Western Sahara Travel Guide
A nation still under political dispute, Western Sahara lies at the northwestern tip of Africa and borders the North Atlantic ocean to the west. It is one of the least populated places in the world, owing mostly to the dry, arid land and highly inhospitable weather.
Much of the activity and accommodation are in Laayoune, the capital, and the nearby town of Dahkla. Other places worth noting are the Berber encampments, the stark deserts of Bir Gandus, and the Atlas Mountains. Access to the country, at least on a tourist basis, is close to impossible, as it is currently caught in a sovereignty battle between Algeria and Morocco. However, the locals – mostly of Berber and Sahrawi descent – are generally friendly and accommodating to tourists.
When to Go
Much of the land is hot, dry desert, with very little rainfall. Weather is hot and arid most of the year, although nights can get harsh and cold. Offshore currents sometimes blow cool winds over the area. Heavy dew and fog can occur during strong currents.
Getting There & Away
The only international airport is in El Auin (Laayoune), mostly serving flights from Spain, Morocco, and the Canary Islands.
Buses and taxis provide good connections in the capital, but are very limited in other areas. Fares are very affordable, and the roads in Laayoune are in decent condition. However, few of the roads are paved outside the city, and most tourists bring their own cars, preferably an off-road vehicle to stand up to the rugged terrains. Have your passport and travel documents ready to show officials at the police checkpoints, which are located throughout the country and around the borders.
Health & Safety
There are serious health risks for tropical diseases like malaria, typhoid, polio, and yellow fever. Laayoune has good medical facilities, but there is little to no medical service outside the capital.
Terrorism threats are high in both Western Sahara and neighboring Morocco. most of the attacks have been in the Morocco-controlled regions. Land mines are also a major risk; avoid driving off-road, particularly in remote places. There is also limited consular service to most countries, since Western Sahara is still under dispute. Whatever you do, don’t get stuck out in the desert, 911 won’t work here!
Food & Hospitality
There are several hotels in Laayoune, the capital, and booking is fairly easy since there aren’t many visitors. Outside the capital, accommodation is very limited, save for an occasional bed-and-breakfast or guest house. Most tourists opt to camp out or sleep in their vehicles, particularly those who are on road trips like the Atlantic Transsahara route.
- Four days in Dahkla
- Two days in Bir Gandus
- Two days at the Berber encampments
- One day at the Atlas Mountains
Bir Gandus: With a population of less than 50, this village on the Mauritanian border offers a sprawling view of the desert and some interesting wildlife.
Berber encampments: Many of the Berber people live in tents, and will gladly welcome you into their tent for tea and stories.
Atlas Mountains: Join one of the coach trips up the Atlas Mountains for a thrilling ride beside a 2,260-foot cliff. You’ll also pass by small souvenir shops along the way.
Dahkla: One of the more populated areas in the country, Dahkla offers a number of bars and restaurants, many of which cater specifically to tourists. There are also occasional dance and music performances.
Atlantic Transsahara road trip: most tourists pass Western Sahara on the Atlantic Transsahara Route, a 1,000-kilometer road crossing Mauritania, Senegal, and much of West Africa. The route also provides occasional glimpses of the Atlantic Ocean.
Marathon des Sables: if you are up to a challenge, try joining this six-day, 146-mile marathon across the Sahara. You’ll have to bring you own food, clothing, and other supplies.