This UNESCO World Heritage site covers an area of about 80,000 sq km. Tassili N’Ajjer means ‘Plateau of Chasms’; and the chasms, canyons and stone forests of this strange, prehistoric landscape, formed by thousand of years of volcanic activity and erosion, are home to a dramatic open-air art exhibition. Imprinted in hidden caves and on rock faces are some 15,000 rock paintings that tell the story of the evolution of human and animal life in this part of the Sahara.
They recall times when the Sahara was green and fertile; when men hunted in the valleys and lion, elephant, antelope and buffalo roamed the plains. They also attest to the more ‘recent’ history of the Sahara and you’ll see illus- trations of horses, chariots and dromedar- ies. It’s thought that the first human beings settled here more than two million years ago and that the Tassili rock paintings date back as far as 7000 or 6000 BC. For in-depth in- formation on Algeria’s rock art.
The existence of such paintings would be reason enough to visit, but the surround- ing landscape makes a stay here even more incredible. The majority of the paintings are up on a plateau, some 600m above Djanet, and can only be reached on foot – it’s a four- hour climb to the top, scrambling up rock faces and through narrow, shady canyons.
You are not allowed to enter the area with- out an official guide. Treks up to the Tas- sili N’Ajjer plateau are the mainstay of the travel agencies in Djanet so once there it should be possible to arrange a trip heading out within days, for which you’ll usually be accompanied by a guide, a herder, and sev- eral pack animals to carry your bags, food, water and cooking equipment.
The Tassili N’Ajjer plateau is accessed via one of two very steep passes, which can only be traversed on foot. The most common starting point for trips onto the plateau is Akba Tafilalet, 12km east of Djanet. You’re likely to be driven out at an ungodly hour of the morning to this pass where you’ll be met by your pack animals. From here, the climb to the top of the plateau, through a series of steep slopes and gorges, takes two to three hours, and once you reach the top it’s another two hours to Tamrit, the first camping spot.
The best time to go to the park is Novem- ber to April as this is the coolest time of year. From May to September the daytime tem- peratures can prove to be uncomfortably hot and can get as high as 40°C. Bear in mind that during the winter it can be freezing up on the plateau at night. Take plenty of warm clothes and a suitable sleeping bag.
This is not a national park in the tradi- tional sense; you won’t come across park wardens and there is no official entry gate but it is a nationally protected area and you must act accordingly. The rock paintings are very fragile. Don’t use a flash when pho- tographing them and never wet the paint.
Sights & Activities
Tamrit is the first sight you’ll see when you reach the top of the plateau – a vast mass of weathered, sand-covered stone and conical towers. It’s also home to the Valley of the Cy- presses. The trees are thousands of years old and you’ll find a handful of these knotted giants spread out along a surprisingly green valley. Tamrit has plenty of good camping spots and is usually the base for the first day or so of exploration on the plateau.
There are a number of sights of interest here. About one hour’s walk north of Tam- rit is Tan Zoumaitek – the highlight of which is a large fresco painted in ochre and white featuring a number of beautifully fluid scenes. You’ll see distinctive, round-headed figures, including a mother and child, and a couple of jewel-draped, tattooed women who appear to be on the point of dancing; also interesting are a long-horned mouflon and a curious circular creature that’s remi- niscent of a jellyfish. An hour’s walk to the east from Tamrit is Timenzouzine – where you’ll find an impressive elephant, engraved on a flat slab on the ground, complete with stepladder for getting a better view.
The next major site on from Tamrit is Sefar, some 12km or about a four-hour walk away. It’s a tough but spectacular hike through av-enues of stone pillars. Sefar has some of the most famous paintings in the park, repre- senting a number of different periods. You’ll see battle scenes, archers, antelope, giraffes, masks and, most famously, the Great God of Sefar – a devilish-looking horned figure, rising high above the others.
A good two days’ walk 30km south of Sefar is Jabbaren, perhaps the most famous sight of all, which features thousands of paintings carried out by successive civili- sations, including graceful cattle, horned goddesses, hippopotamuses, dancers and round-headed figures.
In three days you could go up the Akba Tafilalet pass and get to see Tamrit, Tan Zoumaitek and Timenzouzine; four or five days and you could make it to Sefar and back. To reach Jabbaren you would need to do a circular seven-day trek – taking in the aforementioned sights, walking another serious two days to Jabbaren, then descend- ing at Akba Aghoum pass, south of the entry point at Akba Tafilalet. Jabbaren can also be reached via the Aghoum Pass, on a back- breaking one-day tour involving a steep and punishing climb starting at the break of dawn to see the paintings and descend- ing again before dark.