Whilst camel treks and trailbike safaris (photos 4,5) are two of the options on offer for getting around the Akakus, most people will spend their time here in a 4x4. Toyotas are favourite choice of the Tuareg drivers who operate in the area - Land Cruisers for the client and pickups for the gear.
Some of the time you'll be driving on a hard piste known here as "reg" - a black, stony surface where the stones are so close packed that looking across it is like looking across tarmac. In other places it's sandier with far fewer stones but still a hard-packed surface that makes for good driving. This is known as "erg" - over 80% of the Sahara is made up of this and the Jebel Akakus is no exception (photo 2). Parts of it stretch out in a wide featureless plain, in other areas aeons of sand-filled winds have scoured the rock into strange formations that surround you on all sides - this is known as the "hamada".
You'll also drive through "sarir" (photo 3), the sandy basins of dry watercourses, also known as wadis. Here you'll find scrubby trees and bushes, plants that can survive on the minuscule amounts of water remain below the surface in the years between rainfall.
And then there is the sand and the dunes 9photo 2). The sand here is often very fine and soft. Known as "fish-fash" it makes for demanding driving. Tour drivers all make a point of including some tricky dune-driving for their clients - all great fun, but most driving is done on the erg. The dunes here are the western edge of the Idehan Muzuq - the Murzuq Sand Sea.
Our trip took 5 days, including travelling from Tripoli to our first stop at Teweiwa, but not counting the return from Sebah to Tripoli. Three more days would have been great - time to visit the oasis city of Ghat and to visit the Messak Settafet, the Black Plateau that lies between the Sand Seas of the Ubari and the Mursuq. Organized tours usually allow the same amount of time, though camel safaris take things at a more leisurely pace.
A permit is essential for any tourist vehicle wishing to travel within the Jebel Akakus. These permits are only issued to a minimum of two vehicles. Independent convoys are required to be accompanied by an official guide. Your Libyan travel agent will arrange this for you.
When to go
Extreme summer heat and bitterly cold winter nights mean the best time for travel in the Jebel Akakus is Spring and Autumn.
Libyans and anyone familiar with desert conditions will tell you September through to November is the best time - the autumn weather is more stable and early mornings are warmer.
Mid-February and March are good months, though from mid-March through April the "gbili" - sand-laden desert winds that can sweep right across the country, closing airports and driving people out of the desert into the shelter of towns - can be a hazard. We had to abandon plans for our last night of wild camping due to a gbili in mid-March and the following day we drove through a haze of thick dust the whole way back to Sebah where we met people whose flight to Tripoli had been cancelled the previous day due to the wind.
Around Easter is the peak time, Christmas is popular too.
Libya is not a particularly cheap country to travel in at any time; the logistics of distance, drivers, guides, etc make a desert journey a fairly expensive proposition. These costs are countered to a degree by the low cost of accommodation - most nights will be spent either camping wild or in one of the campsites along the way. There are any number of tours available, a quick google will give you a good idea of the scope and cost of those.
Independent travellers have to bear the full cost of the required vehicles, guides, etc. These costs fall quite dramatically as the number increases. Another couple would have seen our costs fall by 50%. Of course, independent travel affords greater flexibility and the luxury of experiencing these wonderful places in real solitude.
The Jebel Akakus lies in the south-west corner of Libya, almost 2000 kilometres from Tripoli. Whichever way you look at it, simply getting to one of the gateways to the region - the towns of Al Aweinat and Ghat - involves a minimum of 2 days travel once you have arrived in the country.
Although it has an airport, currently, there are no scheduled flights to Ghat, though it would seem there are moves being made in this direction. The most straightforward way to reach the Akakus is to fly to Sebah and then travel by road.
Libyan Airways and Buraq Air both operate daily flights from Tripoli to Sebah. The return fare is 48LYD (approx 28 EUR). The flight takes 1 and a half hours. I can't comment on either of the commercial airlines as we flew to Sebah in a company charter but tour companies use them routinely. Our flight, in a CASA-212 took nearly three hours.
The alternative is a 12 hour road journey south from Tripoli to Sebah by bus (cheap), shared taxis (dearer) or with a car and driver (expensive).
However you've arrived in Sebah, you still have several hundred kilometres to go before you arrive at Al Aweinat or Ghat.
Access - continued
Driving from Sebah to Al Aweinat or Ghat, the two jumping off points for a journey into the Jebel Akakus, offers some real surprises - not the least of which is the 200 kilometre long Wadi al-Hayat the road travels through as you leave Sebah. Green fields of wheat and onions spread out on either side as the road passes through a string of small towns.
There are some side trips you can make along the way - the extraordinary lakes and dunes of the Ubari feature on every tour's itinerary; Germa - the modern day site of ancient Garama will also be included as a rule. Both are worth the detour if you're travelling independently, but to do so will require an overnight stop if you're intending to use shared taxis - there are campsites at Teweiwa, Tekerkiba and Germa, all of which should be able to help you organize a trip to the lakes. Germa is on the road.
Al Aweinat lies near the northern edge of the Akakus. It's a dusty little town with little to offer but its proximity to the Jebel, lying as it does just a few hours drive from the northern gateway to the area, makes it a popular choice for tour groups. From here, the approach involves a long drive over a bleak, black gibber plain before you find yourself among the rocks and dunes of the Jebel. It will be after lunch before you reach the first "gallery" of rock art that is one of the great drawcards to the region.
Ghat is an hour and a half down the road and getting to the Akakus from there involves virtually a full day's driving. This route will take you to the south of the region as it parallels the Algerian border before heading north again into the canyons and wadis, as well as offering you the opportunity to visit the ancient oasis city .
Apart from travelling with your own vehicles, a tour group or organizing a private car and driver, the only way to complete this section of the journey is by shared taxi. I haven't done it this way so can only suggest you seek current information via an up-to-date travel forum.
Taking off for the Jebel Akakus is not something you can do as a last-minute whim. Some serious planning is necessary, whether you're travelling independently or joining an organized tour. Visas, permits, cost, climate all have a part to play and must be taken into consideration along with the method of travel, hence my including them here as part of a series of "Getting to the Akakus"
Visas and permits
The only nationality that does not require a visa to enter Libya at this stage is Tunisian. Everybody else MUST have a visa, and if your passport is not issued in Arabic you MUST have an Arabic translation in your passport before you submit your application.
After that, visa requirements and availability varies enormously from country to country, and the regulations change from time to time. I have an Australian passport and only know what the procedure is for that. You must make sure the information you have is relevant for your own nationality.
Anyone intending to visit Libya should consult either a travel agent who specializes in travel to Libya or an agent within the country. There are any number of these listed on the web. If you are booking an organized tour the process is quite straight forward, if lengthy - allow 6-8 weeks.
Independent travellers must deal with an internal Libyan agent. For him to submit your visa application, you must have an itinerary worked out and provide details of your passport - including the Arabic translation - and your dates of arrival and departure. Other details may be required. Depending on where you live you will be notified as to whether you can collect your visa before you leave or whether it will be waiting for you at the airport of your arrival in Libya. Again, allow plenty of time.
This process will get you into Libya. Travel in the region of the Jebel Akakus then requires a permit.