaceful as it once was, but rural ambience still abounds.
Hot & Cold Springs
Siwa has no shortage of active, bubbling springs hidden among its palm groves. At all of the springs in town, women should swim in pants and a shirt and use general good judgment concerning modesty.
Before Shali was founded in the 13th century, Siwa’s main settlement was at Aghurmi, 4km east of the present town of Siwa. It was here that in 331 BC Alexander the Great consulted the famed oracle.
There are a few villages, ruins and springs around Siwa that are worth a trip if you’ve got the time. To visit these sights you’ll need your own vehicle. Mahdi Hweiti at the Siwa tourist office organises trips, as does almost every restaurant and hotel in town. None of the sights, with the exception of Shiatta, require permits. Check with the tourist office before setting out.
Sand Bathing at Gebel Dakrur
If you thought a soak in a hot spring was invigorating, wait until you try a dip in one of the scalding-hot sand baths of Gebel Dakrur, several kilometres southeast of Siwa Town. From July to September, people flock here from all over the world to take turns at being immersed up to their necks in a bath of very hot sand for up to 20 minutes at a time. Local doctors claim that a treatment regime of three to five days can cure rheumatism and arthritis – and judging by the number of repeat customers they get they might just be on to something. There are several places around the western slope of the mountain where you can get therapeutically sand-dunked. The best known is Sherif Sand Bath.
The mountain also supplies the oasis with the reddish-brown pigment used to decorate Siwan pottery. Siwans believe that the mountain is haunted and claim that afrit (spirits) can be heard singing in the gardens at night.
Three kilometres east of the abandoned village of Az Zeitun, this is the last human vestige before the overwhelming wall of desert dunes that stretches for hundreds of kilometres, all the way south to Al Kharga Oasis. Some 30 Bedouin remain here.
About 15km northwest of Siwa Town, this village has five natural springs and is renowned for the quality of its olive groves.