ALGERIA: Top ten sites to visit in THE SAHARA
Algeria’s Southern region is largely comprised of the immense and sweltering Sahara Desert. While this implies miles of desolate, inhospitable expanses, this is far from the case. There are a number of bustling towns and tranquil destinations. There is no better place in the country for adventure seekers than here.
Algeria’s ‘Sand Seas’ are amongst the most the most visually striking places in the world. Otherwise known as the ‘Issaouane Erg’, the Sand Sea is located near the Ahaggar Mountains. An almost alien landscape, the Sand Sea illustrates the extremities of Algeria’s terrain better than anywhere else. Also known for its archaeological and natural riches, it is one of the most unique places in the country.
Nicknamed ‘the city of a thousand domes’, El Oued is one of the most spectacular places in the country. Known for its remote location, it is an oasis town over 400 miles away from Algiers. Despite its remoteness, El Oued is anything but sleepy. It is known for its bustling street life, best exemplified by its Friday camel market. El Oued is a liberal town known for its open school of Islam and proud Jewish heritage. Despite its desert climate, which brings almost unbearable summer heat, there is a surprisingly strong agricultural industry nearby, with potato and date plantations being widespread.
Another enchanting oasis town, Timimoun is located in the Ardar provine. It is best known for its striking, unique red buildings and ancient ruins. It is one of the most welcoming and friendly towns in the Sahara. The beautiful natural surroundings include a nearby salt lake. The town is known for its surprising diversity, with the population comprised mainly of Arabs, Haratines, Berbers and Black Africans. The main language is the Berber dialect of Zenete.
The main hub of the Sahara desert is the M’Zab Valley. Virtually untouched by tourism, the region is the home of the Mozabites, a major Berber tribe. Exiled following the Muslim conquest of Algieria, the Mozabites established a colony here, its inhospitality acting as a deterrent to outsiders. Despite the odds being stacked against them, the Mozabites adapted to the new environment and turned it into a thriving collection of cities. These are known as the Pentapolis Cities of the M’Zab Valley, comprised of El Atteuf, Bou Noura, Ghardaia, Melika and Ben Isguen. El Atteuf is home to the Mosque of Sidi Brahim, one of the most spectacular in the Saharathat dates back to the 14th Century. Bou Noura, dating back to the mid-11th Century is known for its tall houses. Melika is known for its eerie cemetery and folklore. Ben Isguen is the town’s most important religious and educational hub, dating back to the 14th Century. It is known for its incredibly insular and traditional identity. Photography and smoking are forbidden. Ghardaia is known for its strict religious traditions and labyrinthine medinas. The region is known for its incredibly insular, traditional and distinct culture and is incredibly well-preserved due to centuries of isolation.
Described as the Saharan capital, Tamanrasset is located in the country’s south as the capital of the eponymous province. Accessible by plane, it is the gateway to the spectacular Hoggar Mountains. It initially served as a military and trading outpost but emerged as a thriving metropolis. Despite its inhospitable climate, which sees some of the highest temperatures ever recorded, it has a thriving agricultural community built around its lush oases.
The crown jewel of the Hoggar Mountains, Assekrem is one of the most beautiful parts of the country. Literally translated to ‘the End of the World’, Assekrem is a true sight to behold. Incredibly remote, it nonetheless attracts a number of visitors due to its immense natural beauty. Many are particularly gripped by the unparalleled sunrises and sunsets. The plateau is also well-known for the Charles de Foucauld Hermitage. De Focal was a French Catholic mystic who built relations with Tuareg tribes and attempted to establish relations with them. His hermitage is a striking site, a memorial built following his assassination in 1916.
Traversing the Tropic of Cancer and Algeria’s southern region are the Hoggar Mountains, amongst the most beautiful locales within the Sahara Desert. The Hoggar Mountains are known for their jarring, distinct rock formations, giving it an almost alien landscape. The region is known for the wealth of prehistorical remains found there, making it one of the oldest settlements in the country.
One of Algeria’s most important festivals, Tafsit is a spring festival taking place towards the end of April. It draws Tuareg tribes from across the Sahara Desert to meet for a celebration of brotherhood. Lasting three days, major events include a camel race, musical performances and parades. It takes place a few kilometres outside of Tamanrasset.
One of the most distinct festivals in the Saharan region of Algeria, the carpet festival takes palace in Ghardaia and attracts visitors from all corners of the country. The city itself is famous for its carpet-weaving and there is no better time to witness this craftsmanship than during the annual festival, which takes place every March.