Is Algeria the next great travel destination in Africa – National Geographic

From the open roof of the watchtower, above the labyrinth of narrow alleys and serried rooftops, Ghardaïa appears as a rolling tableau associated with jumbled pastel cubes.

The only hints of modernity are the Tannoy speakers projecting from the mud-walled minarets at the summit of each hill. Otherwise, we could be looking at a scene from any century in the last 10.

Despite its proximity to Europe , plus vast presence on the north coast associated with The african continent –roughly the size of Alaska and Texas combined—Algeria and many of its most spectacular sights are little known to travelers outside of the borders.  

“Algeria is one of the world’s hardest places in order to enter plus among the least visited, ” says Andrew Farrand, senior fellow for North Cameras in the Atlantic Council , a foreign affairs think tank. “Of the two million or so official tourist arrivals each year, most are members from the Algerian diaspora coming home to visit family. Only a handful are foreign visitors. ”

For those willing to negotiate the bureaucratic hurdles to get here, Algeria is arguably one of the most rewarding destinations that you can reach via a short-haul flight through mainland European countries. Today, vitally, it is also considered to be safe plus relatively stable. Most international governments advise only against travel to its edges with Libya and Niger.

Legacy of French colonialism

The origins associated with Algeria’s anonymity lie in the recent past. Between 1830 plus 1962, it was the most prized possession from the French empire. Independence came in 1962, but just after a bloody eight-year war among Algerian insurgents and People from france colonists which claimed in between 400, 000 and a million lives.

“France’s barbaric efforts to destroy Algerian culture bred deep anti-Western sentiment, ” says Adel Hamaizia, a visiting other at Harvard University. “In the particular aftermath, the newly independent country was very motivated in order to rebuild plus protect the religious and cultural identity. ”

In the 1990s, as tourism to neighbors Morocco plus Tunisia surged, Algeria was mired in what its people refer to as the “Black Decade, ” when an Islamist insurgency instigated a bloody and protracted civil battle. Anti-government protests toppled the particular administration associated with long-time president Abdelaziz Bouteflika because recently as April 2019.

Developing travel and leisure

One legacy of this domestic upheaval is a prevailing attitude toward overseas site visitors that is, if not actually hostile, then at least indifferent. The particular visa application process is Byzantine. Tourism promotion is non-existent. During my trip to the country in the spring, the only guidebook I could get my hands on was a second-hand Berlitz pocket-guide published in 1990.

The government’s disinterest inside travel, many observers argue, is due to the economic dominance of hydrocarbons. Algeria’s oil and gas sector comprises 20 percent from the GDP. Travel and leisure, by contrast, accounts for barely 0. 1 percent.

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“The oil curse infects everything, ” states Farrand. “The industry gives the Algerian state the money it needs to avoid the hard work associated with developing more complex sectors like tourism. ” According to recent reports, the particular spike in gas and oil prices as a result of the war within Ukraine has meant that Algeria exceeded the export targets for the first half of 2022 by 70 %.

Wonders hidden in plain sight

Nevertheless, the particular rewards with regard to approaching here are numerous. Algeria is in several ways a giant hiding in simple view. Within the band of fertile land that will hugs its Mediterranean coast are historic cities like Constantine , Oran , and the capital Algiers. Ancient Roman outposts such as Djemila  plus Timgad (both UNESCO World Heritage sites) are among the best preserved archaeological locations within Northern Africa. South, within the Saharan interior, the dune seas of the Great Ergs crash against the sandstone massifs associated with Hoggar and Tassili n’Ajjer.

“We’ve had record interest this particular autumn, but you can still go days in Algeria without seeing another visitor, ” says Omar Zahafi, whose tour company, Fancyellow , caters almost exclusively in order to foreign guests. “When we visit the Roman ruins plus clients ask why there are no other individuals, I like to joke that I booked the site for them especially! ”

Few locations embody the tension between Algeria’s insularity and its tourist potential want Ghardaïa, the our ancestors house of the Mozabites , Algeria’s 4th biggest Berber group. The sprawling oasis city, 380 miles south associated with Algiers around the Trans Sahara Highway, it is a place where Algerian life is in the most traditional.

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It’s early afternoon inside El Atteuf, one of five ksours , or hilltop citadels, that are collectively known as “the Pentapolis. ” Once separate entities, the particular 5 walled towns have long since merged together into a labyrinthine conurbation that snakes along the desiccated valley from the M’Zab River. (Ghardaïa is both the name of the largest citadel and an unofficial shorthand for the whole region. ) The French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir once likened this to “a Cubist painting, beautifully constructed. ”

Like most areas in Algeria, Ghardaïa is best explored with a guide. Indeed, in the ksours themselves, one is obligatory. Rules laid down by spiritual councils, which usually uphold a strict form of Ibadi Islam, permit entry in order to outsiders only from certain times of the day, and only in the company of a local chaperone. Some married women dress in the haik , a white garment which is wrapped around the body plus head, leaving only a single eye exposed. Motorized transport is restricted. Rubbish is still collected simply by donkey.

My guide, Hassissane Hadjsmael, a butcher with an impish air, leads us through the tranquil alleyways. In the middle of the day, when most of the valley’s inhabitants take a siesta, the particular lanes are populated just along with gaggles associated with bashful children.

The particular citadel’s architectural consistency is a result of age-old norms of design and decoration. Up close, you can see that the walls are rendered within clay, then stippled with palm fronds to deflect the heat from the sun.

Hadjsmael gestures us all through a low doorway plus into a model inside now preserved as an unofficial museum. Inside is a pillared quadrangle with an open roofing. Recesses on each side are bedecked in carpets. The majority of homes within the old cities have a similar footprint, albeit with some concessions to the 21st century. “My place is similar, ” states Hadjsmael. “But I do have a big plasma TV. ”

Change arrives slowly in Ghardaïa, but it does arrive. On the outskirts are the palmeries, groves associated with date palms in whose fruits were once the backbone of the local economy. Now, its aged summer homes are being converted into guesthouses.

In one of them, I meet tourists from Ohio sitting in a Berber tent set up in a shady courtyard. A musician, rakish in a dark green Tuareg turban, plucks at an oud under an olive tree heavy along with fruit.

“You can tell that a lot of the people inside Algeria are usually eager to share their country with the world, ” states Katelyn Jarvis, an investment advisor through Cincinnati. “Nearly every interaction we’ve experienced offers resulted in an invitation to go to peoples’ towns or to discuss a meal with their own homes. ”

Tourism is in the infancy right here, but the hospitality is instinctive.

“I lately got the license to start hosting foreigners, ” the guesthouse owner, Rostom Labchek, tells me. “I hope that will more of them will come. ”

Henry Wismayer is a writer based in London. Follow him on Twitter .

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