TASSILI N’AJJER NATIONAL PARK
You are not allowed to enter the area with-out an official guide. Treks up to the Tassili N’Ajjer plateau are the mainstay of the travel agencies in Djanet so once there it should be possible to arrange a trip heading out within days, for which you’ll usually be accompanied by a guide, a herder, and several pack animals to carry your bags, food, water and cooking equipment.
The Tassili N’Ajjer plateau is accessed via one of two very steep passes, which can only be traversed on foot. The most common starting point for trips onto the plateau is Akba Tafilalet, 12km east of Djanet. You’re likely to be driven out at an ungodly hour of the morning to this pass where you’ll be met by your pack animals. From here, the climb to the top of the plateau, through a series of steep slopes and gorges, takes two to three hours, and once you reach the top it’s another two hours to Tamrit, the first camping spot.
The best time to go to the park is November to April as this is the coolest time of year. From May to September the daytime temperatures can prove to be uncomfortably hot and can get as high as 40°C. Bear in mind that during the winter it can be freezing up on the plateau at night. Take plenty of warm clothes and a suitable sleeping bag.
This is not a national park in the traditional sense; you won’t come across park wardens and there is no official entry gate but it is a nationally protected area and you must act accordingly. The rock paintings are very fragile. Don’t use a flash when photographing them and never wet the paintings in order to get a brighter picture.
Sights & Activities
Tamrit is the first sight you’ll see when you reach the top of the plateau a vast mass of weathered, sand-covered stone and conical towers. It’s also home to the Valley of the Cypresses. The trees are thousands of years old and you’ll find a handful of these knotted giants spread out along a surprisingly green valley. Tamrit has plenty of good camping spots and is usually the base for the first day or so of exploration on the plateau.
There are a number of sights of interest here. About one hour’s walk north of Tamrit is Tan Zoumaitek the highlight of which is a large fresco painted in ochre and white featuring a number of beautifully fluid scenes. You’ll see distinctive, round-headed figures, including a mother and child, and a couple of jewel-draped, tattooed women who appear to be on the point of dancing; also interesting are a long-horned mouflon and a curious circular creature that’s reminiscent of a jellyfish. An hour’s walk to the east from Tamrit is Timenzouzine where you’ll find an impressive elephant, engraved on a flat slab on the ground, complete with stepladder for getting a better view.
The next major site on from Tamrit is Sefar, some 12km or about a four-hour walk away. It’s a tough but spectacular hike through av- enues of stone pillars. Sefar has some of the most famous paintings in the park, repre- senting a number of different periods. You’ll see battle scenes, archers, antelope, giraffes, masks and, most famously, the Great God of Sefar a devilish-looking horned figure, rising high above the others.
A good two days’ walk 30km south of Sefar is Jabbaren, perhaps the most famous sight of all, which features thousands of paintings carried out by successive civilisations, including graceful cattle, horned goddesses, hippopotamuses, dancers and round-headed figures.
In three days you could go up the Akba Tafilalet pass and get to see Tamrit, Tan Zoumaitek and Timenzouzine; four or five days and you could make it to Sefar and back. To reach Jabbaren you would need to do a circular seven-day trek taking in the aforementioned sights, walking another serious two days to Jabbaren, then descend-ing at Akba Aghoum pass, south of the entry point at Akba Tafilalet. Jabbaren can also be reached via the Aghoum Pass, on a back breaking one-day tour involving a steep and punishing climb starting at the break of dawn to see the paintings and descending again before dark.
Getting There & Away
The only way to get to the Tassili N’Ajjer is on a guided tour. There are a number of different options offered by the agencies in Djanet ranging from a one-day trip to Jabbaren to a comprehensive seven-day circuit. Prices start from €50 to €60 a day depending on the number of people in your party. For further details on Djanet’s travel agencies.
When it comes to preparing for a Saharan expedition, a little inspiration can take you a long way. The following books will help you to catch the spirit of the Sahara and whet your appetite for what awaits you in Algeria:
Wind, Sand and Stars (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry) The existentialist bible of Saharan travel, filled with all the wisdom and gravitas of the world’s largest desert.
The Sahara ( The World’s Wild Places, Time-Life Books) An unlikely desert classic which combines a wealth of information with evocative text that captures the essence of Saharan travel.
.The Gates of Africa: Death, Discovery and the Search for Timbuktu (Anthony Sattin) No book about the Saharan explorers of old so beautifully evokes the reasons why they (and perhaps we) felt so called by the desert.
impossible Journey: Two Against the Sahara (Michael Asher) Epic tales of Saharan exploration aren’t the preserve of 19th-century travellers and this crossing of the Sahara from west to east is extraordinary.
Desert Divers (Sven Lindqvist) A deeply meditative text on the peoples of the Algerian Sahara and the strange mysteries of the desert.
Mysterious Sahara (Byron Khun de Prorock) A stirring 1920s account of journeys into the Sahara (including extensive sections on Algeria) by one of the most intrepid Saharan travellers of the 20th century.
Call of the Desert (Philippe Bourseiller) A weighty coffee-table tome that you won’t want in your suitcase, but which has one of the most exceptional collections of Saharan photos.
Sahara: An Immense Ocean of Sand (Paolo Navaresio and Gianni Guadalupi) A kilo or two less than Bourseiller’s book, but similarly exceptional photos and lively, informative text.
Sahara: The Atlantic to the Nile (Alain and Berny Sèbe) Award-winning photos of the Sahara’s signature landscapes with a heavy focus on Algeria.