Author - Darren McLean

South Sudan Travel Guide

Mundari girls at a Mundari cattle camp.

South Sudan Travel Guide

This is a South Sudan Travel Guide from taste2travel.com

Date Visited: April 2024

Introduction

Welcome to South Sudan, the world’s newest country, a land of vast plains, vibrant cultures, fascinating tribes and untamed wilderness.

Nestled in the heart of East Africa, South Sudan is a country rich in diversity and history, offering travellers a unique and immersive experience like no other.

Sunset north of Juba.

Sunset north of Juba.

South Sudan boasts a tapestry of completely undeveloped, and untouched, landscapes, from the lush greenery of its swamps and savannas to the rugged peaks of its mountain ranges.

The concept of tourism is new to South Sudan and at this early stage there are many bureaucratic hurdles to visiting the country. All of these are outlined in the following sections of this guide.

Currently, the only sensible way to visit South Sudan is to engage the services of a local tour company.

Home to the Lotuko tribe since the 14th century, the very remote Ilieu village is nestled among giant granite boulders.

Home to the Lotuko tribe since the 14th century, the very remote Ilieu village is nestled among giant granite boulders.

I traveled to South Sudan with Kinyeti Wild Tours who I would recommend (full details are included in the ‘Tour Company‘ section below).

As for the South Sudanese, I found them to be a kind, warm and welcoming people. They have much to be proud of and are eager to share their rich cultural heritage with curious travellers.

No shortage of warm smiles in South Sudan.

No shortage of warm smiles in South Sudan.

Corruption permeates every aspect of life in South Sudan and it would seem the main economic activity is government officials extracting bribes from the beleaguered population.

A Mundari cattle herder, surrounded by his cows.

A Mundari cattle herder, surrounded by his cows.

In this South Sudan Travel Guide, I provide insights, recommendations, and practical tips to make the most of your visit.

While the country is open to tourists, it is, currently, best suited to intrepid, adventurous travellers.

Location

Juba, South Sudan

South Sudan is located in East-Central Africa, bordered by six countries, making it a landlocked nation.

To the north, Sudan, from which South Sudan gained independence in 2011 after decades of civil war, shares a 1,900-kilometre (1,200 miles) border with South Sudan.

To the east, Ethiopia shares a 1,300-kilometre (810 miles) border with South Sudan.

To the southeast, Kenya shares a border of 232-kilometres (144 miles), while to the south, Uganda, shares a border of 435-kilometres (270 miles) with South Sudan.

The Ugandan border crossing in the town of Nimule, is the busiest, and most significant land border crossing to South Sudan.

Meanwhile, to the west, the Central African Republic shares a 682-kilometre (424 mile) border with South Sudan. The boundary between the two countries is relatively porous and has experienced some instability due to conflicts in the region.

Lastly, in the southwest, the Democratic Republic of the Congo shares a 714-kilometre (444 miles) border with South Sudan. This border is marked by the flow of the Nile River.

Views of the countryside in south-eastern South Sudan.

Views of the countryside in south-eastern South Sudan.

South Sudan’s landscape is characterised by vast plains, swamps, and savannas, as well as mountainous regions in the southeast and the far west.

The White Nile, one of the two main tributaries of the Nile River, flows through the country from south to north, providing water resources and supporting agriculture and wildlife habitats.

The south-east of South Sudan is characterised by large granite boulders rising up over green plains.

The south-east of South Sudan is characterised by large granite boulders rising up over green plains.

Additionally, South Sudan is home to significant wetland areas, including the Sudd, one of the largest freshwater wetlands in the world.

People

A Mundari cattle herder, one of 60 distinct ethnic groups in South Sudan.

A Mundari cattle herder, one of 60 distinct ethnic groups in South Sudan.

The people of South Sudan are as diverse and vibrant as the landscapes of their country.

Comprising over 60 distinct ethnic groups, each with its own language, traditions, and customs, the population of South Sudan is a mosaic of cultures, beliefs, and identities.

Young Mundari girls.

Young Mundari girls.

Hospitality is deeply ingrained in South Sudanese culture, and I can attest that I was always made to feel welcome.

Family and community play central roles in South Sudanese society, with strong kinship ties forming the backbone of social life.

Elders are highly respected, and traditional values are upheld with pride, even in the face of modernisation.

Lotuko children, playing a game, in Ilieu village, south-eastern South Sudan.

Lotuko children, playing a game, in Ilieu village, south-eastern South Sudan.

Despite the challenges posed by decades of conflict and hardship, resilience runs deep in the spirit of the South Sudanese people.

In recent years, efforts to foster reconciliation and unity have gained momentum, as South Sudanese from all walks of life work towards healing the wounds of the past and forging a path towards peace and prosperity.

Amidst the challenges, the people of South Sudan remain hopeful, resilient, and proud of their rich cultural heritage.

Flag

The flag of South Sudan, bearing a tilted star.

The flag of South Sudan, bearing a tilted star.

The flag of South Sudan is a symbol of the nation’s identity and aspirations.

Adopted on July 9, 2011, when South Sudan gained independence from Sudan, the flag embodies the hopes and dreams of its people for a future of peace, unity, and prosperity.

The flag was designed by Samuel Ajak, who was an artist and brigadier general for the Sudan People’s Liberation Army under revolutionary leader John Garang.

The flag was never formally defined in detail, which has led to many misunderstandings regarding its official colours or the rotation of the yellow star.

The flag of South Sudan bears similarities with the flags of Sudan and Kenya. It shares the black, white, red, and green of the Sudanese flag, in addition to having a chevron along the hoist.

One difference between the flags of Sudan and South Sudan is that there is a yellow star inside the blue chevron, representing the unity of South Sudan.

The horizontal black, white, red, and green bands of the flag share the same design as the Kenyan flag, and the Pan-African symbolism thereof.

According to the government of South Sudan, the colours of the flag represent the following:

  • Black: Represents the people of South Sudan.
  • Red: Represents the blood that was shed for the independence of the country.
  • Green: Represents the country’s agricultural, natural wealth, land, as well as progress.
  • White: Represents peace.
  • Blue: Represents the waters of the Nile River, which flows through the country.
  • Yellow: Represents unity (of the states), hope, and determination for all people.

Flag in Dispute

The flag of South Sudan, bearing an upright star.

The flag of South Sudan, bearing an upright star.

The Flag of South Sudan is still disputed about whether the yellow star is tilted to the right slightly or whether it is upright.

Both of these designs are commonly used.

Currency

The currency of South Sudan is the South Sudanese Pound (SSP).

The currency of South Sudan is the South Sudanese Pound (SSP).

The official currency of South Sudan is the South Sudanese Pound, which has the international currency code of SSP.

The currency came into being on the 9th of July 2011, at the time of independence.

The currency, which is issued by the Bank of South Sudan (BoSS), consists of just three bank notes – 100, 500 and 1,000 SSP.

The obverse side of the South Sudanese Pound banknotes features the image of John Garang, the founding father of South Sudan.

The obverse side of the South Sudanese Pound banknotes features the image of John Garang, the founding father of South Sudan.

The obverse side of each banknote features the image of John Garang, a former Sudanese politician and revolutionary leader, who is credited with being the founding father of South Sudan.

John Garang died under mysterious circumstances in 2005 when the Ugandan presidential (Mi-172) helicopter he was flying in crashed.

The reverse side of the South Sudanese Pound features wildlife and the River Nile.

The reverse side of the South Sudanese Pound features wildlife and the River Nile.

The reverse side of the South Sudanese Pound features Ostriches on the 1,000 SSP note and a lion on the 100 SSP note.

The 200 SSP note features a panorama of the Nile River, which flows through South Sudan.

Exchange Rate

My wad of 100 x 100 SSP bank notes.

My wad of 100 x 100 SSP bank notes.

Currently (May 2024), US$1 = 2,500 SSP which means the wad of 100 x 100 SSP pictured above is worth just US$4.

The currency of South Sudan is the South Sudanese Pound (SSP).

The currency of South Sudan is the South Sudanese Pound (SSP).

Exchange rates quoted on the internet are false since these are the official rates which no one in South Sudan uses.

Costs

One of the world’s poorest countries is one of the most expensive to visit! 

  • Return airfare from Dubai to Juba with Ethiopian Airlines: US$1,000
  • 4-day tour (all inclusive): US$2,150
  • Visa: US$120
  • Standard Room at the Royal Palace Hotel in Juba: US$120 per night

Tour Company

I travelled to South Sudan with Kinyeti Wild Tours.

I travelled to South Sudan with Kinyeti Wild Tours.

With a lack of infrastructure and little public transport, plus many bureaucratic hurdles, it’s best to engage the services of a local tour company when organising a trip to the world’s newest country.

I normally travel strictly as a solo, independent traveller – without the aid of a tour guide or tour company.

However, I would highly recommend you engage a local tour guide / company for your trip to South Sudan. 

I will outline the reasons for this advice below.

There are many bureaucratic requirements for a visit to South Sudan, requirements which can only be completed by a local tour company.

The very organised, competent, and enthusiastic, Isaac Lotwal, the owner of Kinyeti Wild Tours.

The very organised, competent, and enthusiastic, Isaac Lotwal, the owner of Kinyeti Wild Tours.

I travelled to South Sudan with Kinyeti Wild Tours who I would recommend.

The company was founded by Isaac Lotwal and is one of the very few tour operators in South Sudan – a country where the concept of tourism is still unfamiliar and tourists are (sometimes) viewed with suspicion.

Tour Costs

Tours to one of the world’s poorest countries are surprisingly expensive.

I paid US$2,150 for a 4-day tour which included visits to two tribes, accommodation, food, transport, guiding, photography permit, foreigners’ registration process and airport transfers.

During our visit to the Mundari tribe, I was told the tribe charges US$200 per visitor and are happiest when a group arrives since a large number of visitors is much more lucrative.

Payment Options

Credit cards are not accepted in South Sudan, nor are online payment methods such as PayPal.

There are two options for paying for tours – either a good old fashion bank transfer or you simply carry the cash with you and hand it to your guide on arrival (in a discreet setting of course!).

Bureaucracy

A visit to South Sudan requires a Letter of Invitation (which can only be issued by a locally-registered company), a Photography Permit (which must be obtained from the government, by a local company, before you arrive in the country), and a separate Foreigners’ Registration process once you have arrived in Juba.

All of these requirements will be completed by the local tour company.

Letter of Invitation

 

My Letter of Invitation (LOI) for South Sudan, which was issued by Kinyeti Wild Tours.

My Letter of Invitation (LOI) for South Sudan, which was issued by Kinyeti Wild Tours.

During the e-visa application process, visitors to South Sudan are required to upload a Letter of Invitation from a local South Sudan tour company.

Such a letter (pictured above) was issued to me by Kinyeti Wild Tours.

Photography Permit

Anyone carrying photography equipment (drones are strictly banned) will need to obtain a Photography Permit in advance of their arrival.

The cost for this permit is a whopping US$550 which is nothing more than a blatant tourist tax.

The only way to obtain this prior to your arrival is through a local tour company.

When I arrived at Juba airport, I was met by Isaac who had a folder full of paperwork for my visit. This also included the Photography Permit.

Isaac led me to a customs office where he handed over the permit and I handed over my Canon DSLR (EOS R6). A customs officer (who obviously had no idea what he was looking at), performed a cursory check of my camera and the permit before letting me go.

At no stage in South Sudan was my photography permit requested.

However, it was checked once again when I departed from Juba airport.


Note:

If you are travelling only with a smartphone camera, you do not need to apply for a Photography Permit.

Such permits are for large format DSLR cameras. 


Foreigner Registration Process

Upon arrival in South Sudan, all visitors are required to undergo a separate 'Foreigner Registration Process', which is stamped into your passport.

Upon arrival in South Sudan, all visitors are required to undergo a separate ‘Foreigner Registration Process’, which is stamped into your passport.

Upon arrival in the country, all foreigners in South Sudan are required to register at the Central Immigration office in Juba.

Isaac took care of this process while I relaxed at my hotel after my long flight.

The sticker from this process will take up half a page in your passport.

Conclusion

There is much in the way of paperwork to be completed by visitors to South Sudan. For this reason, it is imperative you travel through a local tour company.

There is also the issue of a lack of public transport and terrible infrastructure.

You will need a private car with driver and guide in order to explore beyond Juba!

Sightseeing

Juba

A sunken boat, in the middle of the White Nile River in Juba.

A sunken boat, in the middle of the White Nile River in Juba.

Juba is an unremarkable, gritty, chaotic, less-than-charming capital of dusty, (mostly unsealed) streets, lined with simple corrugated iron structures.

There are very few solid buildings in South Sudan, except for a small area in downtown Juba which is home to a collection of hotels, government ministries, the Presidential Palace, NGO’s and a few banks.

One iconic site in Juba is that of a sunken boat which lies just off the shore of the White Nile, near one of Juba’s most popular expat bars – the AFEX River Camp.

A large copper Rhinoceros monument at the AFEX River Camp in Juba.

A large copper Rhinoceros monument at the AFEX River Camp in Juba.

The story of this boat is that it had been damaged while unloading goods. The motor failed and the boat drifted downstream until it eventually became stuck in its current location.

Tribal Visits

During my stay in South Sudan, I visited two tribes – the Lutoko tribe and the Mundari tribe.

Lutoko Tribe

Ilieu Village Views

A view of the village of Ilieu. The Lutoko tribe have inhabited the slopes of this escarpment since the 14th century CE.

A view of the village of Ilieu. The Lutoko tribe have inhabited the slopes of this escarpment since the 14th century CE.

Located in Eastern Equatoria State, a 5-hour drive from Juba, along bumpy, heavily pot-holed, red-earth roads, the village of Ilieu is home to the Lotuko tribe, who have lived on the slopes of a steep escarpment since at least the 14th century.

Views of the surrounding plains from Ilieu village.

Views of the surrounding plains from Ilieu village.

Over the centuries, the tribe have moved large boulders into place to create laneways and stone fences. Inside these fences, small family compounds are kept neat and clean.

The entire village is kept spotlessly clean, unlike other urban environments throughout South Sudan.

The roof thatching is especially interesting since it’s made from bundles of tightly knotted grass which are then tied together in layers.

There are two water sources, neither of which are conveniently located in the village. Instead, villagers must hike downhill (20 minutes) or uphill to fill water containers which they then haul back to the village.

Due to the remote location of Ilieu village, a 5-hour drive from Juba, I camped overnight in the village school yard.

Ilieu village is located on the slopes of an escarpment in the remote south-east region of South Sudan.

Ilieu village is located on the slopes of an escarpment in the remote south-east region of South Sudan.

 

A view of Ilieu village, home of the Lotuko tribe.

A view of Ilieu village, home of the Lotuko tribe.

 

Views of the surrounding countryside from Ilieu village.

Views of the surrounding countryside from Ilieu village.

 

A young girl, on her way to collect water from a source high up on the granite boulder which overlooks the village.

A young girl, on her way to collect water from a source high up on the granite boulder which overlooks the village.

 

Laneways constructed from granite boulders and fences made from tree branches.

Laneways constructed from granite boulders and fences made from tree branches.

 

Walking through Ilieu village involves lots of clambering over giant granite stones.

Walking through Ilieu village involves lots of clambering over giant granite stones.

 

Laneways and fences in Ilieu village, constructed of granite stones and wooden tree branches.

Laneways and fences in Ilieu village, constructed of granite stones and wooden tree branches.

 

Over the centuries, the tribe have moved large boulders into place to create laneways and stone fences.

Over the centuries, the tribe have moved large boulders into place to create laneways and stone fences.

 

Constructing laneways in Ilieu village is very labour-intensive.

Constructing laneways in Ilieu village is very labour-intensive.

 

A village kitchen, with a fire below and food storage above.

A village kitchen, with a fire below and food storage above.

Grinding Grain

A young Lotuko girl, grinding grain.

A young Lotuko girl, grinding grain.

Grinding grain is an important activity which has taken place for many centuries in the village.

Evidence of former grain grinding sites can be seen throughout the village.

Remnants from centuries of grinding activity.

Remnants from centuries of grinding activity.

 

A grinding stone in a village compound.

A grinding stone in a village compound.

 

A large grinding stone and views of Ilieu village.

A large grinding stone and views of Ilieu village.

Portraits of the Lotuko

Portraits of the Lotuko tribe at Ilieu village.

Portraits of the Lotuko tribe at Ilieu village.

One of many tribal groups in South Sudan, the Lotuko, are a Nilotic (of the Nile valley) ethnic group whose traditional home is the Eastern Equatoria state of South Sudan.

Their region is characterised by ranges and mountain spurs such as Mount Kinyeti, the highest mountain in South Sudan with an altitude of 3,186 metres (10,453 ft) above sea level.

Isaac named his tour company after this mountain, which he has climbed. Isaac is a native of a village which lies in the shadow of Mount Kinyeti.

Portraits of the Lotuko tribe at Ilieu village.

Portraits of the Lotuko tribe at Ilieu village.

 

Portraits of the Lotuko tribe at Ilieu village.

Portraits of the Lotuko tribe at Ilieu village.

 

Portraits of the Lotuko tribe at Ilieu village.

Portraits of the Lotuko tribe at Ilieu village.

 

Portraits of the Lotuko tribe at Ilieu village.

Portraits of the Lotuko tribe at Ilieu village.

 

Portraits of the Lotuko tribe at Ilieu village.

Portraits of the Lotuko tribe at Ilieu village.

 

Portraits of the Lotuko tribe at Ilieu village.

Portraits of the Lotuko tribe at Ilieu village.

 

Portraits of the Lotuko tribe at Ilieu village.

Portraits of the Lotuko tribe at Ilieu village.

 

Mundari Tribe

A sunset view of a Mundari cattle camp.

A sunset view of a Mundari cattle camp.

The Mundari are a small ethnic group of roughly 100,000 (very tall) people, who are renowned cattle-herders and agriculturalists.

A Mundari girl using her arms to imitate the curvy cow horns.

A Mundari girl using her arms to imitate the curvy cow horns.

They are one of the ethnic groups indigenous to the Nile valley (Nilotic). Their main homeland is located north of Juba, the capital of South Sudan.

Mundari boys at the Mundari cattle camp.

Mundari boys at the Mundari cattle camp.

Nomadic cattle-herders, they move their cattle camps to areas which offer the greenest pastures where their cattle can feed.

Cattle are the Mundari’s primary source of wealth; the cows serve as a form of currency (these days, an attractive bride can “cost” as much as 100 cows) and, as such, have become a symbol of status and power.

A young Mundari girl, working in the cattle camp.

A young Mundari girl, working in the cattle camp.

Marriages are arranged by the prospective groom offering cattle to the bride’s family and husbands may take as many wives as they can support.

Ankole-Watusi Cows

Ankole-Watusi cows at a Mundari cattle camp.

Ankole-Watusi cows at a Mundari cattle camp.

The Mundari tend large herds of Ankole-Watusi cows, which are renowned for their impressively large and curly horns.

The cows are known as “the cattle of kings” because they were preferred by African kings.

A herd of Ankole-Watusi cows is still kept at the former Royal Palace in Nyanza, Rwanda (click to view these cows in my Rwanda Travel Guide).

The Mundari have an all-encompassing relationship with their cows, they sleeping alongside them, massage them with cow-dung ash and build fires to keep them warm and to keep the bugs away.

Their cows are treasured family members!

The Mundari tend to consume fish caught from the nearby Nile River. They do no eat their cows, but consume the milk which is produced by them.

Ankole-Watusi cows have the most incredibly curvy horns.

Ankole-Watusi cows have the most incredibly curvy horns.

 

A young boy posing with an Ankole-Watusi cow.

A young boy posing with an Ankole-Watusi cow.

 

Who's the odd one out here?

Who’s the odd one out here?

 

Because of their preference by African rulers, Ankole-Watusi cows are known as “the cattle of kings”.

Because of their preference by African rulers, Ankole-Watusi cows are known as “the cattle of kings”.

 

The Mundari sculpt the horns of their cows to make them curvier.

The Mundari sculpt the horns of their cows to make them curvier.

 

The Mundari live lives which are closely intertwined with their beloved cows.

The Mundari live lives which are closely intertwined with their beloved cows.

 

Ankole-Watusi cows at a Mundari cattle camp.

Ankole-Watusi cows at a Mundari cattle camp.

 

Young Mundari girls, imitating the curved horns of their cows.

Young Mundari girls, imitating the curved horns of their cows.

 

The Mundari build fires to keep their cows warm and the mosquitos away.

The Mundari build fires to keep their cows warm and the mosquitos away.

 

Tension in the camp!

Tension in the camp!

 

Each evening, when the cows return to camp, they return to the exact same spot where they are tied to a small peg in the ground.

Each evening, when the cows return to camp, they return to the exact same spot where they are tied to a small peg in the ground.

 

Ankole-Watusi cows at a Mundari cattle camp.

Ankole-Watusi cows at a Mundari cattle camp.

Cow-Dung Ash 

The Mundari cover their skin in cow-dung ash to protect against mosquito bites.

The Mundari cover their skin in cow-dung ash to protect against mosquito bites.

The Mundari collect and burn the copious amounts of cow dung which is produced each day in the cattle camp.

The ash produced from the dung is smeared on their bodies to protect against mosquito bites.

The Mundari also massage the ash into the hides of their cows to provide them with protection against mosquitos.

The Mundari cover their skin in cow-dung ash to protect against mosquito bites.

The Mundari cover their skin in cow-dung ash to protect against mosquito bites.

 

A Mundari baby, covered in cow-dung ash to protect against mosquito bites, sleeping on the ground.

A Mundari baby, covered in cow-dung ash to protect against mosquito bites, sleeping on the ground.

 

A Mundari baby, covered in cow-dung ash to protect against mosquito bites, sleeping on the ground.

A Mundari baby, covered in cow-dung ash to protect against mosquito bites, sleeping on the ground.

 

A Mundari man, rubbing cow dung ash into the hide of one of his cows.

A Mundari man, rubbing cow dung ash into the hide of one of his cows.

 

A Mundari man, rubbing cow dung ash into the hide of one of his cows.

A Mundari man, rubbing cow dung ash into the hide of one of his cows.

 

A Mundari man, rubbing cow dung ash into the hide of one of his cows.

A Mundari man, rubbing cow dung ash into the hide of one of his cows.

 

Gathering the ash from the fire.

Gathering the ash from the fire.

 

Cattle Camp Maintenance

A Mundari boy, sweeping the camp grounds.

A Mundari boy, sweeping the camp grounds.

Mundari cattle camps are kept clean by the Mundari children and adolescents who collect cow dung for the fires and who sweep the areas around the cattle camp.

A Mundari boy, sweeping the camp grounds.

A Mundari boy, sweeping the camp grounds.

 

Collecting cow dung in a Mundari cattle camp is a never-ending job.

Collecting cow dung in a Mundari cattle camp is a never-ending job.

 

A Mundari girl, sweeping the camp grounds.

A Mundari girl, sweeping the camp grounds.

 

A Mundari girl, sweeping the camp grounds.

A Mundari girl, sweeping the camp grounds.

 

A Mundari girl, sweeping the camp grounds.

A Mundari girl, sweeping the camp grounds.

 

A Mundari girl, gathering cow dung which will be burnt on one of the many camp fires. A Mundari girl, gathering cow dung which will be burnt on one of the many camp fires.

A Mundari girl, gathering cow dung which will be burnt on one of the many camp fires.

 

A Mundari boy, gathering fresh cow dung which will be burnt on one of the many camp fires.

A Mundari boy, gathering fresh cow dung which will be burnt on one of the many camp fires.

 

The collecting of cow dung keeps most of the Mundari children busy.

The collecting of cow dung keeps most of the Mundari children busy.

 

Collecting cow dung.

Collecting cow dung.

 

A young Mundari boy, with hair which has been treated with cow dung ash and washed with cow urine, collecting cow dung.

A young Mundari boy, with hair which has been treated with cow dung ash and washed with cow urine, collecting cow dung.

 

A young Mundari girl, collecting cow dung for the fire.

A young Mundari girl, collecting cow dung for the fire.

 

Mundari Beauty Treatment

Mundari men of South Sudan rub cow-dung ash into their hair and then bathe their hair in cow urine.

Mundari men of South Sudan rub cow-dung ash into their hair and then bathe their hair in cow urine.

A unique Mundari beauty treatment involves massaging cow-dung ash into the hair of Mundari men.

The hair is then washed with cow urine. The uric acid gives the hair a copper-colour tint which the Mundari regard as beautiful.

A container of cow urine, ready to be used as a hair rinse treatment.

A container of cow urine, ready to be used as a hair rinse treatment.

 

A Mundari beauty salon.

A Mundari beauty salon.

 

Massaging cow-dung ash into the hair of a Mundari man.

Massaging cow-dung ash into the hair of a Mundari man.

 

Portraits of the Mundari

Two Mundari cattle herders on a motorbike.

Two Mundari cattle herders on a motorbike.

 

A Mundari man in a sudden gust of wind.

A Mundari man in a sudden gust of wind.

 

A Mundari cattle herder, sitting among his herd.

A Mundari cattle herder, sitting among his herd.

 

A young Mundari girl.

A young Mundari girl.

 

A young Mundari girl.

A young Mundari girl.

 

A young Mundari boy.

A young Mundari boy.

 

A young Mundari boy.

A young Mundari boy.

 

A young Mundari boy.

A young Mundari boy.

 

A young Mundari boy.

A young Mundari boy.

 

A young Mundari girl.

A young Mundari girl.

 

Young Mundari girls.

Young Mundari girls.

Accommodation

Juba

During my stay in South Sudan, I stayed at the very good Royal Palace Hotel in Juba which offers three different room types, with a Standard Room costing US$120 per night (including a buffet breakfast).

My comfortable and spacious 'Standard room' at the Royal Palace Hotel in Juba.

My comfortable and spacious ‘Standard room’ at the Royal Palace Hotel in Juba.

The Royal Palace Hotel is located a short walk from the Nile River, in a neighbourhood of dusty, dirt streets and a mish-mash of buildings and businesses. This is downtown Juba!

The bathroom in my room at the Royal Palace Hotel in Juba.

The bathroom in my room at the Royal Palace Hotel in Juba.

Located in a secure compound, behind high security walls, the calm and relaxing ambience of the Royal Palace Hotel is a welcome respite from the dusty and chaotic streets of Juba.

The Royal Palace Hotel claims that their swimming pool is the largest in South Sudan.

The Royal Palace Hotel claims that their swimming pool is the largest in South Sudan.

The hotel boasts the largest swimming pool in South Sudan which strangely is the same depth throughout at almost 6 feet (183 cm).

The cafe at the hotel serves some of the best Barista-made coffee in South Sudan.

Camping

Our campsite, during our visit to the remote Lotuko tribe at Ilieu village.

Our campsite, during our visit to the remote Lotuko tribe at Ilieu village.

I have to admit – I’m not a fan of camping!

Despite being a boy scout in my childhood, who did lots of camping, I have definitely become accustomed to comfortable hotel rooms.

Due to the remote location of Ilieu village (home to the Lotuko tribe), which is a 5-hour drive, along atrocious dirt roads from Juba, we had no option but to camp the night at the village.

Setting up our campsite, which was in the school yard of Ilieu village.

Setting up our campsite, which was in the school yard of Ilieu village.

Isaac has invested heavily in good camping equipment which he has sourced from South Africa.

The tents, bedding, food and everything else was very comfortable.

If you plan to spend time visiting the different tribes of South Sudan, you should be prepared for some nights of sleeping under the stars.

There are very few facilities outside of the capital, Juba. 

In the morning, after our night of camping, Isaac and our driver where packing away one of the tents.

When they moved the tent (which they had slept in), a startled, large, black, scorpion came out of its burrow and started running around with its tale fluttering in the air. He was quickly stomped on!

Eating Out

The cuisine of South Sudan reflects the country’s rich cultural diversity and its agricultural heritage.

It primarily consists of grains, vegetables, fruits, and meat, with significant regional variations influenced by the availability of local ingredients and traditional practices.

Especially popular is fish from the Nile River which flows through the country.

Restaurants

Hotel Torit

My lunch stop at the Hotel Torit, which is the main hotel in Torit, the capital of Eastern Equatoria.

My lunch stop at the Hotel Torit, which is the main hotel in Torit, the capital of Eastern Equatoria.

While in Torit (the regional capital of Eastern Equatoria State), I stopped for lunch at the Hotel Torit, a tired and run-down hotel which happens to be the best in town.

A view from the restaurant at the Hotel Torit.

A view from the restaurant at the Hotel Torit.

The rather forlorn, Hotel Torit, is a government-owned, tired, dirty, run-down establishment, where rooms cost US$60 per night.

A view of the restaurant at the Hotel Torit.

A view of the restaurant at the Hotel Torit.

I was the only guest in the hotel restaurant which offers one set meal at lunchtime.

Chicken and rice for lunch at the Hotel Torit.

Chicken and rice for lunch at the Hotel Torit.

I was served chicken and rice which gave me a bad case of diarrhea. Not recommended!

Bars

Chicken and rice for lunch at the Hotel Torit.

“South” – the very quaffable beer of South Sudan.

“South”, the beer of South Sudan, is widely available at hotel bars throughout the country.

Visa Requirements

Visa policy map of South Sudan, with those nationalities which require an e-Visa highlighted in yellow.

Visa policy map of South Sudan, with those nationalities which require an e-Visa highlighted in yellow.
Source: Wikipedia.

Almost all nationalities (yellow on the above map) require an e-Visa to visit South Sudan.

You can check your visa requirements by consulting the Visa Policy of South Sudan.

eVisa Process

My South Sudan e-Visa.

My South Sudan e-Visa.

You should only use the official government website when applying for a South Sudan e-Visa.

The eVisa website can be accessed at – https://evisa.gov.ss/

There are many steps (10 in fact!) and many documents which need to be uploaded when applying for a South Sudan e-Visa.

You are required to supply details regarding your next of kin, current employer with full contact details and much more!

It’s a very thorough and detailed application process. Too many questions!


Note: 

Documents need to be uploaded in JPG format and the size limits are small at around 300-500kb per file. 

PDF format is not accepted. 


Applicants should follow these steps:

  • Open the official e-Visa page of the Republic of South Sudan.
  • Create an account using the option on the homepage.
  • Fill out the account with all the required information.
  • Choose the type of visa you want to apply for.
  • Fill out the application form.
  • Attach the required documents to support your visa application.

Required Documents List (all in JPG format):

  • A passport photo with the dimensions 2×2 inch (5x5cm)
  • The copy of your passport photo page
  • A copy of your Letter of Invitation (LOI).
  • A negative Covid-19 test. (Is this still 2020? I uploaded my Covid-19 vaccination certificate which was accepted).
  • A copy of your Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate. (This is also checked upon arrival at Juba Airport). 

  • Pay the e-Visa application fee of USD$120 using a credit card. Note: The payment failed the first time for me. I simply tried again and it was accepted.
  • Within 72 hours, your approved e-Visa should appear on your account where it must be downloaded and printed.

Note:

You will not receive any email notification regarding the status of your e-Visa application.

Instead, you must login to your account and check the status of your application on the e-Visa website. 

Once your e-Visa has been approved (within 72 hours), it will be posted on the official website from where you should download it and print it.   

A printed version of the e-Visa must be presented upon arrival at Juba International Airport. 


Getting There

My boarding pass, from Addis Ababa to Juba with Ethiopian Airlines.

My boarding pass, from Addis Ababa to Juba with Ethiopian Airlines.

Air

All international flights arrive at Juba International Airport (IATA: JUB) which is located a short drive from downtown Juba.

The following airlines provide scheduled flights to/ from Juba International Airport:

  • African Express Airways – flies to/ from Nairobi–Jomo Kenyatta
  • Egyptair – flies to/ from Cairo
  • Ethiopian Airlines – flies to/ from Addis Ababa, Entebbe
  • Fly540 – flies to/ from Nairobi–Jomo Kenyatta
  • flydubai – flies to/ from Dubai–International
  • Kenya Airways – flies to/ from Nairobi–Jomo Kenyatta
  • RwandAir – flies to/ from Entebbe, Kigali
  • Sky Travel and Aviation – flies to/ from Gulu
  • Turkish Airlines – flies to/ from Istanbul
  • Uganda Airlines – flies to/ from Entebbe

Addis Ababa Skylight In-terminal Hotel

My very comfortable room at the Addis Ababa Skylight In-Terminal Hotel.

My very comfortable room at the Addis Ababa Skylight In-Terminal Hotel.

On my trip to South Sudan, I flew with Ethiopian Airlines, via Addis Ababa International Airport.

Ethiopian Airlines are one of the largest airlines in Africa, providing daily connections to 63 African cities from their hub at Addis Ababa International Airport.

As one of the main aviation hubs in Africa, many travellers spend time transiting through Addis Ababa International Airport.

Located in a quiet, remote, corner of Addis Ababa airport, the Skylight In-Terminal Hotel can be found by following the green signs inside the terminal. 

Located in a quiet, remote, corner of Addis Ababa airport, the Skylight In-Terminal Hotel can be found by following the green signs inside the terminal.

If you have a prolonged layover at the airport, I highly recommend checking into the excellent Skylight In-Terminal Hotel.

The hotel is located in a quiet corner of the airport, away from all the usual airport noise such as boarding announcements.

You can find the hotel by following the green “Skylight In-Terminal Hotel” signs on the airside of the terminal.

The reception desk at the Skylight In-Terminal Hotel.

The reception desk at the Skylight In-Terminal Hotel.

Eventually, you’ll reach a reception desk where friendly and efficient staff will assist you with a room.

Current rates (May 2024) at the Skylight In-Terminal Hotel.

Current rates (May 2024) at the Skylight In-Terminal Hotel.

Rooms can be booked in different time bands from 1-3 hours; 4-6 hours; 7-12 hours; 13-24 hours or 24 hours.

I booked a Standard room for 7-12 hours at a cost of US$100. Totally worth it!

Payment can be made with credit card!

The beautiful bathroom in my room at the Skylight In-Terminal Hotel.

The beautiful bathroom in my room at the Skylight In-Terminal Hotel.

The hotel offers 97 tranquil havens in five different categories.

At no stage do you exit immigration or customs.

You do not need any entry documents for Ethiopia to stay in a room on the ‘airside‘ of this hotel.

If you are staying in Ethiopia, the hotel also offers 1,024 comfortably modern rooms and suites on the ‘landside‘ of the terminal.

The restaurant at the Skylight In-Terminal Hotel serves meals around the clock.

The restaurant at the Skylight In-Terminal Hotel serves meals around the clock.

The restaurant at the Skylight In-Terminal Hotel never closes, with hungry transit passengers arriving 24 hours a day.

Breakfast is especially good and flight departure boards ensure you won’t miss your flight.

Road

Uganda

Currently, the main land border crossing into South Sudan is in the town of Nimule, Uganda.

A heavily pot-holed road connects Juba to Nimule with a total driving distance of 193 km (120 mi), with a driving time of 4.5 hours.

Possibly, this road was built during the British colonial period and has not been maintained, in any way, since.

As this is the only (terribly) paved route into the country from the south, this busy road serves as the main route for all goods entering land-locked South Sudan from Mombasa port.

The road is very busy with Kenyan and Ugandan trucks delivering all manner of goods into South Sudan.

Adding to the chaos, totally unnecessary police checkpoints add considerable delays to the journey. These checkpoints are nothing more than a place for corrupt officials to collect bribes from passing motorists, especially the many truck drivers.

One checkpoint, on the southern outskirts of Juba, sees trucks queued for 5-10 km in each direction, waiting to pass through the checkpoint (once they have paid the required bribe!).

Kenya

The South Sudan border town of Nadapal, lies across the border from Kenya’s Turkana Province.

The 375 km (233 mi) gravel road between Nadapal and Juba is due to be upgraded to an international standard bitumen road. This project was approved in 2008 and has yet to start.

A bitumen highway will allow trucks to travel more directly from Mombasa port to Juba, rather than through Uganda as is the current route.

Currently, the bad roads make this a 2-day, epic, journey.

Getting Around

A very good stretch of red-earth road in Eastern Equatoria state.

A very good stretch of red-earth road in Eastern Equatoria state.

Public Transport

There is little in the way of public transport in South Sudan.

If you plan to visit different tribes, they tend to inhabit the remote back-corners of the country and are only accessible with a private car, driver and a guide.

Taxi

The best taxi company in Juba is RABA Taxi.

You can book taxis via their website or via their app:

Rental Car

Forget it!

The poorly maintained roads are unmarked, diabolical and you have many corrupt officials to contend with.

Better to leave the driving to locals who know the roads.

 


That’s the end of my South Sudan Travel Guide.

If you wish to leave any comments or contact me, you can do so using the form below or the via the Contact page.

Safe Travels!
Darren


Further Reading

Following is a list of my travel content from the region:

Travel Quiz 73: World Capitals Quiz

World Capitals Quiz

This is a World Capitals quiz from taste2travel!

How well do you know your capital cities?

Test your knowledge with this quiz from taste2travel.

 

How well will you score? Your result will be displayed at the bottom of the quiz – will you get to see the legendary Marco Polo?

Don’t forget to share your results with friends using the social media buttons at the top of the quiz.


Did you know?

There are many more travel quizzes on taste2travel, covering specific continents and subjects such as currencies, flags, maps, capital cities, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, museums and much more.

You can access all the quizzes here.


Good luck!

 

01. Which is the capital of Saudi Arabia?

Also known as 'The bottle-opener', the 302-metre Kingdom Centre dominates the Riyadh skylines.
Correct! Wrong!

02. Which is the capital of Mauritania?

Correct! Wrong!

03. Which is the capital of Taiwan?

Correct! Wrong!

04. Which is the capital of Tonga?

The official residence of the King of Tonga, the Victorian-style, wooden Royal Palace overlooks the waterfront in Nuku'alofa.
Correct! Wrong!

05. Which is the capital of the United Arab Emirates?

Correct! Wrong!

06. Which is the capital of Guyana?

A rainbow over Kaieteur Falls, Guyana.
Correct! Wrong!

07. Which is the capital of Saint Kitts & Nevis?

Named after London's Piccadilly circus, 'The Circus' is the centre of Basseterre.
Correct! Wrong!

08. Which is the capital of Libya?

The Roman theatre at Sabratha.
Correct! Wrong!

09. Which is the capital of the Comoros?

A view of Moroni harbour and the historic Friday Mosque.
Correct! Wrong!

10. Which is the capital of Indonesia?

Correct! Wrong!

11. Which is the capital of Papua New Guinea?

Hand-woven baskets for sale in Port Moresby. Hand-made souvenirs are one of the real bargains in PNG.
Correct! Wrong!

12. Which is the capital of Iran?

Azadi Tower, also known as the Freedom Tower, is one of Tehran's iconic landmarks.
Correct! Wrong!

13. Which is the capital of Colombia?

Thousands of pilgrims climb the 10,000 foot Monserrate (mountain) which dominates the centre of Bogota, the Colombian capital, to offer their prayers at the shrine of "El Señor Caido".
Correct! Wrong!

14. Which is the capital of Anguilla?

St Gerard's Roman Catholic Church, Anguilla.
Correct! Wrong!

15. Which is the capital of Portugal?

Correct! Wrong!

16. Which is the capital of Equatorial Guinea?

The streets of Malabo feature some fine examples of Spanish colonial architecture.
Correct! Wrong!

17. Which is the capital of the Maldives?

The Fish market is located on the waterfront in downtown Malé.
Correct! Wrong!

18. Which is the capital of Niue?

With excellent visibility, the crystal clear waters of the Pacific make Niue a scuba diver's paradise.
Correct! Wrong!

19. Which is the capital of Syria?

Correct! Wrong!

20. Which is the capital of Azerbaijan?

Correct! Wrong!

Travel Quiz 73: World Capitals Quiz
Sorry! You scored less than 50%. Why not try one of the many other taste2travel trivia quizzes?

Fail Stamp.

You scored almost 75%! Why not try one of the many other taste2travel trivia quizzes?

Pass Stamp.

Very Good - a gold star performance! Please feel free to blitz my many other quizzes on taste2travel!

Excellent result! You're a modern day Marco Polo! Please feel free to blitz my many other quizzes on taste2travel!

Share your Results:

 


Other Quizzes

Why not further test your knowledge with another taste2travel quiz?

Other travel-related quizzes are also available on BuzzFeed.


Follow me on Instagram: 


 

Western Sahara Photo Gallery

Street art in Laayoune, the largest city in Western Sahara.

Western Sahara Photo Gallery

This is a Western Sahara Photo Gallery from taste2travel.

To read about this destination, please refer to my Western Sahara Travel Guide.


All images are copyright! If you wish to purchase any images for commercial use, please contact me via the Contact page.


 

 


About taste2travel!

Hi! My name is Darren McLean, the owner of taste2travel.

I’ve been travelling the world for 36 years and, 238 countries and territories, and seven continents later, I’m still on the road.

Taste2travel offers travel information for destinations around the world, specialising in those that are remote and seldom visited. I hope you enjoy my content!

Ever since I was a child, I have been obsessed with the idea of travel. I started planning my first overseas trip at the age of 19 and departed Australia soon after my 20th birthday. Many years later, I’m still on the road.

In 2016, I decided to document and share my journeys and photography with a wider audience and so, taste2travel.com was born.

My aim is to create useful, usable travel guides/ reports on destinations I have visited. My reports are very comprehensive and detailed as I believe more information is better than less. They are best suited to those planning a journey to a particular destination.

Many of the destinations featured on my website are far off the regular beaten tourist trail. Often, these countries are hidden gems which remain undiscovered, mostly because they are remote and difficult to reach. I enjoy exploring and showcasing these ‘off-the-radar’ destinations, which will, hopefully, inspire others to plan their own adventure to a far-flung corner of the planet.

I’m also a fan of travel trivia and if you are too, you’ll find plenty of travel quizzes on the site.

Photography has always been a passion and all the photos appearing in these galleries were taken by me.

If you have any questions or queries, please contact me via the contact page.

I hope you this gallery and my website.

Safe travels!

Darren


Follow me on Instagram: 

Western Sahara Travel Guide

A view of the coast of Western Sahara at Puerto Rico beach, south of Dakhla.

Western Sahara Travel Guide

This is a Western Sahara Travel Guide from taste2travel.com

Date Visited: March 2024

Introduction

Welcome to the enchanting land of Western Sahara, a place where endless desert landscapes meet the sparkling waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

The White Dune is a highlight of Dakhla.

The White Dune is a highlight of Dakhla.

A visit to Western Sahara has been a long-held travel dream, and it didn’t disappoint.

There is something mesmerising about empty, endless desert landscapes. They truly do free the mind!

Street art in Laayoune, the largest city in Western Sahara.

Street art in Laayoune, the largest city in Western Sahara.

Nestled between Morocco and Mauritania, Western Sahara offers a blend of rugged beauty, rich cultural heritage, and a fascinating history.

From the vast dunes of the Sahara Desert to the vibrant coastal towns, Western Sahara beckons adventurers with its charm and mystique.

Boasting an almost deserted (pun intended) coastline of 1,110 km (690 km), Western Sahara offers no shortage of beaches, most of which you’ll have to yourself!

Porto Rico Beach, one of many isolated beaches which line the long coast of Western Sahara.

Porto Rico Beach, one of many isolated beaches which line the long coast of Western Sahara.

The coastal city of Dakhla is the main tourist hub, offering a wealth of accommodation options and daily flights from Europe and Morocco.

The ever-windy Dakhla Lagoon is a world renown kite-surfing spot, attracting thousands of kite-surfers who stay at the many kite-camps.

Venturing further into the Sahara, there are many beautiful and intriguing attractions which lie within an easy day-trip from Dakhla.

Distances in Western Sahara are vast.

Distances in Western Sahara are vast.

In this Western Sahara travel guide, I’ll delve into the wonders of this lesser-known region, uncovering its hidden treasures and offering insights to make your journey unforgettable.

Whether you seek thrilling desert adventures, cultural immersion, or simply a peaceful escape, Western Sahara promises a journey like no other.

Camels! A common sight throughout Western Sahara!

Camels! A common sight throughout Western Sahara!

Disputed Territory

While this is a disputed land, about 20% of the territory is controlled by the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR); the remaining 80% is occupied and administered by Morocco.

A wall (the ‘berm‘) separates the two territories and that wall cannot be crossed!

There are no separate border formalities or any other additional formalities in place.

You do not need to show your passport to enter Western Sahara from Morocco, and there are no ‘Western Sahara’ passport stamps. You are simply stamped into and out of ‘Morocco’ depending on your port of entry/ exit.

It’s all Morocco and looks and feels like any other part of Morocco.


Overland to Mauritania

Camel traders at the Camel market in Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania.

Camel traders at the Camel market in Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania.

Currently, the route across the Sahara Desert, linking Morocco and Mauritania, via Western Sahara, is the only trans-Saharan route which is (legally) open to travellers.

Anyone wishing to travel overland between Europe and sub-Sahara Africa, must pass through Western Sahara.

I travelled overland from Agadir (Morocco) to Nouakchott (Mauritania) via public transport, a journey of approximately 2,000 km (1,242 mi).

For those overlanders reading this guide, I have included information on continuing the journey to Mauritania.

You will find details on the border crossing and the Mauritanian Visa-on-arrival (VOA) in the ‘Visa Requirements section below.

Details on the daily bus which connects Dakhla with Nouadhibou and Nouakchott are included in the ‘Getting There‘ section below.


Location

Dakhla 73000

Western Sahara is a region located in North Africa, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the west, Morocco to the north, Algeria to the northeast, and Mauritania to the east and south.

It is situated in the Maghreb region of North Africa, known for its diverse landscapes ranging from expansive deserts to rugged mountains and coastal plains.


Video: Cruising through Western Sahara by bus!


The region spans an area of about 266,000 square kilometres (103,000 square miles), making it roughly the size of the United Kingdom.

The landscape of Western Sahara is dominated by the vast Sahara Desert, which covers the majority of the territory.

This desert terrain is characterised by endless dunes, rocky plateaus, and arid plains.

In the east, the landscape transitions into the mountainous region of the Saharan Atlas, with peaks reaching over 2,000 metres (6,500 feet) in elevation.

A view of the coast of Western Sahara at Porto Rico beach, south of Dakhla.

A view of the coast of Western Sahara at Porto Rico beach, south of Dakhla.

To the west, Western Sahara boasts a stunning coastline along the Atlantic Ocean, featuring beautiful beaches and fishing villages.

This coastal area is an important economic and cultural hub, with cities like Laayoune and Dakhla serving as major centres of activity.

Overall, Western Sahara’s geographical location presents a unique blend of desert beauty, coastal charm, and rugged mountain landscapes, offering visitors a diverse range of experiences and attractions to explore.

People

Street art in Laayoune, Western Sahara.

Street art in Laayoune, Western Sahara.

The people of Western Sahara are diverse, with a rich cultural tapestry woven from various ethnic groups.

The Sahrawi people are the indigenous inhabitants of this region, known for their resilience and nomadic heritage.

Traditionally, they are nomadic herders who have roamed the vast expanse of the desert for generations, relying on their deep knowledge of the land and its resources for survival.

The Sahrawi culture is deeply rooted in traditions that emphasise community, hospitality, and solidarity.

Extended families form the core of Sahrawi society, with strong bonds that extend beyond blood relations.

Respect for elders and a strong sense of communal responsibility are integral to their way of life.

Due to the turbulent history of Western Sahara, many Sahrawis have experienced displacement and resettlement.

A significant portion of the population now resides in refugee camps in neighboring Algeria, where they have maintained their cultural identity and traditions despite the challenges.

In urban areas like Laayoune, the largest city in Western Sahara, you’ll find a mix of Sahrawis, Moroccans, and other ethnic groups.

Despite the challenges they have faced, the people of Western Sahara continue to preserve their cultural heritage and maintain a strong sense of identity.

Flags

Western Sahara Flag

The flag of Western Sahara is never flown in areas controlled by the Moroccan government.

The flag of Western Sahara is never flown in areas controlled by the Moroccan government.

You will never see the flag of Western Sahara being flown in the Moroccan-controlled areas of this disputed land. Instead, the Moroccan flag is flown everywhere!

The flag of Western Sahara is a symbol of the Sahrawi people’s struggle for independence and self-determination.

The flag is a tri-colour of three equal horizontal stripes (black, white, and green from top to bottom) overlaid by a red triangle issuing from the hoist side. These are the Pan-Arab colors.

The design of the flag is based on that of the Palestinian flag, which in turn was derived from the colours used in the Arab Revolt.

There is a red star and crescent in the middle stripe. The star and crescent are considered symbols of Islam, and can be seen on flags of other neighbouring Islamic countries such as Algeria and Mauritania

Each element of the flag holds significant meaning:

  • Black: The top black stripe represents the dark days of struggle and hardship endured by the Sahrawi people, particularly during their fight for independence.
  • White: The middle white stripe symbolises peace and hope for a peaceful resolution to the conflict and a better future for the Sahrawi people.
  • Green: The bottom green stripe represents the abundant natural resources of Western Sahara, including its rich land and vegetation.
  • Red: The red triangle on the hoist side stands for the blood shed by Sahrawis in their struggle for independence. It also symbolises their commitment to sacrifice for their land and freedom.

This flag was adopted by the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), the self-proclaimed government of the Western Sahara, in 1976.

It is a powerful emblem of the Sahrawi people’s aspirations for independence and sovereignty over their homeland.

The flag is often displayed proudly in Sahrawi refugee camps, as well as in areas of Western Sahara under the control of the Polisario Front, the liberation movement fighting for Sahrawi self-determination.

Moroccan Flag

The flag of Morocco.

The flag of Morocco.

The Moroccan flag is the only flag which is be displayed in the Moroccan-controlled part of Western Sahara.

The current flag has served as the national flag of Morocco since 17 November 1915.

It has a red field with a green pentagram (a 5-pointed star) in the centre.

The green star represents the five pillars of Islam, and the red represents the blood of the ancestors and unity.

Currency

The Moroccan Dirham is the official currency used in the Moroccan-controlled area of Western Sahara.

The Moroccan Dirham is the official currency used in the Moroccan-controlled area of Western Sahara.

The official currency of the Moroccan-controlled area of Western Sahara is the Moroccan Dirham, which has the international currency code of MAD.

This is due to the fact that Morocco, which claims sovereignty over Western Sahara, uses the Moroccan Dirham as its official currency throughout its territories, including Western Sahara.

All Moroccan Dirham banknotes feature Mohammed VI, the current ruler of Morocco.

All Moroccan Dirham banknotes feature Mohammed VI, the current ruler of Morocco.

In areas under the control of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), the self-proclaimed government of Western Sahara, the Algerian Dinar (DZD) is also sometimes used alongside the Moroccan Dirham.

However, the Moroccan Dirham is the more widely accepted and official currency in most transactions within the region.

Uncirculated Moroccan Dirham banknotes.

Uncirculated Moroccan Dirham banknotes.

All currency in Morocco is issued by the country’s central bank – the Bank Al-Maghrib.

The current series of banknotes were issued in 2013 and feature a portrait of King Mohammed VI and the royal crown.

Each of the notes show a Moroccan door to the left of the King, demonstrating the richness of the country’s architectural heritage, and symbolising the openness of the country.

Exchange Rate

The Moroccan Dirham is the official currency of Morocco.

The Moroccan Dirham is the official currency of Morocco.

The current (April 2024) exchange rates for the Moroccan Dirham (MAD) are:

Credit Cards

Unlike most countries in Africa, credit cards are widely accepted in Morocco.

ATMs

Also, unlike most countries in Africa, ATMs are widely available in Morocco and accept all credit cards.

Costs

Travel costs throughout the region are wonderfully reasonable.

Unlike so many parts of sub-Sahara Africa, Morocco and Western Sahara are ideal for those travelling on a budget.

Sightseeing

Laayoune

Colourful shopfronts in downtown Laayoune.

Colourful shopfronts in downtown Laayoune.

Laayoune, also spelled El Aaiún, is the largest city in Western Sahara. It serves as the capital of the region and is situated on the Atlantic coast.

A city of very few tourist sights, Laayoune means “water sources” in Arabic, in reference to the natural oasis providing the town with its water supply.

This relaxed, charming, laid-back city is an important administrative, economic, and cultural centre within Western Sahara.

One of many town squares in Laayoune.

One of many town squares in Laayoune.

The city has experienced significant growth over the years, with a population (220,000) that has expanded due to migration and urbanisation.

Laayoune serves as a hub for transportation within the region, with an airport and road connections linking it to other parts of Western Sahara and Morocco.

Flights from Laayoune airport connect the city to other Moroccan cities plus the Canary Islands, which lie a short distance offshore.

St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church

Located in Laayoune, the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church was built in 1954, during the Spanish colonial presence in Spanish Sahara.

Located in Laayoune, the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church was built in 1954, during the Spanish colonial presence in Spanish Sahara.

A last vestige of the colony that was Spanish Sahara, the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church is hidden away in a back street of Laayoune.

The church was built in 1954, during the Spanish colonial presence in Spanish Sahara.

Today, the St. Francis of Assisi church opens twice a week for mass which is attended by the small Spanish expat population of Laayoune.

Today, the St. Francis of Assisi church opens twice a week for mass which is attended by the small Spanish expat population of Laayoune.

While the population of Laayoune is almost 100% Muslim, the church serves the small Spanish expat community that is still present, as well as serving active personnel of the UN mission in the country.

Closed most of the time, the church is only open during mass which is held twice a week at 8 pm on Saturday and 12:00 pm on Sunday.

The Grand Mosque of Laayoune

The Grand Mosque of Laayoune features a square Almohad-style minaret - a common feature on mosques throughout the Maghreb.

The Grand Mosque of Laayoune features a square Almohad-style minaret – a common feature on mosques throughout the Maghreb.

Like most mosques in Morocco, the Grand Mosque of Laayoune, the city’s principal mosque, features a square Almohad-style minaret.

A detailed view of the square Almohad-style minaret at the Grand Mosque of Laayoune.

A detailed view of the square Almohad-style minaret at the Grand Mosque of Laayoune.

The Almohad’s ruled over Morocco, Algeria and Al-Andalus (Spain) during the 12th-13th century.

The square Almohad-style minaret can be found from Seville (Spain), throughout Morocco and Algeria.

Dakhla

Despite being a desert city, Dakhla is home to many green spaces.

Despite being a desert city, Dakhla is home to many green spaces.

Although, in terms of population, the 2nd city of Western Sahara (pop: 107,000), Dakhla is the #1 tourist hub in the region, with direct flights from Europe and Morocco delivering large numbers of tourists, especially kite-boarding enthusiasts, for which the region is famous.

No shortage of camels in the Sahara Desert.

No shortage of camels in the Sahara Desert.

Located 1,696 km (1,052 mi) south of the Moroccan capital of Rabat, Dakhla is closer to Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, which is 822 km (510 mi) to the south.

Dakhla, also known as Ad Dakhla or Villa Cisneros, is a city located at the end of a long, narrow peninsula, the Río de Oro Peninsula, surrounded on three sides by the Atlantic Ocean.

While the city has limited appeal, its most famous for its kite-boarding camps which are located north of town, on the shores of the (always windy) Dakhla Lagoon.


Desert Tours

Views of the azure waters of the Atlantic Ocean from the top of the White Dune.

Views of the azure waters of the Atlantic Ocean from the top of the White Dune.

Beyond Dakhla, the Sahara Desert holds many stunning attractions which should not be missed.

I ventured into the desert with a local driver/ guide by the name of Sidi, who is the neighbour of the owner of the Dar Rio Oro guest house in Dakhla.   

I shared a 4WD with three French friends with each of us paying €60 for the full day trip. 

This was a highlight of Dakhla! Highly Recommended!


Video: Cruising south through Western Sahara – from Laayoune to Dakhla by bus! 


The White Dune

A view of a small lagoon which is surrounded by the sands of the White Dune.

A view of a small lagoon which is surrounded by the sands of the White Dune.

Reachable only by 4WD, along a sandy piste cutting across the Sahara Desert, the White Dune rises up from the surrounding brown sand desert, like a shiny beacon.

Views of the Atlantic Ocean from the top of the White Dune.

Views of the Atlantic Ocean from the top of the White Dune.

The white-sand dune, which is surrounded by the ocean at high tide, stands in stark contrast against the blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the brown sand of the surrounding desert.

Views of the lagoon and the Atlantic Ocean from the top of the White Dune, a highlight of Dakhla.

Views of the lagoon and the Atlantic Ocean from the top of the White Dune, a highlight of Dakhla.

Porto Rico Beach

A panoramic view of Porto Rico Beach, with its abandoned Spanish-era lighthouse.

A panoramic view of Porto Rico Beach, with its abandoned Spanish-era lighthouse.

About sixty kilometres south of Dakhla, on the road to Mauritania, Porto Rico Beach is a beautiful Sahara Desert beach of white sand and crystal-clear water.

An abandoned Spanish-era lighthouse overlooks Porto Rico Beach.

An abandoned Spanish-era lighthouse overlooks Porto Rico Beach.

Overlooked by an abandoned, Spanish-era lighthouse, this long, pristine beach is located a few kilometres north of the Tropic of Cancer.

The cliffs which line Porto Rico Beach are made of chalk deposits.

The cliffs which line Porto Rico Beach are made of chalk deposits.

The geology-geek in me was excited to see that the cliffs which line the beach at Porto Rico Beach are made of chalk deposits.

Chalk is a fine-textured, earthy type of limestone distinguished by its light colour, softness, and high porosity. It is composed mostly of tiny fragments of the calcite shells or skeletons of plankton.

Almost in the tropics - a view of the stunningly isolated Porto Rico Beach.

Almost in the tropics – a view of the stunningly isolated Porto Rico Beach.

Imlili Oasis

The 'Sebkha of Imlili' are permanent, isolated, pools of hypersaline water which were formed during the Holocene epoch (11,700 years ago). 

The ‘Sebkha of Imlili’ are permanent, isolated, pools of hypersaline water which were formed during the Holocene epoch (11,700 years ago).

Located in a remote corner of the Sahara Desert, about 100 km south of Dakhla, totally off-piste, and accessible only with a local guide in a 4WD, the Sebkha of Imlili (‘Sebkha‘ translates as a salt-water depression) are permanent pools of hypersaline water which were formed during the Holocene epoch (11,700 years ago).

One giant 'fish spa' - the salt water pools at Imlili are inhabited by voracious, carnivorous fish who love eating dead skin.

One giant ‘fish spa’ – the salt water pools at Imlili are inhabited by voracious, carnivorous fish who love eating dead skin.

What makes these pools truly unique are the many small, carnivorous fish which inhabit them – totally cutoff from any other water source.

These fish are of one single species – Coptodon guineensis.

Trapped in these isolated pools for thousands of years, the fish at Imlili are considered to be relics of the past.

Trapped in these isolated pools for thousands of years, the fish at Imlili are considered to be relics of the past.

It is believed that the fish have existed in these isolated pools ever since they were trapped there during the Holocene epoch, after the Green Sahara period.

These aquatic animals are considered to be relics of the past.

The only way to reach the very remote Imlili oasis is with a knowledgeable local guide in a 4WD vehicle.

The only way to reach the very remote Imlili oasis is with a knowledgeable local guide in a 4WD vehicle.

One of the more unusual characteristics of Coptodon guineensis is that they are carnivorous.

For tourists wishing to experience a natural ‘fish spa‘, you can dip your feet into the pools and let the fish nibble on dead skin, calluses or anything else.


Note:

It’s important to note that if you have any open wounds, you should not expose them to the voracious fish, who will only make the wound bigger. 

It’s also important to be aware that water conditions are not conducive to care due to the fact that it is stagnant. 


'Me and Mini-Me' - a mother and baby camel with very similar markings - near Imlili.

‘Me and Mini-Me’ – a mother and baby camel with very similar markings – near Imlili.

Accommodation

Laayoune

My comfortable and spacious room at the Sahara Line Hotel in Laayoune.

My comfortable and spacious room at the Sahara Line Hotel in Laayoune.

While in Laayoune, I stayed at the very good Sahara Line Hotel which is located in the city centre, a short walk from all the sights.

From the friendly, welcoming staff, to my spacious and comfortable room and the very good breakfast (served during Ramadan), this hotel serves as an ideal base for anyone visiting Laayoune.

My room at the Sahara Line Hotel included a sunny sitting room.

My room at the Sahara Line Hotel included a sunny sitting room.

Rates on booking.com start from €50 per night.

If this pleasant hotel wasn’t enough, as a final act of kindness, the manager drove me in her car to the bus station, without charge.

Highly recommended!

Dakhla

Part of my sprawling room at the Dar Rio Oro guest house in Dakhla.

Part of my sprawling room at the Dar Rio Oro guest house in Dakhla.

While in Dakhla, I stayed at the charmingly traditional Dar Rio Oro guest house which is a family-owned guest house which overlooks the sea in downtown Dakhla.

Built in a traditional Moroccan-style, over a period of 2 years, by the French owners, Dar Rio Oro features two spacious rooms on each floor with a common dining/ sitting room on the 5th floor.

A rooftop terrace on the 6th floor offers more rooms and a terrace with panoramic views.

For those with mobility issues, there is no elevator in the building – just stairs.

During my stay, Madame Fatima (the wife) was taking care of the property while her husband was away in France.

The sitting room in my room at the Dar Rio Oro guest house in Dakhla.

The sitting room in my room at the Dar Rio Oro guest house in Dakhla.

Fatima is very attentive and a font of information, although her English is limited.

Her children and pets (a cat and dog) were normally in the communal living room, giving the whole place the feeling of a family home rather than a hotel.

A highlight of my stay was a day trip with Sidi (the neighbour) who took me in his 4WD into the desert to see some of the spectacular sights which surround Dakhla.

I shared his spacious 4WD with three French travellers with each of us paying €60 for a full day of sightseeing. This tour is highly recommended!   

The view, from one of my balconies, at the Dar Rio Oro guest house in Dakhla.

The view, from one of my balconies, at the Dar Rio Oro guest house in Dakhla.

As for the rooms, the interior concrete walls are at least 20-cm thick which ensures the rooms are wonderfully silent, although the thick walls can interfere with WiFi signal.

My room contained a large bedroom with 3 beds, a kitchen, a living room, a large bathroom and two balconies.

A dinner of camel couscous and vegetables, served one evening at the Dar Rio Oro guest house in Dakhla.

A dinner of camel couscous and vegetables, served one evening at the Dar Rio Oro guest house in Dakhla.

Breakfast is served each morning in the communal dining room, which offers a balcony with a view over the adjacent fort and the sea.

One evening, Fatima prepared a traditional camel couscous with chickpeas and vegetables. Delicious!

Besides camel couscous, Fatima also offers free transfers to/ from the airport or bus station.

Rates on booking.com start from €77 per night.

Eating Out

Laayoune

Restaurant Gardenia 

The popular 'Gardenia' is rated as the best restaurant in Laayoune on TripAdvisor.

The popular ‘Gardenia’ is rated as the best restaurant in Laayoune on TripAdvisor.

One excellent restaurant in Laayoune is Restaurant Gardenia which is rated as the #1 restaurant in Laayoune by TripAdvisor.

A clean, modern restaurant which is staffed by professional, attentive wait staff, Gardenia offers a range of cuisines from Moroccan, Italian, International and even Japanese.

While I chose to eat steak, I was also tempted by the delicious-looking sushi.

Highly recommended!

McDonald’s

Laayoune boasts the last McDonald's in Africa - before crossing the Sahara Desert into sub-Sahara Africa.

Laayoune boasts the last McDonald’s in Africa – before crossing the Sahara Desert into sub-Sahara Africa.

I have never before featured McDonald’s in any of my travel guides and I cannot claim to be a fan.

However, the newly opened branch of McDonald’s in Laayoune deserves a special mention as being the last McDonald’s in Africa before you cross the Sahara Desert into sub-Sahara Africa.

There are no McDonald’s restaurants in sub-Sahara Africa, with the next McDonald’s being in South Africa.

That’s a long way between Big Macs!

Dakhla

My Octopus Restaurant

An exquisite fish dish, served at <i>My Octopus</i> restaurant in Dakhla.

An exquisite fish dish, served at My Octopus restaurant in Dakhla.

While there are many restaurants to choose from in Dakhla, there is really only one establishment which has elevated the local dining and culinary scene – My Octopus.

Located on the waterfront, on Ave. Mohamed V, this popular restaurant serves amazingly fresh local fish and seafood which is all very beautifully presented.

A delicious desert, served at <i>My Octopus</i> restaurant in Dakhla.

A delicious desert, served at My Octopus restaurant in Dakhla.

… the best desserts in the desert!

Also worth trying are their desserts. These are the best desserts in the desert!

Visa Requirements

Morocco/ Western Sahara

My Moroccan passport stamps.

My Moroccan passport stamps.

Since Western Sahara is considered, by the Moroccans, to be a part of Morocco, the Visa Policy of Morocco applies.

The Visa Policy Map of Morocco - countries in dark green enjoy visa-free access for 90 days.<br />source: Wikipedia

The Visa Policy Map of Morocco – countries in dark green enjoy visa-free access for 90 days.
Source: Wikipedia

Many nationalities enjoy, 90-day, visa-free access to Morocco, as indicated on the above map.

Entering Western Sahara

It’s important to note that there are no formal borders between Morocco and Western Sahara as the Moroccans consider all of this territory to be Moroccan.

When travelling by land from Morocco into Western Sahara, there are no borders, no extra passport stamps, no checks whatsoever.

I travelled on a night bus from Agadir to Laayoune. I fell asleep somewhere in Morocco and woke up the next day in Western Sahara. A very relaxed and pleasant journey.

If your first entry into Morocco is through a port in Western Sahara, such as Laayoune or Dakhla airport or over the Mauritanian/ Moroccan land border, you will receive a Moroccan entry stamp.

Mauritania

My Mauritanian Visa-on-arrival (VOA) which was issued at the Morocco/ Mauritanian land border.

My Mauritanian Visa-on-arrival (VOA) which was issued at the Morocco/ Mauritanian land border.

For those travelling overland into Mauritania, almost everyone (grey counties on the map below) requires a visa.

These are issued, without fuss, on land borders or at Nouakchott International Airport.

Visa policy map of Mauritania.

Visa policy map of Mauritania.
Source: Wikipedia

My Mauritanian Visa-on-Arrival (VOA) was issued in 20-minutes at the land border between Western Sahara (Morocco) and Mauritania.

Valid for a stay of 30-days, a single-entry visa costs €55 which must be paid in euro cash (only banknotes accepted).


Tip:

As is typical of sub-Sahara African countries, the bureaucratic process for entering the country can be vexing.

Getting my VOA was a 7-step process with different people in six different (unmarked) offices, in two different buildings, tasked with doing something.    

When I arrived at the border, the driver of my minibus was smart enough to hand me over to a ‘fixer’ who quickly sped me through a process which could potentially take much time. 

The fixer knew all the steps to follow and knew all the staff and enjoyed a priority service. 

At one stage, I met a lone Italian traveller who had been stuck at the border for some time, and was clearly flustered, since he was trying to pay for his visa with a mix of euro banknotes and coins. However, only banknotes are accepted.

Since I had plenty of euro banknotes, I exchanged his coins for a €20 note, which allowed him to then receive his visa. 

In the end, I paid my fixer €5 for what was a fast-track service. 

I highly recommended paying a small fee for a fixer to provide you with a fast-track service! 


Getting There

Supratours provide regular, daily, connections between northern Morocco, Western Sahara and the Mauritanian border.

Supratours provide regular, daily, connections between northern Morocco, Western Sahara and the Mauritanian border.

Air

There are two international airports serving Western Sahara:

One interesting back door into the region is offered by Binter Canarias, the airline of the Canary Islands.

From their base on the Canary Islands, Binter offer interesting connections to Western Sahara, Senegal, Cape Verde (click to read my travel guide), Mauritania, the Azores, Madeira, Spain, Portugal and beyond.

Meanwhile, Royal Air Maroc are one of the largest airlines in Africa, offering connections to many cities in Europe and sub-Sahara Africa from their base in Casablanca.

Laayoune Airport

The following airlines fly to/ from Laayoune International Airport:

Dakhla Airport 

The following airlines fly to/ from Dakhla International Airport:

Land

A promotion by Supratours, for their daily bus connection from Morocco to Mauritania.

A promotion by Supratours, for their daily bus connection from Morocco to Mauritania.

Morocco

Laayoune bus station ('Gare Routiere' in French).

Laayoune bus station (‘Gare Routiere’ in French).

Buses
Both CTM and Supratours offer comfortable and reliable daily bus connections between Western Sahara and northern Morocco.

Both CTM and Supratours offer comfortable and reliable daily bus connections between Western Sahara and northern Morocco.

For those who prefer overland travel, regular daily buses connect various cities in northern Morocco with all cities in Western Sahara.

The two main bus companies which provide daily services from Casablanca, Rabat, Marrakech and Agadir, south to Laayoune, Dakhla and onwards to the Mauritanian border are CTM and Supratours.

All bus journeys I made in Western Sahara were almost empty.

All bus journeys I made in Western Sahara were almost empty.

Both companies operate a fleet of large, comfortable, modern buses, with most services in Western Sahara being almost empty.


Schedule

Bus departures from Laayoune bus station.

Bus departures from Laayoune bus station.

From Marrakech

From Marrakech to Laayoune, CTM operate 7 buses per day with a journey time of 16 hours and a cost of 387 MAD.

Of these 7 buses, 2 continue down the coast on the epic voyage to Dakhla (24 hours/ 545 MAD).

From Agadir

From Agadir to Laayoune, CTM operate 11 buses per day with a journey time of 12 hours and a cost of 266 MAD.

Of these 11 buses, 4 continue down the coast to Dakhla (21 hours/ 455 MAD).

From Guerguerat (Moroccan/ Mauritanian border) 

From Guerguerat to Dakhla, CTM/ Supratours operate 1 bus per day which leaves the border at 4 pm, arriving 5 hours later in Dakhla (190 MAD).

All bookings can be made online!


One of the joys of travelling by bus in Morocco are the many refreshment stops at tea houses.

One of the joys of travelling by bus in Morocco are the many refreshment stops at tea houses.

In the case of the lonely trip to the Mauritanian frontier, the two companies consolidate the few passengers onto one bus in Dakhla.

I purchased a ticket from Supratours but rode on a CTM bus to the border.

My Supratours bus ticket from Laayoune to Dakhla, which cost 230 MAD.

My Supratours bus ticket from Laayoune to Dakhla, which cost 230 MAD.

There were maybe six people on the bus, and most alighted in small towns before the border.

Onwards to Mauritania

My bus ticket from Dakhla to Nouadhibou.

My bus ticket from Dakhla to Nouadhibou.

Buses

One daily bus, which is jointly operated by Supratours and CTM, connects Dakhla with the Moroccan/ Mauritanian land border which is located at Guerguerat, a small frontier post which lies 367 km (5 hours) south of Dakhla.

Bus tickets for Mauritania can be purchased from this office of Supratours in Dakhla.

Bus tickets for Mauritania can be purchased from this office of Supratours in Dakhla.

Tickets for the bus should be purchased at least a day in advance from the Supratours office which is located on Ave. Mohamed V in downtown Dakhla.

The bus departs from the front of the Supratours office each morning at 8 am.

It will also make a stop at the CTM office and Dakhla bus station before departing Dakhla for the 5-hour journey to the border.

The cost of a ticket to Nouadhibou is payable in two parts – 190 MAD for the trip to the border, then 100 MAD for the minibus ride from the border to Nouadhibou.

You can also purchase a combo-ticket from Dakhla to Nouakchott.

The Moroccan border post at Guerguerat.

The Moroccan border post at Guerguerat.

Once at the border, you exit Morocco through a clean, well-organised, efficient border facility and exit into a litter-strewn wasteland.

This is the narrow corridor of no-man’s land which belongs to Western Sahara but is totally unoccupied.


Tip: 

The only facilities at this frontier are on the Moroccan side of the border, where you’ll find a service station, a small guest house, restaurant and shop. 

There are no facilities in no-man’s land or on the Mauritanian border. 


The minibus from El Moussavir Plus company, waiting at the exit of the Moroccan border post.

The minibus from El Moussavir Plus company, waiting at the exit of the Moroccan border post.

After you proceed (by yourself) through the Moroccan border post, you’ll find the Mauritanian minibus, which is operated by El Moussavir Plus transport company, waiting for you outside the border exit gate.

It departs from the Moroccan border at 3 pm each day.

If you have purchased a combined ticket, the driver will already have your name and will collect your ticket.

If you do not have an onward ticket, you can negotiate a price with the driver.

I was the only passenger in the minibus.

The journey from the Mauritanian border to Nouadhibou is about 45 minutes.

Upon arrival in Nouadhibou, you will be dropped at the office of El Moussavir Plus which is on the outskirts of town.

From here, if you are staying in town, you will need to negotiate a ride in a shared taxi to your hotel.

Taxis in Mauritania are the most beat-up, old, dilapidated, Mercedes Benz motor cars. How they manage to continue to function defies the laws of physics.

Onward to Nouakchott

El Moussavir Plus operate daily minibuses to Nouakchott, which depart at 7 am each morning from their office, which is located on the outskirts of Nouadhibou.

The bus arrives in Nouakchott at around 1 pm.

It’s best to reserve your place on the bus at least one day before travel. Each bus has just 13 seats and my bus was fully booked.

Shared Taxis
Mauritanian license plate.

Mauritanian license plate.

Regular shared taxis connect Dakhla with Nouadhibou.

These are operated by Mauritanian drivers – just look for the Mauritanian license plated cars near the central market in Dakhla.

While I was waiting for the bus at the Supratours office in Dakhla, local Moroccan share-taxi drivers were stopping by to see if anyone was interested in riding in a shared taxi to the border, rather than taking the bus.

There seems to be plenty of transport options from Dakhla to the border early in the morning.

Getting Around

Road Distances
Road distance from Agadir to Laayoune.

Road distance from Agadir to Laayoune.

Highways throughout Morocco are, generally, in excellent condition, including the long, lonely stretch which winds its way along the empty coast of Western Sahara.


Table: Road distances between towns in Western Sahara. 

Agadir Laayoune Dakhla Nouadhibou
Agadir 641 km (398 mi) 1,171 km (728 mi) 1,522 km (945 mi)
Laayoune 641 km (398 mi) 530 km (330 mi) 881 km (547 mi)
Dakhla 1,171 km (728 mi) 530 km (330 mi) 351 km (217 mi)
Nouadhibou 1,522 km (945 mi) 881 km (547 mi) 351 km (217 mi)

Once you cross the border into Mauritania, you have officially entered West Africa where the infrastructure is typical of West African countries – i.e. fairly bad with poorly maintained, pot-holed, bumpy roads most of the way south to Nouakchott.

Road distance from Agadir to Dakhla. Road distance from Agadir to Dakhla.

Road distance from Agadir to Dakhla.

While the Moroccan government understands the benefit of well-maintained infrastructure, the Mauritanian government does not!

Road distance from Agadir to Nouadhibou.

Road distance from Agadir to Nouadhibou.

Buses

As mentioned in the previous section, both CTM and Supratours provide frequent, comfortable, bus connections between all the towns throughout Western Sahara and onward to northern Morocco.

Taxi

The most popular form of public transport within towns in Western Sahara are shared taxis which can be hailed from anywhere.

A seat in a shared taxi costs between 5-10 MAD.

Rental Car

Plenty of rental car companies can be found in Laayoune and Dakhla.

The average price of a small car rental in Morocco is US$25 per day.


That’s the end of my travel guide for Western Sahara.

If you wish to leave any comments or contact me, you can do so using the form below.

Safe Travels!
Darren


Further Reading

Following is a list of my travel content from the region:

Equatorial Guinea Photo Gallery

A view of the beautiful interior of St. Elizabeth's Cathedral in Malabo.

Equatorial Guinea Photo Gallery

This is an Equatorial Guinea Photo Gallery from taste2travel.

To read about this destination, please refer to my Equatorial Guinea Travel Guide.


All images are copyright! If you wish to purchase any images for commercial use, please contact me via the Contact page.


 

 


About taste2travel!

Hi! My name is Darren McLean, the owner of taste2travel.

I’ve been travelling the world for 36 years and, 236 countries and territories, and seven continents later, I’m still on the road.

Taste2travel offers travel information for destinations around the world, specialising in those that are remote and seldom visited. I hope you enjoy my content!

Ever since I was a child, I have been obsessed with the idea of travel. I started planning my first overseas trip at the age of 19 and departed Australia soon after my 20th birthday. Many years later, I’m still on the road.

In 2016, I decided to document and share my journeys and photography with a wider audience and so, taste2travel.com was born.

My aim is to create useful, usable travel guides/ reports on destinations I have visited. My reports are very comprehensive and detailed as I believe more information is better than less. They are best suited to those planning a journey to a particular destination.

Many of the destinations featured on my website are far off the regular beaten tourist trail. Often, these countries are hidden gems which remain undiscovered, mostly because they are remote and difficult to reach. I enjoy exploring and showcasing these ‘off-the-radar’ destinations, which will, hopefully, inspire others to plan their own adventure to a far-flung corner of the planet.

I’m also a fan of travel trivia and if you are too, you’ll find plenty of travel quizzes on the site.

Photography has always been a passion and all the photos appearing in these galleries were taken by me.

If you have any questions or queries, please contact me via the contact page.

I hope you this gallery and my website.

Safe travels!

Darren


Follow me on Instagram: 

Equatorial Guinea Travel Guide

The streets of Malabo feature some fine examples of Spanish colonial architecture.

Equatorial Guinea Travel Guide

This is an Equatorial Guinea Travel Guide from taste2travel.com

Date Visited: March 2024

Introduction

Nestled along the coastline of Central Africa, Equatorial Guinea awaits the adventurous traveller with its lush rainforests, vibrant culture, and captivating history.

Malabo National Park, a manicured garden in the capital city, features eight zones for visitors to discover.

Malabo National Park, a manicured garden in the capital city, features eight zones for visitors to discover.

Despite being one of Africa’s smallest countries, this hidden gem boasts an array of experiences waiting to be discovered.

While gaining a tourist visa was once difficult, a change in government policy, and the introduction of an eVisa process has made it easier than ever to visit this once isolated tropical jewel.

I fully explain the new eVisa process in the Visa Requirements section below.

Located on Bioko Island, Malabo is the capital of Equatorial Guinea.

Located on Bioko Island, Malabo is the capital of Equatorial Guinea.

This guide covers my stay in Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea.

To travel outside the capital, visitors are required to apply for a Travel Authorisation which is issued by the Ministry of Tourism and takes 3-4 business days to process.

Local tour companies will arrange this permit for paying clients.

Finca Sampaka produces very fine chocolate, a short drive from downtown Malabo.

Finca Sampaka produces very fine chocolate, a short drive from downtown Malabo.

In a bid to diversify its economy away from declining oil revenues, Equatorial Guinea has now opened its doors to tourism.

Now is the opportune time to visit, before the hordes arrive!

Location

Malabo, Equatorial Guinea

Equatorial Guinea is situated on the west coast of Central Africa, bordered by Cameroon to the north and Gabon to the east and south.

Its unique location places it just north of the equator, giving the country its name.

A view of the port in Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea.

A view of the port in Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea.

The country consists of a mainland region known as Rio Muni, along with several small offshore islands.

The largest of these islands is Bioko, also known as Fernando Po, located about 40 kilometres (25 miles) off the coast of Cameroon. Bioko is home to the capital city, Malabo.

One unique geographical feature is that the Equator passes through the country, specifically through the island of Corisco, making Equatorial Guinea one of the few countries in the world to be bisected by this imaginary line.

Overall, Equatorial Guinea’s location provides it with a diverse range of ecosystems, from coastal mangroves to dense rainforests, making it a fascinating destination for those interested in exploring varied landscapes and biodiversity.

People

Artwork at the Equatorial Guinea Cultural Centre in Malabo.

Artwork at the Equatorial Guinea Cultural Centre in Malabo.

The population of this small but culturally rich nation is a mix of different ethnic groups, each contributing to the country’s unique identity.

The country is home to several ethnic groups, with the Fang being the largest. The Fang people primarily inhabit the mainland region of Rio Muni.

Other major ethnic groups include the Bubi on Bioko Island, the Ndowe, the Bujeba, and the Annobonese on the island of Annobón.

Each group has its own traditions, languages, and cultural practices, enriching the country’s cultural landscape.

The official languages of Equatorial Guinea are Spanish, French, and Portuguese due to its colonial history.

However, there are also several indigenous languages spoken across the country. Fang, Bubi, and Igbo are among the most widely spoken native languages.

A view of the interior of Saint Elizabeth's Cathedral, the main cathedral in Malabo.

A view of the interior of Saint Elizabeth’s Cathedral, the main cathedral in Malabo.

Religion in Equatorial Guinea reflects its historical influences.

The majority of the population identifies as Christian, with Roman Catholicism being the predominant denomination.

However, there are also followers of indigenous beliefs and Islam, particularly among some of the ethnic groups.

The Equatoguinean Cultural Centre in Malabo promotes local arts and culture.

The Equatoguinean Cultural Centre in Malabo promotes local arts and culture.

Despite its small size, Equatorial Guinea’s population is a testament to the richness and diversity of African cultures.

The people, with their strong sense of identity and community, contribute to the country’s colorful mosaic of traditions and customs.

Worth checking out is the Equatoguinean Cultural Centre, which is housed in a beautiful, yellow, colonial building on the main street in Malabo.

The centre promotes local arts and culture and is always full of students who take advantage of the free WiFi, which is available in the central atrium.

Flag

The flag of Equatorial Guinea.

The flag of Equatorial Guinea.

The flag of Equatorial Guinea was adopted on October 12, 1968, upon gaining independence from Spain.

It consists of three horizontal bands of green, white, and red, with a blue triangle on the hoist side of the flag.

The green band symbolises the country’s natural resources, particularly its lush forests and vegetation. Green is also often associated with agriculture and the country’s hope for a prosperous future.

The white band represents peace and unity. It signifies the country’s aspirations for harmony among its diverse population and its commitment to peaceful coexistence.

The red band symbolises the sacrifices made for independence and the bloodshed of the country’s martyrs. Red is a common color in many African flags, often representing the struggles for freedom.

The blue triangle on the hoist side of the flag represents the sea, as Equatorial Guinea is a coastal nation. Blue is also a color associated with the ocean and maritime activities.

A tiny, barely visible, Equatorial Guinea flag, flying upon the tallest flagpole in Malabo at Plaza of Equatorial Guinea.

A tiny, barely visible, Equatorial Guinea flag, flying upon the tallest flagpole in Malabo at Plaza of Equatorial Guinea.

In the centre of the flag is the national coat of arms of Equatorial Guinea.

The coat of arms features a silk cotton tree (Ceiba pentandra), which is a symbol of national prosperity.

Above the tree, there are six yellow six-pointed stars, representing the country’s mainland and five islands.

Below the tree, there is a banner bearing the national motto “Unidad, Paz, Justicia” (Unity, Peace, Justice).

Currency

The currency of Equatorial Guinea is the Central African CFA franc, which is the official currency of six central African nations.

The currency of Equatorial Guinea is the Central African CFA franc, which is the official currency of six central African nations.

The currency of Equatorial Guinea is the Central African CFA franc, which has the international currency code of XAF.

This currency is used by six countries in the Central African region, including Equatorial Guinea, Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, Congo-Brazzaville, and Gabon.

The CFA franc is pegged to the Euro, with a fixed exchange rate, providing stability in international transactions.

Currently, €1 = 655.96 CFA francs.

This peg has meant that travel costs in all countries in the CFA zone are much higher than costs on the non-CFA countries.

Almost a full set of (uncirculated) CFA franc banknotes - with the 2,000 missing!

Almost a full set of (uncirculated) CFA franc banknotes – with the 2,000 missing!

Within Equatorial Guinea, the currency is issued and regulated by the Bank of Central African States (BEAC), which is the central bank for the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC).

The bank is headquartered in Yaoundé, Cameroon, with the headquarters building featured on the front of all banknotes.

The CFA franc is denoted by the symbol “FCFA” or “XAF” and is available in both coins and banknotes.

Coins are available in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, and 500 francs, while banknotes are issued in denominations of 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, and 10,000 francs.

Banking Services

The currency of Equatorial Guinea is the Central African CFA franc, abbreviated as XAF.

The currency of Equatorial Guinea is the Central African CFA franc, abbreviated as XAF.

Credit Cards

Like almost all other African countries, cash is king in Equatorial Guinea with credit cards rarely accepted.

It is advisable to have some local currency on hand for all transactions, as well as U.S. dollars or Euros for larger purchases or in case of emergencies.

ATMs

ATMs are available in major cities like Malabo and Bata, where you can withdraw cash using international debit or credit cards.

Like many other African countries, Visa card is widely accepted in ATMs while Mastercard is accepted by just a few banks – such as Eco bank and Société Générale.

Costs

Menu prices, displayed at a café in the Malabo National Park.

Menu prices, displayed at a café in the Malabo National Park.

Travel costs in Equatorial Guinea are typical of central African countries and of the CFA zone – i.e. higher than in other African countries.

This is not a budget-friendly destination for budget travellers.

The beer of choice in this former Spanish colony is San Miguel, which is brewed in Malaga, Spain.

The beer of choice in this former Spanish colony is San Miguel, which is brewed in Malaga, Spain.

Sample costs: 

  • Cappuccino at Café Malabo: CFA 2,000
  • Bottle (.33l) of Coke/ Sprite: CFA 750
  • Small bottled water: CFA 750
  • Imported Beer (San Miguel): CFA 3,000
  • Meal at an inexpensive café: CFA 2,000 – 4,000
  • Meal at Café Malabo: CFA 5,000 – 10,000
  • Standard hotel room (with breakfast) at the Ibis Malabo Hotel: €120
  • Daytrip tour of Bioko Island with Rumbo Malabo: €285

WiFi

WiFi Symbol.

Despite being one of the wealthier countries in Africa, Equatorial Guinea has one of the slowest WiFi speeds in Africa. 

The most frustrating thing you can do in Equatorial Guinea is to waste your time trying to use the incredibly slow internet.

WiFi speed test in Malabo which shows a typical download speed in Equatorial Guinea.

WiFi speed test in Malabo which shows a typical download speed in Equatorial Guinea.

While the rest of the world measures WiFi speed in Mbps (megabits per second), in Equatorial Guinea, speed is still measured in kbps (kilobits per second).

Nowhere in the country did I experience anything faster than 512 kbps – i.e. the speed offered by an old-fashioned dial-up modem.

I performed internet speed tests in a number of locations, including at my hotel, and normally received download speeds of less than half a megabit per second (as indicated in the above screenshot).

An article on the Africa Report website states that downloading a 5GB movie took 734 minutes in the Republic of Congo, 788 minutes in Sao Tome, 850 minutes in Ethiopia, 965 minutes in Niger and 1,342 minutes in Equatorial Guinea.

There are various reasons for the slow internet speeds throughout Africa, including a lack of investment in infrastructure and also a desire by autocratic regimes (i.e. dictators) to hobble something which they consider to be a major threat to their hold on power.

Sightseeing

The Plaza of Equatorial Guinea is located on the <i>Paseo Maritimo</i> in Malabo.

The Plaza of Equatorial Guinea is located on the Paseo Maritimo in Malabo.

Travel Authorisation

A special consideration for anyone wishing to venture beyond the capital of Malabo is the Travel Authorisation.

At police checkpoints around Bioko Island, you, or your tour company, will need to show this authorisation which is issued by the Department of Tourism and has a processing time of 3-4 days.

If you are travelling with a tour company, such as Rumbo Malabo, they can organise the authorisation in advance.

Malabo

The capital city of Equatorial Guinea, Malabo (pop: 297,000), is located on the northern coast of Bioko Island.

It’s a mix of Spanish colonial architecture and modern buildings.

While the government has built showpiece boulevards (especially connecting the new airport to downtown Malabo) which are lined with modern, glitzy office towers and ministry buildings, just behind this façade lies sprawling urban slums where many locals live in poverty.

St. Elizabeth’s Cathedral

St. Elizabeth’s Cathedral is a Roman Catholic cathedral located in the city of Malabo.

St. Elizabeth’s Cathedral is a Roman Catholic cathedral located in the city of Malabo.

This beautiful Roman Catholic cathedral in Malabo is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks and a first stop on most sightseeing tours of the city.

Named after St. Elizabeth of Hungary, the cathedral is built in a neo-Gothic style that emphasises its façade, flanked by two 40-metre-high (130 ft) towers, and a nave with two aisles.

A view of the interior of St. Elizabeth’s Cathedral in Malabo.

A view of the interior of St. Elizabeth’s Cathedral in Malabo.

Its construction began in 1897 with donations from parishioners, commercial companies and the Spanish government, for it was one of its colonies.

Designed by the architect, Luis Segarra Llairadó, the cathedral was inaugurated in 1916. The cathedral was seriously damaged by fire on January 16, 2020 while restoration work was underway. It has since been fully restored.

The copper doors at St. Elizabeth's Cathedral in Malabo.

The copper doors at St. Elizabeth’s Cathedral in Malabo.

For those interesting in photographing the beautiful interior, the cathedral is normally closed during the day, but opens for mass which is conducted each day at 12 noon.

A view of the beautiful interior of St. Elizabeth's Cathedral in Malabo.

A view of the beautiful interior of St. Elizabeth’s Cathedral in Malabo.

This is the only time for photographing the interior and its best to arrive around 11:45 am, before mass commences.

Plaza of Independence

A view of the cathedral from Plaza of Independence, Malabo.

A view of the cathedral from Plaza of Independence, Malabo.

Opposite the cathedral, the Plaza of Independence (Plaza de la Independencia) contains traces of the long period of Spanish colonialism.

At the centre of the plaza stands a fountain, made of Carrara marble, with a Ceiba tree (a national symbol) at its centre.

A view of one of the ten tiled benches in the Plaza of Independence in Malabo.

A view of one of the ten tiled benches in the Plaza of Independence in Malabo.

Surrounding the fountain is a series of ten tiled benches and tiled pergolas. These have been recently renovated using not Spanish – but Italian – handmade tiles.

Malabo National Park

A view of Malabo National Park, which is a large manicured garden built by the Chinese.

A view of Malabo National Park, which is a large manicured garden built by the Chinese.

Built by the China Road and Bridge Corporation, Malabo National Park is not a national park but a manicured garden, which features 8 different zones.

This new park is next door to the airport, and covers an area of 870,000 sq metres. The park offers restaurants, a sports area, activities for children, a lake with jet-skis and boats and an art gallery.

A statue of Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the president of Equatorial Guinea, at Malabo National Park.

A statue of Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the president of Equatorial Guinea, at Malabo National Park.

As can be expected from a Chinese project, homage, in the form of a statue, is paid to the autocratic leader of Equatorial Guinea – Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. The statue is installed just inside the main entrance gate.

The president is a former military officer who has served as the second president of Equatorial Guinea since 3 August 1979.

As of 2024, he is the second-longest consecutively serving current non-royal national leader in the world.

A very empty Malabo National Park provides an ideal retreat from bustling Malabo.

A very empty Malabo National Park provides an ideal retreat from bustling Malabo.

On the day of my visit, I was the only visitor in the park.

If you would rather not walk in the steamy tropical heat, you have the option to rent a bike and cycle around the park. There’s even a lake where you can rent a rowboat.

The sculpture plaza at Malabo National Park.

The sculpture plaza at Malabo National Park.

Of the eight zones – the Ethnic Customs Zone features a plaza lined with totem sculptures which depict local customs and beliefs.

Malabo National Park offers eight zones to explore plus a couple of cafes.

Malabo National Park offers eight zones to explore plus a couple of cafes.

While the park is beautiful and pleasant to walk around, it’s somewhat soulless and surreal and reminded me of empty ‘showpiece’ parks in Turkmenistan!

Paseo Maritimo

A view along the Paseo Maritimo in Malabo.

A view along the Paseo Maritimo in Malabo.

Speaking of empty and soulless, the Paseo Maritimo is a wide paved Malecón which follows along the shore of the bay in Malabo.

Whenever I visited, I was the only one there!

There are a couple of empty cafés which serve meals and drinks.

Plaza of Equatorial Guinea

"I heart Guinea Equatorial" at the Plaza of Equatorial Guinea.

“I heart Guinea Equatorial” at the Plaza of Equatorial Guinea.

Installed at the centre of the Paseo Maritimo, the Plaza of Equatorial Guinea features the tallest flagpole in Malabo (with the smallest of flags fluttering somewhere at the top).

The (again empty) plaza features an “I heart Malabo” and “I heart Guinea Equatorial” signs.

Finca Sampaka

The driveway to Finca Sampaka is lined with towering palm trees.

The driveway to Finca Sampaka is lined with towering palm trees.

Located on the southern outskirts of Malabo, Finca Sampaka is a cacao and coffee producing estate which dates from 1906.