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Discover North Africa: Five Unique Desert Cities to Visit

by Gizelle Lau
June 18, 2008



Visiting, Traveling or Taking a Holiday in North Africa?

When traveling to Africa, most travelers and visitors automatically think "safari," "wilderness tours," and "I hope I don't have to rough it out in the bush too much." But, on the southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea, the presence of North Africa sits on the northern coast of the great and unsuspectingly diverse nation that is Africa. 

While the pyramids in Egypt and the dates in Tunisia are the usual suspects when it comes to destinations in North Africa, this week, decided to introduce you to you Five Unique Destinations in North Africa - so that you can discover and experience more of what North Africa has to offer.

Why not visit the ancient ruins of Carthage, near Tunis in Tunisia - or better yet, visit the filming sites of desert scenes in Star Wars.  What about Ghadames, Libya, one of the hottest places in the world?  Adventure out a little to see the Ahaggar Mountains in Algeria!  There's so much more to North Africa than meets the eye - so read on to find out more with these 5 Unique Destinations in North Africa!

Five Unique Destinations in the Deserts of North Africa that You Never Thought of Visiting

1) Tangier, Morocco

Tangier, MoroccoLocated in northern Morocco, we picked Tangier because it is a lot less crowded than the popular cities of Marrakech, Casablanca and even Fez - but is growing quickly. In fact, try to visit Tangier in the next few years to experience Tangier before construction and 5-star resorts take over the city completely!

Like many other places in North Africa, its history goes deep - and this once-ancient-Phoenician town contains flavours from Judaism, Islam and Christianity all at once along with Roman, Portuguese, Arab, English, French and Spain occupation. Today, you can see the cave of Hercules near Tangier, stroll along its narrow streets and sea-side hospitality or see some of its old palaces and monuments from the ages-past.

Tangier is also known for being a haven for spies and foreign smuggling - so be sure to steer clear from any hustlers. Ironically, Tangier is a haven that also attracted many writers and artists like Jack Kerouac, the Rolling Stones and even Matisse, the French painter - who came to see the colours of Tangier for himself.

2) Algiers, Algeria

Algiers, AlgeriaAs the second largest country in Africa after Sudan, Algeria's past and especially its largest city, Algiers, has been filled with warlords, pirates, and civil wars. Today, Algiers - known also as "Algiers the White" for its white buildings that can be seen when sailing into its port - is slowly regaining the same fame it once held alongside Morocco's cities.

Look upon the centuries of architecture that tell the story of Algiers' marbled past since Roman times: the promenade of Martyrs Square; the historical narrow-street Casbah Quarter; and the Great Mosque of Algiers built in the 11th century by Yusuf ibn Tashfin.

Many visitors also travel from Algiers to Algeria's famed Ahaggar Mountains and Ahaggar National Park, west of Tamanghasset.

3) Tunis & Carthage, Tunisia

CarthageA UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tunis holds approximately 700 monuments which date back to the Almohad dynasty in the 12th century and the Hafsid rulers from the 13-16th centuries. These medieval sights to behold range from pristine palaces, fountains, mausoleums and mosques. The desert of Tunisia, you'll also find Tatooine, the home of Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars movies as well as scenes from Indiana Jones.

For something even older, you can make your way from Tunis to nearby Carthage - the town that dared to battle with ancient Rome and the home of Hannibal, one of the greatest military men in history. Visit the ruins of Carthage today, just outside Tunis, and see the Roman columns that reminisce of walking through the Roman Forum in Rome.

Visit the charming village of Sidi Bou Said nearby to take in its Santorini-like blue and white buildings, lighthouse restaurants and cobblestone street vendors. Legend tells of Saint Louis who came to Tunisia to wage war but fell in love with one of its princesses instead. It is said that he lived in Sidi Bou Said for the rest of his life - and today, is the village's patron saint.

4) Tripoli, Libya

Tripoli, LibyaMore than 90% of Libya is made of desert land or semi-desert land - and so an oasis like Tripoli is where many flock to see its treasures which include ancient Roman and Greek cities.

Visit the busy and bustling squares of Tripoli city in the evening for a taste of Tripoli's night life and casual upbeat atmosphere. Don't forget to visit the food market for fresh olives or try kusksu (couscous), xarba arbija (Libyan soup), or the variety of stuffed vegetables, meat and potatoes offered.

Tripoli is also the perfect base for experiencing and seeing the rest of Libya. Tours through the desert, to the old city of Ghadames (one of the Top 5 Hottest Places in the World), the Acacus Mountains and its prehistoric paintings and engravings, sandboarding on Libya's massive sand dunes, or seeing the Waw Alnamous Volcano - one of the oldest volcanic mountains in the world.

5) Alexandria, Egypt

Pompey's PillarWe could have chosen Cairo or ancient Luxor in Egypt, but we decided on Alexandria - the second largest city in Egypt. Founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BC, the city once had the stature of Rome and was populated by Greeks, Jews and Egyptians. It once held the largest library in the ancient world, the Library of Alexandria, part of the Museum at Alexandria - the site of arts, poetry and Plato's Academy. Another of Alexandria's claims to fame is the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Today, you can visit Pompey's Pillar next to great sphinx statues. A few steps away, visit Kom al Sukkfa, the Alexandria catacombs which hold exactly what you would expect in ancient Egyptology: labyrinths that reach down multiple levels, chambers, sculpted pillars, statues, religious symbols of Roman and Egyptian gods, burial sites, a banquet hall and sarcophagi - an elaborately carved stone casing for deceased bodies (and usually thought to be the residing places of mummies).

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Gizelle Lau

Gizelle Lau is a freelance writer & photographer in Toronto, Canada with a passion for food and travel. 

Located: Toronto Canada
Likes: cities, culture, food/wine, paths-less-travelled, photography, wildlife

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