Blog WHS Visits

WHS #809: Ennedi

The undisputed highlight of any trip to Chad is the Ennedi Massif. This huge sandstone formation has ancient rock art, pre-Islamic burial mounds, contemporary nomadic life, weirdly eroded landforms such as pinnacles, arches and mushrooms, and the iconic canyon Guelta d'Archei. In October 2022 we experienced the area greener than our guide had ever seen it before, thanks to the generous rainy season of this year. Situated deep in the Sahara, it takes 3.5 days of solid driving on mostly unpaved roads to get there from the capital N'Djamena. We stayed for 4 days, wild camping in a different lovely location every night and driving & hiking all day between the sights.

Rock art is everywhere. Some are engravings, but mostly there are clear paintings in red and white. You can crawl into rock shelters and caves to come within touching distance of the rock paintings. I even inadvertently put up my tent next to a rock wall and later noticed there were two camel paintings next door. The most characteristic images of this region are the "flying" camels and horses, some mounted by riders. The best ones are at Terkei (flying horses in red) and Bichagara in West-Ennedi (flying camels in white). One morning we even saw a living flying camel plus a rider speed by our camp!

The eroded landforms resemble parks in Utah such as Arches NP and Monument Valley. They are known by names like the Cathedral and the Labyrinth. We visited arches such as Elephant Rock and the Ojo de Tokou. Near the latter, a large number of old burial mounds are found, neat heaps of stones that hardly have been researched.

The most iconic site of the Ennedi is the Guelta d'Archei, a steep canyon with permanent water on its floor where camels (actually, they're all dromedaries) come to drink. We reached the Guelta after a 1.5-hour hike using the 'goat entrance'. We were led to the high viewpoint by the cute but firm local guide Fatima, about 10 years old, and her little brother Omar. It appears that she and her sister are the official guides around here, they get paid for their efforts. The noise produced by 200 camels also does give the location away from far. The opening up of the iconic view is similar to that of the Treasury in Petra, although the canyon here at Ennedi is deeper. I found it hard to get good photos of it because of the strong differences in light across the canyon, but you will find plenty on the internet to get the idea.

We left the canyon via the 'camel entrance', wading through the water that came to our knees and trying not to disturb the drinking camels. Unfortunately, we did not see any of the 4 crocodiles that still survive here. We heard that a BBC team would be arriving next week to prepare a documentary about their survival and a possible introduction of a crocodile from elsewhere, as it is unsure whether any of the 4 left is male.

Although this probably is the most visited place in the Ennedi, there is no formal entrance and also no sign/plaque of any kind. As with all other places of interest in Chad, you do have to pay a ‘tourist tax’ of 5,000 CFA (ca. 7 EUR) per person to the local chief (in this case residing in the new town of Archei).

I’ve rated the Ennedi Massif 5 stars – a rare thing for me to do but I cannot think of any reason why I wouldn’t. It’s a mixed WHS where both the cultural and natural values are strong. The rock art in the region only is said to be surpassed by Tadrart Acacus, but the nomadic culture survives the strongest in Chad. The biodiversity is remarkable for a site in the Sahara desert. The eroded landforms almost seem like an afterthought, although they are among the best you’ll find anywhere in the world. There are superficially similar sites (Wadi Rum for example), but here at the Ennedi - where the core zone covers an area similar to the size of The Netherlands, 30 times larger than Wadi Rum - it’s all more, more, more and bigger, bigger, bigger. And you have it all to yourself, as it is unlikely to encounter any other tourists than the ones you arrived with.

Els - 6 November 2022

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Liam 6 November 2022

Wow, glad you were able to get there at last. Sounds (and looks) incredible!

Astraftis 6 November 2022

I'm truly overawed by the beauty of these places! I hope to go there too sometimes!

Jay T. 6 November 2022

That sounds amazing — glad you had a great trip!