Algeria is filled with legendary landscapes from the perfectly preserved Roman ruins to the Sahara Desert. Here, you can take in sights that excite the eyes and enchant the soul. The country sits in the very north of Africa in the Maghreb Region.
As the continent’s largest country, Algeria is easily accessible from Europe. The diverse landscape gives travelers a little taste of everything as they travel from the Mediterranean to the Atlas Mountains and Sahara Desert. The ancient cities of Algiers and Constantine are major hotspots, as are Timgad and Djemila, which are the preserved Roman sites. The unique history of the country means that many cultures have left their mark to increase Algeria’s diversity and made it an enigma worth exploring.
Ya Marhaba – Welcome to Algeria
Algiers is the capital of Algeria and the largest city in the country. Here, the contrast between the past and present are strongly divided by the local geography. With modern architecture hugging the coast, the old part of the capital rests up the steep hillsides. A kasbah sits like a crown and overlooks the city’s impressive layout. With the Bay of Algiers, there are plenty of places to explore between the sea and sky.
Culture and Language
Due to its geographical location in Northern Africa, Algeria’s history and culture is a diverse mixture as people often used the region as an area of transit. As people moved between Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, the country was influenced by groups and empires like the Carthaginians, Vandals, and Romans. The Berber people also have a strong cultural history in Algeria, as their influence over all of Northern Africa is prominent.
In more modern history, the French began colonizing Algeria in the 19th century. While France wanted the territory as they fought with other European nations for the claim of land in Africa, they were ultimately unsuccessful. The rise of nationalism created the National Liberation Front who began their program of resistance.
The most famous depiction of the resistance was immortalized in the film, The Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, 1966), which highlight Italian neorealism in cinema. Since their independence, Algeria has worked hard to become stable. For 20 years, Abdelaziz Bouteflika was president but he was ultimately voted out in 2019. This current change within the government has started political protests as the transition between presidents begin. The current elected president is Abdelmadjid Tebboune.
With the various groups of people having left their stamp on Algerian history, the culture is diverse but predominantly Muslim. It is estimated that 99% of the population is Muslim, but the last 1% is a diverse blend of the country’s past. With the Berber and various ethnic groups, there are many subgroups that also influence the local culture.
The Berber culture is still reflected in the country today, as Tamazight (Berber) became a national language in 2002. Arabic is the other official language in the country and used by the government, media, and educational institutions. But Algerian Arabic is also popular and spoken by up to 80% of the population.
French is also a widely understood language due to the days of past colonialism and it is frequently taught as a secondary language in school. There are some streets signs that will also be translated in French, alongside Arabic.
English is not very popular in Algeria and it is estimated that only 5% of the population are even partially fluent. For many travelers, you cannot rely on the English language when traveling around Algeria. However, you are more likely to experience English within urban areas or major cosmopolitan centers.
For US citizens who are interested in visiting Algeria, you will need to obtain a tourist visa prior to your arrival in the country, unless you are arriving via a cruise ship. The Algerian Embassy can help you obtain a tourist visa for the duration of your trip. You should note that the tourist visa is quite expensive and will cost $160 US dollars. You will also need to provide a proof of income, health insurance, flight reservation, and accommodation reservations with your application. It is also required that you have an Invitation to the country from a government licensed tour agency.
US citizens should also be conscious about whether their passport contains any Israeli stamps. Algeria and Israel do not have a relationship. Israeli passport or visa holders will be refused entry into the country. If you have any Israeli stamps, you may find it more difficult to be granted a tourist visa for Algeria or may be automatically denied.
The validity of your tourist visa and its duration is given on the day it was stamped and approved. It is not the day that you enter the country. So, travelers need to be sure that they have planned their vacation and travel to the country within the correct time frame that their visa is valid. It can take up to 6 weeks to be approved for a tourist visa However, the validity should be long enough for your vacation and you may attempt to seek or request a one-time extension from the Ministry of Interior. If you overstay your visa, you will likely have to appear before a judge to be granted exit.
Other tourist visa requirements include a US passport with at least 6 months remaining validity. You need one blank page for your entry stamp. There are no vaccinations required for Algeria, but it is recommended that you are up to date on all boosters. The currency restriction for entry into Algeria requires that you declare any amount of money that is over 3,000 Algerian dinar or $1,000 Euros. You may not take Algerian dinars out of the country upon your exit.
The US Government has also placed a Level 2 Travel Advisory on Algeria, which suggests that you Exercise Increased Caution due to terrorism. Certain areas around the Eastern and Southern borders are unsafe, as well as specific areas in the Sahara Desert. Terrorist groups have a continued presence in the country and an attack could happen unexpectedly. It is highly suggested that you book a tour, find private travel, or travel by air. You should stay within tourist areas and always remain alert. The US Embassy’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) can keep you up to date with the current travel alerts for Algeria.
While the tourist visa is a hefty sum of money up front, you need to be prepared and plan your spending budget for the duration of your trip. Algeria is a country that you can travel on a limited budget or go for a luxury vacation. For most travelers, they will choose to hit the middle ground for safety and are likely going to spend large portions of their budget on good accommodation and safe transportation. But by planning ahead, you can save some money. The most important part of your budget will be the airfare, accommodation, food, drink, and transportation.
Once you’ve been issued a tourist visa, you will need to decide how to travel to Algeria. The majority of travelers will fly into Algeria, but there are some who arrive by cruise ship or cross over from Tunisia. It is important to know that all land borders with Morocco, Libya, Mauritania, and Mali are closed. The only open land border is with Tunisia.
As most people fly into Algeria, we will discuss the cost of airline tickets. The average cost of a flight from the United States to Algeria is $800 US dollars. However, you may find deals that lower the cost to about $550 US dollars. The cost of a flight can be more or less expensive based on factors like when you travel to Algeria and how far in advance you book your ticket.
The tourist high season runs from October to March. This is when the temperatures are cooler but mostly sunny. Summer is not a popular season and many tour operations will even shut down due to the intense heat, which can reach as high as 118 degrees Fahrenheit due to the Sahara Desert. You can also save money by booking your ticket in advance, as waiting to make a reservation will likely cause the price to increase.
Accommodation is another large portion of your spending budget because there are not the usual affordable options like hostels and guesthouses available in Algeria. Instead, you will have to stay at a hotel. A budget hotel will cost $28-$55 US dollars per night. Mid-range hotels will cost $65-$130 US dollars per night. While luxury accommodation will cost more than $200 US dollars per night. In big cities, Airbnb may be an option and many listings will cost $30-$80 US dollars per night.
The good news is that once you’ve decided where to stay for the duration of your trip, you get to connect with the local culture by eating the food. Food in Algeria is affordable, and you can eat many tasty dishes for budget prices. Algerian cuisine is known for their spices and love of meat, chicken, fish, grains, vegetables, and fruit for an all-around tasty diet.
Couscous is a staple within the country, which is also considered to be their national dish. Here, couscous is served in a variety of forms including with fruit or in stew. Jwaz is a slow cooked vegetable dish, which is more common in rural areas. Roasted lamb, which is called mechoui is also very popular and eaten during festivities. Mkartfa is a tomato pasta that is also served with meat and vegetables. Finally, ghrayef is Algeria’s take on pancakes and it is often served as breakfast or a snack.
No matter, what dish gets you drooling, you can try a variety of flavors for an affordable price. Street food is the most affordable with many dishes costing $5 US dollars or less. A two-course dinner at a local establishment will cost about $15 US dollars, while tourist hotspots and nicer restaurants will cost $25 US dollars for two courses. Fine dining locations can cost $65 US dollars or more.
For many travelers, drinking is also important, but it is more difficult to find alcohol in Algeria because it is a Muslim country. However, you are most likely going to find a small selection of alcoholic beverages in touristy areas, hotels, or fine dining establishments. Beers are the most common drinks and they cost less than $4 US dollars.
Overall, travelers on a lower budget should expect to spend about $75 US dollars per day in Algeria. A more moderate budget would have you spending $120 US dollars per day, while luxury vacations can cost hundreds of US dollars per day. As a traveler, you will have to determine which budget best fits your finances.
How to Get Around
As a large country, transportation in Algeria is another important part of your budget that you’ll have to consider. Algeria is not the easiest country to get around and safety is often a top priority. The most common ways to get around Algeria by air and road.
Domestic flights are the fastest way to get around the country and are deemed to be safe. However, it will add a large portion to your budget as flight costs range from $22-$170 US dollars per ticket.
The roadways are also in great condition in Algeria, but safety can be a major concern. Terrorists are known for faking checkpoints, acting as police, or creating roadblocks. For this reason, Algeria passed a law that made it illegal to travel alone in specific areas like the desert. For travelers, driving is sometimes the only way to get somewhere and to most tourist areas, it is safe.
But it is highly recommended that you hire a private driver. Some people do choose to drive themselves, but it can be downright dangerous, depending on your destination. Instead, it may be worth it to splurge and pay for a private vehicle and driver. Most drivers can be hired for $100-$150 US dollars per day. If you do choose to rent a car, you should expect to spend $45 US dollars per day on a rental.
In the north, there is a small network of trains that are also used. The trains are affordable and many longer rides that last through the night will cost about $10 US dollars. However, trains are only available in the north and are not located in the rest of the country. They are safe to use, but as with any public transportation, you should stay aware and alert of your surroundings.
Top Places to Visit: Cities
As such a large country, there are a lot of Algerian cities to explore. Here are the top city destinations in Algeria.
As the capital of Algeria, Algiers holds the country’s past, present, and future. Here is often the first place that tourists explore because they come into the international airport. With diverse architecture, culture, and entertainment, Algiers leave a tasteful introduction to this dynamic country.
The unique landscape around Atakor and the Plateau often brings tourists who are looking for an adventure. As a remote location, Atakor and the Ahaggar National Park are difficult to reach but are the best reward. At the end of the plateau, visitors are granted with an amazing view of the rugged peaks and harsh valleys.
Oran is often considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in Algeria and it is known for its seaside location. The stunning architecture only adds to the enchantment of the area and you can explore the mosques or kasbah. With plenty to do from partying in the streets to spending time in nature, Oran has the best all-around entertainment for tourists.
The Hippo Regius is what makes Annaba a popular tourist destination. Here, the ruins of the Hippo Regius are bordered by olive trees and the sea. But besides the stunning location, the ruins are also visited because of their mosaics, trophies, villas, and temples.
Located on dramatic cliffs, Constantine was once an important city for the Romans. The entrance is granted by a large bridge, which leads you to the ancient buildings. While this place is mostly known for its historical significance, there isn’t much else to do besides perusing the area. For this reason, most visitors spend only a few days in Constantine.
This Algerian city requires you to book a tour to enter, but once you have been accepted, you can explore the old streets, mosque, and local markets. With a cluster of 5 towns, Ghardaia is diverse and in some ways, it feels like a world of its own.
Points of Interest
Algeria is also filled with various points of interest that are hotspots for tourists. Here are some of the top points of interest in Algeria.
Tlemcen is well known for its Moorish architecture, as well as its modern advancements. Popular sites within the city include the Great Mosque and Eiffel Bridge. They are also working on constructing a large university campus. With a close proximity to the National Park of Tlemceen, the city is also a popular stopover point.
For the shopping tourists, El Oued is the place to go buy local crafts. Here it is extremely popular to purchase slippers and carpets. The local markets provide endless exploration, but you should come prepared to bargain with the local sellers. The town itself is like an oasis and has plenty of domed buildings, which protect against the intense summertime weather.
Djemila is Tunisia’s first well-preserved Roman sites, which his situated in the mountains. The small town is filled with temples, basilicas, houses, and arches. Tourists can easily spend half a day here, exploring the area. If you spend longer, you delve deep into the ancient Roman lifestyle while also enjoying the beautiful scenery.
Timgad is arguably one of Algeria’s most famous sites and one of the most well-preserved Roman sites in the world. Here you can pay to enter the town and explore the historic roads, building remnants, and rows. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Timgad is very popular and frequently filled with tourists.
With a history of the Vandals, Byzantines, and Ottoman Empire, this is a popular tourist attraction due to its history and beautiful landscape. On the Mediterranean Coastline, Bejaia is also famous for its Spanish fortress. Monkey Peak is so named for the endangered Barbary Macaque monkey, which lives in the area.
Get Out and Go
With a rich history and unending beauty, it is understandable why Algeria is a top travel destination. While the countries politics have caused hesitation in some, those who do travel to this country’s borders are welcomed with open arms. Here, you can celebrate the diversity of the past and embrace a new culture. With its unique charm, Algeria will be an unforgettable adventure.