The Oasis at Siwa is far removed from the Nile cruises and pyramid tours that normally typify
holidays to Egypt. Situated between the Sand Sea and the Qattara Depression, the site is home
to a remote settlement of around 23,000 Siwi, a Berber speaking tribe unique to the area.
The Oasis is also where the ancient ruins of the Oracle of Amon can be found, an ancient
temple dating back to the 7th Century B.C. Alexander the Great visited the Oracle where he
was proclaimed as a being of divine heritage and therefore a legitimate pharaoh of Egypt. Local
legend claims that the famous general is buried there but no archaeological remains have
substantiated this. It is said that the King of Persia once sent an expedition of 50,000 men to
destroy the Oracle, but his army was swallowed up by the desert.
The town is practically an outpost, challenging to get to, and partially removed from the law and
order that governs most of the country. The locals are on the whole very friendly, but they make
a living from whatever brings in the money, and which for some of the shadier locals reportedly
includes smuggling guns and drugs from over the border. Fake cigarettes are so prolific that it is
virtually impossible to buy a legitimate pack. Peace in the area is helped by a traditional festival
in October, held over a span of three days during which the Siwans are obliged to use the time
to settle any outstanding disputes.
For most travelers it is often the climate that offers the biggest risk. Dehydration, heat stroke
and sunburn are the most common ailments, especially to tourists who are brave (or foolish)
enough to partake of the local arrack, which is produced from the sap of the palm trees.
Although the area is officially dry, the spirit is easily available and can be very potent.
It is perhaps the edginess of the area that makes it so appealing to travelers eager at making
the most of their Egypt holidays. Yet there is a lot more to enjoy in Siwa after having made the
effort to get here. The ruins of the Fortress of Shali, built in the 12th century to repel invaders
is one; another are the swathes of olive trees and date palms that have been grown here for
millennia, and over 1000 cold water springs that form deep pools that are irresistible on a
parched desert afternoon. You can travel around and explore the Egyptian countryside by camel or donkey, nothing here moves very fast by day.
Also quite popular among visitors are the eco-lodges and green hotels that have been
developed for a new kind of tourist. Built from the local clay, they are furnished with the
meticuluous work of local craftspeople and use ancient but highly effective low tech solutions to
keep the buildings at a constant temperature through the searing heat of day and chill of night.
Electricity has been shunned and lamps and candles light the rooms, while organic, freshly
picked produce is slowly cooked over wood fires to be served to the guests.
Tourists with families do travel to visit the oasis, but these tend to be the hardier variety
that come well prepared to protect younger children from the potential dangers of what can
sometimes be a harsh environment. Visiting this area is definitely a great option for the more
adventurous travellers, who journey with an open mind and are keen to enjoy life with some of
its rougher edges.