Lonely Planet Travel Editor Tom Hall is on a mission to discover 52 of the most awe-inspiring places to visit across the world. This week he delights in the heat and sand of a Saharan expedition.
The Sahara Desert is where maps run out, and to venture here is to undertake a journey like no other. Stretching across the entire north of Africa and deep into its centre, it offers today the same cocktail of heat, sand and the unknown that has attracted explorers for centuries.
The Sahara remains largely unaffected by the modern world. It is populated by nomads, crossed by trading caravans and bandits and is where business and life roll on precariously, far from the influence of remote governments.
To go into this harshest of landscapes is neither for the faint-hearted or the unprepared. Travel in the Sahara is not without risks, including banditry, kidnapping and landmines. It’s imperative that anyone who goes is aware of the risks. Nor is it cheap, unless you take an organised trip from Morocco or Tunisia.
What is the best way to get to the Sahara desert?
Popular routes include overland journeys to Mauritania, through Egypt into Sudan and across Algeria to the Hoggar Mountains, safety concerns permitting. Hardy travellers also head into the desert via these countries as well as Libya and Egypt, equipped with 4WD vehicles or motorbikes, often accompanied by locally sourced escorts and carrying everything they need to be almost entirely self-sufficient.
For those of us less prepared, Morocco and Tunisia are the best option for getting a quick taste of the desert, via a local tour or as part of a trans-Africa trip. Anytime outside summer is a good time to launch an excursion, with spring offering some of the cooler daytime temperatures .
Planning your trip to North Africa
The logistics of Sahara expeditions are constantly changing. The best place to find out about permits, practical planning and routes is the formidable Sahara Overland website run by Chris Scott, author of the guidebook of the same name published by Trailblazer Books. It has routes, maps and FAQs galore for new starters and experienced Sahara-hands alike.
©2009 Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd