Nearly 300km south of In Amenas, Illizi is the main settlement between there and Djanet. For a long time Illizi was called Fort Polignac’ and was a military post created in 1904 by colonialists in order to keep an eye on the Libyan border.
The town boasts a fuel station, hospital, basic shop, customs post and a hotel. There are some interesting rock sites near here and a travel agency. If you really get stranded here there are two flights a week to Algiers (DA1100, three hours) and one a week to Ghardaïa (DA7300,two hours 10 minutes). The airport is 5km north of town. The only hotel here is the Hotel Tahleb Larbi (029 421733; fax 029 421181; s/dDA1100/1600) and there’s also a camp site. Mezrirene Aventure (in France 49 30 32 70 37 70; fax 029 422323; www.mezrirene.com) can organise a variety of short excursions to sites around Illizi as well as longer expeditions from Illizi to Djanet. Tours cost from around €50 per person per day on foot and from €70 for tours in 4WDs. It also runs an auberge and camp site for people on their tours.
Djanet & the route du tassili n’ajjer
This route heads south from Hassi Messaoud along the Gassi Touil, a large oued between two sections of the Grand Erg Oriental, to In Amenas, 730km to the southeast and very close to the Libyan border through Illizi and on to Djanet and the Tassili N’Ajjer National Park. There is little traffic along this route and unless you have your own car it’s difficult to traverse.
Djanet is a sleepy little oasis with white-washed buildings, a large palmeraie and a relaxed air. It is also the starting point for tours into the Tassili N’Ajjer National Park, and during the high season, plane-loads of tourists from Europe arrive in the town each week.
The Tassili N’Ajjer National Park has one of the most important collections of prehistoric cave art in the world. It holds more than 15,000 drawings and engravings which, like an open-air history lesson, tell the story of thousands of years of human evolution and environmental change within this area of the Sahara.
Sights of interest near the town include Tankena, which has a notable collection of early stone tools, and Tamdjert, which has good examples of Neolithic paintings, including wonderfully fluid pictures of horse drawn chariots, hunters and dromedaries, as well some writing in Tifinagh some of the most ancient characters in the world. For more on rock art.
The main town of the Tassili, Djanet is a pretty place with its own colour scheme: white washed buildings with blue doors line the main streets, set off by dark blue and gold lampposts that would look more at home in an English seaside town. The setting is charming too the town is built on the edge of a palmeraie so feels quite lush and it is dwarfed by the mountains that surround it. The town centre is tiny with a post office, bank, basic restaurants and shops, although there’s no internet café.
Quiet during the week, the town suddenly bursts into life come the weekend when dozens of package tourists arrive on flights from Paris and Marseille (France). They are all here for the main attraction the stunning collection of rock paintings in the nearby Tassili N’Ajjer National Park.
Central Djanet is tiny so it’s impossible to get lost. Whether you enter the town from the north or the south you’ll end up on the main street which has a collection of cafés, a couple of banks, a post office, a hospital and the Camping Zeriba. West of the main street is a large covered market and the town’s palmeraie.
There’s as large hospital in Ifri, 7km out of town, as well as a smaller hospital in the town centre. The Office National du Parc Tassili (OPTN) is next to the museum and issues permits to visit the Tassili N’Ajjer National Park for DA100 per person, although your travel agency will usually organise this.
There’s also a Banque Nationale d’Algérie and a Banque de l’Agriculture et du Développement Rural on the main street. Both are open Sunday to Thursday 9am to 3pm and both offer foreign exchange although neither changes travellers cheques. There’s also an ONAT office (029 475361; place du Marché).
There are several travel agencies in Djanet, all of whom offer excursions to the Tassili N’Ajjer. Most of them work in collabora- tion with European tour agencies and in the high season it can sometimes be difficult to arrange a last-minute tour. Most agencies don’t have offices in the centre of town, and those that do exist aren’t always open. In addition, you won’t usually be permitted to join a group and will have to arrange an individually tailored tour. If you haven’t
arranged a tour in advance your best bet is to contact Zeriba Voyages, whose office is usually open and able to organise excursions at short notice, or ONAT. Prices range from €50 to €80 a day including food and equipment, depending on how many people there are in your party
Essendilène Voyages (029 475295; www.essend ilene-voyages.com) This outfit organises trips all over southern Algeria and down into the Ténéré and Aïr regions of Niger. If asked well in advance it can also organise a number of specialised trips into the desert including yoga and trekking, art therapy and family trips for children over the age of two or three. They are also involved in projects that help the local community benefit from tourism.
Rêves et Nature (029 475860; www.voyages-tim beur.com) As well as camel and 4WD group and individually tailored tours, Rêves et Nature offers assisted 4WD and motorbike tours through the desert, where you drive your own vehicle and are accompanied by an experienced guide. If you’re going to arrive in Djanet on your own, it can help put you in touch with like-minded travelers so you can share the expenses of a trip.
Timbeur Voyages (029 75270; www.voyages-tim beur.com) With offices next to the market this is one of Djanet’s most established agencies. It offers short expeditions such as trips to Erg Admer and Tagharghart as well as longer expeditions to the Tassili N’Ajjer and the Tassili du Hoggar. These cost from about €50 per person per day including airport transfers, taxes, guide, cook and all food.
Timtar Expeditions (029 346038; www.timtar.com) Has camel, trekking and 4WD expeditions as well as interesting alternatives to the usual treks such as family circuits. Between October and May it also offers week-long and group lessons on how to drive in the desert.
Zeriba Voyage (061 382853/346924; www.zeriba voyage.com) Based at the hotel of the same name, Zeriba Voyage can organise a variety of excursions, the most popular being trips to Tassili N’Ajjer and longer trips from Djanet to Tamanrasset. This organisation is a good bet if you arrive in Djanet without a pre-arranged tour. Tours cost from around €60 per person per day for a trek into the Tassili N’Ajjer with pack animals.
Sights & Activities
For magnificent views over town walk up to the top of the hill just behind the town centre, taking the steps opposite the market.
The Musée du Tassili (8am-5pm, closed Thu & Fri) has a small collection of exhibits detailing the history and environment of the region. One room concentrates on the formation of Tassili N’Ajjer plateau and on its animal and plant life and has some gazelle and sheep skulls, ostrich eggs and ceramics. Another room contains a beautiful photographic exhibition of the rock paintings of the region. The best exhibition contains reproductions of nomad life, including a life-sized zeriba and Tuareg jewellery, weaponry and musical instruments.
About 30 minutes’ walk out of the town centre to the north is the Ksar Azellouaz, the remains of one of the oldest original settlements in this area. It looks quite romantic from the outside and you can wander round the old streets and hollow, crumbling building but the romance is ruined by all of the scattered tin cans and animal skulls and bones. Further afield, about an hour’s walk north of town, there are some rock paintings including elephant, cattle and giraffe. Walk out past the covered market; turn north and continue past the palmeraie, and after about an hour you’ll hit the sealed road. Turn left the paintings are hidden in the rocks about 50m in front of you. It’s best to ask in town first before you head out there. If you’re staying at Zeriba staff will probably give you a lift.
Festivals & Events
The biggest festival in Djanet is the Sebiba. Tuareg from around the Tassili N’Ajjer region meet in Djanet to remember and to reconstruct an ancient peace agreement that ended a long conflict between two warring Tuareg tribes the El-Mihane and the Azellouaz. The event lasts for 10 days leading up to the reconstruction, all in traditional costume, of the last battle between the two tribes. Women in their most beautiful jewellery cheer on the men.
There’s not much choice in Djanet. If you don’t have a vehicle the only viable option is Camping Zeriba on the central drag. With a car you could stay at the youth hostel or the hotel called Ténéré Villages, both about 7km out of town.
Youth hostel (029 470261; dm DA200)
Djanet’s youth hostel is located 7km from the town centre off the airport road and has 30 beds in three- and four-bed dorms. The rooms are rather cramped and the showers could be cleaner but it’s the cheapest option in Djanet. There’s an airy courtyard and a TV room, and meals are available on demand.
Ténéré Villages (029 470049; www.tenerevoyages.com; s/d/t DA2500/2800/4000)
Seven and a half kilometres from Djanet in Ifri, on the way out to the airport. This place has bright airy doubles in rondavels or bungalows, decorated with imitation rock paintings. The best thing about this place is its restaurant framed with a big old balcony giving splendid views out onto the dunes, mountains and the Tassili Plateau. There’s also a great traditional tented area where you can take snacks and drinks bang on the side of the dunes. The only down side is the distance from town it’s only worth staying here if you have a car.
Camping Zeriba (065 594472, 062 067719, fax 029 475546; www.zeribavoyage.com; r with/without
bathroom DA3200/1500, camping DA400)
This is the only place to stay in the centre of Djanet and it’s located right on the main street. It’s a large friendly place with a variety of rooms; the rooms with bathrooms also have TVs. The place is not in great nick but at the time of writing was undergoing renovations. There’s a large area for camping, a zeriba in which to take tea and a restaurant. There’s no menu and meals normally consist of soup followed by couscous and meat then fruit. Zeriba also has a tour agency.
There are a few small restaurants around the town centre serving the usual chicken, chips, couscous and stews. They’re all pretty similar but you could try Restaurant Gazelle for tasty stews and couscous, or there’s a nice large café opposite the bus station which is full of locals and a good place for coffee and people-watching. There are also several snack stalls selling eggs, peanuts and tea behind the bus stops. A great little patisserie next to ONAT sells a selection of French and Algerian pastries. In the evenings it does good pizzas to take away or you can cram in at the counter with the locals. You can pick up fruit, vegetables and meat at a small market just off the main road.
The main drag contains quite a few tourist-oriented shops selling jewellery, handicrafts postcards and the like. They can be quite expensive though and you’re best off head- ing to the market for cheaper prices. There’s a market just off the main road containing fruit and veg stalls, a couple of tourist stalls and several butchers you may even see severed camel heads on display. There’s a much bigger, mostly covered market between the oued and the palmeraie selling clothing, shoes, cooking pots, electronics, and even spare parts. This is also where you can find the best-value jewellery and crafts There are a couple of stalls on the outskirts of the market on the palmeraie side where you can see the artists at work.
Getting There & Away
There is an Air Algérie (029 475032; 8am- noon & 1-4pm, closed Thu afternoon & Fri) office in the town centre. The airstrip is 35km from town. Air Algérie flies twice a week to Algiers (DA13,500, two to three hours), and once a week to Ouargla (DA9000, 1½ hours) and Tamanrasset (DA4000, 50 minutes). Aigle Azur (www.aigle-azur.fr) operates direct international fights to Paris and Marseille (France).
There are no long-distance buses to and from Djanet. Minibuses leave from the town centre to go to the surrounding villages and cost around DA15 per ride.
Shared taxis leave for Illizi from the town centre at around 6am daily. The journey takes around six hours and costs DA1000. Taxis also head for the Libyan border at Tin Alkoum but it is currently closed to foreigners.
The reason most people come to this part of the world is to trek in the Tassili N’Ajjer and see its famous rock paintings; but this area has a great deal more on offer. About half an hour’s drive out of Djanet, off the road to the airport, is Tagharghart. Hidden among the rock faces and the sand dunes is one of the most famous engravings in this area, called La Vache qui Pleure, or Crying Cows. It features three graceful, long-horned cattle and is so called because of the teardrops falling from their eyes. It is thought to date from around 6000 years ago. Near the engravings is a fantastic camping spot, where you can bivouac at the top of the dunes with superb views over the mountains and the Tassili plateau itself.
Also worth a look is Erg Admer. About 20km west of Djanet, this is the place to come for a trek through those stereotypical sculpted dunes or to have mint tea at sunset. For the more adventurous, many tour companies in Djanet can arrange for a few hours of dune skiing.
About 30km north of Djanet off the road towards Illizi is Tim Ras, where wide sandy planes dotted with jagged mountains give way to broad boulevards of pockmarked rocks, towering like huge deformed bee-hives a magical place to spend the night. More than 60km north of Djanet is the Essendilène Canyon, known for its incredible biodiversity. Inside you’ll find palm trees, acacias and cool green pools of water.