Tag - Morocco

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: