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.
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.
5. Constantine: 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.
6. Beaches: 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.
7. Tlemcen: 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.
9. Yennayer: 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 to Algeria
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.
Getting In and Around Algeria
Visas: American citizens will need a passport and a visa to enter Algeria. The visa must be applied for in advance through the Algerian Embassy. Most European carriers offer flights to Algiers, and you can enter by car via the northern Tunisian border.
Transportation: In and Out of Algeria: If you begin your travels in Algiers, you will most likely fly into Houari Boudeiene Airport. Within Algeria, domestic flights provide a popular, safe, and convenient way to travel directly to the southern cities without the need for a guide. Taxis, buses, and railways supply another option, although driving alone is hazardous, owing to the unpaved roads and the risk of highway robbery in rural areas. Ferries run between the major coastal cities in the north.
Safety and Security
Concerned about your safety as you plan travel to Algeria? We at Africa.com, together with our friends, family and colleagues, travel extensively throughout the continent. Here are the resources we consult when thinking of our safety in Algeria:
Africa.com comment: Very timely and frequently updated. Perspective assumes that you ARE going to travel to Algeria, and seeks to give you good guidance so that you understand the risks and are well informed.
Africa.com comment: An annual ranking of the 54 African countries based on their relative personal security as determined by a highly qualified staff of an African foundation, funded by a successful African philanthropist. See where Algeria ranks relative to the other 54 nations in Africa.
Africa.com comment: Can sometimes be considered as overly conservative and discourage travel altogether to destinations that many reasonable people find acceptably secure. On the other hand, they have the resources of the CIA to inform them, so they know things that the rest of us don’t know. See what they have to say about Algeria.
1. In the northern parts of Algeria, dress for mild, rainy winters and hot, dry summers—sunscreen and moisturizer are essential if you’re visiting between April and September. The desert and mountainous regions experience extreme shifts in temperature, however: it can get as hot as 131 degrees Farenheit (55 degrees Celsius) but quite cold at night. If you plan on trekking or camping in the Sahara, explain the weather conditions to your local camping store and ask about appropriate equipment and clothing.
2. Although you can probably travel alone in Algiers, the Algerian government prohibits any unguided travel south of Ghardaïa. The best method is to hire a guide through an accredited travel agency. A list can be found here.
3. Arabic, French, and some Berber dialects are spoken in Algeria. North African Arabic may be difficult to understand if you are trained in the dialect spoken on the Arabian Peninsula, but almost everyone is bilingual and you will generally not encounter problems, especially if you can converse in French.
4. Algeria is one of the most devout countries in Africa, and its population is almost uniformly Muslim, with small Christian and Jewish components. That situation will affect travelers the most in their choice of dress. We advise that women, especially, dress modestly.
5. Algeria uses the Algerian dinar as its currency. ATMs are scarce even in Algiers and Oran, and most do not accept foreign cards. Few vendors will accept credit cards, so carry cash.