Don’t go to Algeria

You might not want to leave…

Lire cet article en Français

Here is the second video of my Don’t go to web series and this time, I want to help you discover Algeria. Located in the North of Africa, the biggest country of the continent has a great touristic potential but has unfortunately suffered from many years of terrorism and it seems there is no political commitment to actually take advantage of that potential. The touristic visa is expensive, quite hard to get and most of the interesting places are not well preserved and showcased. However, this has two main positive consequences: there are not many tourists and Algerians are still genuinly welcoming and happy to see foreigners. So if you’re looking for a human experience, it is probably one of the best destinations in the world (and I choose my words carefully, remember that I’ve visited quite a few countries where people have a warm and welcoming reputation). 

Algeria is just a big desert

View from Chréa ski resort

I’m not going to lie to you, most of the country consists of desertic areas. However, Algeria offers a great diversity of landscapes and climates.
In fact, perhaps accounting for one-quarter of Algeria, the kind of sandy landscape makes up a significant part of the Sahara. However, even the desert has different landscapes, such as areas of wide rocky plains, gorges, ancient river valleys and mountains !
In the North, you’ll find a warm mediterranean climate, lush pastures and snowy mountains in the winter. During my stay I have discovered the ski resort of Chréa, and green plains between Alger and Oran. 

Algerian landscapes are not worth seeing

Now that you know Algeria offers a lot of different landscapes, I have to add: they are worth seeing!
I have been to many amazing countries in terms of landscapes and trust me, Algeria is still one of the most scenic of all!

Vallée d'Iherir dans le Tassili n'AjjerValley of Iherir in the Tassili n’Ajjer 

Algeria has a poor history 

While most people know the sentence above is nonsense, it doesn’t mean they don’t underestimate the wealth of the Algerian historical heritage and its many archaeological wonders. 
For instance, I had the chance to visit Tipasa and discovered its ancient ruins showing Punic, Roman, Christian and African influences, all reunited on the same site close to the Mediterranean sea.
I was really disappointed to see the site covered with waste. And unfortunately, this is pretty mainstream in Algeria.
The ancient history is very interesting and full of vestiges, like Timgad, Djemila, Tiddis… However the recent history is also very rich, with the Ottomane regency, the colonisation, spanish occupation… Everybody should find its own interest in Algerian history !

Ruines de TipazaRuins of Tipaza

Algerian architecture is ugly

Of course, you’ll find buildings and monuments to contradict this sentence. But I have to be totally honest, I don’t think architecture is the main asset of the country. It is interesting because it reflects the recent history of the country as it is a melting pot of foreign influences: Ottoman, French, Spanish, Arabic… However, I haven’t seen that many gorgeous buildings but maybe I’m behaving like a spoilt child because I live in France and I have been to a few countries famous for their architecture. So for those of you who really enjoy architecture, but for its aesthetic value, don’t expect too much. I wouldn’t want you to be disappointed.

Basilique Notre-Dame d'Afrique à Alger
Basilica of “Notre-Dame d’Afrique” in Alger, built by Jean-Eugène Fromageau in 1872
La grande Poste d'Alger, construite en 1910 par Jules Voinot et Marius Toudoire
The “Grande Poste” of Alger, built in 1910 by Jules Voinot and Marius Toudoire

However, Ibn Badis mosque in Oran, which was finished in 2015, proves that Algeria has the capacity to make gorgeous modern buildings. 

Ibn Badis mosque, Oran

Algerians are undereducated 

Whatever political opinion you might have on the president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, I really have to highlight the efforts made by  Bouteflika in the fight against illiteracy.  The Government’s strategy was launched in 2007 to eradicate this scourge as soon as possible. As a consequence, the rate of literacy has rised to 85%, which makes Algeria the most literate country in Maghreb.
Furthermore, let me remind you that a great number of Algerians speak at least 2 or 3 languages (Arabic, Berber and French), which is not really the case in France…

Algeria has no gastronomy  

Of course I don’t think there are so many people who think that Algeria has no grastonomy, but it doesn’t mean they don’t underestimate its diversity. Indeed Algerian food is a real melting pot of cultures and trade, modelled on its heritage.
Along the Mediterranean, Algeria was a key agricultural and trade region for the Phoenicians, Romans, Turks, Arabs, Spaniards and French. Clearly the Algerian gastronomy reflects all these influences.
For exemple the Berber influence on Algerian cuisine is clearly seen in their use of stews, lamb, vegetables, grains and dried fruits. The Turks and Arabs have added spice to the mix as well as a variety of delicious pastries. French cuisine has contributed greatly to Algerian dishes with the use of tomato puree as well as in their aperitifs and sweets.
Algeria’s national dish is Couscous, which is steamed and then served with meat, vegetables and sauce.
The food is flavorful and can he spicy hot. Commonly used spices are saffron, ginger, garlic cumin, mint and parley.

Algeria is not safe   

This is quite a common idea, and beleive me I had to face the anxiety of my friends and family when I told them I was going to Algeria. 
Even if this opinion is a bit justified, it needs to be nuanced. While it is true that Algeria had a serious security problem during the 1990s and the beginning of 2000 in terms of terrorism (and some recents dramatics incidents like the assassinations of Yann Desjeux and Hervé Gourdel in 2013 and 2014), a great part of those problems have been dealt with successfully. 
Thanks to many surveillance systems (searches, roadblocks…) and the action of the army the terrorist groups still operating in the country are now limited in terms of numbers and resources. 
However it is recommended not to travel in the “red zones” (Kabylie, on the south of the country) without a trusted guide. Still this kind of cautiousness is needed in a lot of very touristic country, and the best answer/reaction to terrorism is surely to keep travelling respectfuly, to meet people and to share experience, without beeing unconscious or paranoic. 

Algerians don’t like western people   

One might think of some bitterness, because of the colonisation. It may be true for some people, but to be honest this is not what I experienced there!
All the Algerians I met along the way were happy to share, and to see that we were visiting their country, of which they are so proud. We all know the slogan “1, 2, 3 ! Viva l’Algérie !”, well let me tell you that “Soyez les bienvenus !” (“You are welcome!”) is also a very popular one!