Around 2008 New Year's Eve, I was in the south of Algeria for a one-week trip to the Sahara. The desert has always fascinated me: the colors, the silence, the solitude all create an environment of sheer beauty. I have been to the Namib, the Taklimakan and some of the great American deserts but never to the Sahara which to me represents the greatest desert of all. I found out that the south of Algeria is probably the best place to start discovering the Sahara and in this post I'll go through my trip.
The region I visited is to the southwest of Djanet, a small town in the south of Algeria near the border with Libya and Niger. The area is part of the Parc National du Tassili and includes a great variety of environments ranging from sand dunes, to canyons, plateaus and plains.
I travelled with a group aboard four 4x4 vehicles driven by Tuareg locals. Camping was primitive and free given no facilities whatsoever nor inhabited areas are present in the region. The weather was unusually warm with temperatures never dropping below 0°C whereas normally nights are extremely cold during winter. If you plan to visit the area, a tent and a good sub-zero (°C) sleeping bag are absolutely required. Hat, sunglasses and long-sleeved shirts are also a must for sun protection.
We started out from the Ténéré Village and, after buying water and supplies in Djanet, we headed south to the Tadrart area. The area is entered though the Oued In Djeran and rapidly develops in a number of canyons and plains of immense beauty. The fascinating part is that in an area less than 60 kilometers long you get to see a great variety of colored sands, shapes of rock and inusual features you can hardly believe. At the southern and western borders of the canyons, you arrive respectively at Moul N'Aga and Tin Merzouga where the landscape opens to breath-taking views of the sands dunes. If that's not enough, the area is an open-air meseum in terms of cave paintings and carvings: impressive graphical works, very well preserved, with multiple styles and presumably from different historical periods. The paintings and carvings show tribal life and a wealth of animals and are a reminder of a long time ago when the area was abundant in water, vegetation and inhabitants.
Exiting the Tadrart from where we entered, we then headed a bit to the south to Alidemma. This second area features different but equally impressive rock formations and sands. If the Tadrart presented a palette of infinite variations of orange, red and white with intricate smooth textures, Alidemma amazed me with ranges of yellows, browns and beatiful ragged rocks.
Finally, we moved to the west of Djanet where the great sands of the Erg Admer start. It's yet another landscape: no more rocks and canyons but only dunes as far as the eye can see. The yellow velvet of the dunes in a totally silent landscape provide a strong soothing effect and the feeling of solitude and tranquillity were stronger than ever.
Around Djanet, the area of Timras and the carvings at Tigherghert (or La Vache qui Pleure) also deserve a visit. The oasis and the town of Djanet however are less interesting.
The immense beauty of the features in this part of the Sahara leave you absolutely breathless whereas the variety is sure to keep you excited and make you appreciate the different landscapes the desert has to offer. If you're thinking about a good introductory trip to the Sahara you should definitely consider the south of Algeria.
Published in January 2009.