Tourism in Algeria, dormant since the early 1990s, has increased slowly but steadily since 2004, thanks in no small part to the region’s improving security and unspoiled, abundant natural beauty. Despite the country’s troubled past, it offers the best that North Africa has to offer, and there’s a good chance you’ll experience it without the company of crowds.
Despite the fact that more than 80 percent of the country is covered by the Sahara Desert, Algeria is a traveler’s paradise, rich in cultural artifacts both ancient and modern. For the adventurously inclined, opportunities abound to explore the Sahara, climb and hike the lunar landscapes of the northwestern mountain ranges, and even “discover” an oasis or two.
The city of Algiers has been immortalized through such works as Albert Camus’s The Stranger
and Gilles Pontecorvo’s excellent film The Bat
tle of Algiers
, which also serves as a primer to the Algerian war of independence. Today, it is a bustling, up-and-coming city where travelers can visit the iconic Casbah, take in the city’s modernized museum scene, and even sample the local nightlife.
The Top 10: What to Do in Algeria
1. Historic Algiers
: The Casbah and the Palais de Raïs: A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Casbah is a must-see for any first-time visitor to Algiers. The neighborhood serves as Algiers’s historical and commercial district and has an array of seafood restaurants. Although Algiers is speckled with historic buildings, few have been as lovingly restored as the Ottoman-era Palais de Raïs. Visitors will come away with lots of insights about life in Algiers in the Ottoman and French periods.
2. New Algiers
: Although tourists might be more inclined to visit the historic neighborhoods of Algiers, the “ville nouvelle” (which actually dates to the Ottoman era) offers several museums of mostly Algerian art, notably the Musée des Beaux Arts and the Bardo Museum. It is also home to most of Algiers’s entertainment and nightlife.
3. Grand Ergs
: To outsiders, the notion of the Sahara evokes shifting, desolate sand dunes. Although the desert has a diverse array of landscapes, Algeria’s Grand Ergs have the austere, windswept environment that draws many travelers to the Sahara. Divided into two regions (the Grand Erg Occidental and the Grand Erg Orientale), the Ergs are uninhabitable, and few roads pass through them. You can witness their majestic beauty from the oases scattered around the edges, though. The town of Timimoun is one of the best; it has reliable tourist facilities and is located near a gorgeous red salt lake.
4. Roam the Sahara
: Experienced outdoorsmen and outdoorswomen are often drawn to Algeria for its unparalleled opportunities to trek by camel through the Sahara. Doing so in the Grand Ergs is ill-advised, but there are still plenty of routes in the southern region that offer a raw and spectacular experience of the outdoors, as well as the opportunity to visit smaller cities and towns that most tourists pass by.
: Surrounded by cliffs on three sides and a ravine on the fourth, Constantine is one of Algeria’s most picturesque cities; it also has the finest museum scene outside of Algiers. It provides easy access to some of the country’s most impressive Roman ruins, including the city of Tiddis, as well as numerous buildings and an aqueduct within the modern city.
: Algeria’s beaches rival their better-known counterparts in Morocco and Tunisia and have enjoyed a spike in popularity as the threat of violence has abated. The beaches outside of Algiers and Oran offer the best infrastructure to visitors, with their resorts and water sports. Beachgoers who travel farther west might even be rewarded with long swathes of sand to themselves.
: Seventeen centuries old and surrounded by vineyards and olive fields, this city represents a charming change of pace from the metropolises of Algiers and Oran. The town has a distinctly laid-back, Mediterranean vibe and is a great destination for leather and textile shopping. The main attraction, though, is the city’s elaborately decorated Grand Mosque, built in 1082.
8. Tassili N’Ajjer National Park
: Located in the southeastern part of the country, Tassili N’Ajjer has more prehistoric rock art in one place than any other location in the world. It encompasses a sandstone mountain range, featuring stunning vistas and a surprising abundance of vegetation. The park can be accessed via the city of Djanet.
: One of Algeria’s most important nonreligious holidays, this celebration of the Berber New Year takes place from January 12 to January 14 each year. The holiday is celebrated with traditional feasts, carnivals, and music and dance performances, and marking the occasion with locals is a cultural experience unlike any other. The biggest festivities happen in Tlemcen and the smaller towns in the south, although some events take place in Algiers; the latter are growing in popularity.
10. Sunset at Assekrem
: A supreme example of Algeria’s outstanding natural beauty, Assekrem is part of the Ahaggar Mountains. This range is particularly popular among tourists for its relatively mild climate and stark rock formations. Assekrem offers an impressive view of the mountains and the surrounding area and is not to be missed. Father Charles de Foucauld
, an important figure for Catholics in Algeria and worldwide, spent five months here in 1905.
When to Go
Temperatures in Algeria reach extremes during the summer, and travelers will be more comfortable visiting during the rainy season, between October and March. It’s best not to visit during Ramadan: Algerians take the fast very seriously, and few businesses will be open. The timing of this holy month is based on the lunar calendar, and it shifts every year; check here
to make sure that the time of your visit does not conflict with Ramadan.