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Out of this world deep in the Algerian desert

By Farah Abada
Algeria Local tour guides set up camp in the desert near the oasis town of Djanet in southeastern Algeria.  By - AFP
AUG 18, 2023 LISTEN
Local tour guides set up camp in the desert near the oasis town of Djanet in southeastern Algeria. By - (AFP)

Deep in the Sahara desert lies the Algerian oasis of Djanet, one of earth's more stunning locations where visitors may feel they've actually been transported to another planet.

Parts of the landscape are more Martian or lunar, with only the blue of the sky giving the game away.

Visitors, local and now foreign as well, come to recharge their batteries and explore Djanet, 2,300 kilometres by road (1,430 miles) southeast of Algiers.

But there are also flights to the oasis, which is surrounded by sand dunes and sandstone plateaus, site of some of the world's most impressive prehistoric rock carvings.

A mini tourism boom began in eastern Algeria when the authorities started granting visas on arrival in 2021.

The Covid-19 pandemic had hit tourism badly worldwide, and Algiers decided to promote the Sahara as a destination by allowing visas to be granted at the airport.

Direct flights from Paris to Djanet were key in marketing this strategy.

Pouring tea at a desert camp near the oasis town of Djanet.  By - AFP Pouring tea at a desert camp near the oasis town of Djanet. By - (AFP)

Last year, more than 2,900 foreigners of 35 different nationalities, mostly Westerners, stayed in Djanet, compared with 1,200 in 2021.

"Once you come to Djanet, you have to return... I'm here with two friends, and all they want is to come back as soon as possible," 57-year-old French tourist Karim Benacine told AFP.

Visitors are also attracted by the nearby Tassili n'Ajjer National Park, Africa's largest, that borders Libya, Niger and Mali.

Known for its lunar-like landscape with eroded sandstone orange and black "rock forests", Tassili has become a photographers' favourite at sunset.

A vast plateau of 72,000 square kilometres (28,000 square miles), the park also houses what UNESCO calls "one of the most important groupings of prehistoric cave art in the world" with more than 15,000 examples.

These "record the climatic changes, the animal migrations and the evolution of human life on the edge of the Sahara from 6000 BC to the first centuries of the present era", UNESCO says.

In 1982, Tassili became a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site and a World Natural Heritage Site. Four years later, it was also added to the list of biosphere reserves.

People attend the Sebeiba Festival, a yearly celebration of Tuareg culture, in the oasis town of Djanet.  By - AFP People attend the Sebeiba Festival, a yearly celebration of Tuareg culture, in the oasis town of Djanet. By - (AFP)

It is not just foreigners who are drawn to the area: Algerians also find solace in their own national treasure, with 17,000 local visitors recorded last year.

'Disconnecting, rejuvenating'

For 41-year-old Samira Ramouni, a psychologist from Algiers, staying at the oasis means many things.

Local tour guides ready a feast in the desert near the oasis town of Djanet.  By - AFP Local tour guides ready a feast in the desert near the oasis town of Djanet. By - (AFP)

"Finding inner peace, experiencing complete relaxation, disconnecting, seeking calm, learning new things, rejuvenating..."

Ramouni said she came to Djanet to rest and relax "to be able to start the struggle anew".

Abdelkader Regagda runs a travel agency in Tamanrasset in southern Algeria, around 700 kilometres west of Djanet.

He now organises excursions in the Djanet area, and told AFP the authorities had opened "a great tourism route from Europe to the south" of Algeria.

A local tour guide sets up camp in the desert near Djanet.  By - AFP A local tour guide sets up camp in the desert near Djanet. By - (AFP)

Djanet is the scene at the end of July of the Sebeiba Festival, a yearly celebration of the local Tuareg culture.

The area has certainly struck a chord with tourists from Europe.

Another visitor from Paris, Antonine De Saint Pierre, 49, said her trip deep into the Algerian desert was exactly what she needed.

"Now I know that, I think I'm going to do this regularly," she added.

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