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Sahara Desert
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Erg Awbari, Libya


Photo by Giancarlo Salvador, courtesy of Harmattan

By Harmattan

There's something magical about the desert that captures the imagination of children and adults alike. Have you ever dreamed of riding a camel across an endless sea of sand or counting the stars, in absolute silence? Have you ever pictured yourself sitting by the fire, in the company of weary travelers dressed in long robes and turbans, or sleeping in an authentic nomadic tent? All are possible in the Sahara. And because the environment is sterile, there are no particular health risks to inhibit family travel here.

Politically divided, the Sahara Desert is a single environment that is best characterized by the complete absence of water. And it is the best place from which to fully appreciate the nature of water as an element. Here, one can witness the small miracle that takes place each time it appears: Life both plant and animal.

Yet this harsh, inhospitable environment is hauntingly beautiful. Wadis (rivers) snake at the foot of sand covered mountains and plateaus. Elegant and engaging sculpted rock adorns the horizon. The splendor of the continuously changing shape of the dunes. All are the result of the wind and become almost insignificant when compared to what has occurred over the centuries. At one time, the Sahara was fertile and populated by the large animals of Africa. Giraffe, lions, rhinoceros and even crocodile once roamed here.

But there is more to a trip to the Sahara than nature and the elements. Experiencing the desert through the eyes of a Tuareg provides an additional dimension to any journey. Kids will find mystery in their traditional way of dress and watch spellbound as they pour tea. Their knowledge of animal tracks and the many usages of desert plants will keep even the youngest children engaged throughout any trek. And those old enough to follow the eyes of these men of the desert will be dazzled by their keen sense of observation. Accustomed to an unmoving and completely mineral landscape, the Tuareg are able to detect even the slightest movement and least significant variation on the horizon.

Copyright © Harmattan. All rights reserved.
Getting There
Families traveling to the Sahara will likely access the desert in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, or Tunisia. In Algeria, excursions depart from Tamanrasset or Djanet. Air Algerie, Alitalia, Air France, British Airways, Iberia, and Lufthansa fly direct to Algiers from major cities in Europe and charter companies offer direct service from France (Paris and Marseille) to Tamanrasset. In Tunisia, expeditions depart from Djerba. Tunis Air, Alitalia, Air France, British Airways, Lufthansa, and Swiss fly direct to Tunis. Charter companies such as Tuninter, a subsidiary of Tunisair, offer direct flights from several cities in Europe to Djerba. Tunis Air flies from Tunis to Djerba. The Libyan Sahara is accessed from either Sebha or Ghat. Lybian Airlines, Alitalia, British Airways, Swiss, Lufthansa and Austrian Airlines fly to Tripoli. Lybian Airlines flies daily from Tripoli to Sebha and Ghat. Charter airlines offer service between Paris, Brussels, Rome and Ghat. Baharia, Siwa and Dakla in the Egyptian Sahara are best accessed by road from Cairo. Egyptair, Alitalia, British Airways, Swiss, Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, Iberia, and Air France all fly direct to Cairo. In Morocco, the desert begins in Zagora and Merzouga. Low-cost airlines offer service between a variety of European cities and several destinations in Morocco including Agadir, Casablanca, Marrakech and Tangier. Most major airlines arrive/depart Casablanca and Marrakech only. Travel onward to Zagora and Merzouga will be by bus or car.
Getting Around
In Algeria, Egypt, and Libya, expeditions are by 4X4, and for the most part are off road. Only a small portion of the Sahara falls in Tunisia and Morocco and travel, for the most part, will be on paved roads. However, depending on your family's interests and the age and experience of the kids, you can also travel by motorcycle or bike or take a camel trek.
Documents Required
Passports must be valid for at least six months. For travel to Egypt, visas can be obtained upon entry. For travel to Libya, a visa is required for most tourists except nationals from some neighboring and Arab countries and, at the moment, can be obtained upon entry. Israeli passport holders and passport holders with a current or expired Israeli visa will be denied entry. For travel to Morocco, a visa is required for visits exceeding 3 months only. For travel to Tunisia, a tourist visa is required for visits exceeding 3 months except for Australian and South African nationals, who can obtain a visa upon entry, and some Eastern European nationals.
When to Travel
The climate in the Sahara is dry subtropical. The best time to travel is in October and November or February, March and early April. Winter (December-January) days are sunny and warm but the nighttime temperature can fall below 0°C (32°F). It is unadvisable to travel to the Sahara in summer (May to September).
Health & Safety
There are no vaccination requirements for international travelers. The Sahara is a sterile environment and there are no particular health risks. Drink bottled or sterilized water only.
Things to Keep in Mind
If you are traveling with children in winter, plan to dress in layers.
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