Africa > North Africa
In North Africa, beautiful mosques, bustling markets, and ancient ruins lie between the Mediterranean coast and the Sahara Desert. It has an ancient history, with many Berber kingdoms as well as the Greek, Roman, and Ottoman empires ruling there.
The largest country in Africa and the heart of Numidia.
Home of the ancient Egyptian civilization, with its temples, hieroglyphs, mummies.
Large open spaces with more than 90% of the country being desert or semidesert, with some Greek and Roman ruins along the coast, but sadly in the middle of a deadly civil war.
Situated on both the North Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea.
Located in the very centre of Mediterranean Africa, the northernmost country in Africa and the home of Carthage.
|Western Sahara |
Governance is in dispute between Morocco and Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), but the majority of the region is occupied by Morocco.
- Atlantic Ocean Islands: Canary Islands (Spain) and Madeira Islands (Portugal) are integrated provinces of their respective countries
- Spanish North Africa: Ceuta, Melilla, and some smaller territories along the coast of Morocco
- 1 Alexandria — Egypt's major Mediterranean city is a pale shadow of its former glorious self but remains a major tourism site
- 2 Algiers — the capital of Algeria with a notable medieval casbah
- 3 Cairo — the largest city in Africa with major monuments of Ancient Egypt nearby
- 4 Casablanca — the largest city in Morocco is of sparse interest to the traveller, but is a major transit point
- 5 El Aaiún — the capital city of the disputed territory of Western Sahara
- 6 Marrakech — this historic Moroccan city close to the foothills of the Atlas Mountains is an extraordinary meeting of the ancient and modern
- 7 Oran — this historic Algerian city is full of French, Ottoman, Moorish, and Algerian architecture like churches and mosques and parks. It also has a beautiful seashore and buildings.
- 8 Tripoli — Libya's capital was long off-limits to most travellers but is experiencing a real resurgence of interest
- 9 Tunis — the capital of Tunisia is a relatively small and sleepy city but is the gateway to the remains of Carthage and other very notable historical sites.
- 1 Abu Simbel — a very remote area in far south Egypt, with some beautiful ancient temples
- 2 Carthage — Phoenician colony in Tunisia and the biggest trade metropolis of the antique world; famously razed by the Romans and the remnants are now encased in a museum
- 3 El-Oued — in Algeria with its domed architecture & nearby Grand Erg Oriental — the Sahara's second largest dune field
- 4 Ghat - an ancient settlement in southwest Libya with prehistoric rock paintings and very challenging desert trekking
- High Atlas — hiking, skiing and Berber culture amongst these peaks and valleys in Morocco.
- 5 Leptis Magna — extensive Roman ruins in Libya
- 6 Matmata — desert village in Tunisia of cave abodes, where Star Wars's Tatooine was filmed
- 7 Merzouga and M'Hamid — from either of these two settlements in Morocco at the edge of the Sahara, ride a camel or 4x4 into the desert for a night (or a week) among the dunes and under the stars
- 8 Valley of the Kings — the great site of Ancient Egypt
Ramadan is the 9th and holiest month in the Islamic calendar and lasts 29–30 days. Muslims fast every day for its duration and most restaurants will be closed until the fast breaks at dusk. Nothing (including water and cigarettes) is supposed to pass through the lips from dawn to sunset. Non-Muslims are exempt from this, but should still refrain from eating or drinking in public as this is considered very impolite. Working hours are decreased as well in the corporate world. Exact dates of Ramadan depend on local astronomical observations and may vary somewhat from country to country. Ramadan concludes with the festival of Eid al-Fitr, which may last several days, usually three in most countries.
If you're planning to travel to North Africa during Ramadan, consider reading Travelling during Ramadan.
North Africa, as a region is very different from the countries to the South. The people and culture are Arabic, the food is different, and Islam is the dominant religion. Many organizations now group North Africa and the Middle East together as MENA (Middle East North Africa) because North Africa has much more in common with countries like Syria or Jordan than countries like Mali or Ivory Coast.
The North African peoples have seen many empires come and go, each bringing both wars, and contributions to local culture. Ancient Egypt was one of the world's longest-living urban civilizations, and Phoenicia, ancient Greece and later the Roman Empire came to dominate the Mediterranean Sea. The Arabs and Islam arrived in the 7th century (see Islamic Golden Age) and were displaced by the Ottoman Empire. The French colonial empire came to include Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, and had the Suez Canal completed in 1869. During World War II in Africa, the Italians and later the Germans failed to conquer the whole of North Africa. After the war, Arab nationalist movements demanded independence. The North African countries took different paths to independence, and in the 2020s only a few coastal territories of Spanish North Africa are under European rule.
North Africa was a scene for the Cold War with mostly authoritarian leaders, with allegiance either to the West or the Soviet Union. In 2010, the Arab Spring began as a series of public revolts. As of 2020, the outcome has been varied, with Tunisia adopting a democratic constitution, and Libya stuck in civil war.
Arabic is without a doubt the dominant language, and is the official language in every North African country. However Arabic dialects are mutually unintelligible, so there's no way a tourist speaking standard Arabic could understand a Moroccan speaking their dialect. However, standard Arabic is always the official language, and with the exception of Western Sahara, almost all urban people are able to speak it.
French is the most widely known second language in Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, due to much of the area's history as a French colony. In Libya and Egypt, English is the dominant second language (except among older Libyans, where Italian is more prevalent).
Many people in the Maghreb, especially in Algeria and Morocco, speak Berber or Amazigh as their first language.
Avoid drinking untreated ground water. Avoid Libya, southern Algeria, the Sahrawi areas of Western Sahara, and southern Tunisia due to the risk of armed conflict or insurgent violence.