A short flight from Europe, there’s a country that just about offers it all but where you’ll struggle to spot a foreign tourist. Perhaps not for much longer.
With a warm Mediterranean sea in summer, great winter skiing, vast Saharan deserts, towering Roman ruins and prehistoric art of global renown alongside an intriguing modern Arab culture, Algeria should be a top travel destination.
Algeria’s ready to become “the alternative destination for the Mediterranean,” said Abdelkader Gouti, an adviser to the Tourism Ministry. “It’s a real industry that generates a lot of wealth in terms of currency and jobs. Algeria cannot afford the luxury of remaining on the sidelines.”
In going after vacationers, the government is following the lead taken last year by Saudi Arabia, which issued its first tourist visas as part of an economic overhaul to help wean it off its hydrocarbon addiction.
Closing the gap
Algeria has recorded between 2.5 million and 3.5 million annual tourist visits in recent years, although the vast majority were by Algerians living abroad, Gouti said in an interview. By contrast, more than 13 million people visited Morocco last year.
Closing the gap won’t be easy. Algeria has been luring international travellers since the 1920s with its oases, mountains and buzzing cities.
Providing at least some of the services that foreign tourists expect will be a challenge for Algeria’s leadership.
“Improving the visa regime represents a positive step,” said Anthony Skinner at Verisk Maplecroft, a UK-based risk consultancy. But “authorities will also have to engage in a robust PR campaign to challenge rival, long-established Mediterranean destinations.”
Gouti said “cheap mass tourism” isn’t the answer, and Algeria will target wealthier visitors and adventure holidays.
All the same, he cited plans to expand the port in the capital, Algiers, for hosting cruise-ships, and develop at least one resort on its lengthy Mediterranean coastline.
The goal is 5 million annual tourists by 2025, half the capacity of a much-touted new terminal at Algiers’ airport that opened last year.
What does Algeria offer?
Perched over a deep ravine, the so-called ‘City of Bridges’ is one of Algeria’s iconic sights, with a selection of Ottoman-era homes and mosques.
Algiers and Oran
Overlooking the Mediterranean, the country’s two largest cities are places of grand boulevards and maze-like old quarters that rival anything in neighbouring Morocco.
Timgad and Djemila
Some of North Africa’s best-preserved Roman ruins lie in the mountains just outside Algiers. Both date from the 1st century AD, are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and sport the remains of theatres, temples and homes
This southeastern national park has some of the world’s most important prehistoric art. The 15,000-plus engravings found on this plateau bordering Libya, Nigeria and Mali include depictions of crocodiles, antelopes and hunters, some dating from 6,000 BC.
Algeria’s most popular ski resort sits among cedar forests in the Atlas Mountains, about 40 miles south of the capital.