15th April 2015
Head of Group Tour Operations Jane has just returned from leading our Algerian Colours group tour and talks below about what it's like to visit this North African country.
Algeria is little visited by tourists in North Africa which is surprising given the diversity of the landscape and the architectural gems on offer. The recent history has created a negative perception of the country with the civil war ending only in 2002 and since then there have been overtones of political instability and social unrest. Today the country is one of the top ten oil and natural gas producers in the world and the Government is happy to sit back and celebrate this good fortune. Whilst the infrastructure is improving, with 70% of the 40 million population under the age of 30 there are issues with education resources and also large unemployment. It does however have a feel of a phoenix rising from the ashes and a new country being born – although this will take time!
This was my third visit to Algeria since 2010 and I have to say that the major draw for me is the warmth, hospitality and genuine welcome afforded to foreigners of whom there are few. In many respects I can’t understand why. Once you have surmounted the hurdles of obtaining a visa there is little to stop you having an amazing experience visiting the cosmopolitan cities with a plethora of palaces, mosques, forts and casbahs dating back throughout the centuries, not to mention the abundance of ancient Roman sites and the vast tract of the Sahara desert.
Whilst there are hotels the tourist infrastructure and understanding of the foreign visitor is limited as the Algerians have had so little practice and the Government isn’t interested in changing this outlook in the near future. The most frustrating element of the country is the red tape and abundance of ‘uniformed officialdom’ hampering the freedom of movement for the tourists. Police escorts are mandatory as a sign of respect and to ensure that no harm comes to the visitor. They are pleasant individuals doing their jobs and often the plain clothes police accompanying you around the towns are interested in chatting with you and want to have a positive interaction with a foreign visitor to their country – a real treat which reduces the boredom of their role. In reality the police escorts between towns can result in delays of movement as a series of ‘paper permissions’ need to be issued to cross the various ‘vilayas’ or states within the country. If you have the patience then you will be duly rewarded with a wonderful experience.
This is very much a developing country and one that you should consider visiting before the secret is out and it all changes!