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Getting There

In spite of persistent rumors that an airport will soon be built here, the best way to access Siwa remains the long drive across the North Coast to the town of Marsa Matruh, and then a 300km drive (180 miles) south on a paved road around the western end of the Qattara Depression.

By Car -- Arriving by car in Siwa is very straightforward. There is only one road into town, and it will take you to the central square. You may wish to stop at the tourist information office on the way, in which case turn right at the bank. The office is directly in front of you after 20m (66 ft.).

By Bus -- Arriving by bus in Siwa is an entertainment in and of itself. The bus stops at a low, mud-plastered building about .4km (1/4 mile) from the central square, which is called Midan el Souk, and is met by a gaggle of little boys with brightly painted donkey carts. Pile your bags into the back of one of these, clamber in behind, and you'll be delivered to your destination. Pay the boy LE5 (90¢/45p), and everyone will be happy. The system has a certain charm, but it's lacking a little in the suspension and upholstery department. The bus leaves Siwa at 7 and 10am and at 1, 5 and 10pm. Tickets to Matruh cost LE12 ($2.20/£1.10), and tickets to Alexandria cost LE27 ($4.90/£2.50). Check with the tourist office for the latest schedules and costs, and do not trust the signage at the bus station. Show up 30 minutes before the scheduled departure time to buy your ticket, and don't expect to leave on time.

Getting Around

On Foot -- The area around Siwa's central square is easily covered on foot. Hotels, shopping, and dining, as well as e-mail, museum, and tourist information facilities are all within a 10- or 15-minute stroll of each other.

By Bike -- Though you don't need a bike to get around, you'll find that having one extends what you can do without hiring a car and guide. Besides, a day or two out on a bicycle amongst the palm trees is a great way to get the lay of the land around the oasis while getting some exercise.

Several of the sites listed are bike-accessible. I suggest a slow tour out to Cleopatra's Bath via the Temple of Amun. There's a little restaurant beside the spring where you can pick up lemon juice and a pizza before circling back into town via Gebel Dakrour. The whole trip shouldn't take more than 2 hours, but note that the route is not always very clear and that you're probably going to need directions. Don't be shy about flagging down people in donkey carts or fellow cyclists, but keep in mind the rules of asking directions in Egypt. The following bike-rental places will rent you a single-speed clunker for LE10 ($1.80/95p) a day (I found the Magic Desert Safari bikes to be the best, but frankly there's not much to choose between them): Shalli Bicycles, next to the Bab Inshall Hotel; Magic Desert Safari, Midan al Souk; and Abu Redia, across from the gas station.

By "Taxi" -- Everywhere in Siwa you'll find boys with brightly painted donkey carts -- these are the local taxis. Other than being a little hard on the backside, they're a great (if not especially speedy) way to get around. Negotiate your fare before setting out, and expect LE5 to LE10 (90¢-$1.80/45p-95p) to go a long way.

By 4x4 -- You can see most of the oasis proper with a bike or a donkey cart, but for anything beyond the limits of the settlement, you'll need to hire a 4WD vehicle with a qualified driver. Expect to pay around LE400 ($73/£37) per day.

A 4X4 also offers a good alternative to the bus when it comes time to get out of town and move on. Instead of going north from Siwa by bus to Matruh and Alexandria, you can simply head southeast to the oasis of Bahareya. The state of the road ranges from passable to nonexistent, however, and you need a 4WD vehicle and an experienced driver. The going rate is LE1,200 ($220/£111) for the 5-hour drive (which can be split between three people), and you need a permit from security. The permit can be arranged by the driver, but he will need three copies of your passport (which you can make across the street from the Bedouin Restaurant in Midan el Souk), and LE28 ($5/£2.50) and LE11 ($1.90/95p) for the various permits and stamps that make the trip possible.

Note: At the time of writing, security was insisting on sending an operative with the car. This is not only expensive (it means you can only split the fare three ways, and even this means squashing three passengers across the back seat), but irritating (the "officer" usually insists on taking the most comfortable seat with the best view and may refuse to let you stop for pictures or to eat) and unnecessary -- there are no military facilities in the area and certainly no threat of terrorism or banditry. Hopefully, the Ministry of Tourism will be able to prevail on the security services to abandon this requirement.

Fast Facts

The tourist information office (tel. 046/4601338) is just across from the bus station in a traditional-style building. Friendly, helpful, and English-speaking, staff can supply updated bus schedule information and a serviceable map of the oasis. Hours are daily 9am to 2pm and 5 to 8pm, but note that evening hours are iffy -- the rule is that if you see the lights on, someone's there. My advice is to go between 10am and 1pm.

There are four places to get connected to the Internet, all around the central square area, and rates are around LE10 ($1.80/95p) per hour. The connection is strictly dial-up, and though not blisteringly fast, it's stable and functional. There is little to choose between the four, but the nameless shop across the street from the Bedouin restaurant, which has only one computer, is the friendliest and most honest about times and rates.

There is a Banque du Caire close to the bus station, which is open 9am to 2pm. They change money and, more conveniently, there's an ATM on the outside of the building that accepts MasterCard, Maestro, and Cirrus cards. There is a daily withdrawal limit of LE2,000 ($364/£185).

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.