Siwa is the most western of the 5 major oases of Egypt. It is also the most isolated of them all, located only 50km from the Libyan border and 560km from Cairo. It is most easily accessed from Marsa Matruh only 300km away on a good road. As you approach the oasis from the coast the scenery changes from flat featureless desert and small conical hills appear. This route is not as exciting and dramatic as the desert road southwards to Bahariya where 400km of road passes sand dunes, the lake of Nuwamisa and the twin lakes of Bahrein oasis before reaching Bahariya.
Siwa occupies a depression in the desert partly surrounded by limestone cliffs which prevent the desert entirely encroaching on it. To the south lies the Great Sand Sea which stretches 500km north to south and about 80km east to west. The Siwa depression is below sea level- up to 60m below in some parts. One of the most striking features of the Siwa landscape is its salt lakes. These vary in size depending on the time of year and can dry up completely. The shimmering salty water provides a perfect foreground for sunsets and produces exotic lighting effects as the sun goes down and the light reddens. Traditional buildings in the enclosed fortress town, known as the Shali, are made from blocks of dried mud from the lakes. This mud hardens like cement when dry but due to the high salt content dissolves during heavy rains. Fortunately rain is very rare in Siwa!
The area is famous for its dates and olives, and is one of the most beautiful landscapes in Egypt. Siwa dates are the most delicious produced in Egypt and perhaps in the world. They are sold in date palm baskets woven by Siwan women while the dates themselves are harvested by the men. Olive oil is still made by crushing the olives between grindstones. Both the dates and olives are organic. Siwa also has an abundance of fresh drinking water and four companies now bottle mineral water at Siwa.