The Sahara Desert is a great desert area in North Africa that extends from the Atlantic Ocean eastward past the Red Sea to Iraq. The entire desert, the largest in the world, is about 1600 km wide and about 5000 km long from east to west.
The total domain of the Sahara Desert is more than 9,000,000 sq. km, more than 3,500,000 square miles, of which 80,000 square miles consist of partially fertile oases.
The boundaries, however, are not clearly defined, and have been shifting for a thousand years.The limits of the Sahara Desert are the Atlantic Ocean on the west, the Atlas Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea in the North, the Red Sea and Egypt in the east, and the Sudan and the valley of the Niger River in the south.
Geographically distinct is the West Sahara, which is sometimes called the Sahara Proper; the central Ahaggar Mountains and the Tibesti Massif, are plateau regions.The Libyan Desert is in the east, and the West Sahara Desert is an area of rock-strewn plains and sand deserts of varying elevation. The land is presently almost entirely without rainfall or surface water but possesses a number of underground rivers that flow fast from the Atlas and other mountains. Occasionally the waters of these rivers find their way seeping to the surface; in these naturally irrigated oases, plants grow freely. The soil of this region of the Sahara is highly fertile and, where irrigation is possible, produces excellent crops.
The central plateau region of the Sahara Desert runs for about 1600 km, about 1000 miles in a Northwest to Southeast direction. The plateau itself varies in height, from about 600 to 750 m (about 1900 to 2500 ft). Peaks in the several mountain ranges that rise from the plateau are from about 1800, to more than 3400 m (about 6000 to more than 11,200 ft) high.
Notable peaks include Emi Koussi (3415 m/11,204 ft), in the Tibesti Massif, and Tahat (3003 m / 9852 ft), in the Ahaggar Range. Although rainfall is scant in the area, several of the central Saharan peaks are snow-capped during part of the year.
The Libyan Sahara Desert is considered the most arid part of the Sahara. Moisture is almost totally absent and few oases exist. The land is characterized by sandy wastes and large dunes of sand 122 m (400 ft) or more in height.
The valley of the Nile River and the mountainous area of the Nubian Desert to the East of the Nile are geographically, part of the Sahara. However, the irrigation afforded by the Nile transforms the desert into fertile agricultural land throughout much of Egypt.
Countries Of The Sahara
The Sahara Desert is an enormous adventure playground situated south of the European landmass, and for the many hundreds of thousands of four-wheel-drive junkies cruising the black top roads of Europe, it is probably the best and only option to cut your teeth.
It is also, unfortunately, way beyond the Pale, and the fabulous prospects of wide open spaces also open up the potential for lawlessness and banditry which is without doubt one of the more sobering facts of the region, and indeed anywhere in Africa where law enforcement is sketchy or non-existent.
Trans-Saharan travel has in recent years become increasingly less safe. As a guide to the safest routes south from Europe to sub-Saharan Africa the itineraries of the major commercial overland companies are a good guide. These days striking south through Algeria and Niger, once the most favored route, is not practical on a commercial scale, and certainly ill advised on an individual level. The current route follows the Atlantic seaboard from Morocco through Western Sahara, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso and Nigeria.
Also south through Egypt and veering east along the line of the Blue Nile into Ethiopa is a feasible route.
Short penetration south into Morocco, Algeria and Libya if you can manage it is a safer option, with the risk increasing the closer you get to the Mali and Mauritanian frontiers. Libya is a great country for long-range overland travel, with the main problems being tight travel restrictions, but if you get around these then you will find desert travel conditions much safer.
A much-praised feature of the Southern Algerian Sahara is the Hoggar region.
The reputation for safe overland travel in Egypt has recently taken a knock thanks to a high profile kidnapping that did not take on any ugly proportions, but is bound to highlight the risks of the Sudan border region.
Tunisia within the limits of its borders is a rewarding desert travel destination, but it does not allow for really deep penetration.
If you can get down as far as Niger then this is arguably the most rewarding venue for those interested in mammoth star-scapes, featureless desert and great dry land scenery when you come upon it. Niger has a reputation in desert travel as being one of the greatest Sahara destinations. Look out for the Aïr Mountains and the Tree of Ténéré.
Mali Likewise is a thrilling desert travel destination, with also one of the most surprising and diverse swathes of desert landscape, and with the ultimate reward of the Niger River heartland with its inland delta.
Convoys, local escorts and comprehensive inquiry on the ground regarding current security conditions are a basic precaution for deep penetration overland travel through the Sahara. The trans-African is a regular feature of contemporary North African travel, so it should not be concluded by this post that it is impossible. It is simply risky, as is any situation where the rich western tourist is isolated with all his or her worldly good (particularly a far 4×4 with a full compliment of overland kit) and the potential for a quick satellite phone call home to demand an even fatter ransom.