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    © Dmitry Pichugin / 123 RF
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Travel to Algeria, a joyride in the Sahara

By Dmitry Petrounin Dmitry Petrounin Section editor Profile

The largest country in Africa, Algeria offers a multitude of unforgettable sights. Whether it's the stunning coastlines that lie in the country's north, or its undeniably historically charismatic cities, especially its capital Algiers, you will be spoiled for things to do and see. However, the country's feature most worthy of praise is its spectacular Sahara region. What makes exploring this magnificent country such a pleasure is the warmth and curiosity of its population.

Independent travel through Algeria is not very easy, especially without a vehicle. However if you manage to arrange a tour, the UNESCO-listed regions such as Tassilin N'Ajjer and Hoggar are both fascinating destinations. The world-famous tribal cave art at Tassilin N'Ajjer totals around 15,000 drawings is only one of the many things that make these destinations worth visiting.

FCO advice (last updated 17 February 2014): You should take great care in the remaining areas of the provinces of Adrar, Tamanrasset and Illizi which are not specifically covered above, and the provinces of Bordj Bou Arreridj, Bejaia and Skikda east of Algiers, due to the ongoing threat from terrorism. There is a high threat from terrorism in Algeria. A serious terrorist attack took place on 16 January 2013 at a gas installation near the town of In Amenas near the Algerian border with Libya. Terrorists have been involved in kidnaps in Algeria and the wider Sahel region, and further kidnaps are likely.

Travel guide

Timgad:

Nothing can prepare you for the sight that unfolds before your eyes when you first arrive at Timgad. Located in the Aures Mountains some 40km from Batna, the UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the best examples of ancient Roman city planning in the world. Founded around 100AD by the Emperor Trajan, the city was originally built as a military colony to serve as a bastion against the Berbers. Timgad disappeared from history sometime in the 8 century; it remained lost for over a thousand years until it was excavated by archaeologists in 1881.

Belezma National Park:

Located approximately 25km north-west of Batna the Belezma National Park covers an area of more than 262 square kilometres. The park is home to over 300 species of animals and 440 species of flora, many of which are endemic to the area. Of the animals inhabiting the Belezma National Park, 59 species are considered to be endangered. These include the Atlas Barbary Sheep and the Serval, a medium-sized wild cat, which although exceptional at camouflage can be easily spotted by attentive visitors.

M'Zab Valley:

Located in the heart of the Sahara Desert, 600 km south of Algiers, the M'Zab Valley consists of five hilltop villages that rise up from a palm filled valley. The villages were constructed with defence in mind and so each one of the five miniature citadels is surrounded by walls, the minaret of the mosque, which occupies the centre of each village, acts as a watchtower. One of the most intriguing aspects of the M'Zab Valley is the fact that is has conserved not only the same building techniques but also the same way of life since the 11th century, which makes visiting the area almost like travelling 1,000 years back in time. The reasons behind M'Zab Valley seeming refusal to adapt to the modern age can be traced both to a historic need for defence as well as the hostile environment in which the villages were built.

Djémila:

Djémila, originally known as Cuicul, is a small village located in the mountains of Algeria. The site's claim to fame is not only its breathtaking collection of perfectly preserved Berbero-Roman ruins but also how traditional Roman architecture was adapted to the mountain environment. Unlike most ancient Roman cities in Europe, Djémila was almost completely abandoned and as paradoxical as it might sound it was this fact that helped preserve the city as it spared it from vandalism. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1982, Djémila is one of Algeria's sites most worth visiting. However, you should be aware that getting to the ancient city can be problematic. The closest populated city, Setif, is located some 50km away from Djémila so you will have to start your journey early, also bear in mind that there are no hotels in the city itself so it would be advisable to arrange accommodation in Setif prior to your journey.

Our Editorial team's advice

Algeria's breathtaking landscapes, its hospitality and its culture, give it incredible potential for tourism. Unfortunately due to a complex security situation, which restricts tourism in certain coastal cities, as well as a lack of political will, few tourists get the opportunity to truly enjoy everything that this magnificent country has to offer. Recent years in particular have seen Algeria disappeared from travel brochures in tourist offices. At present, it unwise to undertake a complete exploration of the country, at least that is the opinion of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. However nothing is preventing you from discovering the northern coastal towns and immersing yourself in the comforting charm of cities like Algiers, Oran and Constantine.

These cities could be the site of a highly original and unforgettable city break, amongst other reasons due to the interactions with an extremely welcoming and curious population. Algiria's younger generations in particular are known for leaving a very warm impression on visitors. . Although you should bear in mind that travel to Algeria requires a visa, which can set you back an additional 60GBP, so plan your finances accordingly.

When planning your trip to Algeria focus on the mid-seasons, in other words spring (April to mid-June) and autumn (mid-September and October). Spring in particular is a terrific time to visit this country, due to the blooming of mountain flowers which give the whole landscape an idyllic and magical feel. During the winter months it is not uncommon to see snow-covered peaks dot the horizon, a somewhat surreal sight in the desert. Travel during the summer months is best avoided for two reasons. Firstly the prices of airline and boat tickets soar; this is because of the large number of Algerian expatriates that are returning home for the holidays. Secondly the temperatures, you have not experienced real scorching heat until you have wandered in the Sahara region in mid-July, an experience we would not easily recommend.

Another thing worth keeping in mind when deciding when to travel to Algeria is Ramadan. During the religious holiday the general atmosphere in the country tenses up quite a bit and everything becomes just a tad bit more complicated. However, even with all of that in mind, you are still left with nearly nine months when you can explore this mysterious land with its many intriguing faces.

pros

  • +The desert is one of the most beautiful and one of the most diverse in the world.
  • +The magnificent landscapes of Kabylia and Aurès areas.
  • +The rich cultural heritage
  • +The hospitality of locals

cons

  • -The persistent risk of terrorism.

Traditions

While very open and curious people, Algerians are also set in their ways which is why it is important to follow local rules and social customs so as not to cause any offence or general unease. For example, if you find yourself outside touristic destinations avoid taking pictures, especially of locals of government building. If you are set on taking a few snaps be sure to ask permission first, and if you receive a negative reply do not insist. Religion plays an important part in the daily lives of Algerians, so be sure to obey the rules, habits and cultures of the country. Respect places of worship, when visiting a mosque be sure to take of your shoes at the entrance, women must have their heads covered. Another rule that is worth keeping in mind is avoiding being provocative, whether through the clothes you wear or the way you behave with your fellow travellers.

While dedicated to their social rules, when it comes to communication Algerians are not very formal people. Which is why, when speaking with you, they will most probably adopt a friendly, informal manner, even if you have only recently met. Although, while familiarity is extremely common, it is also possible to encounter more reserved people so respect those that wish to remain formal.

If you meet someone you know or have met before, be sure to be polite towards them. Do not hesitate to ask after their health or how their family is doing.

And finally if you are being offered food or drink, in particular mint tea, it is improper to refuse.

As far as working schedules are concerned, Friday is considered a non-working day in Algeria, so a number of stores may be closed. However businesses and offices are normally open on Sundays.

Food

In Algiers, as well as other large cities, you will find a number of excellent restaurants offering Algerian, French and Italian cuisine, however in smaller settlements good international cuisine might be more difficult to come by.

In Algeria fresh fish is unsurprisingly served along the coast and around the seaside resorts. In the South of the country choices are somewhat more limited. A traditional menu would commonly include a salad or vegetable soup (chorba) as a starter and couscous, tajine, mechoui, or lamb/beef kebabs as a main course, for dessert you will be offered fruit salad or a variety of pastries.

Remember that Algeria is a Muslim county, so alcoholic drinks are only served in large hotels and restaurants. Ironically enough Algeria also produces a selection of excellent red and rose wines, such as Sidi Brahim, Medea, Mansourah and Mascara, which given the opportunity you must try.

Ideal Weather Search

Find weekly weather forecasts for Algeria . Different criteria make it possible to predict with precision the best time of year to go to Algeria . A comprehensive weather score, made up of temperature indicators, bad weather predictions, sunshine levels and wind speeds, will allow you to choose the activities best suited to the weather conditions and therefore make the most of your holiday in Algeria .

Souvenirs

When looking for souvenirs to bring back from your travels in Algeria here is what we recommend to buy: Berber and Tuareg artefacts, bags, carpets, jewellery, ceramics, wooden boxes, silver khôl boxes as well as sand roses.