Travel tips for North Africa

Part of magical, mystical Africa, yet so fascinatingly diverse and different, North Africa deserves a whole book to itself. Here is a snapshot of the wonders it contains

1. Pyramid of Cheops & the Sphinx

This wonder of the ancient world will give you goosebumps every time you see it, not just for the fabulous history that surrounds it, but also for its sheer scale of architect wizardry. With over two million blocks of limestone, some of them weighing up to 15 tons and standing five feet tall, the entire structure was the tallest manmade building for the next 3,800 years. Catch the stunning sound-and-light show at history’s most enigmatic relic, the Sphinx, a few hundred metres away. A historian is sure to spend ample time observing Giza’s pyramids. Book into any of the Giza Hotels and rest for the night before you go to explore Giza.

2. Fort of Babylon, Hanging Church of St. Mary

These ramparts have saved Cairo through history from countless invasions. In a feat of architectural creativity, these solid walls are home to several ancient Coptic churches, the most remarkable of them the Hanging Church of St. Mary, with two bell-towers and a nave that is suspended over two gate towers with a 29-step ladder reaching up to it. The existing foundation of the fort is a heaving tourist attraction, touted as the very reason Cairo exists as it is today. True that Cairo cannot be observed in a day. So book into one of the Cairo Hotels and enjoy a great stay before heading to observe the nuances.

3. Cairo Museum

All the great pharaonic relics from inside the pyramids now lie in this magnificent museum, including a chamber preserving the fragile life-forms of 4,000-year old royal mummies. This neoclassical style building constructed at the turn of the century contains 5,000 years of the essence of Egypt; no trip to this country would be complete without it. Humongous statues of the ancient gods that once adorned the magnificent pyramids are now here on display, along with artefacts from Roman times. A travel should always be well planned. So surf the list of flights to Cairo and book into a flight that suits your schedule.

4. Attarine Souk

If shopping is what you wish to do in this second most-amazing city of Egypt, ditch the mall and head to the Attarine Souk. You will be transported to a mythical Arabia of old, with a maze of impossibly-narrow, vivid and colourful streets, with equally colourful vendors peddling their wares, which you can bargain strenuously and unabashedly for. Let the young Egyptians hang in the sterile malls; come here for a vibrant sensory overload that you will never forget. Shoppers need to wander, explore, negotiate and compare before they make their final bid. Stay in any of the hotels in Alexandria and rest for the night to develop the patience and health to head for a shopping spree.

5. Assaraya Alhamra (The Red Castle and Museum)

This is where all the history of Libya unfurls before you, from the Stone Age to present day. Covering an impressive area of 13,000 sq m, this site started as a Roman fortified camp in the year 2 AD, and was at the centre of several battles since. In the 16th century, it was refortified with two additional towers, and that is the structure that stands today. Artefacts from the ancient days of mankind, along with Greek and Roman antiquities, can be seen within its walls. You cannot leave this place in the midst of the exploration. So book into one of the Tripoli Hotels for a couple of days and make the best of your stay at this place.

6. Gharyan cave dwellings

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To really get to know Libya and its indigenous people, a visit to the Gharyan Caves is a must. An hour’s drive from Tripoli takes you into the heartland of the rugged Berbers who have roamed the Saharan sands for centuries. They will invite you into their homes dug into the rocky ground, perfectly insulated from the scorching heat outside, to eat and drink with them. This is after a bout of furious bartering/shopping in their stalls outside, for their amazing pottery. You have a vast number of choices in Libya Hotels. There is a place to match the taste of every traveller in Libya.

7. Desert safari

You may choose from a one-day or a 15-day safari in this dramatic wilderness. From October to April, your form of transport can be 4X4s, languid dromedaries, or treks on foot. The temperatures are mild and there are no scorpions to worry about during this time. The magical mysticism of the desert, with the routine of travel, food and endless tea, mingled with evening meals cooked over fire and sleeping in Bedouin tents under a gazillion stars will cleanse your mind like no other experience. If you are not opting for any schemes by travel agents and tour guides, the other option you have is to take your time to explore the beauty of this place. Book into any of the Djerba Hotels, check their amenities and rates and finalise your stay for atleast a week.

8. Take a trip to the north African riviera

Sandwiched between volatile Algeria and Libya is beautiful Tunisia, and the capital city Tunis, captures its modern and liberal essence perfectly. Long, outdoor lunches with wine and music are the ethos of the locals here, and the finest olives outside of Italy grow here. Make sure you see the ancient ruins of Carthage (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and the Museum of Modern Art that houses Tunisian art seen nowhere else in the world. The rest of the time, just wander the streets of Africa’s Riviera. Make sure you book into one of the good Tunis hotels so that your stay is comfortable and enjoyable. A travel plan cannot be successful without a fine stay.

9. Ain Draham

Imagine a spa region in the desert, fed by natural sulphur hot springs for millennia, from the Roman ages to the present day. Ruins of Roman baths are still to be found, and today you can experience exactly what our forefathers experienced. Ain Draham has flourished as a spa destination, with accommodation that ranges from basic to luxury, with specialised massages and skin-care treatments that have stood the test of time. Compare the pricing and rates of Ain Draham Hotels before you make the booking. You may enjoy special discounts on online bookings.

10. Algiers

This vibrant and manic city will stun you with its beauty and maddening diversity. All its stormy history can be seen through its architecture. The French occupation is evident in its sweeping boulevards, elegant villas and chic apartments. The Socialists left their mark with grey, chunky buildings, and the vivacious Islamic culture is alive and well in the ancient Casbah, with glorious Ottoman palaces and mosques. On any tour of north Africa, this city is a must-see. There is a wide variety in Algiers Hotels so you will surely find a stay to suit you. Book in advance to be doubly sure.

11. Casablanca

Casablanca, the city made famous by the eponymous movie, represents a Morocco that is shedding its past and moving on. Tourists will find it lacking in the exotic flavour of other Moroccan cities; gone are the days of smoky intrigue and espionage: this is where international art and fashion are making their mark. Wealth and achievement are on grand display here. Hundreds of bars, restaurants and swish clubs dominate, and to top it, they have a superb
beach culture. Casablanca Hotels are modern with all necessary amenities. Whether you are looking for a hotel with a spa or a simple boutique hotel, you are sure to find it here.

12. Fez

For a touch of Moroccan-exotic, come to the medieval city of Fez El-Bali. It contains the world’s oldest surviving seat of learning, the Al-Karaouine University. The entire walled city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site; stepping into it is a giant step back in time in ambience and architecture, while maintaining a strong contemporary and liberal ethic. Walk through the old city, the Medina, with its maze-like alleyways and quaint shops and dwellings, or hire a taxi for a mad, white-knuckle ride. Explore the unseen facets of this place after a fine stay or the night at any of the fez Hotels.

Insider Tips:

Check the local political conditions of any destination in north Africa. As exotic and gorgeous as it can be, the region can be equally fraught with danger, depending on the political climate at any given time. Keep numbers of your foreign office/consulate handy.