Algiers - Oran - Timimoun - Ghardaia - Hoggar
Our 19 day holiday starts on the shores of the Mediterranean in the Algerian capital Algiers, famous for its casbah and the nearby Roman UNESCO World Heritage ruins of Tipasa.
We then head westwards along the coast to the "Spanish" city of Oran before taking an excursion inland to Tlemcen, Islamic capital of culture in 2011.
Now we leave the fertile littoral behind as we plunge into the Sahara
, visiting the oases of Timimoun
(an enchanting place, full of distinctive red mud buildings studded with wooden spikes) and Ghardaia
(where the women show only one eye) before venturing into the furthest reaches of the desert.
The Saharan mountain range known as the Hoggar, near Tamanrasset
, awaits discovery - not just the massive volcanic field of Atakor and the jagged crests of Taguerguiste and Tizouyag but also the remote guelta of Afilal.
Further highlights of the southern part of our tour include Taghit, considered to be one of the most beautiful oases in the Algerian Sahara, where the palm-grove is surrounded by the Grand Erg Occidental, the roadless and seemingly endless Western Sand Sea - "jaw dropping" in the words of one British guide book.
Assekrem, located in the heart of the Hoggar
, boasts some of most sensational views in the whole of North Africa. Amidst the volcanic peaks we will visit the remote hermitage of the French priest Charles de Foucault who came to study Touareg culture at the beginning of the last century. Nearby, in the midst of the desert, we will discover a natural guelta
(or spring) that takes the form of a waterfall in season, where the Touareg bring their goats and camels to drink as the water runs across the pink and purple granite.
We will travel by coach, plane, train and 4x4 and stay in hotels on the Mediterranean, guest-houses and hotels as we head southwards - and under the Saharan stars in the deep, deep south.
Arrive Algiers airport and transfer to hotel in Algiers (overlooking port) for two nights. Short orientation tour.
Whole-day excursion to Tombeau de la Chrétienne (royal mausoleum of Mauritania, one of North Africa's most enigmatic archaeological survivals), Tipasa (UNESCO World Heritage site bordering Mediterranean): Roman amphitheatre, 4th century basilica, forum, old port and delightful museum.
Transfer by air to Oran (Algeria's second city): 14th century fort of Merinid Sultan Abou Hassan, Bey's Palace, Great Mosque. Two nights at hotel in central Oran.
Whole-day visit by coach to Tlemcen (Islamic capital of culture 2011): 13th century Mosque of Sidi Bel Hassan, Great Mosque (one of North Africa's most important Islamic buildings), 13th century ruins of Mansourah (enormous ancient mosque), beautiful mosque and tomb of Sidi Boumediene (12th century religious leader).
Further visits in Oran: fine colonial theatre, plateau of Murdjadjou (panoramic views over port of Oran and Mers El Kebir), guided tour of Santa Cruz then depart by early evening train southwards from Oran to Bechar.
Arrive Bechar in early hours of morning then transfer by road to oasis town of Taghit (one of Algerian Sahara's most beautiful oases): old ksar, walk through old town (mud-brick houses, winding streets, narrow alley-ways, imposing dunes of Grand Erg Occidental, cave paintings (camels, ostriches, mankind). Overnight in maison d'hôte (local bed and breakfast) in Taghit.
Depart for small oasis village of Timimoun (distinctive red ochre architecture) via Beni Abbes (the "white oasis") with visits to old ksar, museum, hermitage of Père Foucault, lunch in palm grove with foggaras (ancient irrigation system). Overnight in maison d'hôte.
Continue through Sahara to Ghardaia in M'Zab Valley via El Golea for two nights at in hotel in remote palm grove near Beni Isguen.
Whole day exploring UNESCO World Heritage site of M'Zab Valley including Ghardaia: old town, market square, "four-fingered" mosque, tombs, date farm.
By air from Ghardaia to Tamanrasset. Please note that modifications might be made to the following part of the programme depending on local conditions. By 4x4 northwards along rocky tracks towards heights of Atakor (massive volcanic field) and across mountains of Iharen and Akar Akar (dramatic peaks) to guelta (remote water source) of Afilal (pink lauriers) past jagged peaks of Taguerguiste and Tizouyag. Continue across lunar landscape to Assekrem (volcanic massif in the heart of the Sahara), with visit to refuge of Père Foucault (built in 1910) then climb on foot to mountain summit to witness one of Sahara's most beautiful sunsets. Overnight camping in desert.
Climb by foot to top of plateau to admire rising sun then depart by 4x4 into rocky massif of Atakor and on to col of Tehé-n'Taretime and gueltas of Issakarassene and Eguef-Melene. Continue to remote Tuareg village of Hirafok (a "living" oasis where the inhabitants are renowned for their song and dance) then further into desert to camp in remote spot between Hirafok and Idelès (rock paintings and carvings).
To village of Idelès (visit to blacksmith's) at foot of Taderaz passing oued Telouhet with verdant vegetation (acacias and ethels). Cross plain of Amadror (centre of ancient salt trade with Niger) then to dunes of Tihodaine. Camp overnight amidst sand dunes.
Through desert landscape towards Tazrouk (highest village in Algeria, Touareg settlment known for its gardens) for overnight in desert.
Continue through desert towards col d'Azrou and Tahifet with overnight in desert.
From Tahifet to Tamikrest (desert spring, waterfalls in season) and overnight in desert.
Tamikrest to Tamanrasset (capital of Hoggar): including Museum of the Hoggar, red mud-brick houses, hermitage of de Foucault, souk, tomb of Moussa ag Amestane.
Very early morning departure from Tamanrasset for Algiers. Transfer to Hotel Safir. Morning at leisure followed by visit to casbah (UNESCO World Heritage site) with late lunch.
Depart hotel for airport for return flight.Visits on foot in central Algiers: esplanade, Place des Martyrs (situated at the foot of the casbah and housing 17th century El Djedid Mosque), Grande Poste (Algiers' quintessential neo-Moorish building) followed by free time.
Depart hotel for airport for return flight.