Algeria: top tips for independent travel
Getting to Algeria as independent travellers wasn’t easy, but the people, culture and spectacular surroundings made it well worth the admin headache. Here’s a price guide, and top budget travel tips in from our time in January 2023…
Algeria Price Guide
- Tea & coffee: 10-50 dz (both served very strong)
- ~10km taxi in Algiers: 700 dz
- Average entry to historic sites: €1-2
- Dinner at a fish restaurant: 2000-3000 dz
- Grilled meet sandwich: 200-300 dz (chicken, beef, liver)
- Algiers metro: 50dz
- Top quality mid-range AirBnB: £30-50 a day
- Car hire: €25 a day
- SIM with 30GB data: €15
Algeria Travel: what to know before you go
We turned up in Algiers with high hopes but no solid plans for how to tackle the next week, thinking we would be able to google must-see sights and logistics at our accommodation on the wi-fi as we go. We also thought that we would be able to rely on offline maps for the driving portions of our travels along the coast. Both of these things proved problematic from the get-go when we got caught in the world’s worst cross-five-lane traffic jam when there a) should have been three lanes and b) a perfectly good highway we could’ve taken instead. When we arrived in our first lovely small town stay in Ain Tagourait, we also did not have any Wi-Fi.
To buy a SIM you need someone with an Algerian ID to register you – people are incredibly generous with their time and will do anything to help so we suggest you ask someone such as your accommodation host to explain the system to you – we managed to pick one up with assistance in a local corner shop.
Have your visa application details to hand at the border
Algeria was probably the most difficult Visa we have ever had to apply for and at times we thought about cancelling our trip because it seemed like we were fighting a losing battle. So we’ve set out a more detailed guide on how to get an Algeria Visa here for UK citizens here to help anyone in the same boat.
However, even after finally getting those coveted Algerian visa pages in the passport, for a moment we thought we would be turned back at the final frontier.
‘Who’s meeting you at the airport?’ The border guard was far from satisfied with our We had hastily filled in some immigration forms.
‘No-one, we’re driving’
‘Where are you driving to?’
At this point we thought it best to whack out our letter of invitation to show the address we were driving to matched our immigration cards.
‘What’s their phone number?’
We really thought he was going to phone our Air BnB host! This stumped us for a while – we didn’t have our hosts number saved and we we had only been in contact via AirBnB. The border guard had to share his hotspot with us while we desperately tried to contact her, holding up everyone at immigration while we did it. Luckily we managed to get through and after a clandestine number exchange with the border official – who later turned out to be a bit of a lad & asked Alex if wanted a to hit up Algiers – we were on our way. Moral of the story is HAVE YOUR LETTER OF INVITATION AND THE NUMBER OF YOUR MAIN CONTACT TO HAND.
Check the water situation
It is worth clarifying with your accommodation host whether you need to know anything about the water. In Constantine and Algiers the water is turned off in the evening – it seems most middle-class Algerians have a tank so they can keep using the water in the evening but there may be certain knacks to making sure it’s filled etc.. Of course, standard rules apply about being conservative with water where you can!
Drive the Algerian way
To navigate the Algerian driving weaving mass of bolshy over-takers, potholes and general highway code anarchy, Alex recommends the following to embrace driving the Algerian way:
Add some contingency time onto every journey
Traffic in Algeria is mainly caused by police check points on the highway that funnel cars into fewer and fewer years. If you are hiring a car in Algeria, don’t be put off by one that’s a bit beaten up around the edges – you’ll fit in much more with the rest of the traffic that way. Essentially add 45 minutes onto each 2+hour journey and at least 15 minutes onto each inner city trip.
Think about whether you can earn points for a companion voucher
If you are a bit of a credit card points collector to get perks for your purchases and you’re interested in travelling to Algeria, you are probably already very familiar with the British Airways American Express card. This gets you British Airways Avios (rewards points) for every purchase and if you spend a certain amount you can rewarded a companion voucher where if you pay for one return flight in Avios, you get the other one for free (expect taxes). You can find more information on this here. Algiers is a perfect destination to use a companion voucher from the UK because it is close enough that taxes aren’t huge while also being a destination where flights are generally expensive for the distance travelled and rarely discounted.
French is not King in Algeria
Given our shamefully limited Arabic, we thought our best chance when chatting to people was Alex’s rudimentary French and my occasional ‘Bonjour’. However, while a good level of French is common with older people, English is a more common second language in Algeria with the younger generations. In fact, our lingua franca with a number of people turned out to be Spanish! But whatever the language barriers, people are patient and will make the effort to converse with you so just try your best.
‘Traditional Algerian food’ is different to the food you might find in towns and restaurants
There is plenty of blogs out there about traditional Algerian dishes you must try, couscous being on the top of many a list. Usually we make local cuisine one of our top priorities, especially when visiting a new country. However, eating out is not that common on the Northern coast of Algeria. Cafes/restaurants are usually reserved for the middle classes and special occasions and the food on offer reflects that. These offer lots of amazing fresh, grilled fish that we would never be able to afford at home, so we weren’t complaining! The fish always came with a selection of salads or vegetable medleys, breads and something carby/stewy. More often than not, our fish came with a side of paella! During the day the common street snack was kebab baguette. You can spot the grills that come out smoking about lunch time, you pick your number of skewers (from chicken/beef/offal) for your harrisa lathered sandwich. Perfect for a quick bite while you’re out sight seeing.
Restaurants can be scare on the weekend (Friday/Saturday) so if in doubt always ask for recommendations and think ahead before you get too hangry!
The currency black market is thriving but it’s not as obvious as you might think
Before even leaving the airport, we were approached by someone offering to exchange money for us. The rate wasn’t great but we were tempted as it was better than we would have got if we went to an ATM or bank and we had no local currency on us. We were put off when he wanted us to hide in a not so hidden place from the watchful eyes of airport officials to do the deal. Given we only just made it through the border we weren’t willing to risk our Algerian adventure for a few dinar so we took our chances on the outside world. We never had trouble changing €50-100 at decent rates through people we met along our way. But there was no obvious market for it in towns and cities as there is in other locations in similar predicaments. The only place we got approached for a money exchange was in the centre of Constantine. So our advice would be to ask around rather than try and locate a money exchange yourself.
Bring Euros and don’t change up too much into Algerian Dinar
Euros are king. Cash is King. Everyone wants Euros. You’re not supposed to leave with too much ALgerian dinar in your pocket and the exchange rates are extortionate so change up little and often and pay for things like accommodation online when you can.
That’s all, you’ll have an amazing time in Algeria! We’ll post a Northern Algeria tour seperately yp give you some travel planning inspiration.