Algeria - Africa's Giant
Algeria - Africa's GiantStyle: TravellerCultural discovery away from the crowds
Duration: 15 days
Type: GroupSmall group tours with a maximum of 12 travellers
As the largest country in Africa, Algeria remains off the tourist map, visitors discouraged by a difficult recent history that has discouraged all but the most intrepid of travellers. Thankfully the country has now put its troubles behind it and is open to people keen to explore one of the most diverse and exciting countries on the continent. This two week trip aims to give a comprehensive overview of this African giant. Starting in Algiers we explore the legacy of French colonialism and ancient Roman ruins that are easily the rival of better known sites, and delve into the varied histories of cities such as Oran and Tlemcen with their Andalusian and Ottoman heritage. Heading south we enter the Sahara, spending time at the gorgeous oasis towns of Timimoun and Taghit with mud brick buildings, ruined kasbahs and an incredible location among the dunes of the Grand Erg Occidental. In the UNESCO World Heritage listed towns of the Mzab Valley we uncover a way of life that has changed little in centuries, before we head on to perhaps the most exciting part of the trip, an excursion into the dramatic peaks of the Hoggar Mountains, the land of the Tuareg. Here we look for rock art, meet local people, marvel at the incredible rock formations and sleep out under the stars. Algeria is vast, it is alluring and is without a doubt one of the most fascinating countries you will ever visit.
Day 1 – Algiers
Arrive in Algiers and transfer to the hotel. Afternoon sightseeing of Algiers including the Place des Martyrs and the neo-Moorish ‘Grande Poste’ building. Overnight Hotel Safir or similar.
Perched on the edge of the Mediterranean, opposite southern France, Algiers has long been an important city for trade between Europe and Africa. Over the years it has been home to numerous different civilisations, from the Phoenicians to the Romans and the Ottomans, but was captured by France in 1862 in one of its first forays into colonising Africa. The legacy of French colonisation is still evident in the capital, with whitewashed colonial architecture making this a most striking and unusual African capital. Algiers has many sites to explore – perhaps the most interesting being the old casbah quarter of the city, an incredibly atmospheric district and full of traditional buildings, although still not somewhere to venture without a guide. Within the casbah are several zaouias (religious schools) and tombs as well as good examples of old Ottoman buildings.
Day 2 – Tipasa
Head out of the capital to Tipasa, home to an amazing collection of archaeological remains. We visit the ‘Tomb of the Christian’, believed to date back to the 3rd century BC and belonging to the Numidian people. We also visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Tipasa, a fantastic collection of Roman ruins overlooking the sea including villas and an ancient amphitheatre. Overnight Hotel Safir or similar. (BL)
Seventy kilometres west of Algiers lies Tipasa, a pleasant enough town in its own right but better known for its collection of ancient ruins. The Roman ruins at Tipasa are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and include many different structures – there are three ancient churches, the remains of an old port, an amphitheatre and villas, some of which contain some splendid mosaics. Further afield near Sidi Rachid lies the ‘Tomb of the Christian’ or Qabr er Rumia, thought to be a tomb for Numidian Berber kings dating back to the 3rd or 4th century BC. It is also rumoured that the daughter of Cleopatra and Mark Antony is buried here. Built on a hill it consists of a circular building with a pyramid on top, and is one of the most interesting sites in Algeria.
Day 3 – Oran
Continue to Oran, Algeria’s second city. We spend time exploring the city including the Bey’s Palace and the 18th century Grand Mosque. (BL)
Founded in the 10th century by the Moors of Andalucia, Oran has had a varied past which has seen it being ruled by Spain, the Ottoman Empire and France – today remnants of that Spanish heritage still linger giving it rather a different feel to its larger cousin Algiers. The city is a mixture of different styles of architecture and is renowned as being one of the more liberal places in Algeria. Some of its key sights include the Grand Mosque, the delightful area of Santa Cruz and the Cathedral de Sacre Coeur. Within Algeria, Oran is renowned as being the birthplace of rai music, a quite distinctive genre with its roots in the poor and dispossessed community. Oran is a great place to wander along the seafront and stop for a drink in the numerous cafes for a spot of people watching.
Day 4 – Oran
Continue our exploration of Oran including the colonial era theatre and the picturesque Santa Cruz area with its pretty church and fortress, with great views over the whole of the city. (BL)
Day 5 – Tlemcen
Travel to Tlemcen, once an important town which still contains a superb collection of historic buildings. Visit the Grand Mosque, one of the most important Islamic buildings in North Africa, the ruins of 13th century Mansourah and the tomb of Sidi Boumedienne. (BLD)
Surrounded by hills, the town of Tlemcen has an illustrious past and in its heyday was one of the most important cities of North Africa. Today a university city, it was first settled by Romans in the 4th century but rose to prominence in the 11th century under the Almoravid dynasty who held sway over much of the region including Morocco. As with many coastal towns it provided an important conduit for trade between Africa and Europe, with slaves, gold and other goods from south of the Sahara being traded here. It was also home to a large Jewish population, although none remain now. The city contains an imposing fortress known as the Mechouar as well as a collection of ancient mosques and tombs and is a fairly relaxed place to walk around and explore.
Day 6 – Taghit
Leave the coast behind and transfer by road to the oasis town of Taghit, one of the most beautiful in the Algerian Sahara. We explore the ksar and walk through the old town with its mud brick houses and winding streets, dominated by the dunes of the Grand Erg Occidental towering above. Overnight El Bordj guesthouse or similar. (BLD)
Day 7 – Beni Abbes - Timimoun
Continue to the picturesque oasis of Timimoun with its distinctive red buildings. On the way we stop at the ‘white oasis’ of Beni Abbes and visit the old ksar, taking lunch in the palm groves with ancient foggaras (irrigation systems). Overnight El Ghandour guesthouse or similar. (BLD)
The oasis of Timimoun is one of the prettiest in the Sahara, with ochre red buildings and Sudanese style architecture making it quite a distinctive sight. Developed by the French during their conquest of the Sahara in the late 19th / early 20th centuries, it was once the largest slave market in the country and today you can see the legacy of that in the features of its inhabitants, many of whom look more ‘African’ than Algerian.
Day 8 – Timimoun
Spend the day exploring this lovely oasis, with a picnic lunch out among the dunes. Overnight El Ghandour guesthouse or similar. (BLD)
Day 9 – Mzab Valley
Continue driving through the Sahara via El Golea to the Mzab Valley and the oasis of Beni Isguen, our base for the next two nights. Overnight Les Deux Tours or similar. (BLD)
The Mzab is one of Algeria’s true highlights, a collection of towns in the middle of the desert surviving against all the odds of the seemingly hostile conditions against them. Named after and inhabited by the Mozabite Berbers, the five walled towns of the Mzab are one of the most enigmatic places in the country. Each town is built around a fortified mosque with a minaret that doubles up as a watchtower, used to look out for raiders from the deep desert. Made up of the towns of El Atteuf, Bou Noura, Malika, Ghardaia and Beni Isguen, the Mzab offers a snapshot of how much of Algeria must have been centuries ago with livestock outnumbering cars within the centres of the towns and old men sitting in alleyways discussing the problems of the day. Some of the towns adhere to distinctive principles of town planning, with the streets of Ghardaia being constructed in concentric circles emanating from the mosque. The Mzab is also the best place to pick up any souvenirs during your stay in Algeria.
Day 10 – Mzab Valley
A full day exploring the UNESCO World Heritage listed Mzab Valley. Made up of five separate towns, the Mzab is a glimpse of a world that has long since disappeared elsewhere, staunchly traditional and isolated by the Sahara. With lively markets, twisting narrow lanes and women in traditional dress, it is easy to imagine that you are walking through a bygone era. Later we transfer to the airport to fly further south to Tamanrasset. Overnight Auberge de Tamanrasset or similar. (BLD)
Days 11-13 – Hoggar Mountains
Spend a little time exploring Tamanrasset before heading north along rough tracks to the Atakor plateau. We pass the dramatic peaks of Akar Akar, stop at the guelta of Afilal and continue to Assekrem and the hermitage of Pere de Foucauld. We also visit Tuareg settlements, look for rock paintings and cross the dunes of Tihodaine as well as crossing rhe Amadror plain, once important on the ancient salt caravan routes. This is incredible landscape with bizarre rock formations and we are privileged to be spending time in such an incredible environment. In the evening of Day 13 we fly back to Algiers. Overnight camping. (BLD)
Tamanrasset is one of the most important cities in the Sahara and a key city for the Tuareg of Algeria. It has grown from being little more than a few houses under French occupation (when it was called Fort Laperrine, after one of the chief architects of French Saharan exploration), and is now home to around 100,000 inhabitants. There is little to see or do in Tamanrasset itself apart from soak up the Saharan atmosphere, but it makes a great base for exploring the superlative scenery in the surrounding region.
Assekrem and Pere Foucauld
Born in 1858 into a wealthy family, Charles de Foucauld entered the priesthood after a short spell in the military. Having spent time in Morocco and Algeria as a soldier, Foucauld travelled to the Hoggar Mountains to immerse himself on prayer and convert local Tuareg tribes. He was intensely interested in the people that he lived among, and spent ten years cataloguing their customs and language. Shunning traditional European comforts he built himself a refuge in the Hoggar peaks at Assekrem, where he lead a largely ascetic life, trying to get close to the Tuareg. He was assassinated in 1916, outside his hermitage, by Tuaregs opposed to the French occupation of their lands. His hermitage remains to this day and is an amazing place to watch the sun set and rise over the dramatic collection of surrounding peaks.
The Tuareg, or kel-Tamashek (speakers of Tamashek) are a nomadic group of people who are found in Algeria, Mali, Niger, Libya and Burkina Faso. Their origins are not completely known but many sources believe that they are Berbers who retreated into the desert during the Arab invasions of North Africa. Today they follow Islam but an unusual aspect of their culture is that the men wear a type of veil, known as a ‘tagelmoust’ while the women’s faces are uncovered. The Tuareg were renowned as fierce warriors and were a major impediment to French exploration of the Sahara in the late 19th and early 20th century, resisting encroachment on their lands and on occasion massacring whole expeditions. Today Tuareg groups in Mali and Niger have been involved in conflict with government in attempts to gain greater autonomy. Tuareg men can still today be seen wearing their traditional swords when out travelling.
Day 14 – Algiers
Arrive in Algiers and explore the city, including the impressive Notre Dame d’Afrique church and the casbah, the most traditional area of the city. The rest of the day is free to relax or explore further. Overnight Hotel Safir or similar. (BL)
Day 15 – Algiers
This morning visit the casbah, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most enigmatic places in Algiers. After lunch in a private home, transfer to the airport for your onward flight. (BL)
Tour style: Traveller
Arrival and departure transfers
All accommodation on twin share basis
Services of English speaking guide / tour leader
Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)
Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary
Any airport taxes
Please note that you should also read the Country Notes in association with this itinerary for practical information about your trip and the destination you will be visiting.
The itinerary and supplementary information has been compiled with care and provided in good faith. However it may be subject to change, and does not form part of a contract between the client and Undiscovered Destinations.