Book review: Algeria ~ Lonely Planet

algeriaLP

ALGERIA
Lonely Planet, 2007

Back then, LP could afford to produce guides to destinations no other publisher would touch and, along with the new LP Afghanistan comes Algeria, the first English-language guide to that country for decades, if not ever (LP’s long out of print North Africa Shoestring from the 1980s covered Algeria but was always a bit lame).

It’s a slim book and the guide section is only about 100 pages but the Sahara fills about half of that and there’s plenty more on the practicalities of desert travel in the front and back sections. I’m not expert but in the populated north the little-visited riches from the Roman era matching those of Tunisia and Libya get a good account and will probably be the most genuinely useful section of this book that will help open up that area (security issues in the northeast notwithstanding).

As is fashionable, 4WDs get a jab on p.71 for creating too much dust which kills coral and so on, but you wonder how much Saharan tourists as passengers or drivers actually contribute compared to travelling or working locals? It’s a bit like the current debate on flying and is probably based on Andrew Goudie’s dust-raking ‘Toyotarization’ article that hit the broadsheets a couple of years ago. The LP has a point though, travelling at a slower pace is much more rewarding as long as you strike upon a good area. So it would have been nice to see more than a couple of paragraphs on the practicalities of choosing and undertaking a trek with camel support. That’s what an LP-er will be after down south which is divided mainly between Tam and Djanet. They don’t say much about travelling on the ground between the two which, following any number of routes, would the ultimate A to B tour of the south (as opposed to a loop).

Oddly, the fairly obscure Tassili d’Immidir gets a mention but the more accessible and better known Tefedest does not. Maybe the author flew into In Salah and had to dig up a hinterland counterpart to Tam’s Hoggar and Djanet’s Tassili N’Ajjer. The problem is the three towns/regions don’t seem to hook up into a homogenous entity; the Algerian Sahara. The book proposes what you can see out of each town rather than linking the three, perhaps because that’s the form with fly-in tours; the main way most will experience southern Algeria under the current restrictions.

Independent-travellers will be frustrated or put off, by these restrictions; fly-in Saharan tourists get what they’re given (in Algeria, as good as it gets) so the book won’t get much of a practical work out. Braver individuals can try and hire a driver/guide – it’s a good idea in the less-safe Roman north I reckon. This is where the guide pays off and for the background information alone, it’s worth buying to learn more about Algeria the Country as opposed to the Algerian Sahara.

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