When it comes to choosing your next travel destination you might not consider Algeria for some notorious reasons thanks to the mainstream media and the painstaking visa process. But many of us know very little about this largest country in Africa. With an area of 2.382 million km² this Maghreb country is bordered by the glistening Mediterranean sea from the north, Tunisia, and Libya from the east, Niger, and Mali from the south, and Morocco from the west.
Its strategic position has attracted many ancient civilizations to settle in this vast land notably by Numidians, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Umayyad Arabs, Ottomans, and the French colonial empire. Today we can see the influence of these civilizations reflecting on the Algerian traditions, architecture, and cuisine. Currently, there are about 42 million people living in Algeria with more than 90% following Sunni Islam, and there are few who are identified as Shia Muslims, Mozabite, Ibadis, Christians, and Jews.
What’s really fascinating about this country is the fact that you get to experience the diverse culture. Firstly you will hear locals speaking either Arabic or Tamazight( Berber language). And then there are religious and traditional festivals like Eid al-Fitr, Eid ul Adha, and Yennayer which are celebrated mostly in the northern part of the country while Sebeiba in the south.
For avid travelers and adventure seekers, Algeria is an unexplored land that has many hidden treasures. From its sumptuous ‘never-ending’ landscapes to its ancient ruins and diverse ethnic group, Algeria is a promising land of exploration. Most of its population lives in the verdant north and the rest live in the wild Sahara desert.
And if you’re made up your mind to get adventurous this time then check out some of the spectacular places to visit in Algeria below:
Algiers- The White-Washed City
The largest city of Algeria and Maghreb, Algiers is erected on the slopes of the Sahel Hills in parallel to the blue Mediterranean coast. It stretches up to some 16km (10 miles) along the Bay of Algier. Originally founded by the Phoenicians, Algiers went through many invasions made by the Mauretain Chieftain Firmus and the vandals. But later it went through a revival by the Berber (Amazigh) dynasties through commercial activities. Historically it was called the Icosium by the Carthaginians and the Romans, and then ‘al-Jazāʾir’ (the islands) by the Arabs. And today many visitors have dubbed it as the ‘white-washed city’ because of its antique 10th-century kasbah-a designated World Heritage Site which has been preserved to its original character to date. You can easily get caught up in the dense maze of the towering blank-walled houses and winding streets in the old medina composed of artisanal shops, stunning mosques, and quaint Hammans with beautiful arches. Another interesting part of this crowded city is in the lower slopes section of the Sahel Hills (close to the harbor), where you can find a bewildering range of wide boulevards and public-gathering squares.
Maqam Echahid- The Monument of Martyr in Algiers
Right in Algiers, there are many attractions and undeniably one of the most important and iconic is the ‘monument of the martyr’-Maqam Echahid. Styled in a fine structure of three standing lofty palm leaves (92 m or 302 ft) sheltering the ‘Eternal Flame’ beneath, this symbolical monument commemorates the Algerian war for independence. It is rightly represented by a statue of a soldier situated at the edge of each palm leaf depicting the several stages of the struggle. The monument faces the neighborhood Hamma and the Botanical Garden Hamma (Jardin d’Essai) in the north. Interestingly, it is built on an ancient site of a military fort. Thanks to the staggering effort of a group of experts including Pierre Lamarre (engineer), Claude Naud (expert planning), and Bashir Yelles (head of the project) made this fascinating architecture possible. Currently, there are many visitors who come to pay tribute and learn about Algerian history at the National Museum of El Mujahid which is located at the base of the monument. There is also an open plaza where many concerts, exhibitions, and events are frequently hosted.
Botanical Garden Hamma in Alger (Jardin d’Essai du Hamma)
It harks back to 1832 when the civil intendant, Pierre Genty Bussy and the General Antoine Avisard wanted to drain the marshes located at the foot of the Arcades hill, and thus, it was how the Botanical Garden of Hamma was created initially on a 5 hectares (12 acres) of land. Popularly known as the ‘Test Garden of Hamma (Jardin d’Essai du Hamma), this 52-hectare (128-acre) lush green area is made up of 32 hectares (94 acres) of gardens and 20 hectares (49 acres) of the arboretum. Facing the gigantic Monument of Martyr (Maqam Echahid), the botanical garden is located in the Bay of Algiers which allows the diverse plant species (some from the Canary Islands) to thrive in a microclimate environment and provides shelter from the strong desert winds. Some features of the attraction are the towering palm trees, water fountains, an art museum, and a zoo which used to be home of an Andean Condor who died at the age of 70.
Bardo National Museum of Prehistory and Ethnography
The 18th century Bardo National Museum of Prehistory and Ethnography is one of the few attractions in the capital where you can get the chance to see some of the amazing artifact collection gathered from the Sahara desert. For instance, the antique jewelry of the legendary Touareg Queen Tin Hinan, which was excavated from her tomb in the desert of Abalessa. Among many other collections, visitors will get to see neolithic potteries, rock carvings, and fossils from the Sahara. The architecture of the museum is another standpoint where visitors will get to marvel at the intricate interior designs. The property was once used as a Moorish Villa for the Tunisian prince Mustapha Ben Omar who exiled in Algeria and was later ceded to the French state by Madame Frémont, the last owner of the property. Visitors can easily find the museum at the boulevard Didouche-Mourad in Algiers.
Opening hours: 9am – 5pm (Sat – Thu)
Website: Bardo National Museum
Catholic Basilica – Notre Dame d’Afrique of Algeria
After 14 years of construction, the magnificent Basilica of Notre Dame d’Afrique was finally inaugurated in 1872 on a cliff facing the Bay of Algiers. Deck out in a Neo-Byzantine style and with 46 stained glass windows, the basilica has welcomed flocks of Christian and Muslim pilgrims who come to light a candle and offer prayers to Lalla Meriem (Virgin Mary). Its sublime interior consists of a stunning fresco that depicts the last supper, and on the walls, there are inscriptions in Arabic, Kabyle, and French stating ‘Our Lady of Africa, pray for us and for the Muslims.’ This shows a beautiful co-existence between both the Christians and Muslims in Algeria. Outside the building find the three distinct sections (Islamic, Christian, and Jewish) of Saint-Eugène cemetery where you can find historical structures.
Djamaa Ben Farès – Mosque of the Jews
Dubbed as the ‘mosque of the Jews’, Djamaa Ben farès or Djamaa Lihoud has gone through a lot of ‘adjustments’ since its existence. It was primarily built as the Great Synagogue of Algiers where Jews at that time were coming here to pray. But then after the expulsion of Jews from Algeria in 1962, the synagogue was converted into Djamaa Ben farès with an addition of a tall minaret, and a covered ablution area was built on the forecourt.
Constantine – The City of Bridges
Dubbed after the emperor Constantine the Great, Constantine is a popular city in northeastern Algeria known for its magnificent topography made up of ravines, valleys, and hills. Thanks to its sublime beauty, the Phoenicians, who was the original founder named it the ‘royal city’ as it became the residential place of the king of the Massyli, and also a key town of Numidia. Today this northeastern capital has become the epicenter of commercial activities of eastern Algeria. By visiting this historical capital you will get to see the marvelous diamond-shaped plateau encircled by a majestic gorge (except at its southwest side) which flows the Rhumel River. The plateau is kitted out with a boatload of picturesque bridges among which is the Sidi M’Cid bridge stretching up to 164 meters across the Rhummel River. The bridge is a brainchild of French engineer Ferdinand Arnodin, constructed in 1909. Another iconic attraction lies on one side of the bridge notably the Monument of the Dead which is a replica of the Arch of Trajan in Timgad, built to pay tribute to people of Constatine who fought for France in the First World War.
Oran- Coastal City of Algeria
Ruins of Timgad – The Pompeii of Algeria
Tucked in the verdant Aures Mountains, about 35 km (22 miles) east of Batna lies the ruins of Timgad (Thamugas)-a 100 AD Roman military colony built by the emperor Trajan. The emperor constructed the colony in order to pay tribute to his elder sister and parents but also to serve as a fortress against the Berbers living in the Aures Mountains. The colony was populated with some 10,000 Roman veterans, African residents, and of Berber descendants. The colony was sacked by two instances firstly in the 5th century by the Vandals and then in the 7th century by the Berbers. Today, the city is deserted and we can see remnants of some of the gorgeous architecture like the 12 m high triumphal arch also known as the Arch of Trajan. There are numerous sections including a 3,500-seat theater, four thermae, and a library. Visiting this historical place reminds us of Pompeii.
The Balconies of Ghouffi – The Algerian Colorado
Sandwiched between Biskra and Batna lies the rugged balconies and canyon of Ghoufi which are homes to a myriad of ruins consisting of troglodyte homes and cave dwellings once inhabited by the Berbers until the 1970s. Its sublime topography is made up of sedimentary rocks and deep ravines. Visitors can bask in the spectacular bird’s eye view of the lush green oasis nestled about 500 to 1200 meters deep down the canyon. The oasis abounds with olive, apple, and towering palm trees where the meandering Abiod river flows across. It is recommended to visit this hidden gem during springtime.
The Enigmatic Pyramids of Fredda – Tiaret, Algeria
Pyramids have had a crucial role in many ancient civilizations. With close proximity to Egypt, Algeria too has its own version of pyramids. About 250 km southwest of Algiers lies the 13 pyramids tucked away on a pair of hills of Fredda, near the city of Tiaret. These pyramids, locally known as Jeddars (walls), have particular structures- square bases and topped with angular mounds. They might be dated between the 4th and 7th centuries. They were built for the final resting place of the Berber royal families. Inside the pyramids, there is at least one room but the largest mount has up to 20 compartments, including several funerary chambers. There is also a dedicated chamber with benches that might have been used for praying. Interestingly, ancient symbols, hunting scenes, and animal figures were carved above the doors inside the tombs. These pyramids share lots of resemblances with the smaller Berber tombs called bazinas frequently found in the pre-Sahara zone.
Ghardaia -Mzab Valley
One of the majestic cities of the Algerian desert is hands down the city of Ghardaia tucked away in the northern-central part of Algeria (600 km south of Algiers). This hilltop city is featured among four other cities built about 1000 years ago in M’Zab valley by the Mozabites (Ibadi sect). Classified under the World Heritage list, the fortified city’s striking urban planning has been an inspiration for contemporary urban cities. Think honey-colored walls, traditional pastel-colored houses with the luxuriant palm groves of El-Atteuf, and a pyramid-styled mosque in the center. Take a tour at the main market decked out with cobblestone paths and stalls of local products such as traditional clothes, handicrafts, and spices. Climb the many immaculate steps leading to the Unesco listed Kasbah.
El Menia – Charming Oasis of Algeria
El Menia is a real gem in the middle of the desert. It’s the getaway from the Sahara in the south and an oasis with over 100,000 lush green palm trees contrasting with the ochre desert. Located some 882 km (548 miles) from the Algiers, El Menia is an agricultural-based oasis-town, where vegetables, oranges, and dates are planted at a hierarchical level. It is simply admirable to see the genius mind of the locals thriving in the middle of the desert. And then, there’s also the warm hospitality of the locals mainly inhabited by the Zenete Berbers. On the outskirt of the town is the Sebkha lake where you can find many gorgeous migrating birds including the Flamingos.
Not so far, between the vast desert of Grand Erg and the plateau of Tademaï lies the sublime oasis-town Timimoun which elevates at 288 m (945 ft) in the Adrar province in central Algeria. Swanky palm trees and the distinctive Arab-Sudanese mud-clad houses adorned with spikes (similar to Timbuktu) are some of the highlighted features in this region. And if you venture further to the Sebkha circuit you’ll end up seeing ruins from the medieval period. This is indeed a place that has lots of ancient history.
Hoggar Mountains -South of Algeria
As you head further to the southern part of Algeria the hostile chromatic landscape unveils itself slowly. At 1500 km south of Algiers and 633 km from the Tassili n’Ajjer lies the dramatic Hoggar Mountains home to the Ahaggar National Park. The landscape of the Hoggar Mountains are of volcanic origin made up of metamorphic rock dating about 2 billion years old. The land is elevated to 900m above sea level with its highest peak Mount Tahat towering at 2,908 m (9,541 ft). In the midst of these towering mountain peaks live the nomadic tribe- the Touaregs at the nearest town of Tamanrasset. Here you will likely encounter camels, 4×4 vehicles, and meet some talented musicians who play the traditional violin and electrical guitar. There are also historical sites such as the tomb of Tin Hanan-the legendary queen of Tuareg and the Assekrem point where you can bask in the spectacular sunset. It is here where the French priest Charles de Foucauld retreated in the early 20th century.
Tassili n’Ajjer – South of Algeria
The surreal lunar landscape of Tassili n’Ajjer tucked on the southeastern borders of Algeria is an open-air museum showcasing more than 15,000 prehistoric carvings and paintings. What was once a lush green wild terrain teemed with animals such as giraffes, antelopes, and elephants, today this place has become a desert left with eroded sandstones and remnants of the past civilizations. The prehistoric carvings are classified under the Neolithic period grouped into a chronological timeline starting with the wild fauna period (10,000-6,000 BC), round-head period (8000 – 6000 BC), the horse period (1000 BC-AD 1), and the camel period (200 BC to present). This protected World Heritage Site includes the Tassili National Park and the Iherir Ramsar Wetland.