January 2019 • Two weeks* • Starts/ends Marseille • £2799
Updated February 2018 with refinements and clarifications to follow
Algeria – are you serious?
Yes I am. As things stand the areas we visit are safe from a security point of view. If you’re not convinced then this tour may not be for you. And if you’re aroused by the idea of visiting what you perceive to be a dangerous country, again this tour may disappoint you.
What am I paying for exactly?
All food and bottled water, fuel and lodgings in Africa. Algerian tour agency visa services and border-to-border escort. Assistance and guidance with UK visa invitations and applications. Third Party motor insurance in Tunisia and Algeria. A shared, twin-berth exterior cabin both ways on the Mediterranean ferry. Guiding, support and assistance for whatever problems may occur. This is a recce tour – the first of its kind – there may be problems.
What is not included?
Getting to and from Marseille. Meals on the Tunis ferry. Cost of Algerian visa (currently £85). Optional visa application and collection service in London (£30). Alcoholic beverages where available in Africa (rare). Souvenirs. Travel insurance. Speeding fines. Bike repairs and recovery, if necessary.
So what will the tour cost me in total?
The tour price plus getting to and from Marseille (a van delivery option may be offered) and travel insurance, plus whatever you can manage to buy in Africa. So call that at least £3000.
Do I need travel insurance?
Yes. And it needs to cover you for riding on the road in these countries. If you have trouble finding such insurance I can give you some suggestions.
What’s all this about police escorts?
Since 2003 Algeria requires a travel agency representative carrying an ordre du mission to travel with tourists groups from border to border, either with them in their car or in their own vehicle, as is our case. Similar regs exist in parts of other Sahara countries. These escorts of ‘guides’ can help ease our passage through checkpoints.
In addition a more recent law to help assure foreign business investors, requires a gendarmerie escort to accompany foreign vehicles. These escorts require change-overs from district to district which can slow things down, but recent reports on our route have found them to work smoothly and that on some stages further south, they may be dropped. The green-and-white gendarmerie vehicles trounce all before them and can shoot through any checkpoint on blue lights.
Is this tour for me?
It is if you’ve a few years experience riding motorcycles abroad and are looking for something different; if you’ve travelled in Muslim countries, and if you’re prepared to endure the delays, heat, cold, dust, shabby refuse collection services, dodgy plumbing, cavalier hygiene attitudes, wayward driving and other issues common to travel and life in North Africa.
Are there any restrictions?
You must have held a motorcycle licence for at least 5 years and be in good health.
For older riders doctor’s notes may be requested to ensure the latter.
What sort of motorcycles are suitable?
Well there’s a question. Knowing what lies ahead I’d be happy to ride this tour on anything from a smooth Honda CB500X, a cushy Sertao or some of the bigger BMW twins, a Suzuki V-Strom 650, Triumph Tiger and so on. Some of your quarter-ton, continent-mashing hyperadvs or less comfy, dirt-oriented machines may be wasted on this tour, but if your bike can cruise comfortably at 60+, steer, brake, run economically and handle some gravel and sand, it will do the job.
Why sort of bike repair services are there out there?
For what you’re probably riding, none bar plugging a flat which you ought to be able to do yourself anyway. So your machine wants to be in good shape.
I’m worried about my cat; how’s the fuel?
In Tunisia unleaded is widely found. In Algeria not every outback servo may have unleaded (‘sans plomb’). In my experience modern efi bike and a typical catalyser can handle a tank of unleaded once in a while.
Do I need special tyres?
Some may see this tour as an excuse to fit cool-looking TKCs. Big mistake; remember you have to ride back across wintertime France. I prefer riding on the less aggressive spectrum of what I call, do-it-all adventure tyres. These will work fine on the road, wet or dry, easily last the tour if fitted new to whateveer you got, and will provide a reassjuring bite on the short, unsealed sections. But even here a regular Touramnce-type road tyre will be OK providing you ride smoothly.
Is the tour suitable for pillions?
Not this time. Maybe next.
What is the riding like?
Getting clear of Tunis port is a bit stressful so keep close or get left behind! It’s only a short ride to a hotel and I always stop at junctions to wait for the group to catch up. Next day we’re on a motorway then backroads where you must anticipate donkeys, old bangers, a taxi overtaking a bus and zombie goats on roller-skates – it’s all happened! Down in the desert traffic thins out to next to nothing but sand can get blown over the road on elevated bends and like anywhere, switchbacks over passes and warning signs should be treated appropriately. Desert roads are often being repaired and get occasionally washed out, potholed and so on.
In Algeria days will be long but may be punctuated with delays at checkpoints while police escorts change over from one district to another. It will not be uninterrupted riding from one burger cafe to another like on Route 66, but the rewards and sights will be unique and worthwhile.
What are local driving standards like?
In the desert traffic is so light it’s not really an issue. In Tunisia other road users can get a little arsey if you impugn their masculinity by overtaking them; don’t be provoked. This is Africa so you must be ready for unpredictable manoeuvres, wandering pedestrians, contrary signalling and potholed roads. The best thing to do is ride at a speed that’s complementary with the local traffic, your bike’s abilities, road conditions and an understanding of the scant availability of medical support. Like anywhere, when overtaking be sure you have sufficient speed, power, space and visibility to do so safely.
Do I need to be experienced off-road?
No, but several years road biking will stand you in good stead. You need to know how to handle a bike on irregular roads. It will also stand you in good stead if you’ve done your own multi-day trips abroad on a bike, so you’re familiar with what and how little you need to pack.
Do we ride every day in Africa?
Yes, apart from an optional day off in Djanet.
What will a typical day be like?
We’ll get up, have breakfast, gear up, check water and fuel and ride off around 9am, stopping here or there for coffee, photos, repairs or rests. We pull in for a light lunch somewhere or make our own, then carry on as before, getting to our lodgings with daylight to spare. We will then repose or otherwise occupy ourselves until the evening meal, after which we are again free to do as we wish.
Note that the schedule can go to pieces for any number of reasons, requiring longer unplanned days, quick-stop lunches in roadside cafes, or unscheduled stopovers.
What will the weather be like?
Mid-winter in North Africa generally means clear skies and light daytime breezes. There will barely a cloud for days. Rain is exceeding unlikely, as are sand storms of any notable duration.
Will we see big dunes?
Will we see camels?
I’m not from the UK, or even the EU, is that a problem?
For this one I’m going to keep it simple with Brits only, but try me.
Is there a support vehicle?
Just the escort 4×4 which probably can’t carry a big, heavy bike.
What gear do I need to bring?
You just what you’d take on a regular touring holiday with the means to carry it: clothes, gadgets, bike tools, puncture repair kits and so on. To jog your memory a fuller list of recommended gear is supplied as the tour fills up. Not this will need to include camping gear for two nights, but a tent is not essential.
What should I wear?
Same as above, bearing in mind your possible mid-winter ride to Marseille.
What’s the accommodation like?
A mixture of desert tourist lodges and business hotels with en-suite rooms which are shared by two. The plumbing may be ropey, the towels unfluffy and there may be no soap. Bring soap. Algeria is not Palm Springs; if you’re not prepared for some unplanned discomfort or inconvenience, this tour may not meet your needs. If you prefer your own room that can be arranged if available (almost always, as long as everyone doesn’t want one) but will cost an additional £20. This does not include your own berth on the ferry – also possible on booking.
I am a vegetarian or have other dietary requirements. Is that problem?
No, though you may get tired of omelettes by Day 5. If you’re gluten intolerant you need to take special care to avoid getting ill.
How about alcohol?
Beyond Tunisia, it’s not available. It’s best not to count on getting any.
What happens if my bike packs up?
If your bike becomes irreparable or smashed up, we will have to organise recovery at your expense. The agency guide will help with this.
Or if I am unable to ride?
Arrangements will be made for the recovery of you and your bike, as well as hospitalisation if necessary. This is where your travel insurance is essential.
What happens to our tour in the event of such a delay?
It’s happened elsewhere and the entire group became involved in the recovery and accepted it as part of the experience.
Can I leave the tour at any time?
In Algeria, no – we must remain with our escorts at all times – alone you will not get beyond the first checkpoint. In Tunisia you can make your own way back if you wish, but there are no refunds if you do this.
Do I need any inoculations?
What happens if I get the runs
In my experience this usually occurs in more touristy restaurants where food isn’t prepared freshly or is re-used. We avoid such places where possible, and even then, it’s not usually bad enough to affect your riding, so just keep drinking, keep riding, keep taking the blockers and keep a toilet roll handy. I carry pharmaceutical rehydration sachets as well as Imodium-like ‘blockers’ which are also easily bought from local pharmacies.
Will my mobile work?
In more places than you think but coverage will fall away away from desert towns. Some find the local 3G or wi-fi didn’t work on their smart phones and others inadvertently leave their phones on roaming and get notified of a £100 bill soon on arrival. Sort your settings out.
Is there lightning-fast wi-fi at the lodgings?
In most places we stay or stop at there will wi-fi, but expect it to be intermittent or slow, especially if we all try and use it at once. Some mobiles seem to hook up better than laptops and tablets.
What is our route?
We ride from Tunis via Kairouan to Nefta. Next morning we cross the border and ride with our guide and escort to Touggourt, or Hassi Messaoud over numerous speed humps. From there we follow the N3 highway south through the desert via HbG, In Amenas, Illizi, Bordj and Djanet. Click the map left for full size; here it is in aerial view.
Do I need a GPS and a paper map?
Not really but a map is always illuminating. I recommend the RKH Algeria map (right). GPS units are supposedly illegal in Algeria and years ago I had one taken off me at Tunis (returned on the way back). For this reason it’s best to hide such gadgets at borders. This is a good digital map for your GPS.
Is ‘sahara-overland.com’ a registered tour company?
No, it’s just the name of my website. The booking form includes a disclaimer that you’re undertaking this tour at your own risk.
What guarantee do I have that you won’t just run off with my money?
None, but with my prominence on the Internet and in travel publishing this would be a short-sighted move.
When will I know if the tour is confirmed?
When there are at least four bookings. The booking status is here.
If I have to cancel late in the day can I get my deposit back?
Yes, as long as it’s before the balance has been paid. See the booking form for levels of refund once the balance has already been paid.
My question is not addressed here?
All the info that I can think of is on this pages which get updated from time to time. Please email me with other questions.
I’m up for it. What do I do next?
Email me and I’ll send you a booking form. Fill it out, send it back and make arrangements to pay the £799 deposit. If all is in order you’ll get a confirmation email, telling you when the balance of £2000 (plus other optional charges) is due. Please note, I reserve the right to decline your booking and return your deposit without reason. If the tour is cancelled by me (most likely due to security issues) your deposit and balance (where paid) will be refunded in full.