Solo Adventure; Travelling to Algeria

With the recent surge in negativity towards tourism in cities like Venice and Barcelona, how about visiting a place that’s pretty much never been on the tourist map, where you’ll be one of only a handful of English-speaking tourists in the entire country. Not only that, but the biggest one in Africa!

Algeria has struggled for many years to diversify and attract tourists, varying factors have resulted in lacklustre results but the Government now appears to be focussed solely on promoting itself as a “must-see destination”. Unlike neighbouring Morocco, Algeria receives only 20% of their tourist figures, so there’s quite a long way to go. Having now visited both countries I think you can guess which is the easiest to get to, travel around and do business in; yes you guessed it – Morocco.

After Sudan broke in two, this country is now the largest in Africa and the 10th biggest in the world so I had my work cut out trying to figure out where to visit on my very short five day trip. Located only a short hop away from Spain, Malta and Italy, yet very few international tourists actually step foot on this side of the Mediterranean. Although the last decade has been marred by terrorism and revolutions, Algeria is now relatively stable but sadly finds itself surrounded by conflicts on all sides. With Libya and Tunisia to the east, Niger and Mali to the south and Mauritania and Morocco to the west the Government certainly have their work cut out to remain stable.

Situated in North Africa, 80% of this country is actually occupied by the largest hot desert in the world; the Sahara. A place that has always fascinated me and was top of my must-see list, thankfully I got to explore the unique desert oasis cities of Timimoun and Ghardaia. Although Algeria is striving to be individual, many aspects of life seem to have continued and not dropped out of fashion since the time when France was the Colonial power. This includes things like eating bread or a baguette with every meal, trying delicate and beautiful cakes similar to a Parisian patisserie or even taking the Metro – which to me felt like a replica of the Paris metro. It’s not surprising though, between 1830 to 1962 this country was under French rule and up to 20% of the population was European.

Beautiful French architecture with an Algerian twist makes Algiers a travellers paradise.

My Travels in Algeria

Firstly let me start by saying this is not an easy country to travel around alone, if you don’t speak French or Arabic you will need a guide or someone to travel with who’s a bit more . Sadly for me, languages were never my strong point at school but the benefit of this is you do get to meet some new friends around the world whilst travelling who are willing to help you out. My friend Mohammed; a Yemeni national who currently lives in Algeria was kind enough to invite me to travel with him, thankfully for me he can speak both of the native languages. Phew!

Before I started researching I didn’t have a clue what to see or where to go, many of the must-see places aren’t that famous and there was also some off-limits places to contend with. After browsing various adventure travel company itineraries I put together a couple of ideas, I really wanted to explore Tamanrasset and the south of the country but this proved tricky and expensive so I set my sights on the centre and the mighty Sahara.

Algiers Airport followed by the delightful food offering by Air Algerie

Upon arriving in to Algiers, the nerves kicked in and I wasn’t sure whether I would even be allowed in with my visa. I flew from London with Air Algerie, as airlines go they weren’t bad but definitely won’t feature on any award-winning airline listings any time soon. Algiers International Airport is currently being redeveloped and is being extended, until this happens don’t expect European standards, I wasn’t very impressed with the welcome from the passport and immigration people. Upon arrival you’ll be greeted by two different lines, one for Algerian passport holders and the other for, well, Other passport holders (as is written on signs). Well this turned into chaos as people starting queuing thinking they were in the right place only to be shouted at to get in to the Algerian passport holder line. Confused? Absolutely, anyway I ended up at the back of the line and it took almost an hour to get through – ridiculous!

Thankfully all along the Algerian Mediterranean coastline there’s several cities that I could have flown into including Oran and Constantine, it just so happened that I picked Algiers – a.k.a The White City. Sadly the Metro doesn’t yet stretch as far as the airport, but I believe this is in development so hopefully it should rectify the rather horrendous taxi ride that you have to take into the city. If a taxi driver notices that you are foreign or can’t speak French/Arabic they will try to overcharge, quoting prices like 2,000 – 3,000 dinar whereas the real price should be more like 900 – 1,500 dinar maximum.

Algiers appears to be going through a renovation period as almost every building in the Casbah area had scaffolding up, I visited just before Eid so many families were out and about buying from the local markets. It is quite an assault on your senses as people will come at you from every angle whilst you’re trying to guide yourself and looking out for your possessions meant it was more of a quick visit to the Casbah area. Hopefully next time I’ll plan it better and then I can discover more of the incredible architecture. Algiers felt like a fairly safe city, it reminded me a lot of Beirut with its eagerness to modernise and adapt to a more European style.

The beautiful Mediterranean coastline which most tourists never get to see from Algiers

After spending a rather sleepless night in Algiers I ventured back to the airport early to catch a domestic flight with Air Algerie to Timimoun. It isn’t a place that’s widely known in the travelling community, but it seriously should be – this place is like stepping back in time. I don’t use those words lightly, but it is one of the most beautiful oasis towns in the Sahara. Remember when you were a child and you were shown some worn out, black and white photos of explorers dying of thirst and looking a little rough, well this place is what I imagine they found.

Similar to Timbuktu, these water wells can be found dotted around the Saharan Oasis town of Timimoun

Sadly for me the first thing that happened when I stepped off the plane was the local gendarmerie wanted to know who I was, why I was there and where I had been previously. After being escorted from the airport to the central police headquarters in the city I waited for two hours before the chief dealt with me. He spoke a little English but mostly communicated via my friend Mohammed, his main questions were, what is my job, why am I here and unfortunately the biggest question – why did you visit several countries. My current passport is full and I need to renew it, this means I have visas from various countries that certain places don’t like, sadly I didn’t realise Algeria would make such a fuss over my Iranian and Russian visas. The police chief could not understand why I would have visited either of these countries as a tourist, but he had no choice but to let us walk free as he had no reason to keep us at the police station.

After our brush with the law, it was time to try and find somewhere to stay for the evening. As this trip was done on a budget I resisted staying in the typical luxury tourist hotel and opted for a traditional local one that was a former caravan site in the centre of the city. I did however decide to visit the other hotel, just for the view…

I could easily have sat here all day looking at this incredible view…

Sadly there isn’t much of a tourist industry here, it is a shame as there’s quite a lot to see and I was taken back by how much this reminded me of other famous places. It is a unique spot to visit and is featured in the song Timbuktu to Timimoun, funnily enough the architecture is almost identical when it comes to the traditional water wells. As you venture towards the edge of the city you are faced with an incredible sight – the Sahara desert! It’s almost like the city gives way for this incredible mass of sand.

As you can imagine, this place is in the middle of the Sahara, so don’t expect any fine dining restaurants but you can expect several local take away places. I went to somewhere that looked like it hadn’t been cleaned since 1974, but thankfully they made pizza from scratch and it cost less than £1. BARGAIN!

The true adventurer in me comes out when I venture into the wilderness. This is my Sahara…

Also don’t expect any local transport, Timimoun isn’t visited by many tourists so most people, including me, must hire a taxi. Ensure you look around and try to bargain with them for the best deal, sadly for me I ended up paying $100 and although I visited some great places I don’t think it was the best option, I’d say if I’d arranged it through my hotel then it would have been a better experience.

Sadly my time in Timimoun was short and sweet, it was time to take an 8 hour bus journey across the Sahara to another desert outpost. Ghardaia and the M’Zab Valley is a fascinating UNESCO World Heritage site, founded by the Mozabites it is located on the Sahara’s northern fringe at a strategic point along the Trans-Saharan Highway. To get from Timimoun you’ll need to either drive yourself or take the long bus journey, which I unfortunately endured. Although it was safe enough, I definitely wouldn’t recommend it at night. My bus was completely full with around 40 men, all of whom if only they’d known the truth about me would have probably murdered me there and then, thankfully for me though I don’t wear my gayness on my sleeve (so to speak).

Waiting for public transport you never know who you’ll meet, this lovely man was very interested to hear where I was from. Sadly the dude on the left failed to join the party!?!

Upon arriving in Ghardaia I discovered that only recently there had been a revolution and fierce fighting between the rival Berber Mozabites and Chaamba Arabs tribes. The source of the conflict stemmed from arguments surrounding jobs, land and housing and unfortunately due to the sheer number of police I saw on almost every street corner this situation doesn’t look like it is going to disappear anytime soon. It made me feel pretty uncomfortable, I didn’t see any other tourists and I think if I’d have researched properly before I got here I wouldn’t have visited.

Thankfully though, I did and I saw some fascinating things including many of the historic buildings that are painted in a distinctive white, pink or red colour. A must-see place is the settlement called Beni Isguen, an UNESCO World Heritage site that’s a fortified city originally constructed in the 10th century. It is a very religious place that previously only muslims were allowed to enter, thankfully now tourists can venture but they aren’t allowed to take photos of locals, smoke or wear revealing clothing (including shorts).

It hasn’t rained here for over 4 years, I’ve no idea how the locals cope as it was pushing 40 degrees when I visited. Be sure to hire a guide when you visit, it’s only 300 Dinar (£1.50) for 1-3 people, although unfortunately it’s only in French. One unique and rather fascinating fact about this place is that the women, unlike in other Islamic parts of the world, wear white to symbolise peace and they are only allowed to have one eye uncovered from head to toe. I’ve no idea how they manage to walk around, but they are incredible and a sight to be seen.

Beni Isguen – an UNESCO World Heritage site that’s a fortified city with a strict Muslim only residents rule. Fascinating insight into a place that hasn’t changed for hundreds of years.

Clearly some people who ended up in Ghardaia aren’t from here originally as I saw a lot of begging and homeless people, something that is forbidden in Islam. Located at a crossroads, many people have made it here from other parts of Africa and are heading north to the Mediterranean, it was really sad to see and is just one more problem for this unique Saharan oasis city to tackle.

Sadly it was time for me to leave Algeria, after thankfully flying back from Ghardaia to Algiers it was time to face the dreaded immigration/passport control people once more at the airport. I really thought us Brits were meant to be good at queuing but after seemingly being in the wrong line again and being shouted at again, after more than an hour I finally made it through to departures. I was so happy to discover Algerian wine being sold. I didn’t see it anywhere else, although to be fair I didn’t look very hard but I’ve heard it’s pretty good quality so I’ll let you know once I’ve opened the bottle.

Ghardaia – a bustling oasis town in the middle of the Sahara

There were literally hundreds more places I could have visited that would have all been just as stunning, something that I learned quite quickly is that if you embrace the country, the country will embrace you back. It reminded me a lot of pre-war Syria, as if something is about to kick off and it made me feel a bit uncomfortable at times; although most of the people I met were friendly and welcoming I think I’ll leave it a few years and see whether my feelings on the situation have changed.

Travelling around Algeria

Well, it was certainly an experience to say the least. It isn’t easy due to a high police presence, however they are more there to protect you rather than anything else. This can often been seen as a good, or a bad thing. For me personally I found it quite threatening at first but when you realise they are just looking after your safety and not just being a pain then I felt a bit more comfortable, however I’ll let you make your mind own up.

Air Algerie – the national airline

Air Algérie is the national airline of Algeria and is pretty much your only option if you wish to get around the country quickly. They have regular flights to various far-flung places, I travelled on several internal flights to Timimoun and Ghardaia with them on a rather scary ATR 72-500. Seriously these planes should be scrapped and put in a museum, they are old, they are falling apart but at least they do give you some service on board (unlike British Airways!). Although they aren’t the best, they are also by far from being the worst too, one amusing thing to note is that if your flight isn’t full they may attempt to leave early!

Algerian Visa

Often the most complicated part of visiting a country is applying for the visa, thankfully I’ve put an easy guide together for how to apply if you have a British passport. Click here to check it out. Algeria is one country that seriously needs to loosen the strings on its visa restrictions as it’s definitely affecting the number of people visiting, you must be in possession of a visa before arriving!

Further Information?

If you’d like to discover more photographs and information from this trip or any others please feel free to ask me any questions. You can visit my Facebook page and please don’t forget to ‘Like’ Travel Geek UK.

All images copyrighted, if you wish to use any images produced in this blog article please contact me.

Algeria – How To Get A Visa?

Let’s face it, getting a visa can sometimes be a long and drawn out process with some countries taking the biscuit and going to the absolute extreme with their demands. Even though neighbouring Morocco receives more than 10 million visitors, Algeria has yet to welcome even 20% of that figure.

This is a crying shame considering how many incredible places there are to see in this North African beauty. Algeria’s Mediterranean coastline is one of the most undeveloped and beautiful along the African continent whilst inland the striking desert landscapes of the vast Sahara make up more than 80% of Africa’s largest country.

Question is, how do you get a visa? Well, in the case of a British passport holder you must either know someone that lives there or join a tour group (if you can find one). In a country that’s hoping to diversify their economy and open up to visitors, they sure know how to make it hard just to even visit.

If you wish to apply for a tourist visa you will need the following;

  1. Two (02) application forms duly completed, dated and signed by the applicant
  2. Two (02) recent passport size photographs to be affixed on each application form
  3. The original passport valid for at least 6 months + 2 sets of copies of all the pages (even the blank ones)
  4. Original + copy of the accommodation certificate duly certified by the local authorities (town hall) in Algeria (certificat d’hébergement légalisé par l’A.P.C.) including the name of the person inviting you, their relationship to you and the address where you will be staying during your visit to Algeria or, when applicable, a confirmation of a hotel booking or an official invitation with itinerary from a travel agency in Algeria
  5. Letter of employment or evidence of activity
  6. A prepaid self-addressed special delivery envelope for nationals residing in the UK if the application is sent by post
  7. £85.00 – Fees must be paid in GB Pound only, either by cash or postal order (write your name on the back) made payable to the Consulate of Algeria if the application is sent by mail. Do not send cash by post.

Applications can be submitted in person at the Consulate in London or by post. I was relieved this option was available as I was unable to travel to London and wait for the visa to be processed. It is oddly not in the typical location of Kensington, Westminster or Soho as most other Consulate/Embassies and is surprisingly located in North Acton. The address for the Consulate of Algeria is; 5 Portal Way, London, W3 6RT.

Location of the Consulate of Algeria in London

Location of the Consulate of Algeria in London

When I applied for my visa by post in July 2017 I made sure to leave plenty of time as I was aware that any slight mistake and your visa will either be rejected or sent back to be amended. Sadly this was the case for me, I hadn’t sent number 4 on the list above but thankfully they didn’t charge me and I was able to send everything back for a second submission.

My advice – check, double check and even treble check that you have everything and have even completed all sections on the application form correctly, maybe get a friend or partner to do this for you. During busy periods I was made aware that processing can take up to three weeks but thankfully for me I received mine within just one. I think the visa fees are pretty steep for just a tourist visa, it definitely puts a lot of people off but hopefully as the country continues to open up this may be reduced or scrapped altogether.

You might be wondering, just where do people come from who visit Algeria? Well unsurprisingly neighbouring countries rank highly, as does former colonial master, France;

  1. Tunisia (50.4%)
  2. France (12.9%)
  3. Morocco
  4. Spain
  5. China
  6. Turkey
  7. Italy
  8. Germany
  9. Portugal

Overall Algeria holds clear potential as a tourist destination but it certainly faces some infrastructure, political and visa issues amongst others before it can start to build a reputation as a place to visit.

Come back soon and check out exactly where I visited in Algeria during my trip in August 2017!

Please note that this information may change, it was correct at time of writing in August 2017. For the most up to date details you can visit the website for the Algerian Consulate in London.

Further Information?

If you’d like to discover more information about this trip or any others please feel free to ask me any questions. You can visit my Facebook page and please don’t forget to ‘Like’ Travel Geek UK.

New Budget Tour To Socotra Island – Visit A Lost World And One of The Most Unique Places In The World

The Lost World. Alien Island. The Pearl of the Indian Ocean.

These are just some of the phrases often used to describe Socotra Island, often seen as a highly prized travel destination to visit in most adventurers eyes. Sadly for the past few years it has virtually been off the map due to the awful civil war in Yemen, although thankfully it has never been part of it and remains stable and secure.

Although we were originally due to use the new direct flights from Abu Dhabi sadly Rotana Jet are only selling tickets to Emirati and Yemeni citizens, therefore we’ve decided to charter a ferry from Oman to Socotra which will have armed guards for added security meaning one of the most remote places in the world will be more accessible but most importantly – safely!

My first ever group tour will be run in partnership with Lupine Travel and we’ve now announced our first tour that will be running to the island, the first is in April 2018. We are almost close to the tour being full, numbers will be restricted due to the limited infrastructure on Socotra.

*Itinerary to be confirmed soon

Itinerary

Day 1: Wednesday 4th April

Upon arrival in Socotra, you will be transferred to the Hadibo eco-lodge to acclimatize and have lunch. After lunch, we will head to Ayhaft Canyon National Park. In the canyon we will visit large fresh water-pools where you can swim and relax. All around can be seen a huge variety of endemic plants such as Dessert Rose, Tamarind trees, Cucumber trees and a wide variety of birds such as Socotra Sparrow, Socotra Sunbird and both Socotri and Somali Starlings.

After swimming, we will drive to Delisha beach which is is packed with pristine white sands full of crabs. We will relax while swimming both in the sea and in a freshwater lagoon. Afterwards we will climb a huge sand dune overseeing the beach. There is also a possibility of watching a beautiful sunset from Delisha.

Dinner and overnight stay at the hotel in Hadibo.

Day 2: Thursday 5th April

After breakfast, we will drive to the island’s north-east coast to explore a snorkeling site in Dihammri. Once in Dihammri, you can swim, snorkel and dive in the Marine Protected Area of Dihammri, home to one of the richest coral reefs on the archipelago. Dihammri is blessed with more than 200 fish species and 4 of the 5 coral species that inhabit to the island. This shallow reef will allow even the most inexperienced snorkeler to enjoy its beauty. The many marine creatures to be seen whilst swimming and snorkeling include; parrotfish, Moray eel, Rays, turtles and much more. Diving and snorkeling gear can be hired from Dihammri Diving Center. In the afternoon, we drive to natural zoon of Homhil which is home to many sorts of endemic plant like Dragon’s Blood Tree, Frankincense Tree and Desert Rose. Once in Homhil, we will walk along a selection of trails, on one of which takes us to a viewpoint where there is a natural swimming pool and a view of villages below on the plain and of the Arabian Sea.

Dinner and overnight camp at Homhil campsite.

Day 3: Friday 6th April

After an early breakfast, we will drive to Terbak village where Hoq Cave is located. We will then hike up for 1.5 hours until we reach the entrance of the cave, before spending an hour inside. Hoq is the largest cave in the island. Over three km deep, the cave holds a wealth of Socotri history full of archaeological findings such as pieces of pottery, paintings and wooden tables with inscription in Aramaic language dating back to 258 AD. The cave offers an overwhelming beauty and variety of crystal decorations, like stalagmites, stalactites and calcite floors. We then drive to Ras Erisel which is located at the eastern end of the island where the Arabian Sea and Indian Ocean meet. Afterwards we depart to the Arher area, which is a meeting point of fresh water from the mountain and salt water from the sea. Arher is also home to another magnificent sand dune. If you are feeling especially fit, you can climb the dunes for a view that is really worth the effort.

Dinner and overnight camp at Arher campsite.

Day 4: Saturday 7th April

Today we drive to the southern coast of the Island, through the unique Defarhu Valley. We will see traditional villages, natural water pools at the bottom of the canyon and the unusual Desert Rose tree growing on the canyon walls. The vegetation here is lush green and the area is full of birds. After lunch, we drive to Hayf and Zahek village to witness the massive sand dunes which have been pushed up against the mountainside by the seasonal winds of Socotra. We then make our way to the very expansive beach of Omak in the Indian Ocean. After swimming, sunbathing and relaxing in the clear water of the Indian Ocean in Omak, we depart to Digub cave, which overlooks a scattering of traditional villages below. There are many stalactites, stalagmites and pools of water in the cave that have seeped through the rock over time.

Dinner and overnight camp at Omak campsite.

Day 5: Sunday 8th April

Today, we make our way to Dixam plateau (700m above sea level) and Shebahon viewpoint. This area is home to many of the Socotri endemic plants such as Dragon’s Blood Tree. The Shebahon viewpoint gives a fabulous vista overlooking Daerhu canyon where we will see breathtaking sceneries and unusual, beautiful rock formations. We then make our way down to the Wadi in the canyon for lunch and swim in the freshwater pools. The afternoon is spent exploring the canyon.

Dinner and overnight camp at Wadi Dirhur campsite.

Day 6: Monday 9th April

Today we explore the Western part of the island. Our first stop will be Qalansiya; a small traditional fishing town. From there we will hop on a boat and head to the remote beach of Shuaab. We are very likely to see Spinner Dolphins and other sea life during the boat ride. Once in Shuaab, we can swim, relax and enjoy the pristine beach as well as have a look at nearby mangroves. After exploring the mangroves in the areas we head back to Qalansiya in time to explore the Detwah lagoon which is a marine protected area renowned for its magical landscape. This area has some of the best views on the island. We end our day by making the long drive back to Hadibo.

Dinner and overnight camp at Detwah Lagoon Protected area. ‎

Day 7: Tuesday 10th April

A free day relaxing around the Detwah Lagoon area.

Day 8: Wednesday 11th April

After an early breakfast we transfer back to the port ready for our ferry back to Oman.

Trip Information

The cost of the tour is £795 per person.

The price includes:

  • Visa support documents
  • All ground transport in 4x4s
  • Accommodation and camping equipment
  • Tours, entry fees, permits and English speaking guides
  • Breakfast, lunch and dinner each day
  • Bottled water and soft drinks
  • Lupine tour leader

The price does not include:

  • Visa fee
  • Ferry fee (currently £350 return)
  • International Flights
  • Tips

BOOK NOW

Further Information?

If you’d like to have a chat about the tour or if you have any questions, concerns or suggestions please feel free to ask me by emailing me here.

You can also visit my Facebook page and please don’t forget to ‘Like’ Travel Geek UK.

All images used have been sourced from Google and quoted to highlight ownership.

The Road to Theth

When people described the road to Theth as extreme, difficult and off-the-beaten track, they weren’t kidding!

My destination is a beautiful and remote village nestled within Albania’s Accursed Mountains, almost completely cut off and only visited by the hardiest of travellers during the winter, whereas in summer between 5,000-10,000 tourists from all over the world descend upon this unique and unspoiled corner of Albania.

Whilst planning my trip the name Theth kept popping up as a must-see place, after doing a bit of research I realised how naturally stunning this place looked and it was decided – I MUST SEE IT!

Accursed Mountains, Albania

My adventure took place in late March 2017, very early in spring; officially the tourist season had yet to begin. After staying overnight in Shkodër I set off bright and early for the 75km drive, to my surprise the road initially was really good – it even had tarmac! After passing several quaint, traditional Albanian villages we arrived in the town of Bogë a.k.a the last civilisation before “the road to hell”, I mean Theth!

Little did I know that our rose-tinted glasses were about to be dramatically shattered, after being lured into false-pretences by good roads (in Albanian standards), as soon as you reach the highest point called Rrasat e Thores the tarmac suddenly stops and you are faced with what can only be described as a “road”. It’s simply covered with rocks, filled with pot holes and has a 2,500m sheer drop down the side of the mountain that still to this day makes me tremble with fear every time I look at my photos.

Road to Theth – No, not a chance, never again (via road) anyway!

I can only insist that if you have a fear of heights, dislike  sheer drops or roads that have a mind of their own then this probably won’t be the best drive for you. Adrenalin and adventure junkies – perfect!

The night before we drove along the Rruga per Theth (Road to Theth) there was heavy rain, although this added to our problems it didn’t prevent us from reaching the highest point of the mountain so we decided to push on not knowing what was around the corner. Along the side of the road there were huge piles of snow and ice that the digger had pushed aside the day earlier. Thankfully for us there’s various panoramic photo opportunities along the route but beware that once you start going downhill these passing places become few and far between due to the narrow road. At Rrasat e Thores I got out of the car and was stood in snow that almost reached my waist, but was taken back by the incredible panoramic view in front of me!

The view from the top…simply breathtaking!

Stupidly I hadn’t hired a car that was a 4×4, initially I thought it was but sadly in hindsight I wasn’t prepared for how bad the road would be. As I began to descend the mountain the road got more and more snowy and icy, this made driving incredibly treacherous and pretty much impossible. After reaching a point where a car was stopped in the road ahead, as it’s so narrow it makes passing impossible. We got out to investigate and had the horrific realisation that the road was closed as we saw a digger was hard at work a short distance ahead clearing the snow (and some of the road).

Sadly the digger hadn’t finished clearing the road of snow which meant we could drive no further.

I’ve never really found myself in a situation like this before, I had several thoughts;

  1. Try to turn around and go back to the top of the mountain and potentially even back to Shkodër
  2. Push the car as far to one side of the road as possible so that cars can pass and walk the 10 miles down the mountain to Theth
  3. Sleep in the car overnight and risk hyperthermia and then still be stuck the next day

One of the key things I decided to do on this trip, that I wouldn’t normally, probably turned out to be the biggest saviour – I had bought a local sim card earlier in the day from a Vodafone shop and amazingly had signal and an internet connection (even better than at home!) which meant I could call my home stay and advise them that we were stuck.

…and we’re stuck!

As I can’t drive, my boyfriend had the unfortunate task of attempting to turn the car around with unfortunately not much luck as it had churned up the snow and ice leaving huge puddles. Thankfully the men who were operating the digger were kind enough to help. A young guy, probably no older than 22, simply got in the car and somehow managed to turn it around and get it into the side. Simple!

This also meant that option 1 would literally have been impossible and option 3 would have just been dangerous and stupid, therefore we had no choice but to grab our things and venture down the mountain. I was aware that it was almost 3pm, the sun sets at approximately 6.30pm meaning it would be pretty dark by 7pm and believe me I do not wish to be out in the wild where potentially bears, wolves or other animals could have had you as their dinner.

After abandoning the hire car we had the painstaking task of trudging through waist-high snow that the digger had yet to clear. Wet feet, tiredness and hunger started to take its toll, thankfully for us you can see Theth in the valley below which often made it look closer than it actually was.

Teasing me the whole way down, I could see Theth Village nestled in the valley below.

Nevertheless around 7pm we arrived into the village at dusk, crossing the main bridge we heard a few voices say, “are you okay, can we help you?!”, I think some locals most have thought we were mad and wondered where on earth these crazy people had just come from simply walking into the village. Thankfully Google Maps guided me the whole way to our home stay for the two nights that we’d booked.

I was greeted by Pavel and Vlora, owners of Bujtina Polia Guesthouse who welcomed us and made sure we instantly sat down next to the traditional wood-burning oven to warm ourselves up and thaw out. After walking for just over 10 miles downhill there was only one thing on my mind – FOOD! I was so hungry, thankfully Vlora had everything ready and provided us with a lovely feast that was perfect for the weary traveller. I was so tired and ended up going to bed about 8.30pm, I don’t think I’ve ever fallen asleep so early but believe me it was necessary – if not just to rest my feet. Sadly I didn’t get that much sleep due to having flashbacks and nightmares about falling off mountains and down sheer drops. Bloody overactive imagination!

Thankfully for me as the sun began to rise it shone through the window waking me up to one of the most spectacular views I’ve ever encountered anywhere I’ve ever stayed. This put me in such a good mood and made me eager to go out and explore the valley, even though my feet, calf muscles and blisters didn’t seem keen.

One of the best views I’ve ever woke up to…

One of the must-see places in Theth is the Blue Eye waterfall (Syri Kalter), a natural pool that’s 3-5m deep. A rare natural beauty, located in a canyon that takes over 3 hours to walk from Theth village, if this place was located in Italy, Spain or Greece it would most likely be overrun by tourists, thankfully for me though we were the only people there.

Chilling in Theth, the water is so clean and pure here that you can drink straight from the river!

The weather was absolutely incredible that day, we had clear skies and beautiful sunshine, enough to make this pasty Brit get sunburnt! On the way to the Blue Eye you’ll encounter a number of bridges that vary in levels of state including one which wasn’t attached and one that you could see straight through the tiny planks of wood. Not a great experience for someone with vertigo!

The Bridges of Theth can only be described as having a scary level of 10!!!

One thing to point out throughout my whole time visiting Theth and the Blue Eye was how friendly the local people are, I couldn’t speak more highly about them. A lovely elderly lady who delivered the milk and cheese to Bujtina Polia didn’t expect to see tourists sat in their living room that day but was so excited because for the villagers it means an income; one that during the winter is virtually impossible due to the road being cut off. Before she said her goodbyes there was only one thing she wanted at 8am – Raki – an Albanian spirit that I like to describe as fire water! That’s one way to start the morning and brush away the cobwebs.

The very beautiful Bujtina Polia in Theth

Sadly it was time to say our goodbyes to the Polia family and to Theth, after a rather horrific initial experience it turned out to be one of my most amazing adventures, that sadly for me wasn’t over until we got the car back to the top of the mountain. Thankfully Pavel (an experienced mountain guide) drove us back to our vehicle and was kind enough to help us.

The road had become icy overnight which made things rather difficult when your car doesn’t have 4-wheel drive, thankfully his knowledge and experience meant we strapped ropes to the tires that gave them traction but not enough to make it without help. Ironically another car randomly appeared up ahead, they weren’t even asked if they would help but instantly got stuck in and helped us to push the car up the mountain and out of their way so they could pass. This would never happen in England!

Eventually after several false starts we made it back to where we started – Rrasat e Thores a.k.a the top! Tarmac road awaited, but not before my boyfriend got out of the car and breathed a huge sigh of relief that;

  1. We’d made it alive and…
  2. The car still worked! HURRAY

This is one truly off-the-beaten track destination, it’s one of the most remote places to try to access but is hugely worthwhile. Unlike any other part of Albania, Theth is unique, raw and truly awe-inspiring.

You can’t tell me you don’t want to see views like this for yourself? Quick, get to Theth now!

Visit Theth for yourself

I highly recommend a visit, to book your stay go to Booking.com and search for Bujtina Polia. Click here using this link!

You’ll be blown away by how incredible the Albanian Alps are, you can also check out the rest of Albania here.

Further Information?

If you’d like to discover more photographs and information from this trip or any others please feel free to ask me any questions. You can visit my Facebook page and please don’t forget to ‘Like’ Travel Geek UK.

All images copyrighted, if you wish to use any images produced in this blog article please contact me.

Sudan Travel: Guide to the Pyramids, Visa Rules and Khartoum

Sudan Diaries

Experience a country that has more pyramids than Egypt, that has no McDonalds but does have tourist sites that would make most countries envious!

Once the biggest country in Africa until the South went rogue, Sudan is not your typical holiday destination, but with ever-increasing tourism arrivals, could that all be about to change?

When asked where you are going on holiday, it’s highly unlikely you’ll say Sudan. Most people couldn’t point it out on a map, let alone tell you why you should visit. The general consensus is that I’m nuts, mostly because the mainstream media depicts Sudan as a dangerous and unsafe destination to visit.

Come with me on my journey around Sudan...

Come with me on my journey around Sudan…

My Sudan Diaries

So what’s it like to visit? It’s certainly a culture shock at first, I wasn’t sure what to expect but it has definitely encouraged me to see more of Africa. Whilst I was travelling in Sudan I was sadly only there for six days but I sure packed a lot in. Here’s what I got up to…

Sunday 19th February

I absolutely love the feeling of landing somewhere new and exotic, not knowing what to expect or whether you’ll even be allowed into the country. After flying from Manchester and having a short stop in Istanbul, I arrived very early in the morning a bit bleary-eyed and attempting to stay awake.

Thankfully for me I was travelling in a group so I felt safe in the fact that if something went wrong there’d be someone there to help me out. Be sure to collect an arrival card before you proceed to passport control or you will be sent to the back of the queue. As it happens I was the first one through security so I had plenty of time to acclimatise and people-watch at the airport. Whatever you do, don’t take photos in/around the terminal!

You’ll certainly see some sites at the only International airport in the country; I saw people randomly walking in and out of the “secure” areas and even some falcons that a rich Emirati had brought with him.

Good morning Sudan and Sudan Airways - a rare sighting at an airport as they are banned from flying into the European Union.

Good morning Sudan and Sudan Airways – a rare sighting at an airport as they are banned from flying into the European Union.

Whilst preparing for Sudan I was advised not to bring sterling and instead only bring Euros and Dollars, thankfully I ignored this advice as I was able to exchange Great British Pounds at the airport. Using XE.com I was advised that the official bank rate was 8SDP to 1GBP, but for some reason I was offered more than double this and was given 19SDP! This helped make my trip to Sudan one of the cheapest I’ve ever experienced.

After a long journey some shut-eye was required; thankfully I awoke with a desire to go exploring. Khartoum is a strange mix of old vs new, some streets are clean, others are a rubbish dump. It’s quite difficult not to be affected by the dirt and sand in the air so make sure you take nasal spray.

One of the first places I came across was the Corinthia Hotel a.k.a Burj Libya. I’d heard many stories about this place, it’s the most luxurious hotel in the country and was built using Co. Gaddafi’s money. At the time I visited it costs $279 to stay for one night, far more than your average Sudanese can afford (or me for that matter). After ordering ice cream and waiting 45 minutes for it not to turn up I cancelled my order and opted to buy a 25p cone from a local seller outside instead.

Corinthia Hotel a.k.a Burj Libya

Corinthia Hotel
a.k.a Burj Libya

Having previously visited Egypt and sailed down the Nile on a felucca it was only right that I do a boat trip again in Sudan. Head to the Corinthia Hotel and next to the river you’ll be asked if you’d like to take a boat ride, thankfully the Sudanese weren’t pushy but you will need to haggle as you’ll be offered different things so be sure you know what you’re getting into. There was four of us and we paid a total of 300SDP for one hour to see the confluence of the Nile and also Tuti Island. Amazingly we were even offered life jackets!

One thing you must obtain on the first day of travelling in Sudan is a photo permit. They are free and you can get one through a travel agent or hotel representative but without this you’ll be subject to scrutiny if stopped by police. Similar to other countries, many locals don’t want their photo taken but if you strike up a conversion you’ll be amazed at the friendliness of the Sudanese.

Was I in love with Khartoum? Sadly not, it didn’t leave me with the best impression but thankfully I needed plenty of beauty sleep before leaving the capital.

Typical views of Khartoum

Typical views of Khartoum

Monday 20th February

Catching up on my sleep makes me a happy traveller, as does having a shower to make me feel refreshed. Sadly for me the morning that I was travelling to the desert my hotel appeared to run out of water. Hurray for wet wipes!

I was thankful that I was finally able to escape the dirt of Khartoum, sadly for me it was only to discover that many parts of the countryside are also a plastic bag wasteland. There’s a huge business opportunity for anyone brave enough to educate people on the art of recycling.

Naga Archeological site

Naga Archeological site

Naga Archeological Site

Naga Archeological Site

I’ll admit that other than the famous Meroe pyramids I didn’t know anything else about any other tourist sites in Sudan. Thankfully for me this meant I was pleasantly surprised when I was travelling around. After veering off the main tarmacked road, it was incredibly bumpy and bone-shattering 45 minutes to reach the Naga (or Naqa in Arabic) archaeological site. I’d personally never heard about this place but it turns out it’s one of the largest ruined sites in the whole country, if this place was in neighbouring Egypt it would definitely be overrun by tourists!

After a really long day I was absolutely gutted to arrive too late to see the sunset over the Meroe pyramids, so my alarm was set for a very early morning to capture the beauty. Sadly for me the only other thing left to do was camp out in the desert, the tent wasn’t really suitable for two people so I ended up the back of a pickup truck in a sleeping bag. Thankfully, it turns out I probably got the most sleep out of everyone in my group as most of their tents collapsed during the night because of the wind.

For me though; camping out overnight sleeping underneath the stars – perfect.

Sunrise at the Pyramids of Meroe

Sunrise at the Pyramids of Meroe

Tuesday 21st February

I’m incredibly lucky to say I’ve seen some of the world’s most memorable tourist sites, however waking up to a sunrise over the Meroe pyramids has to be right up there with one of my favourite experiences. It gave me a feeling that I’d stepped back in time, although sadly the pyramids aren’t quite as abandoned as I initially imagined due to being located just off the main highway heading north.

The reason most tourists will visit Sudan is simply to experience the “less touristy” pyramids. Sudan has far more than Egypt, yet far less tourists. The Pyramids of Meroe are situated in a perfect spot for an ancient city, residing just east of the Nile River. Some of the restoration works left a lot to be desired, however I understand that with limited resources and money the Sudanese have been doing what they can with what they’ve got.

Sunrise at the Pyramids of Meroe

Sunrise at the Pyramids of Meroe

I felt like I'd stepped back in time when I visited Meroe - amazing experience!

I felt like I’d stepped back in time when I visited Meroe – amazing experience!

After leaving Meroe I ventured to yet more pyramids, this time discovering that the site of Nuri belonged to Nubian kings. I strongly suggest making a trip here, the pyramids have been far less damaged and the restoration is much more in keeping with what the original pyramids would have looked like – in my opinion.

Only 10km away is Jebel Barkal, a relatively small mountain – something I wasn’t expecting to find in Sudan as for some reason I thought it was completely flat! Once again, this UNESCO World Heritage site was a complete surprise for me, I was able to explore a recently discovered temple that was undergoing a live archeological excavation. This was an exciting opportunity and one I’m extremely grateful to the archeologists for allowing me to enter Mut Temple and step back in time.

Top L-R: Nuri Pyramids and Karima Pyramids Bottom L-R: Jebel Barkal and Mut Temple

Top L-R: Nuri Pyramids and Karima Pyramids
Bottom L-R: Jebel Barkal and Mut Temple

After becoming a bit templed-out for the day I thankfully arrived in the early evening to my accommodation for the night at a typical Nubian homestay. It wasn’t quite as expected, but after sleeping in the desert the night before and not having a shower even just the thought of a cold shower was enticing. The reality – a shed in the garden along with a bunch of spiders, mosquitos and other lovely creatures as shower guests. It did however help me remove the sand from every orifice!

Wednesday 22nd February

Another day, another archeological site. This time it’s the vast El-Kurru complex, this place was used by the Nubian royal family and houses some of the most fascinating and intact paintings inside the burial tombs. Thankfully excavations are still taking place and no doubt in years to come there will be far more things for travellers to see and experience including the tomb of Tanwetamani and King Shebitku.

El-Kurru

El-Kurru

img_6648

Tomb of Tanwetamani

After leaving El-Kurru, the rest of the day didn’t involve a huge amount of exploring, but thankfully for me I’m one of those sad people who can’t sleep on long journeys so I simply peered out the window, staring at the endless emptiness of sand with only a few glimpses of life by nomadic people with their camels and donkeys. At a pitstop along the way we saw a local minibus picking up passengers, in the form of a goat that was tied to a roof! Only in Sudan.

This goat will definitely have the wind in his hair...

This goat will definitely have the wind in his hair…

The emptiness certainly didn’t last long when we arrived back in Khartoum. Big cities often endure crazy traffic and manic driving but this place was something else, I’m just glad it wasn’t me who had the responsibility of getting us through it all safely. Thankfully though there’s method in the madness and somehow it all seems to work but for this relatively poor country just surviving is all you can hope for.

Many Sudanese still live a nomadic lifestyle, this little boy was collecting water for his family.

Many Sudanese still live a nomadic lifestyle, this little boy was collecting water for his family.

Thursday 23rd February

The one good thing about being back in the capital is that Wifi is freely available and you can connect with the outside world again. I thought that with Sudan being a relatively closed country the internet would be far more restricted but to my amazement I was freely able to access my typical Social networking sites, but hilariously Sky News was blocked – in your face Rupert Murdoch!

Khartoum used to be a sleepy city with few things to do or explore, this is slowly starting to change but thankfully there’s still a few abandoned dark tourism sites to visit including the Mogan Family park. Oddly enough this site is still tended to but most of the amusement park is now derelict, however the guard will let you freely roam and explore where you like. Make sure you venture all the way to the end as you’ll come face to face with the mighty Nile River, directly at the confluence where the Blue and the White Nile meets.

Mogan Family Park

Mogan Family Park

A short walk away is The National Museum of Sudan; housing the largest and most important archeological sites in the country. Although it could do with some improvements they’ve definitely made an effort overall and I found it informative. I’d advise you to visit this place last on your trip because you can visit the actual sites around the country and then complete your tour here and hopefully everything will fit in to place and make sense.

I’m not sure if you are like me but postcards are still a must when I’m travelling; especially the more exotic locations. However in Sudan you’ll struggle to even find a post office, in fact there are no post boxes in the whole country so try to head to main depot in Khartoum. I was easily able to find postcards for China and Hawaii randomly but you’ll struggle to find any decent postcards of Sudan; a definite business opportunity for any locals reading this!

Goodnight Khartoum

Goodnight Khartoum

Friday 24th February

Sadly today is my last day, it has been a very short trip to such a large country but the lasting impression of waking up at the ancient Pyramids of Meroe will stay with me forever.

If you fly into Sudan it’s likely your flight will be an early morning one, mine was scheduled for 3am so it was an incredibly early start. My advice would be to make sure you leave at least 2 hours to get through the airport as it can be a rather beaurocratic process. There are currency exchange desks before you pass through security, make sure you change any additional currency as there isn’t any other opportunities afterwards. I ended up buying a coffee pot that I didn’t need simply to get rid of my last remaining 100SDP.

Any adventure traveller will tell you about the various times they’ve become ill whilst travelling, sadly for me once I returned to the UK I spent the following week in my sick bed getting over contracting an infectious disease called Chikungunya that I’d caught during my time travelling, what a way to end my trip.

The joys of adventure travel!

sudanvisa

My Sudan visa and trusted Bradt Guide book.

Visit Sudan

Inspired to visit? It’s surprisingly easy if you join an organised group tour as they’ll arrange a sponsor in the form of a local company; once this is received you can then apply for your visa. I travelled with UK based travel agency Lupine Travel who offer tours to unique destinations including Eritrea, Turkmenistan and North Korea. As I no longer live in London the embassy thankfully accept applications by post making it easy to get a visa.

What do you need to include?

  • One passport photo
  • Original Passport
  • Completed and signed application form
  • Yellow fever certificate – not required but would be advantageous
  • Postal Order for total of £55
  • Return special delivery envelope (including postage)

For more information please visit the Embassy of Sudan in London.

Your adventure awaits...

Your adventure awaits…

Travelling to Sudan

Would I visit again? It’s unlikely, but not for any bad reason, mostly just because I don’t go to the same place twice. Khartoum isn’t somewhere that would feature on my list of beautiful cities and the Sudanese need a serious lesson in recycling and not filling their countryside with plastic bags and rubbish. However the archeological sites more than make up for these downfalls and I’d strongly recommend visiting soon before your typical tourists find out about this place.

What will you need to take? Here’s a brief list of suggestions for items to take with you;

  • Toilet roll / wet wipes
  • Anti-bacterial hand gel
  • Nasal spray
  • First Aid kit
  • Long trousers (do not wear shorts due to strict Sharia Law)
  • Mosquito spray/net
  • Microfibre travel towel
I'm proud to travel to countries where I can fly the LGBT flag. Will you follow in my footsteps?

I’m proud to travel to countries where I can fly the LGBT flag. Will you follow in my footsteps?

LGBT Travel to Sudan

Let me point out the obvious; Sudan isn’t the first country you’d think of when you think of organising a holiday for an LGBT traveller but intrepid types are exploring, despite the risks. Let’s just say, don’t put it about! I didn’t receive any animosity, but then I would also say don’t make it hugely obvious either as this could land you in some hot water. If you’re an LGBT traveller and would like some advice or a chat about my trip here please contact me.

Further information?

If you’d like to discover more photographs and information from this trip or any others please feel free to ask me any questions. You can visit my Facebook page and please don’t forget to ‘Like’ Travel Geek UK.

All images copyrighted, if you wish to use any images produced in this blog article please contact me.