It’s funny because it kind of happened by chance.
Back in September 2012 I was eager to find a place for us to travel to in late November, a sunny place that would not involve twelve hours of air travel. I naturally spent hours browsing internet for an answer to that question. I don’t remember how I ended up on Penny’s Somewhere Different website, offering personalized tours in the Egyptian desert around Siwa Oasis. Even though I didn’t fully grasped what it was or what it would look like at the time, it instantly convinced me, the sincerity of the initiative was obvious and that corner of the world seemed too beautiful to pass on.
Soon enough Penny was putting together an itinerary for us, starting in Cairo before going deep into the desert. I trusted her and didn’t spend a lot of time planning or organizing anything myself. Looking back, this is quite funny, because I thought of it as a casual trip to Marrakech and I had no idea how much of and adventure it would be.
We had our hesitations because of the political situation (uncertain at the time, we were one year after the revolution and Morsi was still president) but since we were going to spend most of our trip away from the big cites it seemed okay to go. And it was, and I’m so glad that we did because we got to witness the country at a very special time. This is a whole different side of traveling, but witnessing the political gatherings in the remote town of Siwa or seeing the barricades in front of the American embassy were precious experiences. It’s often very hard to grasp the situation in Middle Eastern countries, but having been really helps me understand better.
Looking back I realize how amazing the trip was, from incredible Cairo, to the epic roadtrip through the desert, to the cultural gem that is Siwa and the gigantic arid landscapes.
WHEN : LATE NOVEMBER
HOW LONG : 13 DAYS/12 NIGHTS
TRAVEL AGENT : SOMEWHERE DIFFERENT
TRANSPORTATION : PARIS-CAIRO FLIGHT, A PRIVATE DRIVER IN CAIRO AND DIFFERENT DRIVERS THROUGH THE TRIP
WEATHER : SUNNY, DRY AND WARM (20°C/68°F) WITH RATHER COLD NIGHTS
TOURIST CROWD : VERY FEW AROUND THE MAJOR SITES IN CAIRO DUE TO THE POLITICAL SITUATION, VERY FEW IN CAIRO
Villa Belle Epoque (2 nights)
I had no idea of what Cairo would look like and not a lot of expectations. The place blew my mind! It’s impossibly chaotic and dusty but completely mesmerizing. The sight of the pyramids was not the touristic experience I expected, but instead a surreal vision that gave me shivers. On that first day our guide took us to Gizeh (the pyramids) and to Old Cairo.
Finding a boutique hotel in Cairo is quite a challenge since that kind of tourism hasn’t really happened there. There is one good option though: the Villa Belle Epoque in Maadi. It’s a little bit on the outside (then it’s not very clear where the center is in this megalopolis) but has the advantage of being in quiet neighborhood and featuring a garden and a pool (which feels like an absolute luxury in dusty Cairo).
Siwa Villa (2 nights)
We left Cairo in the morning with the driver that would take us deep inside the Egyptian mainland, up to Siwa. We stopped in Mersa Matrouh for lunch before things got serious and there was nothing around us but oil fields, rocks and the occasional truck. I guess this is what “nowhere” feels like. The impeccable ribbon of asphalt surprised us at first, but since the road is used to convey oil, it made sense pretty quickly.
We arrived in Siwa later in the afternoon, and the oasis is indeed a sight for sore eyes after hours of arid landscapes. Penny welcomed us to our mud villa and took us to dinner in town. We felt like on another planet and like locals at the same time thanks to her. The next day we went for a tour of the old town with a local archaeologist and got to see the famous mountain of the dead! Lunch at Fahmi’s garden was a great moment and walking around the half crumbled Shali a unique experience.
Bivouac (1 night)
We left for a first “desert” adventure the next day, with our driver, guide and cook: Nasser. He showed us the great beauty of the Western Desert, grilled us some chicken and set up our camp. I am far from being a natural born camper, but sleeping under the stars in the silent desert was the kind of experience you want to have at least once. The next morning, on the way back, he took us to a hot spring in the middle of desert and to this gorgeous lake.
Siwa Villa (3 nights)
We then came back to Siwa for a few days and spent some time reading on our roof, swimming in salt lakes, meeting locals, wandering the gardens, watching sunsets, having tea, lime juice, dates and far too much chicken (my husband refused to eat chicken for a month after this trip!)
Sands Bahariya hotel(1 night)
We left Siwa for good the next day to reach the smaller oasis of Bahariya, the starting point of White Desert safaris.
Bivouac (1 night)
We started the day with the Black desert which I had never heard about and whose beauty really amazed me. It’s funnty how it is so close to the opposite landscape of immaculate petrified dunes of the White Desert. I have to say that despite knowing what to expect, I was still blown away by the sights. We spend the night under the stars, drank soup and made friend with the cutest fennec.
Villa Belle Epoque (2 nights)
We drove back to Cairo the next day, which was shorter than the Cairo-Siwa trip but still a few hours long. On our last day there, we visited the incredible Archaelogical museum, which is straight out of and Indiana Jones movie. The treasures it holds are unbelievable and I’m still angry that pictures were strictly forbidden. We then had lunch and a stroll in the cool neighborhood of Zamalek.
IF I COULD RE-DO ITI would have spent more time in Cairo and did some research before hand to see more things.
Early november might have been a tad warmer and therefore more pleasant.
IF I GO BACK
I feel I will have to back because I really loved it!
I would spend a lot more time exploring Cairo and maybe try to do the Nile vallley off the beaten track. I also have this fantasy of going down the Nile in a stylish boat like this one.
_________________ See all my Egypt posts here. See all my itineraries.