Acacus (Akakus)

acacus rock formation with sand dunes in the foreground

Bizarre Rock Formations, Acacus.

acacus mountain view

UNESCO World Heritage Site

According to the Libyan Tourism Agency, the Acacus region is less visited than the South Pole.

Libya has more variety of Saharan landscapes than any other North African country; the most impressive of which are Tadrart Acacus; the world's greatest sand dunes of Murzuk (Murzuq) and Ubari Sand Sea; the black volcanic sands of Waw an-Namous; and the desert lakes. The name Tadrart Acacus, pronounced /akakous/, means "Mountain-Acacus" and thus it is sometimes written as "Jabel Acacus" - tadrart being a feminine Berber name for "mountain" (masculine: adrar).   The site is a world heritage site, well known for two things: thousands of prehistoric cave paintings, dating from 12000 BC to 100 AD, and its alien-like, jagged landscape of bizarre basalt monoliths, towering granite mountains (the highest point being 1506m), endless wadis, and mushroom-shaped rock formations. To see some of the prehistoric wonders of Acacus please visit our Tashwinat art galleries.

acacus a view of the wadi


Tadrart Acacus is located down the southern-western corner of Libya, bordering Algeria, and as such it is part of Jabel Tassili (Tassili n'Ajjer); with which it shares its history and culture. Acacus is accessed from Awaynat (north of the mountain), from Ghat (west of the mountain), or it can be reached from Tkerkiba or Germa via Wadi Metkhandoush and then across the sand dunes of Wan Casa into Akakous. The most popular entry route is Awaynat (Serdeles), via Adad then Awiss. The mountain chain is rich in various types of rocks and unique features, including sandstone and dark basalt mountains, with sand dunes sweeping its high cliffs; most of which had eroded away into hundreds of complex rock formations and monoliths, overlooking sand rivers and endless wadis, zigzagging their way through this bizarre region of the great Sahara desert.


Akakus rock formations


This deserted desert region is the home of the most important open-air galleries of prehistoric rock art in the world, many of which are more than 12000 years old. The art is far from catalogued and studied and therefore provides a unique opportunity for real adventure travellers to explore and discover its hidden secrets and long forgotten past. It is also the home of the Berber Tuareg people, who sadly began, after all these thousands of years, to move away from their native habitat to the nearby centres, camps and oases. The remaining few Tuareg families who failed to let go have now been targeted by some tourists as one of the main attractions of the region. To the dignified Hoggar such degrading environment signals the beginning of the end of an historical saga, and the beginning of a new era, namely that of tourism and development! For these reasons environmentally-concerned and responsible travel organisations and companies call for all tourists and travellers to respect and help the local communities with whatever they can in order for these local communities to survive and feel at home.


Acacus horizons

Acacus Highway

wind effects on acacus rocks

The effects of wind and sand on sand-stone.


acacus: the finger (the thumb) stone

The Finger or The Thumb (ad'ad'), Acacus.


acacus, a rock carved by wind into the shape of an old man

Natural elements carving their own image in Acacus.
This photo is from Wikimedia (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Akakus_tete_rocheuse.jpg)
The photo's original source is the French Doctor Jean-Pierre Malavialle (2008).



The Top Attractions of Acacus

Adad: the name Adad means 'finger' or 'thumb' in Berber language, from the fact that the stone resemble the shape of a finger (see above). Coming down from Awaynat you will see this site, before you enter Awiss.

Awiss: Awiss is a general name for the northern region of Acacus Mountain(s), namely for the area after Adad and before Tashwinat. The southern part of the region is known as Tadrart Acacus.

Wadi Tashwinat (Tashweenat): the Capital of Acacus. Wadi Tashwinat (or Tashweenat) is one of the main wadis of the Acacus region, with high cliffs surrounding the area, about 60 kilometres long, with numerous art sites at the bottom of the rock formations, and with several side wadis branching off towards more formations and prehistoric   cave treasures. It was said that there are at least 101 wadis in Wadi Tashwinat. Its intricate network of caves, which provided shelter for prehistoric people for thousands of years, is the home of thousands of drawings and engravings, telling various stories about the desert's primeval past. (See our art galleries for more on art from this wadi.)

Wadi Tanshalt: fantastic panoramic views over the Acacus, and some of the best rock art in the southern parts of Acacus. Scenes of cows, stylised human figures, and ancient Tuareg Tifinagh inscriptions.

Wadi Anshal: elephant and giraffe engravings, and paintings of women.

Wadi In Ferdan: hunting scenes of humans carrying bows and arrows in pursuit of animals. A camel-shaped rock formation.

Tin Khilqa (Tin Halega): (see below).

Forzhaga Arch: giant natural arch (see below).

Wan Kaza (Wan Casa): a north-south chain of golden multicoloured sand dunes, running down along the eastern edge of the Acacus mountains. Pre-Holocene deposits indicate wet phases of the Pleistocene, with early Paleolithic artifacts, organic lake deposits and fossils mostly associated with Acheulean artifacts. The molluscs and the fragments of ostrich eggs were dated to about 7000 BP. Also several fossilized remains of large mammals and reptiles have been found in the area.


Tin Khelga Arch, Acacus

Tin Halega Natural Arch, Acacus.

Tin Khilqa: fine three-columned natural rock arch, made of soft sand stone. Also written as, Tin Khaleqa, Tin Khlega, Tin Halega, or Tin Ghalaga.


Tin Khelga arch, Acacus

Tin Ghalega (Ghalaga) Natural Rock Arch, Acacus.



Tan Loubbou

Tan Loubbou Arch, also known as Tin Lebbo or In Allabu (in some maps).



Tin Lebbo in Acacus

Tin Lebbo





the natural arch, acacus

The Natural Arch (Forzhaga), Acacus.

The big arch, also known as: Afozdjar, Afozedzhar, Afozedhar, Fozzigiaren, Afozzigiar, or Forzhaga Arch (Arco di Forzhaga). The giant stone gateway, located on the junction of three wadis, is the most impressive of Acacus' rock formations. Some of the prehistoric images of   the human figures found around this area are strikingly modern in style.


strange open tunnels in acacus



Entering Tadrart Acacus

Acacus: desert cars entering an area of mountains


The main point of entry to Acacus is from Awaynat, which is also known by its Berber name Serdeles. The northern part of the mountain is known as Awiss, and the southern part as Tadrart Acacus. Many of Acacus' hidden wadis can be reached from here. Some regions require trekking, either on foot or on camels.

Awaynat - Acacus:
Sabha - Germa - Ubari - Awaynat - Adad - Awiss - Tin Lallen - Talwawt - Wadi Tashwinat - the home of more than 100 valleys.

Ghat - Acacus:
Ghat is too close to the Algerian border and therefore we always recommend entering Acacus via Awaynat. However, the main routes from Ghat and Tanezuft are:

  • Ghat > Wadi Tenetfat > Wadi Atkarni > Wan Amil > Wadi Tashwinat.
  • Ghat > -al-Fawar (Wadi Tanezuft) > Wadi Adar n Dzhalko > Tissatin.
  • Ghat > Wadi Tanezuft > Wadi In Aghallasham > Tihe n Awiss Pass > Awiss.


acacus mountains

A view of Acacus Mountain.


Water Sites

Regular supply of water: Bir Aminaner or Mninegh (borehole, in Wadi Aminaner), Bir Talwawat (borehole), Bir Sughd (well), Bir Abankur (in Wadi Tanezuft, coming down from Wadi Tasbet).

the water well of Bir Aminaner in Acacus

Bir Aminaner (Mninegh, or Aminanegh: with emphatic /r/).

Aminaner well: water point for traveller and locals: GPS location :( N 24 51'   34.21" E 10 39'   38.59" ). Some visitors pump water out and use it to shower. We recommend to reserve water for future generations by using it only for bare essentials.

Gheltas: these are holes in  wadi floors; some are easily accessible, like the one south of In Farden in Wadi Tashwinat, while others require a rope and a bucket. Other gheltas include one at Tin Lalen, and another one farther south near Wadi Bubu (not far from the border).

gelta (a little pond of fresh water) in Tashwinat

Wadi Tashwinat Gelta.



Acacus-Related Links

Unesco World Heritage : Rock-Art Sites of Tadrart Acacus: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/287

Italian-Libyan-Archaeological Mission in the Acacus and Messak: http://www.acacus.org

University College London: Transitions To Farming In The Sahara: the Prehistoric Society's 2002 Study Tour of Libya's Fezzan www.ucl.ac.uk/prehistoric/past/past42.html

In the Valley of Life, oil is death to the art of a lost civilisation:
Hammers threaten rock carvings that show a corner of the Sahara was not always a desert. By John Bohannon: http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2005/feb/10/heritage.artsandhumanities


strange rock formation from acacus