Algeria lures tourists to Sahara with easy visas and new flight routes
Algiers decided last week to relax the conditions of entry into the country, by giving foreign travellers visas on arrival.
The new connections and easing of restrictions are part of Algeria’s plan to promote the Sahara’s tourism season, which extends from October to March.
Air routes from Paris to the southern Algerian cities of Djanet and Tamanrasset will be operational in late October.
The first two flights from Paris to Tamanrasset, in the mountainous Hoggar region in the central Sahara, are already fully booked, according to a travel operator who signed with Air Algerie.
Two other connections, Marseille-Tamanrasset and Marseille-Djanet, were also announced for the end of December, as Algeria looks to attract tourists to the desert for end-of-year celebrations.
The situation in Algeria’s south had for years been destabilised by the Tuareg rebellions in neighbouring Mali. However, last year Algeria re-established the Paris-Djanet link after 12 years of disruption.
Although the situation on the ground has calmed, the French foreign ministry still lists Djanet as an orange zone on its travel advice map, meaning travel is not recommended unless it’s necessary. It classifies Tamanrasset as yellow, denoting the need for reinforced vigilance.
'Very good news'
Under the new relaxed regulations, announced by Algeria's interior ministry, people can buy flights from Air Algerie, which sells Paris-Djanet tickets at around €400, or go through an approved tourist operator which must report information on tourists and details of their planned programmes to authorities.
It is possible to find stays from €800 per person for nine days in Djanet, with excursions in the desert, and up to €1,800 per person for 15 days in Tassili N'Ajjer, a vast plateau in southeast Algeria.
The rocky landscapes of Tassili N'Ajjer have been granted world heritage status by Unesco, which says its location contains “one of the most important groupings of prehistoric cave art in the world”.
“The opening of the lines to Tamanrasset is very, very good news,” Khadidja Benmessaoud, a pioneer of adventure tourism in the Sahara, told Middle East Eye.
The founder of the Itinerance travel agency, who has recently opened a guest house in Tamanrasset, also welcomes the decision to grant tourist visas on arrival.
“The tourism sector boasts a promising future, given the unique natural and cultural assets as well as the world-classified sites abounding in the Algerian Sahara,” declared Tourism Minister Yacine Hammadi last December.
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.