Sahara Routes, Tracks &Pistes

camel on the road    road sign in Libya: camels crossing the road



 

Introduction

Touring and travelling Libya can be very exciting and as such tourists and travellers often need to prepare for their desert adventures before hand, by finding as much information as possible about the Sahara routes they will be taking across the desert. Those travelling by car also need to know more about the condition of the routes, tracks and pistes they will be driving through, how good they are, and if their cars can handle the rocky terrains. The best way to answer these questions is to provide clear photos about these routes and tracks so that drivers can see for themselves what they really look like.

Some of the Sahara routes are so natural that to travel along them requires a desert expert - unless you are an expert yourself.

Some of the tracks are barely visible marks on the ever-changing sand dunes, while other routes were originally used by the ancient Berber Garamentes of Fezzan. On average there are about 500 prehistoric drawings of chariots known to exist so far, most of which are found along two parallel tracks running  from one water well to the next: one running from Fezzan towards Goa on the Niger bend, and the other from Orania and southern Morocco towards Goundam.

Some of the current tracks were originally caravan routes used by the Tuareg and other traders of the great Sahara, to link the desert oases with the bustling coastal centres and with the interior of the continent. Tarmac roads, exploration tracks and tunneling are rapidly changing this sacred landscape; although experts say the Sahara is to large for the recent developments to have a major impact on its ecology.

 

 

 

 

Main Tourist Routes:

  • Ras Jdayr - Zwara - Sabratha - Tripoli - Leptis Magna - Benghazi - Cyrene - Apollonia - Amsa'ad
  • Ras Jdayr - Zwara - Nalut - Ghadames - Qaryat - Mezdah - Gharyan - Leptis Magna
  • Tripoli - Yefren - Nalut - Ghadames - Qaryat - Ash Shwayrif - Sabha - Tkerkiba
  • Daraj - Hamada - Awaynat Wnin - Adiri - Ubari Lakes - Tkerkiba - Sabha
  • Ghadames -  Hamada Hamra - Awaynat - Ghat
  • Sabha - Tkerkiba - Ubari Lakes - Germa - Wadi Methkhendoush - Messaks - Wan Casa - Acacus
  • Sabha - Ubari - Awaynat - Ghat - Acacus - Tashwinat - Wan Casa - Messak Mellet - Idehan Murzuk
  • Sabha - Brach (Brak) - Sawknah - Waddan - Zillah - Maradah - Jalu - Benghazi - Tobruk - Egyptian border
  • Sabha - Zawilah - Tmassah - Waw Al-Kabeer - Waw An-Namus - Tazerbu - Kofrah - Jalu - Benghazi
  • Tmassah - Tazrrbu - Jalu - Jaghbub - Tobruk - Egyptian border

 

 

Types of Roads in Libya

Legend

 

  • Motorways: mainly found around Tripoli (from Az-Zawiyah to Misratha, and down to Gharyan and Tarhunah); around Sert (Surt); and around Benghazi (from Ajdabiya to Tukrah).

  • Tarmac Main Roads: these are tarmac road connecting all the major cities and towns of Libya.

  • Tarmac Connecting Roads: these are smaller than the main roads, connecting some of the smaller villages with the major towns.

  • Tracks & Pistes: these are traditional routes connecting remote destinations with the nearby villages and towns: both words (track and piste) mean the same thing, as the word piste came into English from the French word for "track", which in turn was from Italian pista, from Latin pistare: "to trample down".

  • Trails & Paths: these are narrow paths connecting some of the remotest destinations and mainly used on foot, some of which run along the mountain tops, while others serve as short cuts from one place to another.

 

 

 

road sign in Libya  Libyan Road Sign Speed Limit 30    road sign  road sign 

Driving & Road Signs in Libya:

 

Driving in Libya requires extra caution and vigilance. Road signs are often in Arabic, although signs for tourist sites, like Wadi Methkhendoush (above), are often found in Arabic and English, and therefore foreign drivers are faced with the dilemma of driving without road signs, except those image-based signs (like the camel above), which are universal.

   

camels crossing the road

 

The huge distances separating Libyan cities and sites also makes it difficult for the police to monitor and enforce traffic regulations and as such there are those who do not pay any attention to road signs despite the fact that they are written in a language they understand. There will always be people who will break the law in any country in the world, and that is why law was invented in the first place. So always assume that bad drivers are around!

 

Road sand storm

Leaving Nalut for Ghadames: this is one of the main routes you need to watch out for.

Other things to watch out for include wind-blown sand which render visibility poor, build-up of sand mounds in the middle of the road, stray animals crossing the road, especially camels, high speed, reckless driving, using cell phones, and foolish drivers coming from nowhere into the main road (this is so because some of the roads in Libya are higher than the ground level and thus some drivers coming up into the main road cannot see incoming cars and drive straight into a collision).   According to a recent report released by the Libyan Ministry of Public Security, there were about 263 car accidents in Libya in one week, between the 19th and the 26th of July 2008; leading to 60   deaths and 123 injuries.

 

sand tornado
Sand Tornado (simple twister)

sand encroaching on tarmac road
Sand encroaching a tarmac road.

Sometimes small sand dunes pile up right in the middle of the road; which can be very dangerous at night, if you are not familiar with the area. It is well recommended that one rests at night.

 

 

Desert Travel Tip

tiny stone pyramids along the desert routes in Libya left by the Italians as markers for safety.   Newer stone pyramid road markers in the desert

The pyramid stone (left) may appear puzzling to some desert travellers and tourists. They are there as road signs left by the Italians during the wars, to indicate to travellers that they are travelling in the right direction, and as such they are often found along the desert tracks and pistes every few miles or so. They are built of concrete, and their height is just under one meter. If you venture into one of these tracks and take the wrong turn or junction and travel for a while without seeing any of these interesting mini pyramids, then you need to reconsider your position. The stone pyramid (right) is the modern version of old Italian pyramids. Many of these stone piles, also found along the desert pistes and tracks in various desert areas, were built by Sahara travellers and tourists, to further contribute to the marking system of the desert's routes and pistes; and maybe you too can build some, if you come across an area or track which does not have any pyramids.

 

A Sample of Roads & Tracks in Libya

a side track, nafousa mountains

Mountain walking path

hard mud road

Hard mud road.

small connecting road
Connecting road.

 

cracks and holes in a tarmac road

Warning!

Tour operators and travel companies are not allowed to drive with their visitors during night time. Rural roads lack markings and therefore it is impossible to anticipate a turn or a bend; and littered with holes and cracks, some of which are really dangerous even during the day, and thus always let your operator drive ahead of you. High speed is one of the major causes of car accidents in Libya; please take care and drive slowly.

mountain tarmac road

Mountain roads.

mountain road with white line but no yellow line

mountain road with white and yellow lines

sandstorm on the road renders visibility very poor

two lane main road, tarmac, with stone crubs in between
Main road.

cars driving in the wrong direction
Which direction shall I go? Is the only odd-one-out driving in the right direction?

Libyan traffic police in action
They know the answer?

huge trees on either side of the tarmac road in Almarj in Libya

Trees on either side of the road is a common occurrence in Libya.
This particular one is in al-Marj, near Benghazi, in Cyrenaica.

 

 
 
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