Siwa Shali Resort: A Terrible Place To Stay
May 1st, 2007 · 12 Comments
I never set out to dislike a place. I mean, it’s my vacation and I want to enjoy it so I’m always optimistically hopeful whenever I arrive at a new place. And the Siwa Shali Resort was no exception. It looked beautiful online and I had read two good reviews on Trip Advisor, but sometimes bad things happen and when they do it’s my duty to pass the information along so fellow Travel Betties can make their own informed decisions.
After a nine-hour drive from Cairo, we pulled up alongside a group of rally cars and drivers in front of our hotel. It seems Siwa and its surrounds, after being cleared of mines for the 2003 Dakar Rally, is now a pitstop hotspot for road rally enthusiasts and for this particular race our resort was their choice location for a little R&R. This actually seemed exciting to me and I hoped to get a chance to talk to some of the racers later that night.
We checked in with no problems and were taken to our room. It was pretty and spacious and looked like they had taken great care to stay true to the typical Siwa mud brick structures you see throughout town. Inside there was handcrafted palm furniture, 2 double beds, a sizeable bathroom (shower stall only) and a small area with a minifridge and counter space. The grounds were lovely with a meandering pool cutting through the lodges and there were flowers and vegetation planted to help offset all the beige. Over by the restaurant they even had an open-air chill out space with a fireplace, which was tended to nightly.
But, alas, like a prom queen who sneaks off with the bad boy halfway through the dance, the beauty here was only skin deep. The first issue started at dinner (which was included in our stay). Eager to mingle with the road rally guests, we were stopped at the front door and told that for our benefit, we were being seated in a separate room and that we could order from a set menu instead of eating from the buffet. Although wanting to mingle with the other guest, we were also quite sick of buffets so we agreed. We were then shown to a room in which we were the only two people, which made us feel like total lepers and kept me from getting my chance to meet any road rally people.
Within a minute food started being served to us. Instead of being able to order off of a menu, it appeared our meal had already been “set” by the house. That is, they just made a plate up for us from the buffet being served to the racers. I can say with authority that the one thing worse than a buffet is eating buffet food someone else has selected for you. The plate was filled mostly with bland potatoes, rice and bread with a small scoop of meat (also bland). For dessert, we were served a creamy cataract of flavorless hot pink pudding. We tried to be grateful, but ultimately ended up just pushing things around on our plates to make it look like we’d eaten.
Disappointed, but not thrown off our game, we went to the front office to find out what types of Siwa tours the hotel offered. Our travel reps at Egypt 7000 told us that any arrangements we wanted to make in Siwa could be handled by the resort. We decided we should spend one day seeing the sights in the actual town and maybe another day doing something desert-related. When I asked about a tour around town, the front desk manager conferred with a colleague for a moment and told us it would cost 250 Egyptian pounds. That’s $50! Each! That seemed extraordinarily high considering you could do a 3-night desert excursion for the same amount including food and equipment. Here we just wanted to see maybe 4 sights in an hour or two in a town that is small enough to bike around. I expect a little inflation or “tourist tax,” but I’m not a fucking moron.
The worst part is that then the man moved in closer to us and hushed his voice to tell us that it wasn’t safe for us to go around town alone and that we should hire him as a guide (extra charge of course!) to accompany the driver. I was floored. What sane person in the travel industry would try to scare their customers in order to make a few extra bucks? And what sane person would want word to get out that their town wasn’t safe? I mean Siwa is just starting to be placed on the travel map and this resort, I’m assuming, is in favor of more visitors coming in the future. I didn’t make any sense and I just felt lucky that we had done enough research to know his scare tactics were bullshit. I felt bad for other, less informed travelers who ended up feeling intimidated by the locals of Siwa thanks to this jackass.
So knowing I could just as easily book something of a nominal charge in town, I told the guy we’d think about it and then inquired about their schedule to transport guests to the center of town. See, the Siwa Shali Resort is about 5 kilometers away from the actual town. When we found this out (they don’t mention it on the website) we were a little concerned since we weren’t driving that far to get away from it all, but instead have the chance to explore Siwa. In other locations, such as Aswan and Luxor, where our hotels were not near the city center, they offered free shuttle or boat service to get us there. This wasn’t the case here. And not only was it not free (big surprise), once again they floated an appalling figure (bigger surprise)! They wanted 50 Egyptian pounds for roundtrip. That is $10 people! San Francisco cabs don’t even charge those kinds of prices. And we’re talking about a town where everything is even cheaper than it is in the rest of the country (which is already pretty damn cheap). Travel Boyfriend and I walked out of there feeling like we were absolutely trapped on this property. We went back to our rooms (which now seemed less than charming) to hatch a plan.
The next morning we went to the front desk to order their inflated ride into town. We figured we’d eat the one-way fare just to get to town so we could call our travel agent and see if they could do anything for us. Mysteriously the price quoted from the night before had increased 10 Egyptian pounds by morning time. I complained and pointed out the discrepancy (the same man was there who we’d talked to the night before) and was told that it simply was the price. No negotiation. And so we smiled sweetly and said that was fine.
Once in town, we got Egypt 7000 on the phone and they were as shocked as we were. They told us to call back in a half hour for a resolution. And when I did, I was told we would have our own private driver to take us around whenever we needed NO EXTRA CHARGE!!! That’s the kind of service I’m talking about! I had expected them to maybe get the resort to discount the price, but now we had our own local driver and didn’t even have to deal with the people at the resort at all. I loved it! Of course the resort didn’t. The first time we got picked up at the resort, the tourist police harassed our driver for a good five minutes even though, as I found out back in Cairo, Egypt 7000 had called the resort directly to tell them that we were personal friends of theirs and that we should not be treated as tourists. Now, I don’t think there should be a difference in how we’re treated regardless of whose friends we are or aren’t, but our reps book a lot of group tours with these people, so you’d think it would be in the resort’s interest to stay on their good side. Not so.
During the remainder of our stay we were treated like we were the world’s biggest dicks. Food options weren’t offered to us that we then saw other guests enjoying. Our room wasn’t cleaned. There was a definite air of hostility and we were often questioned repeatedly about our comings and goings. Travel Boyfriend and I couldn’t wait to get out of there and had we been staying more than four nights, we would have moved to a different hotel entirely. I have never felt such antagonism from an establishment before and if it wasn’t for the complete contrast in experiences we were having in town with all of the local friends we’d met, the part of the trip I’d been looking forward to the most would well have been ruined.
So, Travel Betties, if you are traveling to Siwa anytime soon (and man, am I jealous of you!) please know that there are decent and friendly places to stay in town. Places where you will feel welcomed and well taken care of. And regardless of how we were treated at the Siwa Shali Resort, there is no reason to stay 5 kilometers away from where the action is because the action is the very reason you will fall in love with this place.