Tassili n'Ajjer

Photo © Alain13

Travel Guide Africa Algeria Tassili n'Ajjer

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Introduction

The Tassili n'Ajjer in Algeria is a mountain range on the edge of the Sahara desert. It is on the UNESCO World Heritage list for its astounding collection of ancient rock art: over 15,000 drawings and engravings have been found in the region. The park is also notable for its unique sandstone formations, which holds water well and has therefore fostered plant life. There are a number of endangered plant species in the park, such as the Saharan Myrtle and Saharan Cypress. Djanet is the nearest town to the park.

The Tassili n'Ajjer mountain range gained world fame after the discovery of ancient rock art in the 1930s. Over the years, more than 15,000 petroglyphs and paintings were identified, as were 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. Therefore​, 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.

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Geography

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 make.

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.

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Sights and Activities

  • 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.

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Opening Hours/Cost

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.

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Getting There and Around

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 Paris, for example, 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. 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.

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.

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Eat

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.

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Drink

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Sleep

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.

In Djanet, 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.

Aournd 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.

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This is version 4. Last edited at 10:15 on Aug 30, 17 by Utrecht. 3 articles link to this page.

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