As the largest unrecognized country in the world, it was certain that Young Pioneer Tours would develop quite the expertise when it comes to Western Sahara. As a vast swath of barely inhabitable desert, you could be forgiven for wondering if there are any fun activities in Western Sahara or sights to see. After running tours in the region for multiple years, we have developed what we think is the list of the best things to do in Western Sahara. Here is, from north to south, as the roadtrip it should be, the best things to do in Western Sahara.
Wear Sahrawi Fashion and drive!
Before we start even moving through Western Sahara, do us a favour, get yourself a scarf, your favourite colour, and we’ll teach you how to tie it around like a real Sahrawi. You’d probably look weird in the London tube with that, but here, it’s proper fashion.
During this trip, there’ll be a lot of driving involved. It will bring you through some incredible desert scenery so blast off the local Sahrawi music, roll the windows down (you’ll appreciate that scarf) and live the road to the fullest!
The historical border of Spanish Sahara
Before it became Western Sahara, the colony that covered the land it is on was called Spanish Sahara. Long story short, the Spaniards felt the pressure of decolonization, left the land and then a referendum on the future of the land was supposed to happen so that Mauritania, Morocco, Spain and the local people, the Sahrawi , could come to an agreement. Morocco decided they’d have none of that and ”liberated” the land. In Morocco, this is seen as a grassroot movement called the Green March where hundreds of Moroccans from all walks of life walked into the territory of former Spanish Sahara to claim it “back”. While visiting the region, at least the part under Morocco’s control, you’ll see a lot of propaganda depicting the Green March. The historical border of Spanish Sahara, however, is certainly the biggest monument to that event. While there isn’t an actual border or immigration between Morocco and Western Sahara, as Morocco claims it as their own province, rather than a distinct entity, the monument, a stele which describes the event in Arabic, marks the border so, if you’re driving from Agadir, you’ll know you’ve entered the region
The dunes surrounding Laayoune
Laayoune, or El-Aiun, is the capital of Western Sahara, whether it is a national or provincial capital is up to your allegiance but none would argue that it is not the most important city of the region. In the last year, gearing up for the anniversary of the Green March, Laayoune has been considerably renovated and you’d be forgiven if you believed it is only a secondary city of Morocco. The city doesn’t have so much to offer apart from strolling around its very charismatic alleys and visiting the official McDonald’s of Western Sahara (if you’re going to have food you should rather stop by Gout de Fes, our boys over there will cook a nice feast for you there!) and a bazaar. Chinese tourists do flock to Laayoune to trace the life of San Mao, a famous Taiwanese author who lived here, but chances are that won’t have the same appeal for you.
What you can do however, is drive slightly out of the capital to have a formidable desert experience. It is the go-to thing to do for the locals here as they find a quiet dune, start up a tea kettle and chat until the sun sets. A great, laid back experience to end a day in Laayoune.
Eating fish in Boujdour
On your drive south through Western Sahara, the next sizeable settlement you’ll come across is Boujdour. A port city, Boujdour is known for its antique lighthouse dating from the time of the Portuguese settlers which can be still seen to this day. While you won’t be able to visit the lighthouse as it is surrounded by a military base, you can have a view of it from a recently renovated park.
Boujdour is all about fish. Drive up to the port of Boujdour for some great people watching as you’ll see Sahrawis offloading old and rusty ships from the ice and fish they contain, which is very scenic. Once that smell of fish has worked you an appetite, let us take you to the town to visit the old man who cooks fried fish. Having done the same thing for years over, this old man cooks delicious and very fresh fish as well as homemade fries in a massive wok. That provides you with a nice stop and a full belly on the way to Dakhla
While Laayoune is the administrative city, Dakhla is its party and fun sister. As the second biggest city of Western Sahara (not many others after that), Dakhla has plenty of things to do. You can go surfing in one of the many watersport schools of the city. You could go golfing in the desert as it has a golf court. Dakhla also has a few bars to unwind which is a rarity in Western Sahara. The coolest activities however, those that are part of YPT’s itinerary, are the following.
Visit the White Dune
The White Dune is basically desert surrounding by water. This has polished the sand grains and created an incredible sight as the dune is all white and massive. You can climb up the dune to enjoy the view and try to spot the local flamingos. Here too, you can expect your driver to whip up a nice cup of tea for you.
The ostrich farm
Dakhla has a big ostrich farm. While you can’t ride the ostriches like in North Korea (we’re working on it and trying to convince the owners), you’ll be able to play with the big birds. You can get them to bite your finger if you’re brave enough.
The hot spring
When it comes to thermal spring, Dakhla does it in a very interesting way. Don’t go thinking Japanese onsen and chilling… Here, the hot spring is under the ground and linked to the surface by a massive hose. The locals see it as a therapeutic massage. You’ll undress to your undies (believe us, they’ll dry quickly, it’s the desert) or change into swimwear (booo!) and a local will blast you with a high pressure jet, massaging your back and your front with sulfur-rich water. The jet is very strong but doesn’t hurt. The funniest part is the end of the treatment, when the man asks you to stand up and you get pushed away by the blast.
Dakhla is known for its clam farms. We’ll take you to some of the best spots where clams are literally picked up from the sea and brought right on your platter. For those who are not into clam, this comes along with a enormous plate of fresh fried fish to die-for. It doesn’t hurt that the outdoor dining area is right on the seafront too!
The Western Sahara-Mauritania Border Crossing
Subject of its own blog, the Western Saharan and Mauritania border crossing is a sight to behold. Basically, the Moroccan claim to Western Sahara ends before Mauritania starts. Leaving the Sahrawi, the local people, with a 5 km strip of land that is not part of the two previous countries. Here, stolen car dealers, refugees and others gather in this mad-max-ey area really worth seeing to believe it. You might also spot some Sahrawi propanganda and paintings here. Finally, while people of bad faith can argue that you haven’t been to official Western Sahara if you’ve only been to the Moroccan controlled Laayoune, Boujdour and Dakhla, this part of the land is as Western Saharan as can be!