Ask any Moroccan about the status of Western Sahara they will say it belongs to Morocco. The UN however still classifies it as a disputed territory. You are likely to meet more military personnel than civilians. One of the world’s most sparsely populated territories it appears mainly featureless and the arid Saharan terrain stretches for miles. That said, Dakhla was listed by the New York Times as a top ten destination for kite surfers. And it’s easy to see why. This Western Sahara travel guide will help you plan your next holiday.
Facts About Western Sahara Travel
Language: The official language of Western Sahara is Arabic but French and Spanish are also widely spoken. English is gaining popularity, slowly. You can find useful Arabic phrases for your holiday here.
Electricity: The voltage in Western Sahara is generally 220 V, and outlets will fit the two-pin plug known as the Europlug. If you’re travelling overland, you should be able to find adaptors in Morocco that will take North American plugs, although North American appliances may need a transformer. For British and Australasian plugs will need to bring your own adaptor.
Currency: There is no official currency of Western Sahara and the Algerian Dinar, Sahrawi Peseta, Moroccan Dirham and Mauritanian Ouguiya could all be used. In Dakhla, only the Moroccan Dirham is used and it is officially a closed currency. Read this guide to closed currency before you travel.
Etiquette: People are generally hospitable in Western Sahara but you should recognise that it is highly militarised. As such, you should be aware that your behaviours may be under more scrutiny. Be sensible near any military base, and think carefully before using your camera near these establishments. If you’re in doubt, ask before you photograph people or bases. And definitely do not photograph landing aeroplanes!
Bathrooms: Do not be surprised if you encounter squat toilets and avoid being caught short by carrying your own toilet tissues.
Food: The main dish most people are familiar with in Western Sahara is couscous. Beef and camel are the most commonly eaten red meat, usually eaten in a tagine with lots of vegetables. Chicken is also very commonly used in tagines.
Top Overland Facts
Camping: There is one rather basic campsite in Dakhla but you will have no issue wild camping. There is a rather popular spot for motorhomes located on the beach about 20km north of Dakhla centre and it’s ideal for kites and windsurfing. See our guide to wild camping for motorhomes.
Roads: There is one major road from Laayoune in the north to Dakhla and the condition of the tarmac is generally good, although you will encounter the occasional pot hole. Try to keep away from the edge of the road which in many places will be raised from the surrounding desert. So if you inadvertently sway towards the edge, you may drop off the road. The edge of the tarmac is likely to be affected by the dry, Sahara winds and its corrosive sand so do take care.
Water: Potable water is available in the centre of Dakhla. There is a process you need to go through and you can get 1000 litres for 1 euro.
Fuel: There are few fuel stations on the 640km road between Laayoune and Dakhla, so consider refuelling whenever you can and possibly carrying jerry cans. Fuel is noticeably cheaper than in Morocco.
Police Checkpoints: You will meet several police checkpoints on the road between Laayoune and Dakhla. These are somewhat more strict than those in Morocco. Be sure that where you see a stop sign, you actually stop and patiently wait for the officers to call you forward. You could face upto 70 euro fine if you do not follow this advice.
Western Sahara has an arid climate with a long stretch of coast on the Atlantic. It enjoys pleasant temperatures during the winter months but can be very hot inland. In Dakhla, the geography of the peninsular lends itself to cooling winds from the Atlantic; this certainly helps in creating perfect wind and kitesurfing conditions.
Traditions: Western Sahara is a Muslim country and you should respect the associated religious beliefs. Bring loose long sleeved shirts to cover your arms, and long trousers or skirts to cover your legs when you’re in the towns.
Keeping Cool: when you’re in the desert, you will not see the locals bearing much skin. This is not only because of their religion. The more skin that it exposed to the sun, the hotter you will be. Cover up with lose clothing to keep you cool.
Footwear: bring comfortable and sturdy footwear, especially if you’re planning on going into the desert and rugged coastal areas. Bear in mind that even in the towns, the roads will be dusty so your flip flops may not be ideal.
Toilet Tissue: bring loo roll! Ok, maybe not rolls but certainly the small packets you can easily slip into a pocket or handbag. It is highly likely that not toilet tissue will be available in public toilets or even in restaurants. If you do forget your toilet tissue, there is usually a tap next to the toilet for your convenience.
Top Things To Do
Dine on Tagine – a succulent, slow cooked feast, cooked and served in a traditional tagine clay pot; it’s a must do in Morocco. If you’re not sure which restaurant to eat at, watch where the locals go and follow them!
Take a kitesurfing or windsurfing lesson – there are a few hotels just north of Dakhla that are a mecca for kite and windsurfing fans. These all offer lessons and is a great way to introduce yourself to the sport. The shallow waters of the lagoon lend themselves well to beginners thinking of taking up the sport.
Visit the White Dune – the White Dune, “Dune Blanche” or “Duna Blanca” is the most famous attraction to visit in the Dakhla peninsula. It’s a huge dune of pure white sand that goes into the lagoon and creates its very own small lagoon inside.
Photograph the shipwrecks – there are many shipwrecks along the coast of Western Sahara. Some of these are now disappearing as the metal is salvaged for its scrap value.
Visit the fishing village in Dakhla – the fishing village is a genuine cultural experience. There is nothing touristy about this and you will need to driv yourself there. You will see how the fishermen live their lives and it’s well worth a visit, if only to feel a little humble.
Rest overnight in Boujdour – there is little in the way of attraction in Boujdour and there are no hotels. There is a campsite with relatively good facilities and only a minute’s walk from the beach. There are plenty of restaurants to choose from and it’s a great place to top up your provisions of meat and vegetables.