As the last town on the route south to Niger, Tam, with a current population of Around 120,000, has long been a vital rest stop for ancient caravans and desert traders and, as a major centre for Algeria’s Saharan tourism, is still is a busy crossroads today. It’s one of those places where virtually all trans-Saharan travellers stop for a few days to rest up and make repairs to equipment. Tamanrasset is also the place from which to arrange trips up into the Hoggar Mountains, something that should not be missed on any account.
If you arrive by plane, as many tourists do, you will be treated to a spectacular preview of things to come endless twisted peaks of red and brown are spread out below you and volcanic craters blister the ground like the surface of some far off planet.
With an altitude of nearly 1400m, Tamanrasset has a climate which stays relatively moderate all year round. Even in midsum- mer the temperature rarely gets above 35°C. There’s not a great deal to do here but it’s an appealing place in which to while away a couple of days there’s a good market, some nice cafés and a friendly atmosphere. It’s also a place where you can get things done there are banks, one of which can change travellers cheques, several internet cafés and Malian and Nigerien consulates for arranging ongoing visas.
The Tuareg were the first settlers in this region, which they called Tamenghest, but when Charles de Foucauld arrived here in 1905, Tamanrasset was just a dusty cluster of zeribas. From the 1920s onwards, when the French colonial administration settled here because of the town’s strategic location, Tamanrasset’s growth accelerated. It became a préfecture in the 1950s and, after independence, the regional capital of the wilaya (province). Access routes were im- proved and more and more Algerians came to make their home here. In the ‘80s the explosion of tourism to the Algerian Sahara brought with it economic prosperity and urban planners.
The 1990s were lean years for Tamanrasset, as the town that had come to depend greatly on tourists saw its source of income dry up, due to the country’s bitter civil war. The slow improvements brought on by the end of the troubles were dashed again when a group of tourists was kidnapped in the desert regions near the town in 2003, but at the time of writing the safety situation in the region had greatly improved and visitors to the town were on the increase once more.
There’s one main street in Tamanrasset that leads all the way from the airport through the town itself and out to Mt Adriane, a large peak that dominates the town. The bus station is at the northeastern end of this street, about 1km walk away from the town centre. South of the main street is the Oued Tamanrasset, a large dried riverbed that sometimes also serves as a truck park and camel market. On the south bank of this river you’ll find the Marché Africaine.
Sights & Activities
There is a daily market held in the late afternoon held on the far side of the oued (dry river bed) away from the centre of town. As well as fruit, vegetables and grain there are several shoe and clothing stalls as well as tailors’ booths. Also on the far side of the oued is the gargantuan Marché Africaine, another daily market selling all manner of produce, from spices and traditional clothing to huge metal cooking pots, velour carpets and dodgy cologne (Tuareg pour Homme anyone?). To see the market at its liveliest, it’s best to come in the morning.The Musée du l’OPNA (admission free;9am-noon & 1.30-5pm Sun-Thu, 3-5pm Fri) provides interesting information on the history, geography and environment of the Hoggar region. The irregularly opening
Musée du Hoggar (9am-noon & 2-5pm Sun-Thu) has displays of Tuareg clothing, swords and daggers. You could also check out the Maison de la Culture on place du 1er Novembre, which has regular exhibitions about the landscape and animal life of the region as well as good second-hand-book sales.
Festivals & Events
One of the most important festivals in Southern Algeria, this event takes place at the end of April in celebration of spring. Every springtime, different Tuareg tribes from all over the central Sahara have always met in Tamanrasset for a grand celebration of brotherhood, culminating in a camel race. This was formalised in the early 90s and it became known as Le Tafsit or the Spring Festival. It lasts for a minimum of three days and much of it takes place in the ‘chameaudrome’ 3km from Tamanrasset. As well as the famous camel race, there are exhibitions, music, singing, and street processions.
There are several nice places to stay in Tamanrasset, mostly located a few kilometres out of town. There are a couple of hotels located in the town centre, but these aren’t nearly as nice so if you don’t mind the walk (it’s a pleasant one), you’re better off staying away from the action. Places to stay in Tamanrasset are often called campings. These aren’t camp sites, but are normally gîtes with bungalow or hut accommodation, with plenty of space on the side for pitching tents. All of the campings can organise tours up to Assekrem and beyond.
Hôtel Ilamane (029 345716; s/d/tr DA500/1000/1400)
Just south of av Emir Abdelkader, this is the cheapest place to stay in the town centre. It has basic but very spacious rooms with friendly if somewhat confused service. It’s nothing special though and unless you’re desperate to stay in the centre of town it’s best to stay somewhere a little further out.
Hôtel Tinhinane (029 734385; av Emir Abdelkader;s/d DA600/1100)
Bang in the centre of town. It is not as cheap as the Hotel Ilamane though and we found the rooms, with shared bath- room, disappointing. At the time of writing
renovations were about to get underway – rooms were being improved and a number of new en suite rooms were planned.
Camping Bordj 4WD (029 342258; route de l’Adriane; per person without bathroom from DA800, camp- ing per person DA500)
Large two-storey pink building providing comfortable accommodation in simple single and double rooms or camping in its lovely gardens.
Camping Dromadaire (029 348252/061 648069; www.dromadaire-tourisme.com; rte de l’Adriane; s/d/tr DA850/1700/2450, dm DA850, camping per person DA400)
Nice, spacious place featuring double and triple red circular chalets with palm roofs, a 10-bed dorm, a large garden with plenty of room for pitching tents, a small boutique and plenty of cane-chaired chill out areas. Meals are available if ordered in advance and dinner costs DA350. It also has a travel agency running tours around the Hoggar.
Camping Dassine (063 675837; s/d from DA900/1800, camping per person DA500)
About 500m further on from Camping Dromadaire, this is a large rambling place with tons of camping space, and clean, cool rooms in bungalows or thatch rondavels with spotless shared facilities. There’s a traditional tented area for taking meals and tea or just shooting the breeze, and an outdoor fireplace. Meals are available, aided by a nice salad and herb garden at the back of the plot. To make it even better, there are lovely views of the hills all around.
Backed up against Mt Adriane with stunning views from all around the gîte, this is the nicest place to stay in town. It has wonderfully relaxing cool, calm rooms (including larger suites with seating and eating areas) set in red-mud chalets, with rustic beds and tables made from palm trees. There are plenty of areas in which to relax and take in the view, and an inviting lounge with a big fireplace for colder evenings. The huge garden is full of fruit trees and plants, and there are ducks, a goat pen and even a resident monkey. Step outside and the desert is on your doorstep. The gîte is also home to the Taghant Agency which as well as the usual 4WD trips organises simple camel treks in the vicinity of the gîte.
Auberge Caravanserail (029 345557; B&B per person DA1500, half board DA2300, full boardDA3200) Owned by M’zab Tours, who have similar set- ups in Ghardaïa and El-Goléa, this is another good choice. It has simple white bungalows with spotless shared ablutions and a bright courtyard filled with bougainvillea. It costs DA1500 per day for guides and the agency organises tailored trips throughout the Hoggar; there’s even a conference room.
Hôtel Tahat (029 344475; fax 029 344325; av Emir Abdelkader; s/d DA2900/3400)
As state-run hotels go this one is quite nice. Rooms are very comfortable and things actually seem to work. There are some nice communal areas including a pretty curtain-swathed, pillow strewn lounge, plus it has a tour agency and it’s one of the few places that you can get an alcoholic drink.
The restaurant scene in Tamanrasset is hardly pulsating. However there are a few places on the main road that are decent and there are several places to buy fresh fruit, veg and other supplies.
Restaurant Chelia (av Emir Abdelkader; meals aroundDA300; lunch & dinner)
Just across the street from Restaurant Tassili this place serves tasty grilled kebabs to eat in or take away.
Restaurant Tassili (av Emir Abdelkader; meals DA350; lunch & dinner)
This place has tables out- side as well as an interesting dining room decorated with carpets, Tuareg swords, mini deer heads and even a pair of skis. It serves roast chicken, chips, harissa (red- chilli paste)and the like.
Restaurant Nina (meals DA400; lunch & dinner)
Round the corner from the Hôtel Ilamane, this is a very popular place whose outside tables fill up at lunchtime. It serves a tasty range of Algerian dishes including kefta (meatballs made from seasoned, minced lamb), tagines, grilled camel and home-made harissa.
Patisserie du Hoggar has nice a nice selection of cakes and pastries as well as a few tables at which to sit and scoff them. For self-caterers there’s a minimart and several fruit stalls near the roundabout at the top of av Emir Abdelkader.
There are plenty of souvenir shops along av Emir Abdelkader offering a good selec tion of Tuareg jewellery and crafts. Things to look out for include heavy silver crosses and agate pendants, Tuareg swords, leather bags and camel saddles and the obligatory taguelmoust (Tuareg veil) to shield you from the desert wind. A good shop to try is the Artisanat Traditionnel Boutique le Hoggar, which has a selection of jewellery and tradi- tional clothing and a very friendly owner.
Getting There & Away
The Air Algérie (029-344499; place Emir Abdelkader) office is in the town centre near the two main banks. The airport is 12km north of town, off to the left of the main road. There are six direct services a week to Algiers (DA1400, two hours), and one weekly service to Djanet (DA4100, 50 minutes), Ghardaïa (DA9800, two hours 20 minutes), In Salah (DA5499, one hour 40 minutes) and Ouargla (DA9300, one hour 45 min- utes). There are also direct international flights to Paris and Marseille (France).
The gare routière (bus station) is in the northwestern part of town, a 15-minute walk from the centre. If you arrive late at night, or are heading out early in the morn- ing, it is standard practice to doss down at the station. The bus schedule is displayed on a board inside the building and there are daily departures to In Salah (DA900, 11 hours), Ghardaïa (DA1500, 19 to 20 hours) and Ouargla (DA1600, 22 hours). Make sure you reserve your ticket the day before departure.
There are also a number of private bus companies whose offices are mostly centred on the northwestern end of the town centre. Most of the buses are 30-seater Toyota mini- buses. You can reserve a seat in advance, and the buses tend to leave in the evening or early morning. Destination include In Salah (DA1000, 11 hours) and Ghardaïa (DA2000, 19 to 20 hours).
About 2.5km from the centre of town on the In Guezzam road there’s a 4WD stop with share 4WD taxis heading for In Guezzam and beyond. They leave on a fill-up-and-go basis or if there’s a group of you it’s possible to hire the whole vehicle. It costs DA1500 per seat to In Guezzam or DA15,000 to hire the whole car. It is also possible to hire an entire car to go straight through to Agadez in Niger. The price is negotiable but it should cost about DA40,000 for the trip.
Long-distance taxis depart from the town centre on av Emir Abdelkader just down from the Hotel Tinhanane. They depart on a leave-when-full basis and it’s best to get here very early in the morning. Destinations include In Salah (DA1000, nine to 10 hours), Ghardaïa (DA2000, 17 hours), Arak (DA600, five hours) and Ouargla (DA1200,19 hours).
Opposite the 4WD station on the In Guez- zam road is a truck stop where large goods trucks and heavy vehicles heading for Niger pitch up. Travellers sometimes hitch rides on one of these for a price, although it’s likely they don’t end up with a seat in the cab but rather on top of the truck. The price for this is negotiable but the cost for a ride to In Guezzam or Niger should be a few hundred dinars.
Assikel Net (per hr DA100; 8am-midnight) On a small side road off av Emir Abdelkader. Offers reasonable- speed internet access.
Sat-Sat Cyber Café (per hr DA100;8am-9pm) Next to the Hotel Ilamane. The connection is slightly slow.
The main hospital is on the ring road be- tween av Emir Abdelkader and the In Guezzam road. and the road towards Niger.Tam’s best accommodation is located south of town on the route d’Adriane
Both Mali and Niger have consulates here. They are next door to each other on av Emir Abdelkader, about 500m from the centre
Malian Consulate (029 341578; av Emir Ab- delkader; 9am-3pm Sun-Thu) Operates a same-day service for visas. A one-month visa costs €15 for French citizens and €10 for people of other nationalities.
Nigerien Consulate (029 344122; av Emir Ab- delkader; 9am-2.30pm Sun-Thu) Also operates a same-
Office du Parc Nationale de l’Ahaggar (L’OPNA; 029 734117; place du 1er Novembre) Office of the national park; sometimes has interesting exhibitions on the life of the park.
Office National Algerien du Tourisme (ONAT; 029 346717; fax 029 344191; 8am-noon & 2-5pm) Has very helpful staff and can provide useful information on the local area as well as organising tours in the vicinity from €50 per person per day.
Akar Akar (029 344638; www.akar-akar.com) One of the oldest and biggest agencies in Tamanrasset and one of the few to have a functioning office in the town centre. Guests are housed in red-walled bungalows or authentic Tuareg tents at their gîte not far from the airport.
Hoggar Soleil (029 346972; www.hoggarsoleil.com; BP 341 Tamanrasset) A well-established agency created in 1986. It offers treks from four to 14 days in the Tamanrasset environs as well as tours around Djanet and the Tassili N’Ajjer.
Immidir Voyages (029 344468/2484; www.immidir-voyages.com; BP777 Mouflon, Tamanrasset) Excellent and established agency providing 4WD treks and tours around the Tam region, with great tours into the Immidir, about which the owner is particularly enthusiastic and interested.
Tarakeft Voyages (029 342007; www.tarakeft.com) Runs 4WD and trekking tours in the region around Tamanrasset as well as tours into Mali and the Dogon country.
Walene Voyages (029 344229/037 2413004; www.walene-voyages.com; BP 439 Tamanrasset) Circuits include trips to Mali and Niger as well as a special camel trip in the footsteps of Foucauld.
Tamanrasset is situated in the mountainous region of black volcanic rock known as the Hoggar Mountains, home to Tahat (3000m) and Assekrem (2800m), and agencies can arrange all manner of trips in the Hoggar and beyond.
Immediately north of Tamanrasset, and part of the Ahaggar National Park, is the plateau of Atakor, a Tolkein-esque land of dry earth and dark peaks, at the heart of which is Assekrem, 73km from Tamanrasset, where Charles de Foucauld built his hermitage in 1911. Without your own transport, getting out to the Atakor plateau can be difficult, but it’s worth making the effort to get up to Assekrem. The route up to Assekrem is long and bumpy but the spectacular landscape more than makes up for it. You drive through a warped landscape where strange mountains rise up from the rocky black plateau many of them deeply scored as if they have been mauled by some mythical beast eventually reaching the heights of As- sekrem where you’ll be greeted with out- standing vistas over the sea of mountains below. Assekrem means ‘the End of the World’ in the language of the Tuareg and it’s easy to see why; standing up here it feels like you’re as far away from civiliza- tion as can be.
SIGHTS & ACTIVITIES
It takes about five hours to reach the refuge (mountain hut) at Assekrem – a collection of stone walled bungalows and a camp site, where visitors stay the night. From here it’s obligatory to visit the hermitage of Charles de Foucauld, a monk who came to live in the Hoggar in early last century. He chose to build a simple stone hermitage up on As- sekrem (see the boxed text, opposite, for fur- ther details). The hermitage is on top of the Assekrem plateau and can only be reached on foot, which takes about 30 minutes from the refuge. A few monks from Foucauld’s order live up at the hermitage and say mass every morning in the small simple chapel; guests are welcome to join in You can’t come to Assekrem and not get up for the sunrise. The view from the refuge itself is stunning enough and in the
cooler months, the slopes surrounding it are peppered with wildflowers, which the sunrise infuses with a dusky pink glow. The best way to experience the sunrise, though, is to climb the hundred or so metres up to the hermitage. This involves getting up at about 5am (the folks at the refuge will oblige you by giving you a wake-up knock) and you won’t regret it. Watching the light slowly creep across the wild and tortured mountains spread out beneath you is a sight you’re unlikely to forget.
The only place to stay at Assekrem is the refuge (B&B per person DA1200) whose price also includes dinner. The refuge consists of a simple stone-walled building containing a couple of dormitories, as well as a few twin rooms in bungalows away from the main building and basic squat toilets away from the sleeping and eating areas. Guides and guests alike reunite for meals and tea in a homely living room, kept warm by a large fireplace. Dinners are taken en famille (all together) and are a good opportunity to
chat with the other guests. The food is good and plentiful you’ll usually get salads, couscous, meat stews and fruit. It is freezing at night so make sure you bring plenty of warm clothes as well as a torch (flashlight) in case the (rather unreliable) lights go out. There is also space for camping.
GETTING THERE & AWAY
The only way to get up to Assekrem is to hire a 4WD and driver from one of the agencies in Tamanrasset. It is not possible to hire a vehicle without a driver. It will cost from €80 per person per day including food and accommodation. You definitely can’t walk there, although the Tamanrasset based agencies can organise trips with camels from Tamanrasset if you want to do it this way.