Saharan Odyssey Part 2: Morocco, Western Sahara and Mauritania
After the great success of our first trip to the Sahara, we have now decided to make this tour occur as much as possible so that other get the chance to explore the amazing part of the world. This year, this tour can be done sandwiched between our tours of Algeria and our tour of Mali and Burkina Faso
For this part of our Saharan Odyssey, we’ve created a unique three country tour to make it easy to start and finish your adventure with us.
Starting in Casablanca, Morocco and ending in Nouakchott, Mauritania the tour will take us into unrecognised Western Sahara overland. Also known as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic republic (SADR) the country was declared independent in 1976 but has only been recognized by 28 states and has control only over a largely uninhabited eastern slice of territory.
The trip will finish in Mauritania, a lesser-known country which rapidly became one of our favourites around the world. There we will take the famed Mauritania Iron ore train in open carriages into the Saharan sunset. The train is 3km in length and is one of the heaviest in the world. We’ll make one of those carriage our temporary home as we ride through the starry night of the desert on this high-adrenaline ride. This unique trip highlight is not to be missed!
We’ll also ride through the desert to see UNESCO world heritage Chinguetti, a holy city of islam. We’ll tour its libraries and other historical monuments and buildings, then visit the incredible sceneries of the Adrar region and the ancient city of Ouadane before finishing up in the Atlantic fish-markets of the Mauritanian capital – Nouakchott.
If you do not have enough time to complete the whole itinerary, it is possible to also start from other cities along the way. Contact us for a special quote!
Arrive in Casablanca at own time and make your way downtown to our centrally located hotel, the Hotel Diwan, to meet your group members coming from Algeria in the afternoon
Dinner in a traditional Moroccan restaurant for an absolute feast followed by belly-dancing.
Hit the old town and Medina to experience some of Casablanca’s dark and dingy nightlife!
Overnight in Casablanca
Tuesday 14th January – Casablanca, Marrakech
Breakfast in the hotel and check out
We spend the morning sightseeing around the Moroccan economic capital. While not aesthetically beautiful the city is Morocco’s most progressive and liberal as well as being culturally very diverse. It’s big on its gritty nightlife too so we’ll be sure to sample some of this!
We’ll visit the United Nations Square and the Habous district,
Hassan II Mosque. Biggest mosque outside of the Middle East and tallest minaret in the world!
Visit the Corniche Boulevard. A once thriving resort area that used to bustle with several nightclubs. The area has lost its once glorious image but is still a fascinating part of town filled with plastic surgery clinics and nightclubs .
Hit the road for Marrakech!
Morocco’s third largest city is teeming with sights and sounds that emanate from its historical medina.
Check into the hotel and hit the famous streets for a tour that starts with the Koutoubia Mosque. Some say its minaret is to Marrakech as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris!
After traditional Moroccan fare for lunch we continue on with visits to the Djema El Fna Square and world famous souks.
Free time here before regrouping for dinner and checking out the live outdoor entertainment in the square. Musicians, dancers, snake charmers and story tellers pack the square creating the unique atmosphere late into the evening
Dinner of streetfood on the square.
Overnight in Marrakech in hotel Blue Sea Le Printemps
Wednesday 15th January – Marrakech
After breakfast we take a drive to the 12th century Agdal gardens
Visit the tombs of the Saadian Dynasty. Only discovered in the 20th century, they were left untouched and blocked off for centuries
Visit the Bahia Palace. This 19th century masterpiece is said to capture the essence of Islamic and Morroccan style
Visit the freshly renovated Madrassa Ben Youssef. This Islamic School is the biggest of all Morocco!
Just south of here we’ll check out the Royan Palace and historic Medina. Along the drive we’ll take in the stunning green oasis pools and the infinite olive, orange and pomegranate orchards.
Next stop Is the 16th century Menara gardens and its famed pavilion which was used as a summer residence by Sultan Abderrarhmane. The pavilion was renovated in 1869
Take in the Marrakech city walls and its most famous gate at Bab Khemis
Visit the exquisite Majorelle Gardens which was laid out by the French expat Louis Maforelle and later restored by Yves Saint Laurent. It’s famed for its distinct cobalt blue buildings.
Free time to explore more of Marrakech’s medina and souks
Dinner followed by shisha and tea!
Overnight in Marrakech in Hotel Blue Sea Le Printemps
Thursday 16th January – Agadir
Check out and drive to Agadir with a few scenic stops along the way!
This beachside city was destroyed by an earthquake in 1960. It was rebuilt with wide avenues lined with low rise futuristic 1960’s design. This makes it a truly unique Moroccan city
Lunch at the streetfood alley of Agadir where they serve delicious grilled seafood and fish.
Take in the breathtaking panorama views from the Kasbah fortress.
Get lost in the local souk for some last supplies for hitting the trail for Western Sahara
Dinner at one of Agadir’s numerous and exquisite restaurants
Agadir definitely has the best night scene of this whole trip, clubs, quiet bars, restaurants, we’ll go hopping around them according to how we feel..
Overnight in Agadir in Hotel Al Mogar
Friday 17th January – Laayoune
Early start for the long drive to Western sahara and Laayoun city
It will take us about 8 hours total including the photo stops .
On the way, we make a pit-stop by Tizmit , a town quite off the tourist track, with a vibrant and colourful fruit market where berbers shop in their traditional outfits.
Lunch along the way at a local restaurant
Continue the drive to Laayoune to the town of Tah, where we stop to see the monument to the Green March, or the moment where thousands of Moroccans came to what was then the border between Spanish Sahara and Morocco to cross and then claim the land . To this date , this serves as the contested border between Western Sahara and Morocco .
We drive for an hour more, arrive in the evening and check into our central hotel.
Once the capital of Spanish Sahara, the city is now claimed by the SADR but administered by Morocco. Laâyoune or El Aaiún are respectively the French and Spanish transliterations of the Maghrebi Arabic name Layoun which means “the water springs“
Dinner at Goût de Fes, your friendly local pizzeria.
Overnight in the Hotel Rimel Sahara, Laayoune or similar.
Saturday 18th January – Laayoune
Up nice and early to visit the busiest souk in Western Sahara
Next we’ll visit the great mosque – apparently designed under the guidance of Franco, the mosque is a simple yet very peaceful symbol of the city situated in the central square and surrounded by palm trees
Laayoun craft center – an Interesting little bazaar. It’s the best place for some authentic traditional souvenirs
Lunch in a local restaurant
Visit the Spanish Cathedral. In 1940 Spain designated Laayoun as the capital of the Spanish Sahara and this is the best relic leftover from colonial times. If we are lucky, we might get to meet one of the three catholic priest in charge of all of Morocco and Western Sahara. They are quite eager to talk about their experience here, in a country where near everyone is muslim.
We head to the dunes for late afternoon mint tea and games in the sand.
Dinner on the way back at a local truck stop offering surprisingly good fare and enormous portions.
Overnight at the Hotel Rimel Sahara, Laayoune or similar with the possibility of a nightcap at hotel Al Massira
Sunday 19th January – Dakhla
After breakfast we hit the road for Dakhla city
On the way we stop at Boujdour and its famous lighthouse. Built by the Portuguese in the 18th century, the lighthouse is visible from miles around.
Visit of Boujdour Port, where we will see the hundreds of fishing boats and fishermen going on with their busy day.
Lunch of fresh fried fish
Many photo stops on the way
Hit the beach and swim in the Atlantic ocean!
Continue to Dakhla city, arriving just in time for dinner
Overnight at the Hotel Imperial Playa in Dakhla or similar
Monday 20th January – Dakhla
After breakfast we take a city tour of Dakhla
Depart the city and head for the dune blanche – a place that must be seen to be believed. This enormous sand dune perched in the middle of a lagoon is a hotspot for flamingos.
Visit of a natural hot underground spring where you can take a jet shower from a high pressure hose. The experience could be described as half massage, half waterboarding. The 38 degree Celsius sulfur water is said to contain many health benefits!
Lunch in a local traditional seafood restaurant by the beach where they serve a delicious mixed seafood tajine as well as enormous fish (good for six people). You can also order fresh oysters (extra 0.5 EUR per oyster)
Stop at the Ostrich Farm where you can prove your bravery by letting an ostrich pinch your hand!
Drive back to the hotel
Free relaxation time before meeting up again for dinner and our last easy-to-find drinks at one of the restaurants on the main strip.
Overnight in the Hotel Imperial Playa, Dakhla
Tuesday 21st January – Nouadhibou
Today we drive to the border of Morocco.
We will first exit Morocco and end up in a five kilometres no man’s land. While the rest of Western Sahara is claimed by Morocco, this sliver of land is indisputably Sahrawi. Here, you will see stolen cars sellers, guns smugglers and refugees from the conflict, an intense 10 minute drive!
We will cross into Mauritania, right from the border you’re entering a whole new world. Visa on arrival (may take some time, please bring small denominations of Euros to pay for the visa in exact cash, which should be 55 EUR)
Transfer to Nouadhibou city, the country’s second largest city and economic capital
We take a trip to the Atlantic ocean again at Cape Blanc. A peninsula that is shared between Mauritania and Western Sahara. It was here that the Spanish expanded their fishing presence from the Canary islands onto the African coast. This is where the biggest ship graveyard used to be located until it was broken down into pieces and the steel sold by Chinese companies in recent years.
If we are lucky, we might spot the Mediterranean monk seal colony there.
Visit the new ship graveyard of Nouadhibou
Dinner at Ice NBC or similar, a family restaurant with a wide menu of delicious food .
If you fancy a cold one we will visit the Chinese restaurant next door for the only place that openly serves beers..
Overnight in the Hotel Al Jezira, Nouadhibou or similar
Wednesday 22nd January – Nouadhibou
Visit the Port of Nouadhibou and its fish market
Lunch at NBC restaurant, with an impressive and varied menu
Pick up some supplies for the epic train journey ahead. We will have plenty of water, fruits and sandwiches provided for us.
*Trip highlight* Ride the famous Mauritania mineral train! The train is up to 3km in length with 200 cars weighing up to 84 tons making it one of the longest and heaviest trains in the world. We’ll be sitting in open top cars so make sure you bring a blanket and you’re wrapped up warm with a good scarf and goggles to protect your face from dust! The way we do it, there is no ore on the car, this allow us to get the best views when climbing up the ladder while still having room to move and use the walls of the car to protect us from the wind.
This iron ore express to Choum in the Mauritanian interior will depart around 4-6 pm and arrive at 3am the following morning
Thursday 23rd January – Chinguitty
Arrive in Choum at 3am and spend the rest of the night/morning in igloo tents!
Wake up in the morning and enjoy a camping breakfast
We start exploring the Adrar region of Mauritania
Visit Azoughi oasis and village for a tea stop and checking out how the local people live.
Lunchtime at hotel Mer et Desert. Here, we will probably meet the owner, a french woman who has left everything behind to become member of the community. She knows a lot about the social issues of local tribes and is a wonderful source of information.
Drive to UNESCO world heritage Chinguitti, a holy city of islam. We’ll tour its library and other historical monuments and buildings including the much loved Friday Mosque of Chinguitti, the national symbol of Mauritania
The city was for centuries the gathering point for pilgrims of the Maghreb to gather on their way to Mecca. Africans claim it as the 7th most holy city of Islam. Much of the old centre dates from the 12th century.
Evening sunset watched from the huge sand dunes of Chinguitty
Overnight in Hotel Eden, a traditional stone guesthouse, Chinguitty
Friday 24th January – Ouadane
Early morning 80km journey through pure desert and dune
On the way stop in Tanounichert for a tea stop with the locals.
Once upon a time it was an important stop of the trans-caravan routes of the Sahara. In YPT, we nicknamed Ouadane the Pompei of Mauritania for its sprawling city in ruins which is sure to amaze you.
It was here that products of sub-Saharan Africa were traded with those of the Maghreb
The Portuguese arrived in 1487 and transformed the city into a local center of cultural, economic and scientific advancement
We’ll walk the streets and see the buildings that once glorifies the country as a whole and then move on to the new part of town where we’ll be sure to mingle with the locals.
Traditional dinner and overnight in the Hotel Vasque, Ouadane.
Saturday 25th January – Atar
After an early breakfast we depart for Tergit Oasis. This is Mauritania’s most picturesque place.
On the way, we will stop at Agrour to see some pre-historic paintings left there 5000 years ago as well as interesting lava formation.
Journey towards Mheirith oasis, a very picturesque place where Mauritanian like to come and relax during the date season.
We then continue forward to the White Valley. Here, desert is trapped within dramatic cliffs – a breathtaking scenery.
We have a late home-cooked lunch in Terjit oasis. After this delicious meal, we’ll head out on a short trek (less than 30 minutes) to the source of the oasis, here, the scenery will remind you of Jurassic Park.
Drive through the stunning Tivoujar pass and arrive early evening in Atar
Overnight and dinner in the Hotel Des Caravanes, Atar
Sunday 26th January – Nouakchott
Early rise for the long drive to the Mauritanian capital city of Nouakchott
Lunch at San Francisco Cafe for a good meal and access to wifi after a few days of deprivation.
Arrive in time to catch the lively Atlantic fish market. Every evening hundreds of fishermen bring in the day’s catch on their distinct sea canoes recognized by their colourful hand-painted hulls. The catch is then brought by donkey cart to the cities markets
We stop by the National Museum where artefacts of the history of Mauritania and its ancient cities are exposed, this will allow us to have a quite recap of what we’ve seen in the last days.
Visit the local craft market and pick up a camel wool rug for yourself!
Drive around the massive embassies of the main players of the region, the USA, China, France, Russia.
Quick photo stop by the Great Mosque of Nouakchott, funded by Saudi Arabia and built in 1982.
Head to the beach for some great people watching. This is where local Nouakchottois come to escape the city and cool off.
Late night dinner before trying our luck at geting in one of the Chinese owned restaurants and bars for a night cap!
Overnight in Hotel Wissal, complete with a swimming pool, Nouakchott
Monday 27th January
End of tour for those who do not carry on to Mali! YPT can help you arrange your connection to your next destination.
For those carrying on to Mali, we will pay a visit to the Malian embassy to get our visas the quickest and cheapest way!
-Breakfast and Lunch in Morocco and Western Sahara.
– All meals in Mauritania
-Moroccan Feast on day one
-Transportation to complete the itinerary in 4WD cars/ Mini bus/ train
-English speaking local guides