Tamanrasset lies at an elevation of 4,500 ft/1,400 m in a region crossed by nomadic Tuareg tribesmen. It is, quite literally, the end of the road: From this point south, you must follow tire tracks in the sand. As romantic as all this may sound, the town itself has few redeeming qualities. We found it to be physically unattractive—it's basically a large truck stop, and the conservative values of its population tend to clash with those of visiting Westerners.

However, there's a site of incredible beauty at Assekrem plateau in the Hoggar (Ahaggar) Mountains, 50 mi/80 km east of town: The land is dominated by craggy cliffs and volcanic plugs, and the black igneous rock covering the ground is a surprising contrast to the pure, camel-colored sand to the west. You can stay overnight at a very basic guesthouse attached to a hermitage run by Trappist monks. The hermitage itself sits atop the eroded stump of a volcano 9,000 ft/2,700 m high—the view is superb. Be sure to go into the chapel, where a crudely carved crucifix is the only symbol of faith (animal skins on the floor provide seating, and candles and tiny windows provide light). The chapel's simple design meshes perfectly with the surrounding environment.

Also in the area are prehistoric rock drawings of ostriches, camels and people (though interesting, the sketches are not as fine as those found in Djanet). Day trips can be made to Amenokal's camp (where a Tuareg chief lives), 19 mi/30 km from Tamanrasset, or to the settlements of Hirafok, Ideles, Tazrouk, Tahifet and Tarhouhaout. At Arak Gorge, there's the possibility of seeing gazelles and camel herds. Two nights in the area would be about right (if one night is spent in Assekrem). 950 mi/1,530 km south of Algiers.

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