Egypt's Siwa Oasis lies between the Qattara Depression and the Egyptian Sand Sea in the Libyan Desert. The isolated settlement is around 80km long and 20km wide. It has 23,000 residents, mostly ethnic Berbers, who speak their own distinct language. Agriculture is the main activity mostly date and olive growing supplemented by handicrafts. Tourism is a vital source of income.
Lying between mountainous dunes, Siwa could be a mirage, but it's all real. There are loads of palms, huge salt lakes and hundreds of natural springs providing beautiful greenery in the middle of the Sahara. It is surrounded by diverse landscapes. To its north is a range of stone outcrops and hills; to the south the great sand sea of high rolling dunes. To the east, rocky desert stretches to the Qattara Depression near El-Alamein, while Libya lies to the west.
The oasis has been settled since at least the 10th century BC. The earliest evidence of connection with ancient Egypt is the 26th dynasty when a necropolis was established.
The oasis was officially added to Egypt by Muhammad Ali of Egypt in 1819, but his rule was tenuous and marked by several revolts.
Siwa's main town sprung up around the ancient Shali fortress. The maze of houses and alleys was built in the 13th century from mud brick, natural rock salt and palm logs. Three days and nights of rain in 1926 literally melted the fortress and locals were forced to move. While it is an abandoned site, the towering five-storey remains are an attraction.
Donkey is the main form of transport, though you can hire a bicycle and walking is easy.
Siwa's remote location means its people have adhered to their own culture and costume. Women marry young and after that, rarely go out in public.
Siwa was the site of some fighting during World Wars I and II. The British Army's Long Range Desert Group was based there, and Rommel's Afrika Korps took possession three times.
Hot springs, known as Cleopatra's Bath, are on the path leading to the Temple of Amun. It's a popular swimming hole, but take the lead of locals who do not wear skimpy swim suits. They enter the springs fully covered. There is a cafe selling bread, dips and salads and cool drinks.
The Palm Garden is sustained by more than 300 freshwater springs and streams. There are more than 300,000 date palms and 70,000 olive trees growing there, as well as a variety of wildlife and birds, including quail and falcons.
Shali Lodge, built of rock salt in traditional architectural style, is in the centre of a lush palm grove. It is reached by a palm tree-lined dirt road and offers the comforts of Siwan hospitality.
It has eight charming suites, simply but luxuriously furnished with palm frond chairs, tables and beds and colourful Bedouin carpets. Rooms overlook an internal courtyard and meals are served on a terrace. The restaurant is favoured by locals and dishes are flavoured with fresh herbs from the oasis. The downstairs den has a wood fire for crisp, desert nights.
Adrère Amellal eco-lodge overlooks Lake Siwa from the foot of the mystical White Mountain. It has 40 rooms in traditional Siwan style, and is made of salt rock and palm fronds. The earthen buildings blend into the landscape and feature olive and palm groves, bubbling Roman springs and superb cuisine cooked in honey-glazed clay pots. Herbs and vegetables are handpicked each day from the property's organic garden.
There is no electricity or telephone access torches, beeswax candles and countless start provide necessary illumination, and braziers warm on cool evenings.
It is said that the enjoyment of a visit to Siwa is limited only by your interests and the mood of the desert.
Around 800km north-west of Cairo in Egypt.
Greece & Mediterranean Travel Centre has five-day Alexandria and Siwa Adventure Tours out of Cairo. They include transport in air-conditioned vehicles, English-speaking guides, all accommodation, most meals and entry to sites. Tours start at $1023 per person twin share.
Emirates has flights to Cairo.
- Melbourne $2753
- Brisbane $2764
- Sydney $2771
- Perth $3281
- Adelaide $3394
Valid for travel until September 9, 2008 from Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane until April 30, 2010, from Perth.
Prices correct at July 24, 2008.
For further information
Greece and Mediterranean Travel Centre
Suite 2, 644 Botany Road
Ph: (02) 9313 4633
Fax: (02) 93134475
Egyptian Tourist Authority
Ph: 1300 303 777
It is recommended travellers to Egypt see their doctor at least six weeks before departure as there are specific vaccinations recommended for Egypt. Other health precautions and preventions may also be recommended and are best discussed with your doctor. For further information visit www.welltogo.com.au.
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