Updated September 2018
All borders except with Tunisia are closed or not accessible to foreign tourists and/or not attempted for years. Agency guides and gendarmerie escorts required down south.
My 2018 trip report here (contains motorcycles)
Algerian dinar is officially about 138 dinars to a euro. ‘Parallel’ market in small shops, restos, or at Algiwrs airport up to 50% more depending on where and who and how you ask. See top of page for both rates. At Algiers airport and up north the parallel rate is said to be better than down south in Illizi or Djanet.
Fuel is cheap. Meals from 300d, camping from 400d, hotels/rooms from 1000d; tourist hotels 3500d.
Arabic or French.
Borders with Libya have been closed for years for tourists and as things are now, getting too close to the Libya border is risky or is not permitted.
You can’t cross into Mali (nor would you want to) and crossing into northern Niger via In Guezzam may be tense, if not currently forbidden (Assamaka got shot up in 2017). You can’t cross directly into Mauritania either; that part of Algeria is a Polisario zone and long time closed. Most overlanders cross and leave from Tunisia via Nefta–Taleb Larbi, or by ferry.
Don’t be too encouraged by the UK FCO map (top left) issued in April 2017. Currently only a small corner of the Illizi wilaya (ringed in blue – very approx) is open to off-road tourism. Then again the French version (left) seems a bit extreme. The small print does say: ‘ACTIVITÉS SPORTIVES A RISQUE: Les randonnées dans le désert saharien sont possibles après accord des autorités locales et en restant sur les parcours surveillés par l’armée. L’emploi d’un guide reconnu localement … est fortement recommandés.
Travellers with vehicles require an agency escort in the car or in their own from border to desert and back, as well as a gendarmerie escort (right). These escorts change every couple of hours and can slow down your trip massively. They say it’s worse from Algiers southbound than Taleb Larbi (Nefta, Tunisia) and they may lose interest halfway down south around In Salah or south of Hassi Messaoud. Gendarmerie escorts said not apply in the west (Bechar wilaya).
Assuming you get a visa, on public transport you might get around freely in the north, but not in the desert. In Salah seems the control point on the TSH beyond which they insist on an escort to carry on south. In the Adrar region they may slap a gendarmerie escort on you too (as we found in 2011). These escorting regs match broadly similar requirements in former Libya and to a lesser extent, in remote parts of Niger and Egypt.
First of all, arrange your itinerary with an approved agency (see below), then submit your emailed invite document aka: certificate d’hebergement when applying for a visa. The agency does their bit with the ministry too. More below.
… of the type encountered in Morocco or Egypt is unknown in Algeria. You are pleasingly invisible but will find the people hospitable, courteous – or just ‘normal’.
Security is another issue and foreigners have been a target. Flying directly into the south for a tour is fine, but driving too close to southern borders (away from the TSH) is unadvisable and anyway not even possible. The Tizi Ouzou (Kabylie) region east of Algiers, as well as regions bordering northwestern Tunisia are also worth avoiding. But remember, Algeria is a huge country – ninth biggest is the world, in fact.
Needed by all citizens of non-Arabic countries, usually must be applied for in your country of residence (which for most people rules out applying Tunisia or Niger, for example).
The Djanet region has re-opened to the fly-in market; a couple of years earlier they wouldn’t even issued visas for here (or to clarify: they accepted submissions but endlessly delayed issuing visas until it was just too late; an old trick).
The usual path for Sahara travels is to apply via an agency. For independent travels in the north you can submit a certificate d’hebergment (‘proof of lodging’ – ‘CdH’) by booking a night in a hotel. Finding a hotel that will answer your query and fax the CdH is another matter, but people manage. If you have been officially invited to northern Algeria (usually by some institution) a Letter of Introduction with an Algerian address and an explanation is all that is required. In other words travelling around the north without a guide as was possible a few years ago is less easy now, but people do manage. Last heard, getting south of Biskra you may run into problems with visa apps.
Coming up from West Africa it used to be possible to obtain a visa in Agadez (Niger) but no one’s managed that for years. Since the 2011 fall of Libya, Agadez became a major people trafficking route to Libya and southern Algeria. Tourism is non-existent and the route to Tam is closed or restricted to non-African foreigners.
APPLYING FOR A VISA IN THE UK
5 Portal Way, London W3 6RT
Tel: 0208 752 8068 Fax: 0208 752 8061
Apply Tues–Sat 9.30–noon (collection 3–4pm).
Website Read the visa page carefully.
You will need to get on the case weeks before your departure; firstly by obtaining an invite from Algeria (an emailed pdf is accepted; one time they insisted on the original copy DHL’d from Algeria), then applying at the consulate and waiting from a a week for your visa. If it takes much longer despite everything being correct; they’re giving you the run-around; give up. It pays to choose flights (or insurance) that allows them to be cancelled last minute.
• Fill out the online visa form here, print off two copies, date and sign both.
• Include two passports with your name written on the back.
• Make two photocopies of every page of your passport, even blank ones and the cover.
• Include a letter from your employer, basically saying you work there.
• Travel insurance not required for British and Irish citizens
• Fee of £85 (or as below).
If not using a visa agency, apply in at the address above between 9.30am and noon, Tues-Fri. Get there early. If you arrive much after 11am you may not get to the head of the queue before they close the door at noon. Inside they look over your docs and if they spot any mistakes they will reject or maybe amend, depending in their mood on the day. Pay in cash. If all is in order you will be given a receipt with a collection date or they will call you when the passports are ready.
Various sources state you can only make 1, 2 or 3 applications at a time but in 2017 we lodged 8 at a time. We had our visas a week later, but others who’ve gone through the exact same hoops but with invites from other agencies, never made it. It is possible some agencies are more favoured than others. Our invite came from Agence Mezrirene – good luck with getting a reply from them.
A single-entry 30-day visa costs £85 for a UK passport holder.
Collections are between 3.30 and 40pm Tues-Fri (possibly Sat morning if urgent).
You’re advised not to get a ferry or plane ticket before you secure a visa; and a visa is not guaranteed if they don’t like the cut of your jib. Of course this then means booking a plane or a boat very late. Be warned: so-called promotional ferry tariffs (hardly a bargain) cannot be cancelled or even amended to a future date. With planes, who knows.
Info needed for your invitation
• names and date of birth
• nationality of the participants
• passport numbers
• how are you travelling to Algeria
• registration number of vehicles
• exact dates of entry and exit to the country
• ‘transit’ or a ‘tourist’ visa.
Some tourist agencies in Algeria
… that I have travelled with, dealt or [tried to] deal with include:
Essendilene Voyages Djanet; used and recommended, English spoken
Timtar Voyages Tam but will work in Djanet; speak English if you push them
Agence Mezrirene Illizi; email hit and miss; try texting or phoning; recommended
Zeriba Voyages in town centre hotel in Djanet; good for Jabbaren day trip
Desert Reisen (Germany). More expensive but fast replies
In Ziza (In Salah) TSH transits only – off road access currently closed in this area.
Guide with own car costs about €110-150/day. Guide in your car: €50-70/day.
There are other agencies of course and about half a dozen good ones. A few years ago I worked with Tam-based Ben Kada who were fine but next time stopped answering. A long-established agency, Akar-Akar near Tam seem to charge more than double, and enquiries to ‘Expert Algeria’, a slick-looking northern agency, soon dried up once pushed to get specific.
Border formalities; overland
Allow an hour or four from Tunisia at Taleb Larbi (between Nefta – El Oued; the most common entry point where your escort meets you. Fill out police forms for you and your car, then customs declaration forms and maybe get a light search. Then you need to declare and change your official money and buy motor insurance (3000d for 4 weeks for a 4×4). They also do a health briefing (AIDS awareness?). Then you must check into the gendarmerie a couple of kms down the road.
The trans Sahara Highway is now sealed from Algiers all the way to the Niger border at In Guezzam. From there it’s 150km of hard sandy piste to Arlit where the tarmac resumes.
Border formalities: flying in
Into Tam for example, on an organised/private tour: no compulsory exchange required (though you may want to change some anyway for personal use). Just fill out the brown card and possibly a white customs form declaring money and phones, cameras/etc (no binoculars aka: jumelles). This customs sheet is looked at but virtually never checked against your money on the way out. They ask but don’t search much. Arriving in Algiers airport in February 2011 all I did was the brown card – no other forms, no search and no questions about who I was or where I was going.
The landscapes of south Algeria offer the best of the true Sahara without committing yourself to crossing the desert to West Africa, with clear tracks, many wells and much nomad life, but currently only a small corner of the southeast (Illizi wilaya) is open to tourism. That is a beautiful area but is a long, 3+ day drive to get there from the north.
The Amguid region and track (A9 and A12) as well as A2 and A3 have been said to be closed since the 2003 kidnappings there. Erg Chech is out-of-bounds too; Tassili Hoggar region SE of Tam reopened in 2011 then closed again. It’s all gone too far for tourism as it was to recover now.
Expect tedious checkpoints in every town and village, some insisting your guide goes to the local barracks to fill out a form; police at every roundabout and checking-in is required with the Gendarmerie if you stop at In Salah and at Tam. A 2009 report on arriving at Algiers from Marseille is here. May 2010 crossing from Niger here and my February 2011 trip report is here, 2012 here, 2013 here and 2018 here.