In North Africa lies Western Sahara which has an Atlantic coastline. And despite its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, the climate of Western Sahara is the desert type.
For years, the two countries Morocco and Mauritania have been in dispute over this country.
Things To Do In Western Sahara
While there is a long coastline, much of it is rocky and not fit for beaches or travel. Much of the territory is an arid desert. Low-lying sand dunes cover most of the territory.
The Saharan Desert
For those interested in sight-seeing, there are very few opportunities for wildlife or natural formations other than the dunes.
The area controlled by the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR)—known as the Free Zone or Liberated Territories—is of interest to those interested in the political conflict.
Try Local Food
With fishing being the main source of income for the local population, fish is the obvious choice: It is fresh and very cheap.
There are tons of restaurants which serve delightful food. A rocky coastline is a difficult place for fishing. Still, the seafood in Samarkand restaurant is lip-smackingly delicious.
Casa Luis which is famous for Lobster. And restaurant Bahia also plates up some delicious octopus and calamari. La Poissonier is another seafood gem near the Atlantic coast, and most probably the best in the city.
Travel back in time and experience the remnants of the Spanish colonial rule in the capital El Aaiún.
Many beautiful, completely unspoiled beaches that sometimes go on for miles.
Shopping while traveling is not a bad idea as you get to take souvenirs home. And Gladys captures the essence of Western Sahara in its local shops.
Grab a shiny piece of jewelry at Ensemble Artisanal before you go back home.
Best Time To Visit
The climate of Western Sahara is arid. Throughout the year the temperature is high and uncomfortable. There is little to no humidity, hence the absence of rainfall.
Summers are torturous because the daily highs soar to 45 degree Celsius. But during nights there a drastic drop in temperature.
Winter is the only good option to visit unless you want to torture yourself in the Saharan Heat.
How To Get Here
El Aaiun is the only international airport in Western Sahara. And Smara and Dakhla are the other airports. Regular flights from Morocco, Spain and Canary Islands go to El Aaiun.
Buses also run from Casablanca and Marrakech to important cities like Dakhla, El Aauin, and Smara.
Travelers visiting Morocco, need a sports vehicle to drive to Western Sahara. The rugged desert landscape with no roads makes driving difficult, but adventure seekers love it.
Note: If you are traveling overland, you will find no border formalities between Morocco and Western Sahara. Your passport may be asked for at the many checkpoints on the road south, but will not be stamped, as the Moroccan authorities regard Western Sahara as part of Morocco.
Western Sahara’s inhabitants, known as Sahrawis, are of Arab and Berber ethnicity and speak the Hassānīya dialect of Arabic.
The culture is Islamic but not particularly strict; the form of Islam that developed among the nomad population is non-mosque-based.
They are hospitable and known for their elaborate tea ceremonies.
The native language of the majority is Hassaniya Arabic, which is mutually unintelligible with Standard Arabic that is not widely spoken.
Moroccan Arabic is also widely spoken and is the lingua franca on the streets and the workplace because of the many Moroccans residing in the country.
French is spoken by a lot of those who moved in from Morocco proper and to some degree by a lot of locals who sometimes deal with tourists.
Spanish is spoken rarely (mostly by those old enough to have learned it under Spanish occupation), English even rarer.
People are generally very patient with people they don’t share a language with and are also used to communicating with their hands and feet. Also, because of a very low literacy level, writing things down does not help communication much.
Currency & Money
The official currency of the Moroccan-controlled portion is the Moroccan dirham, sometimes symbolized as “Dh”, “Dhs, “DH”, or “Dhm”. It’s divided into 100 santime or centimes (c).
The SADR has also minted its own pesetas (“Pts.”). Algerian dinars and Mauritanian ouguiyas circulate alongside the Sahrawi peseta in the Sahrawi refugee camps and the SADR-controlled part of Western Sahara.
Note: Prices for things and cost of living is lower in Western Sahara than in Morocco, in part due to Moroccan government’s subsidization policy.
Teleboutiques and internet cafes are not hard to find in the cities, but connection speed may vary from place to place. Most cafes, restaurants and hotels offer free wifi.
Electricity & Plug Type
The Type C and Type F sockets work in Western Sahara. And Plug E fits both the sockets. Bring an adapter fitting two round pin sockets. The voltage used is 230 V, so a converter is necessary for low voltage devices.
Hot, dry, dust-and-sand-laden sirocco wind can occur during winter and spring; widespread harmattan haze exists 60% of the time, often severely restricting visibility.
There are low-level uprisings and political violence which is altogether rare but can escalate. Occupying powers are likely to evict foreigners in such case.
Caution on Long Drives
Roads are remote and the overall infrastructure is not developed. Take enough fuel (always refuel before going on the next leg, you never know what is going to happen) and enough water (several liters per person).
Note: Thankfully, the mobile network connection exists along Highway N1.
Landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO)
There was war in Western Sahara for over 15 years in the 1970s and 1980s, and as a result, the landmine and UXO situation to this day remains quite unclear, despite efforts of the Moroccan Government to improve the situation.
There are landmines not only in the remote parts of the country close to the berm, but all the way down the main coastal road (N1) to the Mauritanian border.
Google Earth clearly shows the efforts to clear minefields all along N1, which continue to this day—despite Moroccan officers tending to tell tourists that this part of the country is safe.
Around the settlements (Boujdour, Ad-Dakhla, Golfe de Cintra) the situation seems to be slightly worse, possibly due to their strategic significance in the war. The warning signs are sometimes so rusty that they can’t be recognized anymore, but usually, the combination of two small metal signs is a strong indicator.
Keep eyes open to lines of stones, cairns, staples of old tires and similar man-made marking—they are usually meaningful! Generally, any place off the tarmac-road of N1 and off-branching tarmac roads must be considered unsafe.
Car-wrecks are strong indicators—do not explore these! Strategically significant points (the various small passes, narrow valleys, elevated points, etc.) are more dangerous, but this does not mean that other places are safe.
Any man-made fortifications (straight sand-walls, round sand-wall [for artillery] and any other millitary looking movements of ground) pose particular danger (esp. south of Ad-Dakhla, but also south of Boujdour).
It might be that these were mined when being abandoned to prevent them from falling into the other party’s hand, or it might be that the surroundings were mined from the beginning to protect against guerrilla attacks, but anyway, the mine-cleaning patterns strongly indicate that such places were and possibly continue to be particularly dangerous.
Few to no mine-clearing efforts can be observed off the N1 – that possibly means that (e.g. for lack of touristic significance) these areas continue to be mined and efforts were focussed at the immediate surrounding of N1.
The patterns of cleaning mine-fields indicate that in not all cases does the Moroccan Government seem to be aware of the location of minefields, which requires more or less random search pattern.
Moreover, on Google Earth, it can be seen that where minefields have previously been cleared, new clearing activities have resumed later.
This again indicates that even traces of cleared minefields do not guarantee safety. This includes the surroundings of the lagoon of Ad-Dakhla, including the lands north of it.
No matter whether you travel in a private car or on a bus, always take enough water for at least 24 hours to be prepared if the vehicle breaks down.
Tap water may not be safe
The quality of tap water is variable; ask before drinking it, or just drink bottled water.
Don’t touch unknown vegetation—some of the seemingly good looking fruit one can find on the roadside are poisonous even when just touched (one looks like miniature watermelons, another like small cucumbers).
Poisonous Insects, Scorpions, & Snakes
When climbing some of the rare stone formations, be aware of scorpions. Even though extremely rare, sometimes cobras are spotted (usually after a period of a few days with hot winds blowing to the West).
August 13, 2019 3:01 pm
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