The northernmost of the inhabited Western Desert oases, Siwa is located about 300km (186 miles) south of the coastal town of Marsa Matruh. Surrounded on all sides by a rugged desert, the town remained difficult to reach until the 1980s, when a paved road was built from Matruh. The road follows almost the same route that Alexander the Great took when coming to consult the Oracle of Amun and is relatively smooth going by bus or car.

The Bedouins of Siwa, who still speak a Berber dialect rather than Arabic in their homes, are culturally distinct from the Egyptians of the Nile Valley and retain, to this day, a fierce sense of their identity.

Siwa has undergone tremendous changes in the last 20 years, becoming something of a tourist destination as well as a base for desert trekking, but the place still has a frontier feel to it. Most of the roads remain unpaved, and the tallest buildings are four stories tall. Most important, there is very little tourist hassle. The center of the oasis is Shali, the old settlement, now abandoned, which rises above the new town of Siwa on a low hill. The walls of the old houses, shorn of their roofs and slowly disintegrating, look like shards of pottery stuck in a mound of sand, and at night they are lit up to spectacular effect. At the foot of the hill is Siwa's main square. This is where almost all the shops and restaurants are located. There are also a number of hotels close to the square.

It is worth noting that Siwa is more or less alcohol free -- there is no beer, wine, or liquor for sale in the oasis either in stores or in restaurants, and there are no bars. You will need to bring with you anything that you'd like to consume while you're here, and this should be done in the privacy of your hotel room.