Natural Arches of Tassili National Park
Tassili National Park is located in the southeastern Algerian Sahara Desert. This area of desert plateaus and sand dune plains is called Tassili-n-Ajjer, which means "Creviced Plateau" in Tamahaq, the dialect of the Tuareg people living in Algeria.
The Tassili itself is uninhabited and consists of 80,000 square kilometers (twice the area of Switzerland). The Park is one of the largest national parks in the world. The area stretches to the border with Libya to the east and the border of Niger to the south. The landscape of the plateau features a myriad of impressive canyons and an incredible maze of stone forests running sometimes as far as the eye can see. The nearest town is Djanet (pronounced like "Jannette").
Created in 1972, the Park has been certified as a UNESCO Biosphere Preserve since 1986. This has placed the flora and fauna of this vast area under protection. The main objective of the Park is to protect neolithic archeological relics and the magnificent rock art dating back 8000 years. The rock art is in fact the primary reason that people visit this area, and the many natural arches have not been a focus. I hope to change that with these pages.
Access is regulated within Tassili National Park (TNP). There is a fee for an access permit. It is not permitted to travel alone far from the authorized areas of Illizi, Bordj-el-Haous, and Djanet Fadnoun. Visits to sites within the region must be arranged through a state-approved tour agency or a TNP conservationist.
Water resources in the arid Sahara region are very limited and they are vital for nomads, their livestock, for travellers, and for wild animals. It is not allowed to wash or swim in the gueltas (permanent water sources) or to camp near a water well. It is not recommended to drink the water in the gueltas, since the water is usually stagnant. Wildlife and donkeys drink this water. Even with water in Djanet, always use a disinfectant tablet. At least 150 liters of water is recommended for a 10-day trip.
The archeology and rock art in this region is a precious resource. It takes very little time to destroy millenia of history. It is not permitted to gather, hold, sell, or buy any archeologic object. It is not permitted to drill or dig. And it is not permitted to scratch, wet, damage, or deface any engraving or prehistoric drawing. Any new discovery should be reported to a TNP agent or approved tourist agency.
Hygiene and conservation are important. Always leave your bivouac place totally clean. Flatten your cans and remove them along with your rubbish, papers, and plactics. Take all rubbish to public rubbish dumps. Burn your toilet paper and bury the ashes.
TRIPS IN THE TASSILI
Trips that consist of climbing to the Tassili plateau (almost 500 to 600 meters), and then walking from one site to another for many hours and days, require good physical condition. Therefore, elderly or overweight persons or children are not recommended to participate in such trips.
To facilitate the work of the donkey drivers who look after your water, food, and baggage, put your personal effects in soft bags. Avoid using suitcases that may injure the donkeys, and do not carry breakable objects such as glass bottles. Be sure to bring comfortable and adequate foot gear, warm clothes in winter, sunscreen, and a personal water bottle. You must bring your camping equipment and personal food items in advance. In Djanet there are only some small and poor markets, which are closed on Friday. Djanet is not Moab! For more than three days, sleeping bag, tent and basic first aid kit is recommended. For three days or less, you can get by with lighter bivouacking equipment if you wish.
The trip duration and itinerary of site visits are worked out in advance with your chosen approved tourist agency. Once on the plateau, no changes can be made. From your departure until your return you will be guided by a TNP native conservationist agent. Trust his field experience, listen to his advice, and heed his instructions. The guide will determine the hours of departure and arrival, the itinerary, and the camping spots.
For your own safety, walk behind the guide and walk in groups. Avoid wandering away, as it is easy to become lost. Before climbing to the pass, the agent will inspect your permit and your photographic equipment. The agent has the right not to allow persons who do not have their permits or who are not physically able to make the trip. The success of your trip depends a lot on your discipline and organization, especially in difficult situations when the elements can be hostile.
There is no road or 4WD that climbs up to the Tassili top. There are three main passes to access the Plateau from Djanet: Tafilalet, Assakao, and Aroun. Only one (Assakao pass) can be climbed by dromedary. Donkeys can climb all three main passes, however. Most people take Tafilalet pass but another secondary pass exists (Salihohen) for the aventurous person. The author climbed this pass and arrived at the wonderful site of Tissouka´ after 24 hours hiking!! Tafilalet pass provides the shortest option to visit rock art and natural arches. In a three day trip you can visit Tamrit and Sefar area. The usual itinerary would be: day 1, Djanet to Tamrit; day 2, Tamrit to Sefar and back; day 3, Tamrit to Djanet. However, this is a very short trip and most of the time you will walk on trail with little time for exploration. If you wish to visit Jabbaren site it is preferable to go via Aroun pass separately. This is usually a two day trip from Djanet. It is possible to visit Jabbaren from Sefar site but it is a long 8 hour hike via Tin-Kani site one way accross the plateau (one day and half with bivouac).
The Sefar Sandstone occurs principally in the areas of Sefar, Tin-Aboteka, Tin-Tazarift, Unnamed Reef One, and Tissoukai. Sefar Sandstone has developed a long string of nice natural rock openings. Tamrit Sandstone is more fragile and has developed much fewer natural rock openings. The Tamrit Sandstone formation can be found in the areas of Tamrit, Tan-Zoumaitek, In-Itinen, Titeras-n-Elias, Tin-Kani, and Idou.
AUTHOR'S COMMENTS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
The author has tried to collect the most accurate data during his field trips, but some errors could remain. Please never forget that in this area you are in a very remote place in the heat of the Sahara Desert many miles from the town of Djanet. Also, keep in mind that it is very easy to get lost in the maze of rocks. Even if you have a GPS, always take a guide with you during your own exploration. In case of trouble, there is only one radio-telephone in the Sonatrach Camp at Tamrit but nowhere else on the plateau.
Please do not blame the author if you are not able to find an arch described here. This area is very hard to describe. Also, the author explored the vast Tassili N'ajjer Plateau area for a total of 117 days on 9 different trips using numerous different routes (plus an additional 29 days of jeeping around Tassili outskirts and Tadrart region). It is impossible in even three months to visit all the natural arches shown here as well as the numerous rock art and engraving sites. For the author this was a labor of love so the motivation was high. Photographing each arch under ideal conditions of lighting, etc., is a Herculean task. Sometimes the author returned twice to the same formation for better angle or picture. Ninety percent of the photos here were taken between the hours of 7 to 10 am and 4 to 7 pm, which are the best times for lighting in the winter months.
Natural arches on the top of the Tassili do not have official names. The author used names to help him memorize each formation, but these are not official names, just nicknames. Some arch names are from a word in the Tuareg dialect.
The best months for trekking in the area are October-November and February-March. It can be freezing in December or January and it is too hot from April to September.
For my first visit to the Tassili I arranged on site in Djanet a 10-day trip on the plateau with the Zeriba Agency, which is highly recommended. The daily cost for the trip was about $45, which included Mokhar (my 66-year old Tuareg guide), Mohamed (the donkey driver and fine cook), three burros, 150 liters of water, plus Tuareg food and a full bottle of gas. I got my permit in person from the Park office in Djanet. The oasis of Djanet is a very quiet place and the people give a very warm welcome to visitors.
After I had visited Tassili many times, my good friend Mohamed Touggui (nephew of chief guide Mohamed Bilali) opened a local agency in Djanet: Djarats Tours. We used Djarats Tours for a three-week exploration in the Meddak region and for five days of jeeping in October 2006. The logistics were excellent and everything went smoothly. Mohamed Touggui also organized the day trip to Tikoubaouine area for the 2006 NABS convention in Tassili.
The author warmly recommends Djarats Tours for any trip in the Tassili, for classic rock art tours as well as customized tours such as natural arch tours. Mohamed Touggui has participated in most of the Tassili trips of the author and knows the location of the arches. Donkey, dromedary, or jeep trips into Tassili with Djarats Tours each cost about 50 euros per day.
First Arch ALG-66