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  • PeteM 775 posts

    Anyone been to Algiers / Algeria recently?

    Heading over for Easter so would appreciate any tips on hotels, sightseeing or restaurants.

    The visa process also looks fun…!

    meta 1,468 posts

    I’ve been to Algeria several times in 2000s and early 2010s and travelled extensively through most of the country. I prefer Algeria to Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt simply because there are no tourists, so you have sights like Timgad or Djemila to yourself if you arrive outside their school periods. Of course things might have changed now.

    Back then it wasn’t easy to enter some of the top restaurants as they usually didn’t have any signs outside and only locals could take you in.

    I’d organise a tour of Kasbah with a guide otherwise you won’t find your way. The guide I had once also took me to the local restaurant where I had the best cous cous.

    In town there is the famous Milk Bar. It’s a great place for a croissant and coffee. Then there is Hotel Saint-George (now El-Djazaïr) also historically important. It’s nice to walk around the property and have lunch/dinner. For dinner with the best view head to the top floor of Hotel El-Aurassi. It wasn’t cheap from what I remember, but I wasn’t paying.

    Sightseeing wise I also like Quartier Bab El-Oued, but you also probably need a guide. Rue Didouche Mourad for French Haussmann-style architecture, high-end shopping and good bars around it. I also visited Momaa – Musée D’Art Moderne just when it opend. And there is also Bardo. Palais de la Culture is also a nice place to visit for the architecture and not far is the Martyr’s monument which is on all postcards. When I last left they started to build the Grande Mosquée, supposedly the biggest one in Africa, which is now finished I believe.

    Tipaza is also worth a day trip to see the Roman ruins and if you’re venturing further out to Djemilla or Timgad. Elsewhere the city of Ghardaïa and further in the desert – Timimoun, Tamanrasset and Djanet. Assekrem, meaning World’s End in touareg is a must if you go to Tamanrasset. Take a plane, although taking a 40h+ bus with overnight in Ghardaïa is an adventure. Again, you need someone local if you opt for the bus.

    Then there is Bejaïa and surroundings for beautiful coastline and further out Annaba and the El-Kala Park, Constantine (Roman Cirta) with suspended bridges over ravine and Niemeyer buildings, etc.

    meta 1,468 posts

    I’d also watch some of the films before you go to set up the mood. Battle of Algiers, Pépé le Moko, Bab El-Oued City come to mind.

    meta 1,468 posts

    My post disappeared when I tried to edit. I have luckily saved it. So here it is below:

    I’ve been to Algeria several times in 2000s and early 2010s and travelled extensively through most of the country. I prefer Algeria to Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt simply because there are no tourists, so you have sights like Timgad or Djemila to yourself if you arrive outside their school periods. Of course things might have changed now.

    Back then it wasn’t easy to enter some of the top restaurants as they usually didn’t have any signs outside and only locals could take you in.

    I’d organise a tour of Kasbah with a guide otherwise you won’t find your way. The guide I had once also took me to the local restaurant where I had the best cous cous.

    In town there is the famous Milk Bar. It’s a great place for a croissant and coffee. Then there is Hotel Saint-George (now El-Djazaïr) also historically important. It’s nice to walk around the property and have lunch/dinner. For dinner with the best view head to the top floor of Hotel El-Aurassi. It wasn’t cheap from what I remember, but I wasn’t paying.

    Sightseeing wise I also like Quartier Bab El-Oued, but you also probably need a guide. Rue Didouche Mourad for French Haussmann-style architecture, high-end shopping and good bars around it. I also visited Momaa – Musée D’Art Moderne just when it opend. And there is also Bardo. Palais de la Culture is also a nice place to visit for the architecture and not far is the Martyr’s monument which is on all postcards. When I last left they started to build the Grande Mosquée, supposedly the biggest one in Africa, which is now finished I believe.

    Tipaza is also worth a day trip to see the Roman ruins and if you’re venturing further out to Djemilla or Timgad. Elsewhere the city of Ghardaïa and further in the desert – Timimoun, Tamanrasset and Djanet. Assekrem, meaning World’s End in touareg is a must if you go to Tamanrasset. Take a plane, although taking a 40h+ bus with overnight in Ghardaïa is an adventure. Again, you need someone local if you opt for the bus.

    Then there is Bejaïa and surroundings for beautiful coastline and further out Annaba and the El-Kala Park, Constantine (Roman Cirta) with suspended bridges over ravine and Niemeyer buildings, etc.

    PeteM 775 posts

    This is super helpful, @meta, thank you very much!

    Given how painful getting the visa is I suspect there will still be very few tourists around…

    NorthernLass 8,267 posts

    Don’t read Camus’ L’Etranger or you’ll be depressed for ages!

    meta 1,468 posts

    @PeteM Never had an issue with a visa, but procedures have probably changed. Also bear in mind they are very strict with Israeli stamps (though they do it on piece of paper nowadays in Israel), but for Algeria they will not issue a visa if you have a Jordanese stamp from land crossing as they’ll know you’ve been to Israel.


    @NorthernLass
    That too or any of his letters on Algeria which are even more depressing than L’Etranger.

    meta 1,468 posts

    I also realised you’re going during Ramadan. You’ll probably be restricted with what you can do and lots of restaurants might be closed during the day, but perhaps again things might have changed in big cities.

    PeteM 775 posts

    Thanks for that – completely missed the Ramadan bit, which will make this even more interesting! I think a guide will be a good idea so we don’t have to go scavenging for food during the day!

    The visa process needs more supporting information than any other I’ve ever applied for, including China, Russia or the DPRK, but I don’t get the impression it will be a problem to get it if we provide all the info: https://www.algerian-consulate.org.uk/visas/visa-to-algeria

    £80 for a visa in a British passport too!

    PeteM 775 posts

    Don’t read Camus’ L’Etranger or you’ll be depressed for ages!

    Haha! I am sure I’ve read that, (thankfully?) long forgotten it!

    davefl 1,412 posts

    Thanks for that – completely missed the Ramadan bit, which will make this even more interesting! I think a guide will be a good idea so we don’t have to go scavenging for food during the day!

    The visa process needs more supporting information than any other I’ve ever applied for, including China, Russia or the DPRK, but I don’t get the impression it will be a problem to get it if we provide all the info: https://www.algerian-consulate.org.uk/visas/visa-to-algeria

    £80 for a visa in a British passport too!

    Going by that link it’s gone up to £85 now.

    And wow… Cash and Postal orders only. Do they insist on unmarked non-sequential bills as well ? 🙂

    PeteM 775 posts

    Going by that link it’s gone up to £85 now.

    I swear that has gone up in the last week…!

    The Consulate is in North Acton and looks a lot like a B&Q warehouse! 🙂

    https://goo.gl/maps/NgPnDe5HX6rv5eCR6

    meta 1,468 posts

    They used to be based at the Embassy in Holland Park!

    PeteM 775 posts

    Quick update on this in case it’s useful for someone in the future.

    Booked two full day tours with Fancy Yellow, who appear to be the biggest tour company catering for foreign tourists in the country: https://www.fancyalgeria.com/. They did ask why on earth are we visiting during Ramadan and I explained that’s down to my stupidity.

    They helpfully also provided an invitation letter to present to the Consulate. Armed with that, my passport, two photocopies of every page of said passport, confirmation of employment, confirmation of travel insurance, two application forms, two photos, £70 cash and proof I have the right to live in the UK (as I was using my European passport) I went to the Consulate in North Acton last Friday.

    They went through all the documents, checked the passport for haram stamps and asked me to come back today. All took about 5mins, picking the passport today with the visa in it took about 2mins.

    So all rather efficient, although it’s a good reminder to check entry requirements before you book flights! I shall report on the trip in due course.

    can 506 posts

    I am rather curious about it too, @PeteM

    redlilly 117 posts

    Ditto. Very intrigued to hear. The visa process itself doesn’t sound too complicated! Could have been a lot worse.

    Michael C 708 posts

    Some friends in Oujda a few years ago had driven close to a watchtower
    on the Algerian border and had machine-gun bullets sprayed in front of them to
    help them keep their distance!

    JonathanC 107 posts

    I traveled there as part of an organised tour a year ago, it was an interesting country, and definitely nice to go to one that’s largely untouched by international tourists.

    The visa process isn’t like many other countries, there were Americans and even a UAE citizen who were refused visas, no reasons for refusal were given.

    The company that I traveled with is UK based company, and use local partners to the country’s they get their customers into, and these are the type of countries many with no direct flights between the UK

    Their Algeria tour has become so popular that they’ve increased the number of tours they run per year since it launched

    redlilly 117 posts

    I traveled there as part of an organised tour a year ago, it was an interesting country, and definitely nice to go to one that’s largely untouched by international tourists.

    The visa process isn’t like many other countries, there were Americans and even a UAE citizen who were refused visas, no reasons for refusal were given.

    The company that I traveled with is UK based company, and use local partners to the country’s they get their customers into, and these are the type of countries many with no direct flights between the UK

    Their Algeria tour has become so popular that they’ve increased the number of tours they run per year since it launched

    Sounds great! What’s the name of the UK based company? Always on the look out for good recommendations for companies that cover countries that are normally otherwise harder to travel around solo.

    JonathanC 107 posts

    https://lupinetravel.co.uk/

    They’re a highly knowledgeable company about all places they go to, it’s currently not listed for unknown reasons but they travel to Iran (assuming it’s not to high risk, places like there can be unpredictable) and also North Korea, not listed presumably due to the country still being closed off to tourists

    They’re fully booked for all Algeria the tours they’ve got planned this year, unless they add more, the next one with availability is this time next year, which is good, you don’t want to be going to countries that can get extremely hot in the summer, I wouldn’t want to book their July departure !

    They’re a great company to travel with, no problems with them at all for me, I’m just thinking about which tour I should book next with them, Saudi Arabia looks good, but not at all cheap, especially as you’ve got no idea what type of hotels you’ll be in etc., but unfortunately the latter and many other countries in the Gulf are expensive, due to a lot of imports required for their day to day essentials

    They’re also the obvious choice for the much harder to access countries that’ll hardly ever see tourists, you’ll be able to tell based on their countries list they travel to alone

    redlilly 117 posts

    https://lupinetravel.co.uk/

    They’re a highly knowledgeable company about all places they go to, it’s currently not listed for unknown reasons but they travel to Iran (assuming it’s not to high risk, places like there can be unpredictable) and also North Korea, not listed presumably due to the country still being closed off to tourists

    They’re fully booked for all Algeria the tours they’ve got planned this year, unless they add more, the next one with availability is this time next year, which is good, you don’t want to be going to countries that can get extremely hot in the summer, I wouldn’t want to book their July departure !

    They’re a great company to travel with, no problems with them at all for me, I’m just thinking about which tour I should book next with them, Saudi Arabia looks good, but not at all cheap, especially as you’ve got no idea what type of hotels you’ll be in etc., but unfortunately the latter and many other countries in the Gulf are expensive, due to a lot of imports required for their day to day essentials

    They’re also the obvious choice for the much harder to access countries that’ll hardly ever see tourists, you’ll be able to tell based on their countries list they travel to alone

    Brilliant, thanks. Love hearing good stuff about companies like this. Would love to go to Iran, and with the benefit of my OH and I having Irish and Portuguese passports, visas are a lot easier. However, he travels to the USA a lot for work, so not ideal. Also timing to visit Iran right now isn’t exactly ideal either.

    He has family in Venezuela, and that’s one on my bucket list… not that he has any desperate urge! Algeria would be great to dip our toe in to such a company, so may propose this for next year.

    Thank you again.

    JonathanC 107 posts

    They’re a good company to travel with, they’ve always helped me fully with an queries, the company that took the dreadfully unfortunate American tourist to North Korea offer a tour to Venezuela, although travel to Caracas isn’t a wise move the way things currently are there, with limited flight options, and the extremely high levels of violence the city has been seeing over the last several years and inflation is something else…

    But it’ll be a great place to visit when those problems disappear, or a lot less worse than they currently are

    PeteM 775 posts

    We’re back from Algeria!

    I would probably not recommend travelling there during Ramadan, but overall I don’t feel like it majorly affected our enjoyment of the country.

    The flights from Heathrow were just over 2hrs, with service in Club World fairly disinterested on the way out, but extremely friendly and attentive on the way back. Remote bus gates in both directions, on the outbound we were bussed from T3 to a remote stand at T5. Clearly not a premium route 😊

    Algiers airport is very modern, completed by a Chinese company in 2018. It was very empty, with only about 20 flights per day. Passport control could have been more efficient, but they did open more desks when they saw queues building up. Immigration forms are needed for foreigners on the way in and out, but you don’t get given those until you are in the queue. On the way out you show your passport and boarding pass at least six times to various officials.

    We booked our airport transfers and sightseeing with Fancy Yellow as I mentioned previously, who also organised our invitation letters for the visas. They were also super helpful with restaurant recommendations and bookings once we were in the country.

    We did a day tour of Algiers with a lady called Rasha, visiting the Kasbah, old town and Martyrs’ Memorial, which broadly covered all the key bits of the city. She was super enthusiastic and keen to show her city to visitors.

    We also went to Tipaza and Cherchell on another day tour. Tipaza is a UNESCO World Heritage site, with some very well-preserved Roman ruins. Sadly, the tour guide on this day made us wait for an hour for him before the start of the tour and then took us to a restaurant for lunch that wanted to charge us 140 Euro for a platter of fish and shrimp for three people. We managed to reduce it to 120, but that is still near enough a monthly salary in Algeria. One of the reasons I like getting a local guide when travelling is avoiding exactly this sort of scam, so for it to be facilitated by our guide really left a sour taste in our mouths. Fancy Yellow were very apologetic and promised to investigate, but I haven’t heard back from them on this several days later and I suspect I won’t. We felt like mugs for not asking about the price before sitting down, but I haven’t had a problem like this in easily 15 years of travelling the world over, so I am clearly getting too trusting and complacent!

    One important thing to note is that virtually nowhere, except a handful of the fanciest hotels, accept card payments and pretty much no ATMs accept international cards. This is probably just as well as the official exchange rate is around 140 Dinars per Euro, whereas the black-market rate is more like 220. Most fancier restaurants or shops will swap hard currency at the better rate and give change, but you can also change money from street dealers on Port-Saïd Square. I would definitely suggest doing that and bringing enough Euros to pay for everything in Dinars, as the savings are significant versus the official rate.

    We had iftar at Signature restaurant and L’Avenue restaurant – food was better at the latter, but the former was much more civilised. Dinner for 3 came to around 60 Euros, which puts the lunch price I mentioned earlier into perspective, given these are both seen as very expensive in Algiers.

    In terms of getting around Algiers, the metro runs along the coast and is very modern. I do get the impression it doesn’t even begin to cover the extent of the huge city, though. One trip is about 30p. Yassir is the Uber equivalent and is also super cheap, except that it won’t send their verification SMSs to UK numbers for some reason. Most other international numbers seem to work fine. Taxis are suitably chaotic and driver don’t generally speak even French. Driving is objectively pretty awful and many cars are beyond battered.

    French is spoken by about 30% of the population, English by fewer. As my friends spoke French we didn’t test English much, but you’d occasionally get people actively offering to speak English, so I am sure one could get by without issues.

    It’s fair to say we felt super safe at all times and virtually everyone we came across was super friendly and welcoming (apart from the scam!). They get very, very few tourists so you do stand out massively, especially at this time of the year.

    Accommodation-wise, we stayed at the Sofitel. They advertise that their guest rooms were renovated in 2007 and it shows – 16 years later they are looking quite tired and scuffed. You would also not expect mould in the bathroom and missing bits of tile or picture frames in a 5* hotel charging very European prices. Objectively, it does not meet the Sofitel brand standards and is probably more at a Novotel-level in the Accor portfolio, if that.

    The rooms were, however, large, clean and everything worked. The AC was efficient and quiet, the bed comfortable and the bathroom had all modern conveniences.

    The location is reasonably convenient, about 30mins drive from the airport, about 15mins drive from the historic centre and about 15-30mins to the new commercial areas in the suburbs (traffic permitting). There is a metro stop at the back of the hotel, which only costs 50 Dinars to get to the historic city centre in about 15mins.

    The gym is quite large and well equipped. The pool was sadly closed during our visit. The whole hotel is still plastered in Covid warning signs, which really should come down now.

    Breakfast was generous and enjoyable, even during Ramadan. One restaurant remained open during the day as well, although prices were much higher than in town. You can get free access to the botanical gardens next door by borrowing a wristband from reception.

    They did try to charge us an extra 10k Dinars on checkout for breakfasts we didn’t have… Staff overall were reasonably pleasant and spoke good English and French, but no one went out of their way to be particularly helpful.

    We used an eSim from Airalo again and, unusually, it was a disaster. The local network they use, Ooredoo, had terrible coverage and LTE speeds were awful (0.76Mbps most of the time!). I have complained to them and they’ve refunded $5, so I guess that’s a small win.

    All in all, a very different place only a couple of hours from London!

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