Tired of the tourist crowds and touts in Morocco? Hop one stop east to the newly crowned largest country in Africa: Algeria. When The Rapid Traveler visited in 2010, a couple airport security guards were rooting for Sudan to split so Algeria could claim the crown.
There are areas of security concern in Algeria, so overland trips need to be planned carefully, but flying among the major cities and tourist areas, as much as any can be considered tourist areas in Algeria, bypasses the restive hotspots. Algiers is a gritty port with French architecture and sunbathing Tipaza on the coast west, Ghardaia is a desert oasis inhabited by a severely fundamental religious sect (women are shrouded in ghostly white niqab, with married women only permitting to show one eye, not two), and Constantine, the ‘city of bridges’ is surrounded by some of the best Roman ruins in Africa, which give Rome itself tough competition, without the crowds.
Everyone but nationals of a handful of African and Asian countries need visas to Algeria, and according to Lonely Planet, nationals of Israel, Malawi and Taiwan need not apply. The Israel issue is common to a number of Arab and North African countries and non-Israeli nationals may have issues if their passports have Israeli stamps. The Taiwan prohibition is likely another facet of the endless (and endlessly petty) diplomatic squabble between P.R. China and R.O. China (Taiwan). Lonely Planet also reports good success in getting Algerian visas en route in neighboring countries.
The requirements are standard: form, photos, etc, nothing onerous. An itinerary and confirmed hotel reservation is required for tourist visas, but like many countries, the requirement is more strongly worded than the enforcement. The Rapid Traveler just included a flight and hotel mock-up from his company travel agent. Business visas require a letter of invitation.
In the US the process changed significantly in November 2011, and unpredictable change is likely the rule elsewhere as well. Previously all applications had to be submitted to the embassy in Washington, D.C. and they encouraged use of their preferred agent, though it was not an issue to submit directly by mail. Now, residents of all states except Washington, D.C., North Carolina, South Carolina, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia should submit to the consulate in New York in person or by mail.
Interestingly, they now claim:
Please note: We do not accept any kind of application from an intermediary agency ( travel agency or any other agencies). All visa applications within the consulate general of Algeria constituency should be submitted directly to the address above.
Visa agencies continue to sell their services for Algeria and this is probably not enforced, but worth checking.
Processing time is (deliberately) not specified. With mail service back when Washington, D.C. was handling all applications, it took about 1-2 weeks.
Oh, and it is another country that reciprocates the price gouging on US visas, so US nationals are charged US$135, other nationalities much less and should inquire at their local Algerian diplomatic mission.