As Seen in…
Places to visit in Chad and on our Chad tours
Why visit Chad?
In this seemingly most land-locked of African countries, the inescapably dominant spectre of the Sahara seems to have shaped the world that is modern day Chad. With this vast desert to the north and the fragile aridity of the Sahel immediately below, the country dips to its centre in the Chad Basin. This vast area was once, until around 7,000 years ago, entirely covered by what is now the ebbing and flowing shoreline of Lake Chad.
Now drought, siphoning off of water for irrigation and drinking supply and climate change have reduced the waters to a fraction of what was here even half a century ago, yet the central belt retains a fertile element, merging into the Sudanian Savanna of the south of this 1.3 million km² colossus of central Africa. Whilst the urban areas of this former French colony may hold less draw, the dramas of the northern Ennedi Plateau and the Eastern Tibesti Mountains offer the hardy few who visit a seemingly endless series of geological amazements, cultural surprises and photogenic vistas.
The history of the region is poorly documented, yet the prehistoric archaeological evidence is quite extraordinary. Clearly the Sahara once provided early man with freedom to spread across the region and by the time fixed settlements began in the 20th century B.C. the incredible rock carvings and cave paintings speak of a culture of some import. Bovidian period art is scattered liberally around the Ennedi region, from ochre and ebony shapes to ornate swirling expressions of the human form.
These seem to date from a period where the region still maintained a water level sufficient for farming. Today, in the far-flung reaches of the north-east it is nature’s own art forms which most immediately catch the eye. The Sandstone of the region makes for fabulous ‘tassili’ formations, teetering columns of reddish stacks that rise like dizzy tors above the desolate landscape, wind cut arches and gargantuan granite iselbergs which conjure images of childhood films with rocky outcrops topped by maned mountain lions. The empires and kingdoms that have come and gone have left precious little evidence: France’s tenuous hold on these isolated lands now shows best in decaying fortresses which have become shells to house passing caravans of camels or seasonal oasis-dwelling date harvesters.
That is not to say that Chad is depopulated: its 13.7 million people are divided into a heady mix of Muslim and Christian tribes – the Sara in the south being particularly influential and the tales of 1,000 years of history can be viewed in the capital’s excellent N’Djamena museum. If you visit, you may well encounter the fascinating cultures of the northern stretches: the Mboro people’s Gerewol mass-courtship festival and the ancient capital of Abeche’s stunning array of Islamic sites being particular highlights.
In the eastern mountains, the Saharan corridor to Lake Chad still can be followed and the nomadic peoples of the region – the Tubu, Teda, Gaeda, Tama and Zagawa amongst others – will welcome your meetings with them as they dip their thousands of camels into the ashy waters of the exquisite Archeï Gorge. This is a land of fabulous panoramas and glimpses of natural wonder: the choice is impossible, from the ridiculously picturesque blend of deep sapphire blue and peach, where savage cliffs and dunes tumble into the Teguedei Lakes, to the delicate blur of damask-rose hued bee-eaters as they flit around the fringes of Zakouma’s serpentine Salamat River.
And yet Chad never makes you choose.