Algeria's Shifting Sands
Algerian novelist Assia Djebar called her country “a dream of sand.” The sweeping Sahara Desert dominates the broad North African nation, but conceptually it is just a small piece of all that can be discovered here. With a turbulent past of conflict and colonialism, a crossroads of cultures is experienced on this exploratory trip.
The whitewashed walls and winding streets of the Casbah of Algiers introduce Algeria’s capital city, while Phoenician, Roman, and Byzantine ruins in Tipasa unravel bits of the complicated past. Travel along the Mediterranean coast to Spanish-influenced Oran, and Islamic architectural gems at Tlemcen. Head into the mountains to visit Berber villages, delve into Roman archaeology, and roam the ancient cliffside town of Constantine. Desert oases like El Oued skirt the edge of the Sahara, and between dunes the isolated Mzabite people practice a way of life nearly unchanged since the 11th century. In the heart of the Sahara, meet a camel herder and dine in a desert grove of date palms at Timimoun. Return to Algiers with a more complete picture of the ways Algeria has changed throughout the centuries.
February 18 - March 12, 2023 (with optional Tunisia Extension)
October 28 - November 19, 2023 (with optional Tunisia Extension)
Itinerary at a Glance
|Day 1 - Arrive Algiers||Arrive in Algiers, where you are met and taken to your hotel. The white facades of French colonial architecture mix with thriving Islamic culture and a turbulent history reaching back to the Ottoman Empire to create a city that is both charming and timeless. Wide boulevards and winding alleys cross the hillside, which slopes down to the rolling waves of the bay.
This evening, meet your fellow travelers and trip leader for a trip briefing, followed by dinner. Algiers Sofitel Hamma Garden Hotel
|Day 2 - Tipasa & the Casbah of Algiers||Start the day with Phoenician, Roman, and Byzantine ruins at Tipasa. The UNESCO World Heritage Site was a Punic trading post later conquered by the Romans. Meet with a renowned local archaeologist to learn more about the beautiful remains of basilicas, baths, and theaters along the Mediterranean coast.
Enjoy lunch in a restaurant overlooking the Roman baths and continue exploring to unravel the secret of the Royal Mausoleum of Mauretania.
Return to Algiers to explore the legendary whitewashed old city, the Casbah. Another UNESCO-listed site, it's an outstanding example of a historic Maghreb city that remained continuously inhabited while the modern Algiers grew around it. Wander the winding cobbled streets, meet brass artisans in their workshop, see an Ottoman-era palace, and imagine what this old medina might have been like with bustling markets and tiny shops in its labyrinthine alleys.
In the evening, savor local cuisine with a cooking lesson and dinner in a couscous restaurant.
|Day 3 - Drive to Oran||After breakfast, drive west to the coastal town of Oran. Founded by Andalusian merchants at the start of the 10th century, Algeria’s second-largest port has a strong Spanish influence which can be seen it its architecture. It's been long known for being liberal and easygoing, and you can see and feel this in the people. Nobel Prize winner Albert Camus was born here, and many of his stories are set in Oran.
Drive up Mount Murdjadjo to the magnificent Santa Cruz Fort, originally Ottoman and rebuilt by the Spanish. With a bird’s-eye view of Oran from the fort, map out the landmarks with your guide: La Place d’ Armes Square, the Great Mosque, and the Cathedral of Sacré Coeur, which is now a public library. Oran Sheraton Hotel
|Day 4 - Tlemcen Excursion||Spend the day in Tlemcen, one of Algeria’s finest cities noted for its cultural and architectural heritage. During the Middle Ages, it was an important link between coastal ports and Saharan caravan routes and has continued to have a cosmopolitan character rooted in Islamic tradition.
Driving through olive plantations and vineyards, enter the sandstone walls of the old city to explore Moorish architectural gems. Begin with a walking tour to visit the beautiful 11th-century Great Mosque, one of the few remaining examples of ancient Almoravid architecture; stop at the museum for a peek into Tlemcen’s historic past; meet a local female entrepreneur; and stroll along the pools and colonnades of the palace at El Mechouar, first built as a citadel in the 12th century. From here, drive toward El Mansourah, stopping at Lalla Setti to enjoy panoramic views of Tlemcen and its surroundings from the plateau. Complete the day admiring the tall minaret and ancient ruins of the citadel at El Mansourah before returning to Oran for the evening.
|Day 5 - Fly to Algiers; Drive to Béjaïa||In the morning, take a short flight to Algiers and continue overland across northern Algeria, this time heading east. Drive through the picturesque countryside of Kabylia, in the verdant foothills of the Tell Atlas mountains. At a Berber village, visit a typical home and a civic building overlooking the valley with spectacular views of the mountain range. Learn how these independent-minded people lead their daily lives. Sample Berber olive oil and taste different types of bread and other local produce. Your guide and the locals will share insight into their culture and history.
Continue on to the lovely town of Béjaïa. Climb 123 sloping steps up Pic des Singes promontory for a breathtaking view of the Mediterranean coast and refreshments. Watch for the endangered Barbary macaque, whom the peak is named after.
Cap Carbon Lighthouse is the final stop of the day, perched on a rock outcrop 820 feet above sea level. The Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote, is said to have been imprisoned here after being captured by Barbary pirates in 1575. Le Cristal Hotel
|Day 6 - Drive to Constantine via Djémila||Heading inland, travel along a spectacular scenic route, climbing from Little Kabylia towards the high plateau of Setif, stopping along the way for refreshments. Enjoy a traditional Algerian lunch in the cool air of Setif, which at 3,596 feet is one of Algeria's highest towns.
Travel east to the extraordinary and relatively unknown UNESCO World Heritage site at Djémila. Explore the well-preserved ruins of a once-bustling Roman city. Gain insight into the lifestyle of this ancient civilization whose architectural skills-building graceful and stable structures on mountainous terrain—are still considered great feats today. Contemplate the beautifully laid out forum, temples, basilicas, triumphal arches, and houses. Marvel at over 3,000 square feet of mosaics displayed in the museum, the most extensive collection in Algeria. You will have some free time for browsing at the small souvenir shops just outside the site before continuing to Constantine. Constantine Novotel Hotel
|Day 7 - Constantine||The Rhumel River's deep gorges slice through the mountain town of Constantine. Buildings perch precariously along the cliffs, which are connected by attractive bridges offering dramatic vistas. Constantine has an incredible 3,000 years of history behind it, making it one of the oldest towns in the world. The more open plan of boulevards and squares in the west side reflects French influence and includes the Roman-era citadel and Moorish-style palace of Ahmad Bey; the east is known for its Islamic style architecture and twisting alleys.
View archaeological treasures at the Cirta National Museum and immerse yourself in architectural wonders with visits to Ahmad Bey Palace, the Memorial Arch, and the Great Mosque, where you'll get to meet the Imam for an open discussion.
This evening you're introduced to a group of local musicians, who treat you to a live performance after dinner.
|Day 8 - Drive to Timgad; Continue to Batna||In the morning, travel south to Timgad, the UNESCO-acclaimed site of a Roman military settlement. Across an expansive area on the northern slope of Mount Aures, paved streets, baths, temples, and houses decorated with beautiful mosaics were constructed where there had been nothing before. Now the largest archaeological park in Algeria, Timgad was founded by Roman Emperor and soldier Trajan in 100 CE, continued to grow and thrive until the Arab invasion, and was vacated in the 8th century.
Visit the museum to admire some of its collection of over 200 mosaics recovered from the site. Complete your archaeological tour in the area with a visit to the Medracen, the largest pre-Roman building in North Africa (site undergoing restoration works). This massive conical structure sits on top of a drum-shaped base and is thought to be the tomb of the Berber kings. Continue west to Batna. Batna Hazem Hotel
|Day 9 - Drive to Biskra||Continue your journey southwest to Biskra, driving through the pass of Tighanimine, a beautiful gorge and high ground during the Algerian Revolutionary War. Soak in the stunning scenery at Ghoufi, where layered sediment has created a dramatic canyon, Algeria's own Grand Canyon. A local historian will come along for the ride and explain some of the rich history of the area.
On the northern edge of the Sahara, arrive at the oasis town of Biskra, nestled between the Aurès Massif and the Tell Atlas mountains. Amid the date palms and fruit trees, dusky brick walls still stand in the old city, while today Biskra is a popular winter retreat known for its healing sulfur springs. Biskra AN Hotel
|Day 10 - Drive to El Oued||Continue your journey further south to the region of Oued Souf, also known as El Oued. Moorish and Roman influences can be seen in the architecture, which includes unusual domed houses, mosques, arches, and arcades. Roam winding streets with your guide in this "Town of a Thousand Domes."
An oasis town, Oued Souf is located in the northeastern Sahara, surrounded by the dunes of the Grand Erg Oriental. Immerse yourself in the desert atmosphere and soak in the Saharan sunset. El Oued La Gazelle d’Or Resort & Spa
|Days 11 & 12 - Ghardaïa||After breakfast, sit back and relax on the journey to the M'Zab Valley. Contrasting with the oasis towns you have just seen, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is comprised of five fortified villages founded by a small religious sect who took refuge on an inhospitable edge of the Sahara, 373 miles inland, directly south of Algiers. The people of this region, the Mzabites, have protected and preserved their traditional way of life since the 11th century.
Despite desert surroundings, the communities have rationed water to a large date palm plantation and lush gardens. In addition to dates, the villages produce a variety of handicrafts to provide income. The local architecture exhibits simplicity, practicality, and adaptation to a harsh environment. At the center of each community is the mosque, designed as a citadel with its minaret doubling as a watchtower. Houses are laid out in concentric rings and the whole settlement is encircled in protective walls.
After arriving in Ghardaïa, you'll stroll the streets to get a feel for local life, visiting the central mosque and old marketplace.
The next day, your guide will take you for a walk through the narrow cobbled streets of two of the other villages: El Atteuf and the holy Beni Isguen, the oldest medina in the M'Zab Valley. Meet a local handicraft artisan in their workshop and experience a traditional auction market. This evening, learn the special cooking style of the Tuareg, desert people famous for their indigo-dyed headscarves. Ghardaïa Belvedere Hotel
|Days 13 & 14 - Timimoun||Depart in the early morning southward into the heart of the Sahara on a long straight road through the immensity of the desert and extraordinary landscape. Stop for lunch at the oasis town of El Menia, halfway to your final destination.
Surrounded by lush palm groves, Timimoun's exquisite charms begin with its mud-brick ksours (fortified villages) renowned for their ocher color—luminous at sunset—a peculiarity which resulted in the name "the red oasis." Its appeal deepens with the great hospitality of its inhabitants.
Wake up and follow your guide to set off on the paths of the old desert caravans, exploring the area, meeting a local camel breeder and his herd, and taking a picnic lunch. In the afternoon, there is ample time to stroll in the souk of Timimoun and perhaps purchase some souvenirs. This evening, settle in to a dreamy palm grove where you will enjoy a traditional dinner party with local folklore.Hotel Ksar Massine
|Day 15 - Fly to Algiers||On your last day in the desert, there is time for shopping or simply enjoying your surroundings before you are taken to Timimoun Airport for the flight back to Algiers.
On arrival in Algiers, you are met and taken to your hotel. Later gather for a farewell dinner. Hotel El Djezair
|Day 16 - Depart||You are taken to Algiers International Airport and assisted with check-in for your departure.|