If you can’t speak Arabic, don’t know how to ride a camel and aren’t a Muslim, it may be harder for you to get acquainted with this civil-war torn desert country than others. But if you do persevere, you will encounter wonderful old cities and well-preserved ruins as well as miles of Mediterranean beaches in the north to complement cheap dates and intricately detailed Ghardaia carpets. With over four-fifths of the land covered by the Sahara Desert, you had better learn a bit about ‘desert ships’ before coming.
Timimoun: an enchanting oasis town located on an escarpment with wonderful views over a salt lake and sandy dunes.
El-Oued: known as the ‘town of a thousand domes’ thanks to most of the buildings here having domes to keep out the summer heat, El-Oued is famous for its carpets and daily souq in the old part of the town.
Algiers: the capital may not be the beautiful city it once used to be, but there are impressive ruins and monuments to visit. Mind you don’t get lost in the maze of alleyways, mosques, medersas, casbahs and Turkish houses and palaces or you may miss the country’s other sights.
Tlemcen: this former imperial city is located in the foothills of the Tellian Atlas Mountains and provides some pleasant respite from the summer heat. Visit the Grand Mosque, Almohad Ramparts and Mansourah Fortress.
El Goléa: otherwise called ‘the pearl of the desert’, El Goléa is different to most people’s idea of an oasis due to the abundant vegetation and water. The preserved ruins of the Old Fort (Ksar) are the highlight, as is the sight of greenery, or is it just a mirage?
Three days visiting the oasis towns in the Sahara
Two days in the capital, Algiers.
Two days on the beaches in the north
Two days touring the Hoggar Mountains
Two days in Tassili N’Ajjer, or ‘Plateau of Chasms’
If you are scared of the dark, get ready for frequent power cuts. While not life threatening Algeria’s on-going violence in various parts of the county just might be. You need to plan carefully and take extra precautions, as the risks are higher than normal. Overland travel between major cities should be avoided at night because of illegal roadblocks and the risk of kidnapping.
Algiers International Airport is 12 miles east of the city and there are frequent flights with many European countries. It’s possible to reach Algeria by train from Tunisia, but you will have to change trains at the border. Ferries operate from Spanish, French and Italian ports. Frequent domestic flights connect to the major business centres of Annaba, Constantine and Oran. A bus and train service is another option, but is not as safe.
Algeria is hot year-round, with the only rain falling in the north of the country. Winter is the best time to visit, when the Saharan regions are somewhat cooler. Summer temperatures can be unbearable and sandstorms frequent.
Beaches: it’s hardly the Maldives, but Algeria does have some reasonable beaches such as Zeralda or those on the Sidi Fredj peninsula. Resort facilities exist and there are many water sports and leisure activities to choose from. The Turquoise Coast has rocky coves and long beaches, and is within easy reach of Algiers.
Trekking: some good routes exist in the Hoggar Mountains and most people use Tamanrasset as a base. It is a large town with reasonable facilities and is a popular winter holiday resort.
Car treks: for a bit of adventure, take an organized tour through the Saharan region of Ténéré. Four-wheel drive vehicles are provided along with mattresses and food. Worth considering just for the bragging rights when you return home!
Shopping: carpets are among the many items worth purchasing in the larger towns.
The demise of tourism in Algeria means that you can enjoy traveling around the country relatively cheaply. If you are looking for comfort, there are international hotel chains in Algiers and some good beach resorts along the coast. The Algerians may be a bit cold towards you if you are American, step inside one of their mosques with shoes on or strut about in a low cut bikini as you shop, but generally, they are a friendly bunch pending you show appropriate respect and don’t complain about couscous for dinner again.