Category Archives: Maps

‘V’ is for Vintage Sahara Maps

Part of the occasional Sahara A to Z series
Hang around long enough and you’ll get the full set

See also:
Vintage posters
Old Saharan Trade Routes Map
Sahara – blanks on the map
Maps of the Sahara
I is for IGN and their Sahara Maps

A look at some old Sahara Maps to see what obscure places or routes were once conspicuous, as well as which ancient places survive today.

The earliest old map I have looks like it’s from the medieval era, but was probably based on Herodotus’ Histories which was getting on for 2000 years old by this time. It was he that brought terms like ‘Libya’ (North Africa) and ‘Aethiopia’ (sub-Saharan Africa) into common usage.

Medieval-sahara


On this map ‘Mauritania’ is today’s Morocco, while the chariot-riding Garamanteans are correctly located around present day Germa in the Libyan Fezzan. It’s probably coincidental, but the ‘Barditi Montef’ (mountains) could be the Tibesti around Bardai – actually only 700km southeast of ancient Garama. (Left: rock art depicting chariots at Tim Missao well, 1200km southwest of Germa on the way to Mali. The Garamanteans are said to have got around.)

TimMissaoChariot

This map, but not 1554 Munster map above, may have been the best that Moorish wanderer, Leo Africanus’ (BBC doc) had to go on for his 16th-century travels across the region, venturing as far as Timbuktu, Cairo and possibly even Mecca.
Along with Ibn Battuta’s travels a couple of centuries earlier, it was Africanus’ Description of Africa (1550) which expanded knowledge of the Sahara. But despite the efforts of Africanus, even by 1700 or so, satirists like Jonathan Swift (right) were said to have quipped:                        

Jonathan-Swift

So Geographers in Afric maps 
With Savage Pictures fill their Gaps


Fast forward a few centuries and there be no dragons or other medieval monsters (left) on this map of Africa dating from an atlas produced in 1803. It’s credited to William Kneass who later became Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia. Instead, the advent of scientific enlightenment had brought us longitude, latitude and the ‘Equinoctial Line’.

Sahara-map-1803

The mariners of the era had succeeded in very accurately mapping the outline of the African continent, but the interior, including the ‘Zahara or Desert of Barbary‘, remained blanks. South of the Sahara the most notable inland incursions were made by the early European colonies around Cape Verde and Guinea Bissau, Angola, the Cape and Mozambique. In the north Egypt and the Nile are better mapped all the way into the Biblical lands of Abyssinia.
The Moroccan imperial cities are present: ‘New Salle’ being Rabat, with Marrakech labelled as ‘Morocco’. Never linked those two words before, but presumably they’re both based on ‘Moor’ so it makes sense.

52J

South of the Atlas ‘Tatta’ appears to be close to Tata, with the Oued Draa known as the ‘Nun’. The 16th-century Portuguese trading post of ‘Mogodoro’ is Essaouira, and Tarfaya at Cape Bojador was then called ‘Tungarzall’. To the east you’d have thought that Sijilmassa near Erfoud might have got a mention. It was the northern terminus on the ’52 day’ caravan route from Timbuktu.

Caillie_1830_Timbukt

Further south in Western Sahara and Mauritania, ‘St Cyprian’s Bay’ became Golfe de Cintra after a Portuguese mariner and slaver got killed nearby at Arguin (also labelled). Inland from here, only ancient ‘Tisheet‘ gets a mention, on the old Dhar Tichit caravan route.

tichita

I remember going to a talk in Nouakchott about the medieval glass trading links between Tichit and Venice. Tichit didn’t look like much when we were there in 1990 (right; it’s all in D. Travels), but it’s a historic settlement on a par with Timbuktu (above left; as seen by Caillé in 1830), Oualata, Chinguetti and Ouadane. The latter may be the ‘El Waden’, misplaced way north of Timbuktu and not far from ‘Ensala’ which could be even more distant In Salah in Algeria.
At this point it was still a couple of years before the American sailor, Robert Adams briefly ended up a slave in Timbuktu. Among other things, his account helped kick off the race to reach this fabled Saharan ‘Shangri La’ and with that, the great age of European Saharan exploration as listed rather Francocentrically on the 1898 map below.

GateotHarem-duNouy

Eastwards on this 1803 map, many places in Algeria are recognisable: ‘Tuggurt’, ‘Guargala’, (Ouargla) and over the border in present day Libya: ‘Godemashe’ (Ghadames), ‘Mourzouk’ and ‘Ganat’ (Ghat). ‘Zeghen’ was less easy to pinpoint, visited by James Richardson while on the road from Tunis to Ghat and back up to Tripoli in 1845-6. At the time Richardson estimated Zeghen’s population at ‘200 men, 300 women, and 700 children and slaves‘. Our man Duveyrier (see below) locates it for us a short distance northwest of Sebha in the Wadi Ash-Shati, on the way to ‘Sockna‘. Here Richardson spent some time as a guest of the Turkish Caid and his comely concubines.

‘Berdoa’ is the old name for Kufra in southeast Libya, and south of there, on the page’s fold, is the enduring salt oasis of ‘Belma’ (left) at the base of Niger’s ‘Kawar’ escarpment. The hyper-arid and largely uninhabited Libyan Desert around Jebel Uweinat wasn’t to be explored until the 20th century.

Fast forward a hundred and one years and the Saharan blanks begin to fill up. Below is the ‘Northern Africa’ plate extracted from a Bartholomew’s Handy Reference Atlas of the World dated 1904 (source) and which differs very little from my 1888 version.

Sahara-map-1904
citroen1922

The interior is still sparse, but the proposed trans-Saharan railway gets a mention. Running across the flat plain of the Tanezrouft, in 1922 it was the actual route taken by the first cars – Citroen Kegresse autochenilles (half tracks; left) – to cross the Sahara north to south and back.
In the west ‘Shinghit’ is a bit out of line with Atar and Wadan, but in the ball park. To the south is the ghost town of Ksar el Barka and ‘Portendik’ must be early Nouakchott, though you wonder what became of ‘Mufga’ near grubby Choum of today.
Ancient Taghaza (as visited by Ibn Battuta) never gets a mention on any of these maps, but it’s replacement, the newer salt mine at ‘Towdeni’ was a key point on the ’52 days’ caravan route to Sijilmassa.
In northern Mali, ‘Essuk‘ whch hosted the early Tuareg music festivals before they moved to Timbuktu and long predates today’s Kidal. Meanwhile in Algeria the Amadror salt mines get one of their last calls. Wau crater in Libya gets a name check too, there’s brackish water there, but due to the mosquitoes it was never a settlement.
Up in the Mediterranean, Crete is oddly identified by its ancient name of Candia, perhaps intended as a poke at the despicable Ottomans?

North Sahara 1898

Above, Dufrenoy’s intriguing and detailed map from 1898, centred on the southern limits of French-controlled Algeria. The red lines identify the itineraries of that busy century’s wave of Sahara explorers, from Laing’s fatal excursion to Timbuktu in 1826, right up to Laperrine, who in 1898 set out to quell the southern Tuareg with his Méhariste Camel Corps and died in a plane crash southwest of Tam in 1920. Note too the zig-zaging return of Flatters’ disastrous second mission of 1881, (as described in Desert Travels) when the handful of harried survivors sought to out-run the Tuareg who’d trailed and picked them off one by one.

Henri Duvyerier Map 1864

Back-tracking a bit, the 1881 Flatters Mission – partly intent on reconnoitring a railway route between the Maghreb and France’s territories in West Africa – wouldn’t have got half as far as it did without Henri Duveyrier’s amazingly detailed map of 1864. It was based on his journeys there a few years earlier, described in Les Touaregs du Nord.
Tamanrasset was merely a oued; Silet, In Amguel and Ideles on the other side of the Hoggar were established settlements. The tomb of Tin Hinan (left) even gets a mention, though it’s a bit misplaced from actual Abalessa.

inziza

Further out on the Tanezrouft the strategic well of Tim Missao (the chariots, above) and the waterhole at In Ziza (left) are labelled, but in Libya the Murzuk sand sea is just an ‘unnamed hammada’ separating the Tuareg from Tubu. There’s plenty more mouth-watering detail if this area means anything to you, and Duveyrier’s inset helpfully lays the ancient geographical names alongside their modern counterparts.

Not a Sahara map but a world map from 1914 as the British Empire began the descent from it’s late-Victorian apogee. In an era before flight and in the golden age of ocean liners, it illustrates just long it took a citizen of Albion to reach the far flung corners of the world. Central Sahara is up there at the end of the scale, alongside the Amazon, Outback, Congo, Tibet and Siberia. The widespread adoption of the motor car would soon change that.

Sahara-map-1933

How time flies. It’s now 1933 and above, France’s African colony encompasses half the Sahara and most of West Africa. Tamanrasset and Djanet, which even then must have been the biggest towns in southern Algeria, are still missed out, but then this isn’t a French map. In Mauritania Tidjikja makes an appearance, so does Iferouane in the Aïr and Tindouf up in Algeria. ‘Marakesh’ looks like it’s still ‘aka Morocco’ where the Spanish cling on to protectorates in western Sahara (Rio de Oro), Sidi Ifni and on the north coast, but not for long. Within 25 years the Sahara would take on the borders and principal towns with which we’re familiar today.

sahara-maplid

Who can resist the superb ‘Uweinat’ map (below) originally published by the Survey of Egypt in 1945. One of the most fascinating corners of the Sahara, much of its detail was based on the intrepid explorations of Ralph Bagnold in the 1920s, as well as later Brits, some of who were fictionalised in The English Patient movie.
The last time we travelled there (left), it was still the best paper map available for that area, notwithstanding the newer aeronautical TPCs.

Uweinat 2006

Old Saharan mapoholics will be familiar with the Austin TX university’s comprehensive online database of full-sized Saharan maps dating more or less from the early 1940s. Click this to get to the index pictured below and thank you Austin.

texasindexer

And finally, a forerunner to the famous 4-million scale Michelin 153 map (now the 741) that covered the French Sahara: an ageing Michelin 152 from 1948. It was the best photo I could manage – scanning will have to wait for a very rainy day.

leclerctibesti

You get the feeling that this may have been a commemorative special edition to celebrate General Leclrec’s heroic achievements in the Sahara during WWII, when a small column managed to take Kufra and then Murzuk from the Italians, and then push north to help expel the Axis forces from North Africa along with the 8th Army.

Like the LRDG map, the 152 has helpful detail like ‘piste tres difficile‘ as well as the famous info on water resources ‘tres mauvais a 50m‘, that we recognise from the later editions which covered the Sahara all the way to the Atlantic.

Mich 152

Too much information? Then this may interest you.
Want modern maps? Go here.

Sahara – Blanks on the Map

Also interesting
Old Saharan Trade Routes Map

‘V’ is for Vintage Sahara Maps
Maps of the Sahara
I is for IGN and their Sahara Maps

wales

Below, a series of French 1:200,000 maps of the Sahara – from Mauritania to the western frontier of Chad. Though the maps date from the 1950s, it’s very unlikely that Google Earth would reveal any more detail today. A couple of sheets from the central Mauritanian plateau and an eastern Algerian erg are included to show the mapmakers weren’t just being lazy – there really was nothing to show.
Each map covers one square degree of the Earth’s surface, which in Saharan latitudes adds up to over 12,000 km2. Just two of these maps would cover Wales (right).

Morocco ~ Getting There

Updated Summer 2020
See also: Documents and Port Immigration
M3-cover
m3gettheremap118

Most travellers from the UK heading to Morocco in the cooler months take the ferries from Portsmouth to northern Spain: Bilbao or better still Santander. When you add up tolls and fuel and time across France it works out the same price for less driving or riding.
The Brittany ferries on this route are well-equipped cruise ships with plenty to occupy you over ~22 hours at sea, while doing a great job of smoothing the voyage across the Bay of Biscay. In January 2018 Brittany announced a new line between Cork and Santander, twice weekly from April to November.

traspain

From Santander to Algeciras (the most-used port) is about 1000km, and the empty and fast network of roads west of Madrid (A67, A62, A66 and A381 – right) can get you between the two ports in one long day if you wish. The only short section of toll (peaje) is south of Seville.

malagawear

On a motorcycle, from the UK you can save at least two days each way but getting it trucked to a warehouse near Malaga. I used Fly and Ride in 2017. I delivered my bike all loaded up to a warehouse near Gatwick, then flew in and picked it up an hour’s walk from Malaga airport a week later. It cost £720, which to me worked out a bit less than the effort of ferrying and riding a 250 to Algeciras. I’ve since used removal companies from £420 one way. See this thread.

m33medferry

Moroccan Ports

Now that Tan Med port is so easy, few go via ‘Tangiers City’ or the nearby Spanish enclave of Ceuta (Sp), although from Alicante, ferries to Melilla enclave (Sp) are often much cheaper than adjacent Nador. The payback can be that on the Spanish side of the land border with Morocco you’ll have annoying ‘helpers’ offering their services. They’re just looking for a tip at the end of it, but on a quiet day, you can manage without them.

Algeciras-port

Moroccan port maps

porttanmed
portCeuta
portmelilia-nador11
nadorins1
portTangiercity


Morocco Maps

Updated Summer 2020
M3-cover
m3regions

Reviews below only relate to the ‘Morocco Overland zone’ (left) and only the most useful maps are mentioned. The north of Morocco is not considered, although you assume any map will be OK up there too.
Med ferries and Morocco port access maps here. For Sahara maps click this.

Short version:
Get the current Michelin 742 map to use in a car, or a grided, more robust and waterproof 2019 Reise Know-How (RK-H) map for a bike. Then, for your GPS/satnav, import as much free OSM as you can bear, do the same with offline Google Maps, or get Garmin’s bargain North Africa Light  (£20).

About paper Morocco country maps

Get a paper map of Morocco: they’re inexpensive, light, compact, don’t need recharging and give you the big picture which is great for planning at home, or deciding where to go next once out there. You can’t do that on your smartphone or GPS, handy though they are.

MoroccoMountains

There are up to a dozen Morocco country maps in print and taking into account scale, price, clarity, date of publication, presence of a long/lat grid and so on, the maps below are recommended for on and off-highway travel in the south of Morocco.
One thing quickly becomes clear: while you won’t get lost and die of thirst relying these maps, they’re all surprisingly inaccurate and tend to copy each other’s mistakes. Some minor routes shown as sealed are in fact little-used pistes, and some pistes depicted identically on several maps do not match the orientation shown, or don’t exist at all.
What also becomes evident is how many more interesting and easily navigable pistes there are in Morocco which don’t appear on these paper maps. The same can be said for villages; many established settlements on a par with other locally depicted places are missing, while some towns are given excessive prominence for what you’ll find there. This inconsistency with road and place ‘hierarchy’ is probably as old a complaint as mapping itself.
For navigating along the main ‘N’ highways in a motorhome the recommended maps are fine. But using them for reliable navigation and accurate position-finding on more obscure southern Moroccan back roads or tracks may be a hit and miss affair. For that a GPS or phone with a map is better (see below). Once you accept these limitations paper maps not so bad.

rkh-19

Reise Know-How 1:1m 2019
Best for regular use and motos – £9.95

The 11th edition published in 2019 may have the same ‘old man in the mountains’ cover but appears to be a genuine update while retaining the usual errors.

The main changes:
• New Moroccan road numbers given alongside old ones. Nice touch
• Many more red RN roads added, finally
• Provincial names and boundaries shown (not so useful)

Flaws
• Fuel station info inconsistent (unless they mean ‘village fuel‘)
• Many tracks (grey) are easy-to-drive gravel roads/pistes (white)
• Many well-established pistes are missing; others are sealed roads (yellow or red)
• Some sealed roads are tracks (eg: RN14; off-limits, anyway)
• Some villages missing or misaligned

rkh19-2up

In the end, recognising all these paper maps are flawed in some way, the German RKH was the one I use most. Why? Because unlike the Michelin, it won’t fall apart after less than an hour’s accumulated use, the accuracy and clarity are good enough once you know the pitfalls, and the double-sided printing makes it compact and easy to use in a crowded lift, shove in a bike’s tank net (right) or open out in a gale. I also find the intuitive 1:1m scale good for quick distance estimates (1mm = 1km) and the grid lines work well for estimating a position on the map off a GPS. They even squeeze an index round the edges and now, some pretty, touristic pictures.
Cartographically, the RKH isn’t the best design for me, but the 2019 is a bit lighter and if necessary you can eat your lunch off it, use it as an umbrella, origami it into a bowl and generally rough it up without it ending up like Michelin confetti. Plastic paper maps are the way to go.

rkh-rodney

The biggest drawback with the RKH was the vague alignment of roads and tracks and not keeping with pistes which were sealed years ago. For regular tourists heading out in rental cars or campervans towards a sealed road on the map which turns out to be a piste is irritating. But they’re also missing out on many great backroad drives.
This map is also available for around €15 as a pre-calibrated digital download direct from RK-H (PC apps only, last time I looked).

mich742-2015

Michelin 742 1:1m
Only £5.99 and best for planning, but fragile

Michelin, the best map for Morocco, right? It’s OK but the thin paper doesn’t lend itself to regular use, not helped by the fact that at over 1.5m wide, the 742 is a big map. What’s also missing is a Long/Lat grid. Why? Here’s a possible explanation*.

mich-router

Rather than city insets you get five useful sub-regions at 600k scale (notably Jebel Sirwa south of Marrakech), and even some useful climate stats. What I like most about this map is the intuitive 1:1m scale (a millimeter = a kilometre), the clear, functional Michelin design and the fact that it goes right down to Laayoune which means you can view all the book’s routes on one sheet (apart from the lower halves of Routes MO2 and MW6). And at £5.99 in the UK, it’s the cheapest of the recommended Morocco maps.
Roads and pistes wind around with believable intricacy (unlike the lazier RKH) and we get Michelin’s well-known scenic ‘green road’ feature which is pretty reliable. In places the forest and dune coverage isn’t to be relied on and it’s this sort of detail that you feel never gets updated.
As for the accuracy of secondary roads and pistes – a common failing on all these maps – look carefully at the Key (in five languages including Arabic). Unconventionally, uncoloured (white) roads with 
sol borders on both sides signify ‘road surfaced’, but one dashed edge means an all-out piste liable to the weather, though they’ve added a new designation: one dotted edge which means unsealed but usable in all-weather by all vehicles. Being vague about the type of surface is a conveniently ambiguous way of saying they could be surfaced with asphalt, gravel, egg mayonnaise or rocks. And of course some of these solid-edged ‘white roads’ are major two-lane highways where the regular yellow colouring would be more appropriate. And as on other maps, plenty of tracks mentioned in the book or on the digital maps below are missing and some white roads don’t exist. In places this data is years out of date but overall they don’t get it as badly or as conspicuously wrong as the RKH, below.
Note that so-called ‘new editions’ often add up to no more than a new cover design but in my experience the 742 is still one of the best maps for overlanding in Morocco.

* Try and draw on a grid and it soon becomes clear the 742 is tilted quite a few degrees east of north, probably because it’s extracted from the top left of their ‘North and West Africa’ 953 map which is north-centred on E16°. Without presumably expensive correction, putting a grid over a 742 would expose this lean all the more clearly and might put customers off. Don’t know what on earth I’m on about? Don’t worry it’s not that important.

satnavorgps

Digital maps for your GPS

garminmap

Open Source Mapping (OSM)
Similar to the much-loved Olaf (below) but now more up to date. On the link select ‘Morocco’ in the ‘Africa’ menu and choose to add or remove tiles as needed (less tiles may mean quicker map). You will need Garmin’s free MapInstall and Basecamp software.
Of the three digital map options for Morocco, this is the one I refer to last – and you can see why on the four-screen comparison below. The absence of topographic detail makes it harder to visualise the landscape, compared to the Garmin and Olaf

Garmin North Africa Topo £20
You will need Garmin’s free MapInstall and Basecamp software. This map is locked in your GPS unit so only shows and becomes editable with Basecamp on a computer screen when your GPS is attached to the computer. Click the link for a full review. Below the same region shown on four digital maps discussed here

gar-msd

olaffer

Marokko Topo GPS – ‘Olaf map’ 
(now superseded by Garmin and OSM)
Free download
‘Olaf’ is the adopted abbreviation for the free downloadable Marokko Topo GPS vector map produced by a guy called Olaf Kähler – don’t ask me how he did it, but updating ended in 2009. Olaf was fast and easy and gave you many more routes than the book plus usable city maps. It’s said the Garmin North Africa Topo took many Olaf originals, and it’s probably the same case with the OSMs which have now superseded Olaf.
Olaf obviously improved on a base map of Morocco you got in a standard GPS (see comparison above), and was enhanced by featuring tracks sent in as track logs by contributors to his project. But Olaf merrily published everything his contributors sent in, whether they were blundering around or following regular tracks, so not all routes are kosher.

satnavbmw

Sometimes an Olaf track can be out by a couple hundred metres and other tracks appear to be dead ends. Using Olaf on a Nuvi satnav (left), tracks appear as ‘fat’ orange and ‘thin’ grey lines. GPSs like Montanas may display them more clearly, but you can expect problems importing Olaf into Montanas and the like if you’re not that techy. Problems importing Olaf (not unusual)? Read this.

… and your smartphone or phablet?

apart from OSM,  you can now download Google Maps for offline use your phone’s GPS. You may not be able to download all of Morocco before the mb limit is reached, but it’s free and familiar. Other than that, search the internet for map apps which cover Morocco.

Other paper and digital/online mapping 

Google and Bing Maps
Can be brilliant for planning 
Used as a pre-planning road map, Google Maps‘ map page can be misleading on southern Morocco compared to the more detailed paper maps reviewed above. Click between ‘map’ to ‘satellite’ and you’ll often see how inaccurate the highway overlay is compared to the true satellite image, although the Terrain page can be illuminating. Pistes and roads are as out-of-date, incomplete, not labeled with the standard Moroccan N- or R- road/track designations, inaccurate in hierarchy (closed piste and two-lane blacktop shown as the same – the same flaw as TPCs) or are non-existent, just like the worst paper maps above. Furthermore, many town and village names are unrecognisable, presumably taken from non-standard US sources. Zoomed in, you can look at the Google map on Morocco a long time before you find a name you recognise and work out where you are.

However, Google Map’s satellite page (or Google Earth) is particularly effective in vividly dramatising and navigating the arid topography of a place like southern Morocco, even if resolution/clarity on some of the segments appear shot through the bottom of a Coke bottle at F1.8. In that case, check out Bing Maps’ Aerial view; zoom in close enough and suddenly it jumps from what looks like overboiled spinach soup to eye-popping clarity.

cheggers
Bing Chegara (left) • Google Chegaga ®ght) 

Either platform at its best look as crisp as peering down from a hot air balloon. On Erg Chebbi you can even spot the tourist bivouacs in the dunes. Google Earth needs many of the layers unchecked which often contain wildly inaccurate ‘user-added’ junk, but Bing or Google, on the ground at last you have a WYSIWYG ‘map’ that cannot lie. With My Places you can preview your route or cook up new links between pistes, discover new areas and generally be thrilled at the bird’s eye view of Morocco. Where the res is good, it’s brilliant.

Maps of the Sahara

Overhauled Summer 2020
For Morocco maps click this

See also:
Old Saharan Trade Routes Map

‘V’ is for Vintage Sahara Maps
Sahara – Blanks on the Map
‘I’ is for IGN and their Sahara Maps

When I started travelling in the Sahara all there was was Michelin’s 153 (left, now 741). Later I discovered IGN’s superb series of 1-million scale maps and then GPS came along. Initially it was only useful in pointing to waypoints in close combination with paper maps. Now a GPS or a phone can have a map in it almost as good as those below, or you can simply trace a route off Google Sat**, then save and import the tracklog into your gadget and just follow the line displayed on the tiny screen. No nav skill required. But a good paper map is still a useful for visualising the big picture, certainly in the planning stage.

The better Sahara maps are reviewed below. Only a couple are really useful to desert travellers; others maps may be more easily found and will offer a good background or modern overlay, while some other Sahara maps are of limited value to an actual desert traveller as opposed to someone pinning on a classroom wall for a project.

For a vehicle-based Sahara journey, choose one large-scale Sahara map covering the whole area you plan to visit (left) and then add one- or half-million scale maps for all the areas you plan to cover on pistes. In rare instances these can be backed up by a selection of 1:200,000 maps for areas of special interest, or for trekking. As a rule, the country maps described below are less useful for travel in the Sahara, but help give the big picture.

The maps below are reviewed specifically in regard to their utility as navigational aids for independent desert travellers, less so for conventional fly-in tourists most of who will have little need of maps. Each of the 70-odd GPS routes detailed in my Sahara guidebook (left, long out of print) included a recommendation to one of the maps below. Factors I consider useful in a Sahara paper map are:

  • Up to date information – certainly in new editions (a common failing)
  • Accurate and consistent hierarchy of roads and pistes (a common failing)
  • Clear depiction of relief (some better than others)
  • An idea of the surface terrain like dunes (very useful but often overlooked)
  • Reliable information on wells (a tall order, but frequently guesses are made)
  • Gridlines across the map face to aid positioning with GPS

If you’re into just crossing the Sahara you may find my Sahara Routes Map on the Routes page useful. It shows the major border crossings as well as where borders are best not crossed.

** Google Satellite vs Bing Aerial

Garmin Topo North Africa v4 Light

garmie
garmin-coverage

For years buying Garmin maps for anywhere outside of developed nations wasn’t worthwhile. Even their Morocco map – largely ripped off from Olaf – was said to be an inferior version and cost over £100 for a map you could get for free. Last updated in 2008, Olaf is old now – many pistes have been sealed but others as still accurate – and their are masses of them.
But lately Garmin have collaborated with OSM to produce a huge map covering the Maghreb (right) for a very reasonable £20. Up to now I’ve found route planning with Google Earth and decent paper maps has been adequate. Is a digital map in a handheld GPS worth it? V4 released 2019; review of V3  here.

satnavorgps

Sahara Paper Maps

Michelin 741 Scale 1:4 million, (edition 7; 2019)
The 741 covers 80% of the Sahara from the Atlantic to western Egypt (28E). Compared to other offerings, the 700 series is renowned for its detail, readability and reasonable accuracy given the huge task involved. This review concentrates on the Saharan portion of the map.
Although it’s not been properly updated for years, the Michelin 741 is the best planning map for Saharan travels (were they possible), giving you a good overview of the Sahara west of Egypt, accurate relative distances, borders, major roads and some pistes, as well as settlements and surface features. You even get the depth and mineral composition of some wells. This is not a map for off-highway navigation, although over the years many novice Saharans have tried! I see the red ‘Crossing the Sahara…’ warning label has not changed in 40 years!
The 2019 edition still shows non-existing or obsolete pistes from the colonial era, pistes which are now roads and most annoyingly, roads which are definitely still tracks and will ruin your rental car. But now the Sahara is no longer popular with tourists, fixing that is a low priority. You’ll just have to find out the hard way or double check on Google Earth of the superior Bing Aerial where WYSIWYG.
The other problem with all these Michelins is the thin paper which means your map will fall apart if you use it too much. These nitpickings apart, the 741 remains the definitive map for the Sahara and West Africa, offering a quick way of getting to know this huge region.

Adrar, Mauritania
Scale 1:600,000 2015, €10
Third edition of a hand drawn map from the Bab Sahara auberge in Atar. Probably not good enough to navigate with by itself (no long/lat grid) but presumably uses local knowledge and so gives a useful and more up to date ‘big picture’ than anything from IGN. The IGN’s old 200k series would fill in the gaps.

Babmap

Moroccan French 250k
Scale 1:250,000 Early 1960s? Click here.

Institute Geographique Nationale (IGN)
Scales 1m; 1:500,000; 1:200,000
Early 1960s to mid-1970s. €8
Yes they’re old but the one million IGNs are to general purpose desert navigation with GPS what the 741 is to planning. They are great maps but only cover the former French African colonies as well as the western reaches of Libya (up to 12E). Readability from 1964 up to the last sheets in 1975 is very good. The few 1961 sheets covering ever-overlooked Mauritania are a little basic by comparison.

The advent of GPS brought up a few errors with the: mountains misplaced by a few kilometres – but overall the detail and accuracy is outstanding as subsequent satellite imagery has proved. Changes in roads are best cross-referenced on a 741 or Google, and don’t expect all the marked wells to have been maintained over the decades while new ones will have appeared. Particularly in the more populous Sahel, the position of tracks and other man-made features may have altered over the last few decades. Excepting parts of Libya and all of Egypt, these excellent maps are ideal for the basic level of exploration and travel that Sahara Overland used to represent. For Morocco there are far better maps; for Mauritania too.

Coverage of 1:500,000 IGNs was always patchy, these days are hard to find and not really worth the bother. For some odd reason detail is cut off at country boundaries, even adjacent former French ones, though of course you’d assume the extra detail makes thse the best scale of all for piste driving.
Half millions are not available at the Espace IGN Cartothèque in Paris but they are to be found as bootleg digitals (Algeria only, as far as I know.)

Just about all the original 1:200,000s have been sold or returned to the relevant countries. Theoretically still available from the relevant ministries in Algeria, Niger and Mali, their ‘strategic’ scale makes obtaining them a hit-and-miss affair.
Nevertheless, when you can find them, the colour originals are real works of map art, especially in mixed dune and rocky terrain. They are the finest maps of the Sahara ever made, obliterating the more recent Soviet equivalents at the same scale which were only based on aerial or satellite photography. IGN’s were checked on the ground too, and it shows. Black-and-white copies of the full set were available from the IGN Cartothèque in Paris at around 7 euro each – you’re much better off with colour scans sold or available in digital format. Some avoid the copyright issue by not crediting the maps as IGNs.

The biggest drawback with the 200,000s is that there are no- or limited grid lines across the face of the map and each degree is only marked in 10-minute increments along the borders. If you look closely there are actually faint crosses also at ten minute intervals on the map face, so it’s possible to mark your own grid – but draw from cross to cross and not straight across, even though, given their UTM projection, lines are almost straight.

For a serious mission you can print off the digital scans into an A4 map booklet (left) but you’ll need to mess about a bit to correct the print size so as to reflect the original 200k scale.
Price for paper 1 mils is around €9 in Paris. 1:500,000 and 1:200,000 sheets about the same or all free to download here.

IGN country maps
IGN also produced a modern series of country maps in the Sahara including Chad, Egypt, Mali, Morocco, Mauritania (1993!), Niger and Tunisia with scales ranging from one- to 2.5 million. Easily available in Europe, they’re probably far inferior to more recent RK-H maps. ‘Chad’ has no grid lines for example. I spotted the hard-to-find 500k Air Massif (pictured right) at Agadez airport  years ago for 12 euros – an especially handy map for camelling or trekking in the region, were you be able to get there.

maphogar

Reise Know-How series
For the 1:1m scale Morocco map see here. About £9 or €9.
In 2011 RKH optimistically released a 1:200,000 map of the Hoggar around Tamanrasset in southern Algeria. Plastic and double-sided like all the rest, it covers a once commonly visited region for fly-in tours; namely the Atakor massif (Assekrem), and the so-called ‘Tassili-Hoggar’ region southeast of Tam – a fabulous area of outcrops, dunes and prehistoric engravings along the Tin Tarabine oued, the Youf Ehakit nearby, and the famed Taghera and El Ghessour outcrops just to the southwest.

rkhh-region

The extent (right) runs from 5°E to 6° 50’E and 21°N to 24°N, the southern tip of the Tefedest, with grid lines every 10 degrees – very nice. The image left shows a rough depiction. What few dune areas there are, are not depicted (as they are, vaguely, on the 1 million IGNs) and on close comparison with the ancient IGN 200,000s, it transpires RKH have merely copied many of the incompletely depicted routes shown on the 200s which were last updated in the 1960s, rather than researching and adding some of the regular tourist trails which have developed in the Taghera since that time, and are doubtless accurately recorded on countless GPS track logs. So the map is based on 50-year-old IGNs, rather than adding anything new; no great surprise there and not that important as most visitors will be led here anyway. And for 8 quid it’s a bit of a souvenir treat, anyway.
Sadly, the collapse of fly-in tourism to this specific area at around the time the map was probably commissioned, means they may not sell as many as they hoped. For those like me, it makes a great souvenir on which to plot and relate to various points visited over the years. The scale (1cm = 2km) is obviously a bit OTT for independent driving (were it possible), but it would work well while being led trekking around the region. You need a guide anyway to get to all the best spots. We used this map to plot our route up to Assekrem in Jan 2012 along unmarked trails.
The colouration and detail is too subtle by far. Some well-established pistes are missing, the Tefedest range seems to have a new pass halfway up, but the worse thing in the overpowering anaemia of this map – all the same pale washed-out tan tone with no discernible definition for the dominant ergs and a way too-large contour interval of 250m for the 1.200k scale – a map that clearly did not eat enough fruit and veg during its production. You do get a handy 1° grid (but no sub-calibration, like a TPC or IGN 1m). With the wealth of Algeria know-how in Germany, this map is a missed opportunity. 
Review copy of this map supplied by The Map Shop.

mapRKHalg

The double-sided RK-H Algeria 1:1.7m scale map is dated 2010 and as expected has the usual flaws which are seeing paper maps lose out against digital user-supported OSMs and the like. Is it because they print thousands at a time but make few easily researched corrections during reprints? Who knows.
Best thing of course is the tough plastic paper printed on both sides which makes it compact but at a still nearly useful scale. In the south which I know better, some so-called ‘secondary roads’, like Djanet to Libyan border (below right; actually a national road so should be red) are now sealed.
It’s also a shame they don’t depict sand seas any differently than a plateau or any other type of adjacent relief; it would make the map so much more readable.
And although there’s a grid, the vague orientation of pistes along with the small scale wouldn’t make this map actually useful for navigating off-road; a 1m IGN nearly as old as me would be much better. One fringe benefit is that you get a useful map of Tunisia.

Sahara – International Travel Map (ITM)
Scale ~ 1:3.4m – 2016
Despite being double-sided and on plastic paper (like an RK-H) the original ITM Sahara map was a failed attempt to outdo the long-established Michelin 741. In 2016 they had another go and on the ITM website you can view a pretty big scan (left) of either side.
At a glance all looks good, with a pleasing muted relief. But look closer and soon the errors and sloppiness jump out. First off is the odd use of light greeny-blue to show a level of elevation between green and browny-orange, giving the mistaken impression of huge lakes. And the only way of spotting sand seas the size of small countries is from a label, not shading, which is much less usefully used to depict ‘national parks’. We all know what an NP indicates in the Sahara.
The map also cut-offs at the edges; coverage has been dictated by an immutable scale and available paper size. So the 800km from Dakhla to Nouakchott (the main Sahara crossing) are missing, as is the Nile east of Wadi Halfa. Had they picked a slightly larger scale – say 4 million – it would all fitted, but perhaps Michelin own that scale size.
Morocco and all of Western Sahara are shown as one big country, giving you the impression that the Berm is a dream and you can roll into the PFZ without getting apprehended by the Moroccan army, far less caught in a mine field. You wonder if ITM just asked the Moroccans for a country map and they happily sent one, grinning from ear to ear. A ‘Chinguetti’ pops up east of Zug in the PFZ.

Roads are as good as can be expected, notwithstanding detail and orientations that are 30 years out of date in places and the hierarchy is all mixed up. You will also find total cobblers such as ‘Area of extremely high and permeative sand dunes roads usually impassable [sic]’ on the sealed road across the flat sand sheet to Zouerat – hundreds of miles from any erg matching that description. Like Chinguetti, Ain ben Tili gets shown twice, in case you miss one.
In northern Mali the map is mismatched east of the prime meridian and nearby, Bordj Moktar in Algeria is misplaced. The T-SH to In Guezzam was sealed decades ago, but there is no such road continuing to Arlit yet, though it’s all the same here. Bordj el Haous and Zaoutallaz (same place; two names) are shown as different places miles apart (the road here is confusing, too). And newsflash: Hassi Messaoud is now a village, not Algeria’s Houston.
On it goes eastwards, with random inconsistencies and ludicrous errors. Stick with a 741.

Gizi’s Algeria sheet
1.2.5m, 2012
The 2006 edition of this map had a 1° grid and was not bad at all. A new edition came out in 2012. Usefully, all have place names in Arabic but the paper is old-fashioned thick and glossy which you feel won’t last if used too much, and I found the colouration of the relief a bit over the top (the terrain, dunes, reg, were not well depicted).
Gizi also did a Libya map at 1:1.75. as well as Mauritania (2009; 1:1.25m) and Mali (1:1.2m, 2010).

Soviet World Series
Scales 1 million
1:500k; 1:200k
From the early 1970s to mid-1980s
The Soviet Union produced a range of topographic maps covering the world at the above scales, making them the only ones to cover Libya, where they matched IGN’s earlier efforts to the west but at a lower quality.
Drawbacks include the Cyrillic (Russian) text, two-colour printing and worse still, representing dunes as a series of still more orange contours rather than with colour and shade as with IGNs. Some sources sold black-and-white copies which made them even harder to read. Nevertheless, they’re the best there was for Libya, with the half million originals noticeably easier to read than the one millions, and now all downloadable for free if you know where to look or who to ask.

‘Geo referenced’ versions are also available but I’m not sure what this means – calibrated? They were saved as a .map file which I couldn’t open. With reduced copyright restrictions, enterprising individuals and organisations like Quo Vadis (later, Touratech QV) scanned the entire Russian series to sell. All of Africa at 1:500,000 would cost over £1500 in paper but could be bought from Touratech for around 100 euros. This may sound a bargain but would still require printing off several sheets of paper and joining them together to make one complete sheet. assuming you want that.
If buying these maps on paper, always go for the semi-colour originals if you can and expect to spend an evening familiarising yourself with place names and the Russian alphabet plus writing the translations onto the maps, where necessary. The TTQV CD maps featured overprinted names of major towns in Roman alphabet and incorporated GPS plotting software for PCs – another story.
Now free on the internet if you dig around.

onc-tpc

US Defence Mapping Agency
Operational Navigation Charts (ONC) 1:1m
Tactical Pilotage Charts (TPC) 1:500,000
Produced in the 1960s and 70s and revised in the late 1980s, while they are of a seemingly useful scale, widely sold as ‘Sahara maps’ and open out to the size of a small bed sheet, ONCs and TPCs are pilots’ maps and much over-rated for terrestrial use.
Differentiation of relief and surface type is poor and, in the Sahara at least, no attempt is made to distinguish between a mule track or a six lane motorway with regular rest areas. Settlements, where they appear, are rated chiefly by their airport and radio facilities. Terrain differentiation is not so clearly depicted and well information is particularly hit-and-miss: some wells I’ve used are missing while others which are marked may no longer exist.

Despite all that, one sheet I grew fond of in the good years is the TPC H-3D (above) and the ONC H3 in west Libya was surprisingly accurate on tracks. They’re all best used as back-ups to other maps, ideally IGNs. ONCs and TPCs maps also show the UTM grid overprinted in blue, as well as lines of magnetic variation which are also irrelevant with a GPS’s built-in true-north pointing compass.
Being flyers’ maps, they’re pretty hot on maximum elevations in given grid squares – little use on the ground. However, as with the Russian maps, an evening’s close scrutiny sorting out which track might be yours can be profitable. In some instances the ONC or TPC will give an absolutely accurate orientation of a track (Route L1 being a case to point), but most of the time they’re confusing and need to be made sense of with another definitive map or Google Earth on zoom.
Good things about ONCs and TPCs is that each grid line across the map has an incremental scale of one minute making accurate position-marking very easy. The size can be awkward, but the half-million TPCs, make useful ‘master maps’ to mark up and plot your own routes over a large area. They’re certainly not much use for actual desert navigation compared to the Russian and French alternatives. I’m told in the UK TPC/ONC have been phased so availability will be increasingly bad.
See what you can download here for free (not all listed last time I checked).

British MoD
Scale 1:2 million
Late 1960s
Though a red herring and hard to find, at 1:2 million these maps cover the same area as an ONC but at half the size and without the aeronautical overlay.
On the piste they’re little use, with detail in ‘non-formerly-British’ regions much patchier than Sheet 9, ‘Dakhla Oasis’ (Libyan Desert; below). Here the Brits’ intimate knowledge of the region dating back to the Bagnold era is evident with heart-warming detail totally absent further west: ‘Soft ground’, ‘Dunes difficult to cross’, ‘Soft clays, Wellingtons advisable’. It even describes the Darb el Arbain caravan route coming up for Sudan (the ‘Forty Days Road’) as ‘Camel route, 1 mile wide marked with camel bones’. Now you know. Great great detail and cartography but for Sahara map collectors only.

mappers

Survey of Egypt
Scale 1:500,000
Mid-1930s to mid-1970s
These maps were originally drawn for the Survey of Egypt in the 1930s by Clayton, with a few details added by Bagnold and Almasy, and may still be in print in Egypt. The relevant sheets for the Western and Libyan Deserts are ‘Siwa’, ‘Farafra’, ‘Dakhla’ ,’Uweinat‘ (biggish file, below), ‘Qena’ and ‘Aswan’.
The unavailable Uweinat sheet dates from 1942 is very good, with neat contour colours and good accuracy. The Dakhla sheet has inferior printing and the newer editions get progressively worse. In this region you’re better off with Russian maps (see above) and maybe a TPC H4-C for back-up and marking.