Isolated Tibesti, the legendary Sahara

Tibesti, african last frontier

The Tibesti massif is an isolated volcanic cataclysm, made up of mountains of rough, bare rock, endless stony plains, rivers of lava, sandstone cliffs rising precipitously from the ground, unlikely rock formations, sandbanks, lush oases turned into veritable wonders of nature, and winding roads that make it impossible to travel at more than 5 kilometres per hour.  Tibesti, the most remote and inaccessible part of the Sahara and one of the most isolated regions on the planet.  Known as the roof of the Sahara with its volcanoes over 3,000 metres high and its overwhelming volcanic calderas such as the Trou de Natron, the volcanic labyrinth of the Tibesti offers a brutal travel experience.

Tibesti

The landscape of chaos

Totally desolate and impressive lunar landscapes, inhabited by the feared Tubus (mountain people), the toughest of the tough. All this accompanied by a real gold rush “atmosphere” that makes this region a real last frontier.

Scattered throughout Tibesti are innumerable sites of engravings and cave paintings, which, with their clear images, tell us about the severe climate change that the region has undergone.

Emi Koussi
Foothills of Emi Koussi, highest peak in the Sahara

Travel to Tibesti

More than 1,200 kilometres from the capital N’Djamena, in the isolated northwest of Chad and bordering Libya and Niger lies the spectacular Tibesti, a remote 380-kilometre-long volcanic mountain range, which is the least visited part of the Sahara and of course the least known.

Very difficult to access and subject to travel restrictions, Tibesti was a forbidden region for long periods of time due to war and conflict and off-limits to all travellers.

Today, it can be visited with due caution and with an open mind to change plans. We do not know how long this can continue, so we encourage the reader who is interested in visiting this remote part of Africa to join one of the last real expeditions left on our planet.

Travel to Tibesti

Mountains of Tibesti, the roof of the Sahara

The Tibesti region is home to the highest peaks in the Sahara, including Emi Koussi (3,445m), Pico Toussidé (3,313m), Tarso Voon (3,100m) and Tarso Toon (2,625m). Once you ascend to the Trou de Natron from Zoua, the average altitude of the Tibesti route is around 1,300 – 1,500m.

Tibesti

Our trip to Tibesti, expedition 2022

Leaving N’Djamena, the capital of Chad, the tarmac disappears in the first few hours of the journey. A journey of 4,000 kilometres on sand, gravel or rocky tracks lies ahead. After leaving Masaguet and Massakory, towns that are well connected by tarmac from the capital, the route takes us to Mao, capital of the Sultanate of Kanem-Bornou.

Mao has a medieval and historical atmosphere like very few other cities in Chad. Its impressive market is superbly stocked with produce from Libya, Ndjamena (Cameroon), Niger and Lake Chad.

Mao Chad
Mao Chad

In this region of Kanem, especially on the route from Mao to Libya, it is possible to find the iconic images of old Mercedes trucks loaded to the unimaginable with goods from Libya and dozens of passengers on them.

Desert trucks
Old Mercedes carmions continue to travel the Libya – Chad route

We tried to meet the Sultan of Kanem – Bornou but unfortunately he was not in town.

On future trips we will try again to meet in person the current Sultan of Kanem-Bornou, a pre-colonial African empire that flourished in the territories of Chad, Nigeria, Niger, Libya and Cameroon. Its existence over a millennium also makes it one of the longest-lived African civilisations and therefore a point of interest on our trips to Tibesti.

Along the border with Niger

From Mao onwards, the road to Tibesti becomes difficult and inhospitable and winds its way towards the border with Niger. We meet very few vehicles in this remote part of Chad, only a few trucks carrying passengers and goods from Libya.

The harshness of these lands is shown to us in all its severity in these first days of the journey. We stop several times in front of trucks that have broken down on the road. They have been stuck in the middle of nowhere for several days, surviving on just enough food and water. They don’t know when they will be able to get out of there and have no way of communicating with the owners of the truck, who are in Zouar, more than 700 kilometres away. Beside the truck, sheltering from a strong harmattan, women, babies and old people entrust their fate to Allah and wait indefinitely for someone to get them out.

Tibesti

Trip Niger to Chad

Tibesti

The long desert journey

On the remote desert route between Mao and Zouar, some 1,000 kilometres, there is virtually nothing. There are only a couple of large villages, crossroads, which are used to buy supplies, refill water and, in the case of Soultou, the main town on the route, to refuel the vehicles with Libyan fuel. On this long transit from the Sahel to the endless desert plains we enjoy some magical sunsets and a few encounters with friendly Daza shepherds.

Tibesti
Nomads offer us tea
Sahel
Sunset on the road
Sahara overland
Just 2 kilometres from the border with Niger

Soultou, border town

Arriving in Soltou was like arriving on another planet. That day the harmattan was terrible and made it difficult to see and to take a single step out of the car. Even so, the couple of hours’ stop in this town no more than 10 km from Niger was tremendously interesting.

Harmatan Sahara
Days of tremendous harmattan and dusty tracks. Image by Javier Herranz Casellas

The atmosphere created by the dust mist, the nomads, the abandoned vehicles from Libya and the houses scattered here and there, offered spectral images.

Chad Niger
The route from Libya to Ndjamena is full of vehicles destined for sale that have not survived the journey.

As is usual on all our Chadian trips, every two or three days we had to refuel, buy fresh food if we had any, water, and buy some Asian luxury such as a moderately fresh coke. In addition, being a town of strategic importance, we had to report to the local authorities and present our travel permits.

Trips to Chad
Small shop with few products
Tibesti tours
Filling containers in the well

We continued our journey across endless sandy plains dotted with dunes to the Enneri Erkoub, seeking protection from the winds by some trees. The protection and camouflage offered by the numerous trees and dunes of the Enneri Erkoub had served as military posts in the various wars in Chad. As we could see, there were also very recent remains of the fighting that took place in 2021 between rebels and the army.

Sahara overland
Wind-sheltered camp on the Enneri Erkoub
Trips to Tibesti
Preparing the camp in the afternoon

The Enneris is the name given to the dry riverbeds in Tibesti. In Arabic and in the rest of Chad these dry riverbeds are called Wadis or Ouadis. In them we always find wells where we can get clean water, many of them a simple hole in the ground.

Travel Chad
Typical basic well in the Enneris, a simple hole with a tyre.

After several days of long travelling we arrived at Ehi Atroun, which indicated that we were not far from the Tibesti Mountains. Many of us were already thinking about the first highlight of the trip: the Trou de Natron.

Ehi Atroun

Ehi Atroun is a huge stone monolith situated on a vast desert plain. This monolith, whose walls contain various sites of rock engravings, has served as a beacon and landmark in the desert since time immemorial. Some say they have a certain resemblance to Australia’s Uluru.

Ehi Atroum
Ehi Atroum
Tibesti
Exploring rock engravings in the Ehi Atroum. Image by Javier Herranz Casellas

Erg Bilma

After several days of monotonous landscapes, broken only by a few wadis, a few villages and the Ehi Atroun, we reach a spectacular chain of dunes: the mythical Erg Bilma sand sea from Niger. The wide track that connects Faya with Zouarke and Libya on this stretch runs through beautiful and stylised golden dunes.

Sahara overland
Erg Bilma and the Faya Track – Libya

Zouar’s canyon (Enneri Zouar)

The Enneri Zouar is in my opinion the most picturesque, beautiful and perhaps also the most important river valley of all that we know of the Tibesti massif. After 5 long days of travelling through the lonely roads of the Sahel and endless desert plains, arriving at the Zouar canyon with its lush vegetation and incredible rock formations was absolutely marvellous. We were entering the Tibesti massif.

Tibesti
Zouar Canyon
Zouar Tibesti
Zouar canyon, one of the most spectacular canyons of Tibesti
Tibesti Chad
A goat on top of the rock
Tibesti
Enneri connecting Zouar with Zouarke

It would take several days to explore this enchanting Zouar valley but the lack of any information about it and the uncertainty of what was to follow on such a demanding expedition as this Tibesti expedition meant that we only spent an afternoon and a morning in the Zouar canyon.

Zouar and Zouarke

After stocking up again on water, diesel and fresh food in Zouar and Zouarke, we set off towards the depths of the volcanic labyrinth of the Tibesti massif. The sensation of arriving in the town of Zouar, with its large market full of produce, restaurants, bars and even its cyber café, was like that of someone arriving in a city for the first time after living in the countryside. Some of the passengers also took blankets for the cold nights in Tibesti.

Both Zouar and Zouarke have a large part of their businesses dedicated to buying and selling gold and to supplying all the logistical needs of the miners. Zouarke is also an impressive transport hub, undoubtedly one of the main trade axes of the entire Sahara. From Zouarke the route is divided in two, the first very complicated one leading to Bardai through the Trou de Natron and the other main one to Libya and Bardai, also suitable for trucks.

Libia Chad route
Trucks on the Libya – Chad route
Overland Libia Chad
Desert routes between Libya and Chad
Trips to Tibesti
Zouar market is well organised, well stocked and clean.

Route from Libya to Chad: truck drivers

One of the busiest trade routes in the Sahara connects Sabha in Libya with Mao, Mossouro and/or N’Djamena in Chad via the Tibesti. Dozens of trucks supply Libyan products (sugar, tea, fuel, packaged foods, machinery, etc.) to northern and central Chad, a landlocked country with few resources (the south is supplied from Douala, Cameroon). Even today, with all the problems the country is going through, Libya remains the economic benchmark for the entire region.  The remote town of Zouarke is also surprisingly well-stocked with produce, fresh food, and even has electricity and Wi-Fi, which is unheard of in this part of the world.  Many truckers stop in Zouarke to refuel and continue across the sands to the south of the country.

A route that will take about 20 days, if all goes well and no problems arise.

Each truck driver has two assistants who are in charge of cooking, making tea, solving small mechanical problems and lowering and raising the tyre pressure, the main activity when driving in the desert. The drivers rest in the shade of the truck while the assistant cooks a small stew of okra and dried tomato under a hot sun. 

The unwritten laws in this part of the world say that the drivers will normally be of Sudanese origin and the truck owners of Tubu origin.

Sahara overland tour

Track to the Trou de Natron

After the last checkpoint the route climbs up to the Trou de Natron along a rocky path through dry riverbeds, volcanic ravines and rocky plains.

Trips to Chad
Ascent to the Trou au Natron, sometimes on rocky ground

First from the front and then on our left the Tousside peak with its 3,313 metres is the second highest peak in the Sahara. At its foot is the hole of the Trou de Natron. On the way up another great peak appeared on our right, the Botoum peak, also impressive.

Tousside
Pic Tousside, the second highest in Tibesti and the Sahara (3313m). Image taken in 2019 without harmattan
Tibesti
Pic Butoum, always on our right. Image taken on a previous trip in 2019 without harmattan.

It took us many hours to cover the few tens of kilometres that separate Zouarke from the rim of the Trou de Natron crater, in fact, we arrived at a small refuge-camp located near the caldera well into the night. As you can see in the pictures, this stretch of track is brutally hard and difficult. *Three first images courtesy of our fellow traveller and photographer Javier Herranz Casellas, you can see his previous work in Chad and in many other destinations by clicking here.

4x4 Chad
4X4 Ndjanmena
Sahara expedition
Toyota Landcruiser Sahara

Trou au Natron volcano caldera

At the foot of the Toussidé Peak (3,313 m), the second highest volcano in Tibesti, one of the most spectacular places in Tibesti and Chad is the caldera of the Trou de Natron volcano.

Trou de Natron
Trou de Natron

If you look at one of our drone photographs, you will see an impressive 800-metre drop from the wide plateau.

The Trou de Natron caldera is 8 kilometres wide and 700 metres deep. The white stain (photographs) at the bottom of the crater is natron (sodium carbonate), dissolved from the volcanic materials by water evaporating from intermittent rain.

Trou au Natron
Campsite next to the track and the big hole of the Trou de Natron
Trips to Chad
Group photo courtesy of Cecilio Romero

The Teda herders who inhabit these remote parts of Tibesti grind natron and mix it with the camels’ food, supposedly to strengthen them. 

Inside the crater of Trou au Natron there are also three spectacular dark cinder cones emerging from the white background. One of them, the most spectacular (image 2), is a perfect truncated cone 100 metres high. In the vicinity of these cones we find hot springs that indicate that there are still active volcanic remnants in the depths.

No one knows when or what the origin of the Trou au Natron was, whether a giant eruption created it, a subsidence or both. Deposits high on the slopes suggest that it once had a lake perhaps 500 metres deep, evidence of the dramatic changes the Sahara has undergone.

Trou de Natron
Main volcanic cone at Trou de Natron

Descent into the interior of the Trou de Natron caldera

The descent and ascent of the Trou de Natron is not suitable for everyone. Of the 12 of us travellers, only 5 of us managed to complete the entire hike down and up, but not without difficulty.

Early in the morning, after breakfast, we left our camp at an altitude of 2,230 metres. Contrary to what we thought, the night was not particularly cold.

Trou au Natron
Leaving the camp at dawn to start the descent.
Trou au Natron
Having breakfast at the Trou de Natron camp

It took us about three hours to descend into the caldera via a small path that runs along the colossal volcanic cliff. This path has been made by the local shepherds who come with their donkeys to extract the natron. It is a steep path that covers a 785-metre zigzagging slope.

Trekking Sahara

The descent is not very difficult as it is done early in the morning, when the heat and the sun is not yet too strong. Once down, the sand and natron make it difficult to move and the heat begins to be unrelenting, so it is advisable to dose your strength and take some rest.

Trekking Tibesti
Descent of the Trou de Natron
Trekking Sahara
3-hour descent

After a short visit and the long climb back up, we started our return journey under a blazing sun, which was exhausting. Perhaps a good idea would be to spend the night below and enjoy the hot springs of the Trou de Natron.

Due to the illness of one of our fellow travellers, the climb took a few hours longer than planned, and we arrived back at the camp late in the afternoon. We did, however, enjoy a wonderful dinner of grilled goat and mashed potatoes prepared by one of our passengers.

Travel to Chad

The Trou de Natron to Bardai route

Once again we continued our journey with our vehicles through an unusual and truly spectacular landscape. As was to become a constant in Tibesti, the track, so to speak, was a real hell that constantly tested the endurance of the vehicles, drivers and passengers. Some travellers decided to stretch their legs and continue walking, as they were going at the same speed.

Tibesti
Crossing Tibesti
Chad is safe
Stop on the way

The Oudingueur Gorge

The road to Bardai, the heart of the Tibesti, descends into the winding Oudingueur gorge. The track makes its way into the gorge with difficulty.

Tibesti
Descent to the spectacular Oudingueur Gorge

The Enneri Oudingueur is one of the main groundwater courses in this part of Tibesti. Waters that have carved a narrow gorge between sandstone walls and volcanic rock fields. In the Oudingueur gorge, as well as in the Zouar canyon, the Gonoa valley and the Bardai valley, to give just a few examples, there are many rock art sites, a real paradise for any art lover. We decided to stop at the Gonoa site, the most important of all Tibesti.

Tibesti mined areas

More than 30 years have passed and some specific parts of Tibesti are still dotted with red and white painted stones (red mined area, white indicates safe area) indicating the presence of landmines laid in the various wars and conflicts in the area. There are several sections on this route from the Trou de Natron to Bardai where these mined area markings are found along the roadside.

War of Chad
Marking in mined areas, red part indicates mined area, white part demined

Gonoa site, rock art in Tibesti

More than 700 engravings from different periods make up the Gonoa site. Of all these engravings, it is the famous “Gonoa Man” that has aroused the most curiosity. This engraving depicts a “masked hunter” almost two metres tall. The hypothesis is that the “hunter period” at Gonoa begins around 5000 BC.

Gonoa Tibesti
Man of Gonoa

The themes depicted on the rock walls of Gonoa are wild animals such as elephants, giraffes and rhinoceroses and domestic animals. There are also human figures. In Tibesti there are countless sites with engravings. Any stop along the route where there are rocks shows a number of examples of rock art.

Rock art Chad
Sahara Engravings
Numerous examples of engravings on every rock
Rock art Sahara
Gonoa sahara
Gonoa

Bardai, capital of Tibesti

Inhabited since ancient times and later a military base, the prosperous town of Bardai is situated in a spectacular setting at an altitude of 1,000 metres, next to immense palm groves and dramatic rock formations. This imposing river valley is the only one with a more or less substantial cultivation of date palms and a significant permanent population, along with Zouar, Yebbi Souma and Yebbi Bou. In fact, in Bardai it is possible to find the odd housing estate and even a few multi-storey buildings, presumably for high-ranking officials and big businessmen.

Bardai
Main street of Bardai, capital of Tibesti

Bardai’s well-stocked shops and stalls are filled with goods from nearby Libya, which is much more accessible than the Chadian capital. Bardai is a pleasant place to stroll around and get in touch with the people of Tibesti. It is also a good place to drink some beer, which, although it may seem incredible, is available here. But they do cost about 5 euros a bottle.

Bardai Tibesti
Enjoying a Guinness in Bardai
Chad trips
Refilling water in Bardai, a daily task
Tibesti Sahara
Bardai market, well-stocked with Libyan goods
Tibesti mountains
Old mosque and behind it impressive rock formations

Contrary to what one might imagine, the inhabitants of Bardai are extremely friendly and always greet us and invite us to take pictures, which is unusual in northern Chad.

The surroundings of Bardai invite you to wander around for several days, with beautiful rock formations, canyons and palm groves everywhere you look. Being a historically complicated and strategic area in the past wars and therefore possibly mined, we prefer not to go too far from the city to set up our camp.

Tibesti
Surroundings of Bardai. Image by Javier Herranz
Sahara trips
Beginning to set up camp near Bardai. Image by Javier Herranz

Enneri Zoumri

After leaving Bardai we enter the Enneri Zumri valley. Beautiful landscapes dotted with traditional Teda villages and oases of radiant green. The track this time runs through imposing sandstone gorges where we stop to walk and take pictures. Again, as would be the constant during the trip, the harmattan made it difficult to see and to walk. The harmattan was stronger and longer lasting than usual and in the same weeks it would reach Europe, covering it with dust.

Tibesti
View of the Enneri Zoumri area
Enneri Zoumri
Enneri Zoumri
African extreme adventure
Walking in Enneri Zoumri

Del Enneri Zoumri a Yebbi Souma. Los temidos Teda

After passing the Zoumri gorge we reached the village of Yebbi Souma. Again the landscape became harsh, desolate and brutal. The traditional Teda constructions in this part of Tibesti consist of circular stone houses and roofs made of branches. There are also some exceptional examples of rocks with a multitude of basaltic cylinders.

Tibesti
Brutal landscapes
Teda Tibesti
Traditional houses in Tibesti
Toyota Africa travel
Mountain pass in Tibesti
Basalt rock
Bizarre basalt rock formations

Unlike Bardai, only a few hours’ drive away, the atmosphere with the local population began to be different. Especially with their area chiefs. After some negotiations and a few disagreements in the village of Zoumri, we continued our journey to Yebbi Souma, located next to a spectacular cliff.

Rebels of Tibesti
Negotiations not always easy with local authorities

From Zoumri onwards, the Chadian state has little to say. In a geography as remote and rugged as this one, it is impossible to have control of the territory if its inhabitants turn against it. Unlike in other parts of the Sahel and the Sahara, the conflict here has nothing to do with religious fundamentalism; in fact, terrorists are very poorly tolerated in this region and in Chad as a whole. This is an exclusive problem of a people who feel independent and want to dispose of their natural resources.

Tubus, rebels and gold mines

The inhabitants of Tibesti are known as Tubus (Tibesti people).  Today, the word Tubu or Toubou (in French) is used to categorise most of the inhabitants of northern Chad (Ennedi, Bourkou and Tibesti). Specifically, the inhabitants of Tibesti are mainly of Teda ethnicity. Their societies are based on patrilineal clans, which share the oases, pastures and wells.

The Tubus are an ethnic group living mainly in northern Chad, but also in southern Libya, northeastern Niger and western Sudan. Although traditionally pastoralists and nomads, many in Tibesti are now involved in the gold business.

The hard life of pastoralists and nomads, the scarcity of pasture and water mean that many Tibestians have exchanged their herds of camels for 4×4 pick-up trucks, satellite phones and all the equipment needed to extract gold from the artisanal mines.

As a direct consequence of the extreme geographical harshness in which they live, the Tubus are individualistic, indefatigable people with a fierce and indomitable character.

Tibesti ” Auto-defence ” militias

This indomitable character of the Teda of Tibesti has led them in recent years, after gold was found in the region, to create so-called auto-defence groups, which, according to some of their members, consider themselves neither Chadian nor Libyan. These militias control access to the mines and strategic enclaves of Tibesti and have been causing the Chadian central government a lot of headaches for years.

We encountered these militias on several occasions, some more sympathetic than others, but always a source of uncertainty and nervousness among us, so we decided to change the itinerary of our original trip to avoid all the checkpoints in the gold mines of Minsk.

Rebels Tibesti
Rebel checkpoint in Tibesti
Tibesti rebels
A young man belonging to the self-defence groups in Tibesti
Rebels of Chad
Check point of Tibesti rebel self-defence groups

What is happening in Tibesti?

When you travel through these complicated lands and begin to learn about the reasons for the origins of these groups of “rebels”, perhaps you can empathise with them.

Since 2012, the gold rush in the region has attracted traders, thousands of miners from central and southern Chad and other neighbouring countries, Chadian soldiers and army deserters, Chadian and Sudanese rebels, all looking to cash in on the quick windfall profits offered by gold mining.

The pollution caused by artisanal mercury mining, the lack of infrastructure throughout Tibesti and a Chadian state that is unable to guarantee minimum services to its inhabitants, have led the self-defence militias to count on the full local support of the Teda population.

Tibesti gold miners
Different vehicles in Tibesti with miners from other parts of Chad

Control and management of resources, Africa’s eternal problem

In recent times, from time to time in the gold-mining areas of Tibesti, friction between the Chadian state, the gold miners and the local population of the Teda ethnic group has been increasing.

The massive influx of outsiders attracted by gold – we came across a number of pick-up trucks loaded with miners – the increasing militarisation of the region and the deep mistrust of the Teda population towards the central authorities have contributed to the recent conflicts in Tibesti.

Yebbi Bou and the change of plans

As one approached the Miski region, a mining area par excellence, through Yebbi Souma and Yebbi Bou, these tensions were particularly evident at the self-defence militia checkpoints. Especially in Yebbi Souma, where, after visiting the spectacular Enneri that runs alongside the small town, we came across a large militia post.

Yebbi Souma
Enneri of Yebbi Souma

Continuous negotiations slowed our progress that day, so we had to set up camp in a desolate area, open to the winds and at an altitude of almost 2,000 metres. Once again we faced a difficult night. No shelter from the winds meant that the cooks would find it very difficult to do their work, that everything would be blown away, including tents, and that the night would be long as hell. Did we say this was a great adventure? This is Tibesti!

Sahara drone
Campsite between Yebbi Souma and Yebbi Bou

The village of Yebbi Bou, with its many traditional-style houses, is situated on a steep cliff. In the depths of the valley is a lush palm grove and a small stream.

Yebbi Bou Tibesti
Palmeral of Yebbi Bou
Yebbi Bou
Traditional constructions in Tibesti

The ancient villages of Yebbi Bou and Yebbi Souma were located in the interior of the valley, but now their inhabitants have preferred to settle on the upper part of the impressive geological fault.

After introducing ourselves to the local authorities and discussing the situation on the route to Miski and the Emi Koussi (south), we decided to radically change our initial plan and proceed to Gouro (east).

Tibesti
Direction Gouro

Eastern Tibesti, into the unknown

This change of plans meant that none of us, including the local team, had travelled the new route and we would have to figure out the route for ourselves as we went along.

As soon as we left Yebbi Bou and its small airstrip (used as a local airport) with an old demolished aeroplane, the road, so to speak, became indescribably difficult. Once again we had to negotiate some rocky mountain passes at an altitude of over 2,000 metres around the Tarso Guezendi volcano, more suited to goats than 4x4s. But it was certainly worth the effort. The spectacle was grandiose.

Tibesti
Very difficult mountain passes at an altitude of more than 2,000 metres.
Trips to Chad
Continuously breathtaking scenery

The new route offered some of the most overwhelming volcanic scenery seen so far and a continuous challenge for the drivers who had to demonstrate their best driving skills at every metre driven.

The breathtaking panoramic views followed one bend after another until late in the afternoon we descended along the rocky track to a large plateau known as Brague. With the last moments of daylight we decided to spend the night next to a small watercourse located at an altitude of 1,800 metres, the only possible protection against the wind that we saw in the surroundings.

Brague Plain, beyond the Tassili Kezen

This change of plan had worked out well for us, the whole group was tired but very excited about the new and impressive route. Little did we know that an even more impressive day awaited us the following day.

Tibesti trips

Tassili Kezen, the dream landscapes of Tibesti

The Brague plateau is the transition between the volcanic landscapes of the steepest mountains of Tibesti with the most beautiful fantasy scenes of cliffs, sand and sandstone rock.

We still did not know early in the day what an incredible surprise we were about to behold.

Succession of mountains and canyons

The track became a little more passable and began to descend through a plain of black volcanic rock until it reached a cliff that showed us what lay ahead: the Tassili Kezen, the most moving landscapes of the Chadian Sahara. A sea of sand and dunes dotted with the most impressive rock formations. To our right, the dust of the harmattan that gave us a respite earlier in the day, we could see the silhouette of Emi Koussi, the roof of the Sahara with its 3,415 metres.

Tibesti
Brague volcanic rock plateau before entering Tassili Kezen
Trips to Chad
Absolutely brutal landscapes in eastern Tibesti

A large sandstone ridge cut through two spectacular dunes, linking two huge mounds of dark rock. This ridge offered the most spectacular of all possible balconies from which to view the immense Tassili Kezen.

Tibesti
Begining of Tassili Kezen

Throughout the day we drove through the fascinating Tassili Kezen, stopping at every turn to take photographs and randomly entering impressive canyons that looked like the eastern foothills of the Emi Koussi. The colour of the sand turned from golden to white, ending in red dunes at the end of the Tassili.

Tibesti tours
Moving towards Gouro through sublime scenery
Tibesti
An unknown and brutal landscape
Travel to Chad
Stop along the way to take pictures and check the route on the maps.
Sahara expedition
Repairing a puncture at the southern exit of Tassili

Ouadi Drosso and the leaving of Tibesti

We continued our journey slowly descending from the Tassili Kezen plateau towards Gouro, first through the Ouadi Magan and then through the Ouadi Dross. Once again some villages appeared on our way and with them the possibilities of refilling the limited water we had left in some wells.

The day-to-day search for water

Not far from Bini Erda we took a break at the Muioyanga well, where we met a group of gold prospectors and with whom I was able to share an interesting conversation about the gold business in Tibesti.

Gold from Tibesti
Gold from Tibesti

Gouro, Chad’s most beautiful village

The arrival at Gouro was again spectacular. From the military checkpoint we could see the beautiful town situated under impressive dunes and cliffs and in the middle of an immense palm grove. After spending the night, we would have the opportunity to explore the town in depth.

The population of Gouro, strategically located on the Ounianga – Kufra (Libya) – Tibesti and Faya routes, has been suffering from depopulation in recent times. Unstoppable desertification and the search for a better future in Libya or Ndjamena mean that many of their houses are buried in the sand.

With just enough fuel to reach Ounianga Kebir, we started our journey again.

Gouro
Gouro village
Tibesti
Streets of Gouro with abandoned houses

Ounianga “Big”

The village of Ounianga Kebir with its impressive lake surrounded by dunes and palm trees was the return to an area well known to me and the local team. The only thing left to do was to return to Ndjamena, a long journey of several days but equally interesting. Before heading back, we enjoyed a wonderful swim in a wonderful natural spa.

Ounianga
Lake Yoan in Ounianga Kebir
Ounianga
Spa in Ounianga Kebir

The caravan route and the route of the wells

The caravan route offers the chance to visit the largest concentration of rockets, bazookas, tanks, jeeps and trucks, all remnants of the war with Gaddafi’s Libya. And if luck is on our side, as it was, there is a good chance of meeting some of the salt caravans that come and go from Wadi Dum. After our encounter with the Azahawa nomads, we continue our journey along the route of the wells to meet Arab nomads and Daza nomads whom we also meet at some of the numerous wells along the route.

Bir Kora
War remnants at Bir Kora
Caravans salt Sahara
Salt caravan

The great elephant herd of Lake Chad

At the end of the trip we approached the Lake Chad basin in search of the large herd of elephants. This time we were unlucky and could only see a group of about 10 or 15 elephants at a long distance. In those days the elephants had destroyed some villages and the local population had attacked one of the most aggressive elephants, hunting it with the authorisation of the Chadian government. With these events the large herd of elephants had split in two and were nervous and elusive.

Elephants of Lake Chad
Elephants of Lake Chad, image taken on our previous trip in December 2021.
Lake TChad
Lone elephant that had caused a lot of damage in the villages killed with government permission. Photo Javier Herranz

The Lake Chad region is a grazing area for different nomadic groups of Arabs, Peuls, Kanembeu, etc. After spending the night in a large semi-nomadic Fulanis Weila camp, we return to NDjamena where a good hotel with a swimming pool and a good rest awaits us.

Trips to Tibesti

If you want to travel to Tibesti or anywhere in Chad, please contact us by email at info@kumakonda.com or via Wathsapp on +34 635 419 035. You can also check out our next expedition to Tibesti next year by clicking on the following link

Expedition to Tibesti and the Ounianga Kebir lakes

https://youtu.be/jlHWVVv0y_k

Trip to Tibesti, the roof of the Sahara

  • PRICE from €3,700 / 6 passengers
  • DEPARTURE N’Djamena, on request from 4 passengers onwards
  • ARRIVAL N’Djamena
  • COUNTRY VISITED Chad
  • DURATION 21 days
  • GROUP from 6 to 15 passengers
  • STYLE OF TRAVEL exploration, adventure, 4×4, desert, trekking
  • TRANSPORTE Toyota Land Cruiser 4×4

A journey to the most remote and inaccessible part of the Sahara. Tibesti, the roof of the Sahara. The Tibesti massif is a volcanic cataclysm, made up of bare rock mountains, stony plains, rivers of lava, unlikely rock formations, sandbanks, lush oases that have become veritable miracles of nature and winding roads that make it impossible to travel at more than 5 kilometres per hour. All of this is dotted with the most impressive and desolate lunar landscapes inhabited by the dreaded Teda, the toughest of the tough. All this accompanied by an authentic “atmosphere” of gold fever that makes this region a true last frontier.

After almost forty years of tensions in this isolated region, where virtually all travel to Tibesti was restricted, a certain stability makes it possible to explore this remote mountain massif, known as the roof of the Sahara. An expedition for fans of the desert and great adventures.

Located from the capital N’Djamena more than 5 days’ hard travel away, Tibesti stretches over an area about the size of Austria in northern Chad, along the borders of Libya and Niger.

Around 15,000 Tedas, the inhabitants of Tibesti, live fully adapted to one of the harshest and most remote geographies on the planet.

Lunar landscapes and deep craters in Tibesti

On this trip to Tibesti we will focus on discovering the endless and spectacular landscapes that this part of the Sahara has to offer. A complete and varied range of volcanoes, rock formations, oases, canyons, lava rivers, traditional villages and imposing dune chains await the traveller who joins our expedition.

If infrastructure is generally poor in Chad, it is non-existent in Tibesti. As when we travel to Ounianaga and Ennedi, we will have to carry all kinds of provisions for the journey, but with one difference: during the trip to Tibesti we will spend several days at a time without access to food and any other products.

Exploring Tibesti, the unknown Sahara

If the traveller is able to endure long, uncomfortable days of driving, basic cooking, extreme day and night temperatures, uncomfortable wind and a few other inconveniences that may arise during the expedition, he will be rewarded with vast horizons, campfires under the stars, places more like other planets and the pleasure of discovering a region that only a very small group of westerners have travelled through. https://www.youtube.com/embed/jlHWVVv0y_k?feature=oembed

During the trip to Tibesti we will see how the gold rush has shaped the life of the Tibesti people. Most of the Teda people have long since traded in their camels for Toyotas and satellite phones, and are exclusively in the gold business.

Many other Africans, from southern and central Chad and other countries, seek their chance in these mountains, but many will return empty-handed.

All this is Tibesti, tough people, traders and traffickers, isolated villages, the highest mountains in the Sahara, breathtaking sand flats, volcanic calderas, huge oases and some of the most brutal desert landscapes in the world.

Lakes of Ounianga Kebir

We will leave the volcanic massif of Tibesti on its north-eastern slope, passing through the beautiful palm grove of Gouro and then Ounianga Kebir, where we will be able to fill up our vehicles with diesel. We will have the opportunity to visit Lake Yoan and Lake Katam.

Some points of interest on the trip to Tibesti

  • Cross the beautiful Sahelian area towards the north of Chad. A landscape dotted with acacia trees, nomads and mud-built villages.
  • See the camel herds of Arab shepherds and Tubus in the desert.
  • Visit isolated villages during the journey where the Teda of the Tibesti live.
  • Abundant rock art at Tibesti, both paintings and engravings
  • The incredible rock formations of the Zouar and Quizin canyons and their brutal landscapes.
  • Tour the traditional village of Gouro situated in a beautiful palm grove in the middle of dunes and mountains.
  • Trou de Natron and the descent into the interior of the caldera
  • Countless rock engravings, such as the one at the Gonoa site.
  • Walk through the lunar landscapes of the Tibesti, sighting the different volcanoes such as the Tarso Voon, the Tarso Tieroko or the Tousside peak.
  • Crossing impressive dune chains
  • Visit the lakes of Ounianga Kebir (large)
  • Crossing the route of the wells
  • Mao, the medieval city in western Chad
  • Visiting the many remnants of the war with Libya

    Information request

    If you prefer, you can contact us directly by writing to info@kumakonda.com and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

    Trips that may interest you

    Viaje Rio Congo

    4800€ / Person

    Congo River Expedition, April 2025

    17 April -
    5 May 2025
    Viaje al Lago Chad

    2600€ / Person

    Lake Chad, a journey to the epicentre of Chad’s nomadic cultures

    27 January -
    4 February 2025
    Salt Caravan Sahara

    4250€ / Person

    Salt Caravan Expedition in Chad, the initiatory journey – Nov 2024

    24 November -
    14 December 2024
    Gerewol Niger

    3900€ / Person

    Niger: Gerewol Festival, Agadez Hausa territory, sultanates and animist ceremonies

    24 September -
    5 October 2024

    4800€ / Person

    DR Congo, cultural immersion / 18 days – July 2024

    14 July -
    31 July 2024

    1700€ / Person

    Chad Gerewol Festival, 6 days in October 2024

    7 October -
    12 October 2024

    3400€ / Person

    Congo (DRC) – Mukanda , Pende tradition, urban culture / August 2025

    2 August -
    14 August 2025

    3750€ / Person

    Gerewol Festival, Ennedi and Ounianga (Oct 2024)

    7 October -
    25 October 2024

    3350€ / Person

    Chad – Lake Chad, Ennedi & Ounianga / 19 days in January 2025

    8 January -
    26 January 2025