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Western Sahara

Western Sahara is an area in North Africa bordering the Atlantic Ocean, between Mauritania and Morocco. Its governance is disputed between Morocco and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), but the majority of it is controlled by Morocco.

Cities

Under Moroccan administration

  • 1 El Aaiún (Laayoune).
  • Al Mahbass.
  • 2 Boujdour (Cape Bojador).
  • Dakhla (Villa Cisneros).
  • 4 El Marsa.
  • 5 Guelta Zemmur.
  • 6 Haouza.
  • 7 Smara.
  • 8 Akhfennir.

Under SADR administration

  • 1 Bir Lehlou. the temporary capital
  • 2 Tifariti.
  • 3 Agwanit.
  • Zoug.
  • 4 Meharrize.
  • 5 Dougaj.

Under Mauritanian temporary administration

  • 1 Lagouira.

Other destinations

For those interested in sight-seeing, there are few opportunities for wildlife or natural formations other than the dunes. The area controlled by the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR)—known as the Free Zone or Liberated Territories—is of interest to those interested in the political conflict.

Understand

While there is a long coastline, much of it is rocky and not fit for beaches or travel. Large-scale fishing and ports are at Ad Dakhla. Much of the territory is arid desert.

The Free Zone of Western Sahara, the area to the immediate west of the sand wall (also known as "the berm") was formerly peppered by land mines and should be considered off-limits to any traveler: The territory has one of the highest concentrations of land mines in the world and even were warning signs were posted, most are gone due to the weather. The controlling territory on this side of the berm destroyed their landmines several years ago but some may remain. The Moroccan side of the wall still contains thousands of mines and is extremely dangerous. Furthermore, the Free Zone has almost no roads, so profound navigation experience and a 4×4 with high ground clearance is required. The gates in the Berm, which can be used by UN patrols, are not open to regular travelers.

History

Administratively, the territory was divided by Spain into two regions: the northern strip, known as Saguia el-Hamra, and the southern two-thirds, named Río de Oro.

Morocco occupied and annexed the northern two-thirds of Western Sahara (formerly Spanish Sahara) in 1976, and much of the southern portion of the territory in 1979, following Mauritania's withdrawal. A guerrilla war with the liberation movement Polisario Front contesting Rabat's sovereignty ended in a 1991 cease-fire; a referendum on final status has been repeatedly postponed, a sticking point regarding any potential referendum is who would get to vote.

The Polisario declared the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in 1976, but the country has only been recognized by around 28 states and has actual control over only a largely uninhabited eastern slice of territory. Entry into this portion is only possible through Algeria.

Political Situation in the Moroccan side

The official wording for the whole area of Western Sahara is "Southern Provinces"; calling it "Western Sahara" can get one's political position questioned and people who don't share the official opinion can be deported and banned from re-entering Western Sahara. The safest and most hassle-free way of traveling this area is to ignore politics completely.

Unlike in other parts of Morocco, checkpoints on the road are to be taken very seriously (always come to a full stop unless explicitly motioned to move on); travel plans communicated at the last checkpoint should not be changed spontaneously, travelers sometimes are tracked pretty well and if one shows up in a different place than the one on the initial itinerary questions can be asked.

Moroccan officials are very wary of journalists and humanitarian aid workers due to a perceived interference with what they consider purely Moroccan matters. It is very advisable to not mention a profession even remotely related to those areas. This is also true for the immigration forms filled out when entering Morocco—officials at every checkpoint can retrieve that data via phone and they sometimes do this.

People

Western Sahara's inhabitants, known as Sahrawis, are of Arab and Berber ethnicity and speak the Hass?n?ya dialect of Arabic. They are hospitable and known for their elaborate tea ceremonies.

Economy

Western Sahara depends on pastoral nomadism, fishing, and phosphate mining as the principal sources of income for the population. The territory lacks sufficient rainfall for sustainable agricultural production, and most of the food for the urban population must be imported. Virtually all trade and other economic activities are controlled by the Moroccan government. Moroccan energy interests in 2001 signed contracts to explore for oil off the coast of Western Sahara, a move that has angered Polisario and international observers. Incomes and standards of living in Western Sahara are substantially below the Moroccan level. Basic food items and gas are subsidized by the Moroccan government.

Climate

Western Sahara is a hot, dry desert; consequently, rain is rare, but flash floods occasionally occur. Cold offshore air currents produce fog and heavy dew. There is very little water in the ground. This coupled with a lack of water vapor in the air, which in other regions acts as a greenhouse gas, allows daytime heat to be lost very rapidly into space via infrared radiation. The result is harsh cold nights, despite the very high daytime temperatures. Along most of the coastline, thick fog can form in the early morning hours and reduce visibility until noon considerably.

Landscapes

Mostly low, flat desert, with large areas of rocky or sandy surfaces rising to small mountains in south and northeast. Low-lying sand dunes cover the territory.

If you are traveling overland, you will find no border formalities between Morocco and Western Sahara. Your passport may be asked for at the many checkpoints on the road south, but will not be stamped, as the Moroccan authorities regard the Western Sahara as part of Morocco.

Get in

The vast majority of Western Sahara is administered by Morocco, which considers it an integral part of its territory, so the same entry conditions apply as for Morocco itself. However, independent travel in the region is restricted, and while crossing through Western Sahara while traveling overland between Morocco and Mauritania is usually OK, some travellers have been turned back when trying to enter, especially during periods of political strife. At any time, travellers can be turned back if they are suspected to have any interest in the political or humanitarian situation: Any hint at journalistic activities or anything even remotely connected (like working as cameraman for even an advertisement agency) should be avoided.

Official entry requirements for SADR-controlled areas are unclear, but in practice the area is entirely off-limits to visitors: you cannot legally cross the heavily guarded and mined Berm from the Moroccan-controlled side, the land border with Algeria is closed, and there are no legal border crossings from Mauritania into SADR-controlled territory either.

By plane

  • From Spain, Canary Islands and various cities in Morocco: Laayoune
  • From Agadir, Casablanca and seasonally from the Canary Islands: Dakhla

Note: Even for domestic flights, passport controls are stricter than in Morocco proper.

By bus

Buses connect all larger cities and will drop passengers anywhere along the road when asked.

By boat

A ferry from Tarfaya to the Canary Islands is rumored to open in September 2017 (it was planned for last 2016, but apparently the vet's lab is not yet finished—confirmation of the 2016 plan can be found here: http://www.lancelotdigital.com/canarias/la-linea-puerto-del-rosario-tarfaya-confirmada-por-la-autoridad-portuaria).

By train

There are no railroads in Western Sahara.

By car

Note: Also see the #Get_Around section below,

  • From the north, along the coast: From Agadir one can just drive down the RN1 through Tiznit, Guelmim, Tan Tan, passing Tarfaya 30km east, through Akhfenir, Laayoune, Boujdour, Dakhla all the way to Mauretania.
  • From the north, through the desert: The road from Assa via Zag to Al-Mahbes apparently has been closed for years, but was open between Assa and Zag as of early 2014. Continuing onwards to Al-Mahbes was denied by local authorities with reference to the frequent military operations, landmines and general security concerns. It needs to be kept in mind that Al-Mahbes is relatively close to Tindouf, the Polisario's headquarter and the refugee camps, which by itself possibly renders the region sensitive in the view of the Moroccan military. Moreoever, this region is rumoured to be possibly part of the operational area of AQIM.
  • From the south: Entering Western-Sahara from the South (Mauretania) involves passing through a few kilometers of no-man's land, which is notorious for its landmines, bandits, false guides offering to guide you through the strip. Only attempt this passage in full daylight and with either a reliable guide, or much more practical, in a convoy—just talk to some truckers at the border. Do not be misled by the old tarmac road which you will cross: this is the so-called "Spanish Road", which dates back to the era of Spanish Sahara (the Spanish colony predating the declaring of independence in 1975) and in both direction only leads to impassable sand dunes and minefields. Only a few meters of this road are still being in use today, which are close to the Mauretanian Border Post. Do not venture on this road any further than this. Deadly incidents have continued to occur over the last years as result of falsely interpreting the Spanish Road as the right track.

By bike

There is a bike route by the coast, from Guelmin in Morocco via Western Sahara and Mauritania to Saint Louis in Senegal. See Cycling the Western Sahara.

Get around

By car

Traveling by car is probably one of the most convenient means of transport in Western Sahara, as public transport restricts one to larger settlements. Though there are some precautions one should take:

  • Always refuel before any longer stretch on the road. That larger town on your map might turn out to be a small village without a gas station. Especially south of Tan Tan, settlements are few and far between.
  • The road's condition changes from "awesome" to "abysmal", often without warning and sometimes every few kilometers. Don't follow the guy who overtakes you with 150 km/h—you might meet him later anyway, with a broken axle, a good 100 m off the road. Don't even trust your own experience on a road—a single night of rain can turn a great road into a terrible one.
  • When going off-road, either know that the area is free of mines or have a reliable guide. Follow existing tracks where possible.
  • Take a mobile with you, it will work in almost all areas and it will make life easier when the car breaks down.
  • And the usual desert tips: bring more than enough water, something to keep you warm at night in case you have to sleep in your car.

Talk

The native language of the majority is Hassaniya Arabic, which is mutually unintelligible with Standard Arabic that is not widely spoken.

Moroccan Arabic is also widely spoken, and is the lingua franca on the streets and the workplace because of the many Moroccans residing in the country.

French is spoken by a lot of those who moved in from Morocco proper and to some degree by a lot of locals who sometimes deal with tourists.

Spanish is spoken rarely (mostly by those old enough to have learned it under Spanish occupation), English even rarer.

People are generally very patient with people they don't share a language with and are also used to communicating with their hands and feet. Also, because of a very low literacy level, writing things down does not help communication much.

See

  • The Saharan desert.
  • Remnants of the Spanish colonial rule in the capital El Aaiún.
  • Many beautiful, completely unspoiled beaches that sometimes go on for miles.

Do

Buy

Money

The official currency of the Moroccan-controlled portion is the Moroccan dirham, sometimes symbolised as "Dh", "Dhs, "DH", "????, or the plural form of "?????" or "Dhm" (ISO code: MAD). It's divided into 100 santime or centimes (c). There are 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, 1, 2, 5 and 10 dirham coins, although coins smaller than 20c are rarely seen these days. Banknotes are available in denominations of Dh 20, 50, 100 and 200.

The SADR has also minted its own pesetas ("Pts.", ISO code: EHP). It has an official exchange rate of €1 for 166.386 Pts. Algerian dinars and Mauritanian ouguiyas circulate alongside the Sahrawi peseta in the Sahrawi refugee camps and the SADR-controlled part of Western Sahara.

Costs

Prices are lower than in Morocco, in part due to Moroccan government's subsidization policy.

Eat

With fishing being the main source of income for the local population, fish is the obvious choice: It is fresh and very cheap.

Drink

Traditional Sahrawi hospitality includes the serving of tea to all guests in one's home. Though, be aware, the tea is really strong, even for people used to high caffeine intake.

Stay safe

Hot, dry, dust/sand-laden sirocco wind can occur during winter and spring; widespread harmattan haze exists 60% of time, often severely restricting visibility. There are low-level uprisings and political violence which is altogether rare, but can escalate. Occupying powers are likely to evict foreigners in such case.

The N1—and even more so the roads into the heart of the country—are very remote roads, with facilities and settlements being easily 150km to 200km away from each other. Take enough fuel (always refuel before going on the next leg, you never know what is going to happen) and enough water (several liters per person). Mobile network connection exists along N1.

Landmines and Unexploded ordnance (UXO)

Western Sahara saw war for over 15 years back in the 1970s and 1980s, and as a result, the landmine and UXO situation to this day remains quite unclear, despite efforts of the Moroccan Government to improve the situation. Most importantly to know is that landmines are not only in the remote parts of the country close to berm, but all the way down main coastal road (N1) to the Mauritanian border. Google Earth clearly shows the efforts to clear minefields all along N1, which continue to this day—despite Moroccan officers tending to tell tourists that this part of the country is safe. Around the settlements (Boujdour, Ad-Dakhla, Golfe de Cintra) the situation seems to be slightly worse, possibly due their strategic significance in the war. The warning signs are sometimes so rusty that they can't be recognised anymore, but usually the combination of two small metal signs is a strong indicator.

Keep eyes open to lines of stones, cairns, staples of old tyres and similar man-made marking—they are usually meaningful! Generally, any place off the tarmac-road of N1 and off-branching tarmac roads must be considered unsafe. Car-wrecks are strong indicators—do not explore these! Strategically significant points (the various small passes, narrow valleys, elevated points, etc.) are more dangerous, but this does not mean that other places are safe. Any man-made fortifications (straight sand-walls, round sand-wall [for artillery] and any other millitary looking movements of ground) pose particular danger (esp. south of Ad-Dakhla, but also south of Boujdour). It might be that these were mined when being abandoned to prevent them from falling into the other party's hand, or it might be that the surroundings were mined from the beginning to protect against guerrilla attacks, but anyway the mine-cleaning patterns strongly indicate that such places were and possibly continue to be particularly dangerous. Few to no mine-clearing efforts can be observed off the N1 - that possibly means that (i.a. for lack of touristic significance) these areas continue to be mined and efforts were focussed at the immediate surrounding of N1.

The patterns of cleaning mine-fields indicate that in not all cases does the Moroccan Government seem to be aware of the location of minefields, which requires more or less random search pattern. Moreover, on Google Earth it can be seen that where minefields have previously been cleared, new clearing activities have resumed later. This again indicates that even traces of cleared minefields do not guarantee safety. This includes the surroundings of the lagoon of Ad-Dakhla, including the lands north of it.

Stay healthy

No matter whether you travel in a private car or on a bus, always take enough water for at least 24 hours to be prepared if the vehicle breaks down.

Don't touch unknown vegetation—some of the seemingly good looking fruit one can find on the road side are poisonous even when just touched (one looks like miniature water melons, another like small cucumbers).

When climbing some of the rare stone formations, be aware of scorpions. Even though extremely rare, sometimes cobras are spotted (usually after a period of a few days with hot winds blowing to the West).

Respect


The culture is Islamic but not particularly strict; the form of Islam that developed among the nomad population is non-mosque-based. Political and social displays of Sahrawi nationalism are violently repressed by the Moroccan police and military.

Connect

Teleboutiques and internet cafes are not hard to find in the cities, but connection speed may vary from place to place. Most cafes, restaurants and hotels offer free wifi.


Mauritania Geographical Western Sahara (English and French Edition)

Gizi

Discover Mauritania and Western Sahara with the colourful Gizi Map. The best way to prepare your trip, to plan your itinerary, and to travel independently. Localities names are indicated in Latin and Arabic alphabets; the legend is in 6 languages (English and Arabic included); inset map of downtown Nouakchott.

Western Sahara: A Spy Guide (World Foreign Policy and Government Library)

Ibp Usa

Western Sahara: A Spy Guide (World Foreign Policy and Government Library)

Fodor's Essential Morocco (Full-color Travel Guide)

Fodor's Travel Guides

Written by locals, Fodor’s Essential Morocco is the perfect guidebook for those looking for insider tips to make the most out their visit to Marrakesh, Fez, Casablanca, and beyond. Complete with detailed maps and concise descriptions, this Morocco travel guide will help you plan your trip with ease.

Thanks to a prime location linking Europe and North Africa, as well as a vibrant culture and stable government, Morocco has seen a huge influx of tourists in recent years. Sophisticated new hotels and resorts are popping up everywhere, including in booming cities such as Marrakesh, Fez, and Tangier. From its southern deserts to the Atlas Mountains to the wave-swept Atlantic coast, Morocco continues to draw travelers eager to experience this gorgeous and diverse country.

Fodor’s Essential Morocco includes:

•UPDATED COVERAGE: Fodor's writers have scoured the country to find the best new hotels, resorts, restaurants, shops, and sights.•ULTIMATE EXPERIENCES GUIDE: A visually stunning color photo guide covers the essential sights and unmissable attractions throughout Morocco.•GORGEOUS PHOTOS AND SPECIAL ILLUSTRATED FEATURES: Colorful, magazine-like features on such topics as Moroccan history and traditional artisan crafts illuminate some of the most distinctive aspects of the country. •HELPFUL ITINERARIES AND TOP RECOMMENDATIONS: Multiple sample itineraries to help you plan and make the most of your time. Includes tips on where to eat, stay, and shop as well as information about nightlife, sports and the outdoors. “Fodor’s Choice” designates our best picks in every category.•INDISPENSIBLE TRIP PLANNING TOOLS: An in-depth "Experience Morocco" chapter covers topics from Morocco food to finding the perfect tour guide. Each chapter opens with an orientation spread and planner that includes a map, short descriptions of each region, "Top Reasons to Go," and information on getting here and around. •COVERS: Marrakesh, Fez, Rabat, Casablanca, Tangier, the High Atlas Mountains, Chefchaouen, Meknès, Agadir, Essaouira, and much more.

ABOUT FODOR'S AUTHORS: Each Fodor's Travel Guide is researched and written by local experts. Fodor’s has been offering expert advice for all tastes and budgets for over 80 years.

Planning on visiting Spain? Check out Fodor’s Essential Spain.

City Maps Smara Western Sahara

James McFee

City Maps Smara Western Sahara is an easy to use small pocket book filled with all you need for your stay in the big city. Attractions, pubs, bars, restaurants, museums, convenience stores, clothing stores, shopping centers, marketplaces, police, emergency facilities are only some of the places you will find in this map. This collection of maps is up to date with the latest developments of the city as of 2017. We hope you let this map be part of yet another fun Smara adventure :)

City Maps Laayoune Western Sahara

James McFee

City Maps Laayoune Western Sahara is an easy to use small pocket book filled with all you need for your stay in the big city. Attractions, pubs, bars, restaurants, museums, convenience stores, clothing stores, shopping centers, marketplaces, police, emergency facilities are only some of the places you will find in this map. This collection of maps is up to date with the latest developments of the city as of 2017. We hope you let this map be part of yet another fun Laayoune adventure :)

City Maps Dakhla Western Sahara

James McFee

City Maps Dakhla Western Sahara is an easy to use small pocket book filled with all you need for your stay in the big city. Attractions, pubs, bars, restaurants, museums, convenience stores, clothing stores, shopping centers, marketplaces, police, emergency facilities are only some of the places you will find in this map. This collection of maps is up to date with the latest developments of the city as of 2017. We hope you let this map be part of yet another fun Dakhla adventure :)

Western Sahara Travel Journal, Pop. 522,928 + Me

Dragon Dragon Travel Journals

There is always room for you in Western Sahara!

Here’s the Dragon Dragon Travel Journal deal.

You wander the world having adventures, and such. Dragon Dragon provides you with 200 pages to document your travels, discoveries and insights. That’s it. Simple. Beautiful. True.

To help keep things organized, we’ve given each journal a unique continent, country or city name.

Wherever you go in this life, a Dragon Dragon Travel Journal can help make the going better and the remembering easier!

The Western Sahara Travel Journal

Younghusband World Travel Journals

"I don't always design travel journals, but when I do they are the kind of travel journals that people throw parades for." - Cormac Younghusband, The World's Most Legendary Nomad

THE WESTERN SAHARA TRAVEL JOURNAL has been carefully crafted by the legendary nomad Cormac Younghusband to help make your trip unforgettable, fun and organized—with plenty of room to help spur spontaneity and document new discoveries.

This journal can help you plan, live out and record every stage of your journey to Western Sahara—from pre-trip, to getting there, to being there, to getting home, and afterwards.

"Western Sahara food is among the world's finest. They do this thing with the thing!" - Cormac Younghusband, The World's Most Legendary Nomad

The first part of the journal is for PRE-TRIP PLANNING and contains sections for important information, a page to write about what inspired you to make the trip, a page to write about the who, where, what, when, how of the journey, a page to make note of your travel companions, a number of pages to organize your travel research.* Plus, you will find sections for drafting an itinerary and keeping a journey to-do checklist.

The second part of the journal deals with GETTING THERE, containing sections to describe getting there and arriving.

The third part of the journal is all about BEING THERE. There are sections for: tracking the stuff you buy and for your daily adventures there are 50 two-page daily records to keep notes on: day #, date, weather, places visited, what happened today + thoughts on what happened, the highlight of the day and extensive notes (with a handy reminder list of things to write about). Because there are about 522,928 people in Western Sahara, there's also a section to record the names and contact info of the people you meet along the way.

The fourth part of the journal is for GETTING HOME, that fateful day you depart and the days that follow. There are sections for describing your departure, for making your own top 10 highlights lists, a country radar to help you create a signature review of the country, and an afterwards where you can sum up the meaning of your trip.

When a trip is over, Cormac Younghusband recommends you start planning your NEXT TRIP. To help, there is a section where you can make a travel wish list.

Also included is a COUNTRY BRIEF to give you important info on the destination and a MAP to give you an idea of the lay of the land. Plus, at the back of the book there are sections for: generic packing ideas, measures and conversions, and pages for notes, sketches, maps and such

"Find a place in the world you haven't been, and go there. Keep on trucking, my friends" - Cormac Younghusband, The World's Most Legendary Nomad

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - * Research Such As: places to go / explore, places to stay, places to shop / must have souvenirs, cultural / sporting events to attend, historical / religious sites of interest, pubs-bars-places-to-party, beaches / forests / natural wonders to see, parks & gardens to wander through, things to eat and drink / dining experiences, festivals & events to attend, stuff for kids - seniors - and such, experiences to experience, important local customs, etiquette, laws, and such.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

"Why visit Western Sahara? Because, it's there." - Cormac Younghusband, The World's Most Legendary Nomad

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

WHEREVER YOU'RE GOING, YOUNGHUSBAND WORLD TRAVEL JOURNALS HAS THE PERFECT JOURNAL FOR YOU.

Western Sahara Country Study Guide (World Country Study Guide Library)

Ibp Usa

Western Sahara Country Study Guide

Western Sahara: Including its History, The Rio de Oro, The Zbayra, and More

Renee Browning

Discover Western Sahara like you have never seen it before. Whether you are a first time traveler or avid visitor of this region of the world, this book is the perfect guide for you. Read about all the amazing surprises you could find and all the must see places. Included in this book is the information about The Ausert, The Amgala and everything in between. With content from a huge community of contributors, you get the convenience and security of a real print travel guide, but with fresh data and content. Earth Eyes Destinations represents a new publishing paradigm, allowing disparate content sources to be curated into cohesive, relevant, and informative books. To date, this content has been curated from Wikipedia articles and images under Creative Commons licensing, although as we increase in scope and dimension, more licensed and public domain content is being added. We believe books such as this represent a new and exciting lexicon in the sharing of human knowledge.

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