Tassili n'Ajjer Cultural Park
The Tassili n'Ajjer mountain range gained world fame after the discovery of ancient rock art in the 1930's. Over the years, more than 15000 petroglyphs and paintings were identified, as well as a great number of archeological remains. With numerous stone tools and artifacts, ceramics, burial mounds, enclosures and general habitational remains, Tassili n'Ajjer has provided archeologists with a wealth of information about life in the region in Neolithic times. Therefor, it is considered one of the most important sites of prehistoric cave art in the world.
As if all of that wasn't enough, Tassili n'Ajjer Cultural Park boast some stunning Saharan landscapes. Today, the massive Tassili itself is as good as uninhabited but the park attracts a good number of tourists and researchers alike.
Although the magnificent archeological treasures are the centre point of attention, the landscapes of Tassili n'Ajjer alone make a visit more than worthwhile. Centuries of changing climates and erosion have resulted in stunning geological formations of eroded sandstone rocks, creating an almost lunar landscape with so-called "rock forests" often reaching as far the eye can see. To see the most of the parks natural panoramas requires multiple day trips, but the majestic canyons and countless arches -most without official names- make up for all efforts you'll have to take.
As temperatures reach serious low points in December and January, and extreme highs from April to Semptember, the main trekking seasons are October-November and February-March.
The nearest town and starting point of most tours into Tassili n'Ajjer is the oasis city Djanet. Former direct flights from Paris and other major European airports to Djanet were cancelled after the 2003 kidnapping of tourists in the region, but Air Algerie still operates regular flights between Algiers and Djanet. The connection with flights to e.g. Paris are good, with rather short transfer times. Getting there from Paris should be possible in a 7 hour time frame, with return tickets (including the Algiers-Djanet flight) starting under 600 Euro. Furthermore, there are flights between Djanet and Illizi, In Amenas, Ghardaïa, and Ouargla.
If you're travelling overland, route N3 runs through the park to Djanet, but there's as good as no organized bus transport. Hitchhiking is a possibility, but comes with all the obvious risks. There is a bus to the Libyan border, but the prices for that trip are high and rising. In short, the main alternative to flying in, is driving in with you own (rented or not) vehicle. The road is long and mostly without great landscapes, but for independent travellers an overland approach was the preferred method for a long time. However, after the 2003 kidnappings regulations for overland travel tightened, making guides compulsory and off-track driving off-limits. As a result of these rules and the bureaucratic hassle that came with it, prices rose significantly.
Access to the park and its sites is restricted, and you'll need to buy a permit to enter, plus a separate one if you want to take pictures. These can be obtained via all government-approved tour agencies or a Tassili Cultural Park conservationist. Typically, you should get your permit just the same day.
- Tassili Cultural Park Office, BP 11, 33100 Djanet, ☎ +213 29 47 52 82.
You are allowed to work your own way around the authorized areas of Illizi, Bordj-el-Haous, and Djanet Fadnoun, but visiting the sites is only allowed when accompanied by an official tour guide. Tours include jeep rides, but to reach the plateau at the Tassili top, you'll have to rely on your own legs and some donkey or dromedary help. There is no road to the top, but you can choose from 3 passes: Afilalet, Assakao, and Aroun. Dromedaries can only access the Assakao pass, but donkeys manage all three options. As trips to the top take several days, count on taking lots of water and of course camping equipment.
Arranging a tour and supplies is relatively easy, as there are many small travel agencies around. Normally, it is possible to arrive in Djanet and set up a trip leaving the next day. There is no public transport available to get around the massive park.
- Ancient rock art: petroglyphs and paintings depicting prehistoric life. You'll encounter images of cattle and wildlife, as well as figures, festivities and hunting scenes. Unfortunately, some of the most well-known images have been damaged due to copying by early discoverers and later travellers. Nevertheless, there are plenty of other, equally wonderful paintings that remain. Note the nature of wildlife depicted, which bears witness to the much moister climate of those ancient times, when there were lakes and rivers, and ample game to allow for human occupation of the area.
- Rock formations and unique panoramas. Thousands of years of erosion by water and wind have sculptured a unique and massive collection of arches, labyrinths of sandstone streets and pinnacles, natural amphitheatres, steep gorges and other spectacular landscapes.
As you'll need a guide to take you to the rock art sites, booking a tour is one of the first things you'll have to do. There's a good number of small agencies. Feel free to look around a bit and ask around. Prices can vary and are constantly rising. At the larger agencies, prices around 60 euro per person per day are not unusual.
- Agence Essendilene. One of the larger agencies, and with a website. Offers 4WD and camel tours, as well as treks to the plateau.
- Mohamed Touggui Travel Agency, BP 115 33100 DJANET, ☎ 00213 66 62 15 77. DJARATS TOURS
In Djanet, several basic restaurants are around and easy to spot in the centre. Once you're out in the park however, no food facilities are available. Everything you need, you'll have to take with you. When choosing a tour you typically have the choice between all-in versions, where camping equipment, food and water are provided for you, or a no-frills tour where you'll have to bring your own. In that case, make arrangements with your tour agency for sufficient pack animals.
You might expect that the considerable foreign interest in Tassili n'Ajjer over the years would have led to ample facilities in the park and in Djanet. However, it has not. Lodging options in Djanet are limited and basic, and once you're headed into the park itself there are no facilities other than some stone windbreaks that previous travellers have left for your convenience. As for camping gear, it is possible to rent all or some of it, but bringing your own is the best idea still.
Most travel agencies offer basic lodging for their customers, but don't expect a lot more than a simple field bed or even just a safe place to put down your sleeping bag.
Around the sites
There are a number of designated camping spots, in an attempt to keep travellers litter from spreading too much. Your guide will typically determine where to sleep, and will in most cases refer to one of these spots. In several places, piled stone walls indicate trash areas. Leaving any litter there (or taking it with you) is preferred over burningor burying it in the sand.
- Political situation: Tassili n'Ajjer covers a massive area of Algeria, on the border of Libya, Niger and Mali. Make sure to check the situation in the area prior to booking, as it is not the most stable of regions.
- Snakes and scorpions are to be avoided. Although snake bites in this area can be fatal, the animals are rare and easily spotted as they leave distinctive marks in the sand. Also, they typically don't come towards people. To be sure however, don't camp too close to vegetation and don't walk into thick undergrowth. Scorpions are less rare but also less deadly. Take the same precautions you would in all countries where scorpions are found: check your shoes before putting them on and don't put hands or feet into rock crevasses.