Western Sahara is located in North Africa. Unrecognized
territory, part of the country de facto independent. Most of the
territory is occupied by Morocco, which considers Western Sahara its
region under the name of the Southern Provinces.
The country is located on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, in the north it borders on Morocco, in the northeast on Algeria, in the south and east on Mauritania.
Russia recognizes the independence of Western Sahara.
The country is divided by a complex of border defense structures, called the Moroccan Wall, into two large areas:
territory occupied by Morocco
territory controlled by the Polisario Front - Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR)
After Spain gave up the colony in 1975, a division was planned: the
north was to be connected to Morocco and the south to Mauritania. The
left-wing Polisario Liberation Front fought for Western Sahara's
independence. Mauritania finally renounced its part, whereupon Morocco
partially occupied this part as well.
Today more than two thirds of the area of Morocco are occupied. All major cities in the country belong to this part. The remaining third, in the extremely sparsely populated east and south-east, is controlled by the Polisario, who have proclaimed their own state called the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. A referendum on the future of Western Sahara, which the UN has been calling for for a long time, has been repeatedly postponed and has since been abandoned by Morocco altogether.
Between the two zones is the more than 2500-kilometer-long "Moroccan Wall" (English berm), a system created by the Moroccan military of about three meters high sand walls, walls, piled up rubble, barbed wire and minefields that prevented Polisario fighters from entering to prevent the Moroccan controlled zone. Danger to life here! The Moroccan occupied part should be more interesting for tourists anyway.
After the USA pushed ahead in the final days of Donald Trump's term in office, a number of countries have now followed suit and have recognized Morocco's claim to the territory under international law. Since March 2022, this has also included the former colonial power Spain. The American-oriented German Foreign Minister Baerbock swung to this position during a visit to Rabat in August 2022, even if court judgments by the ECJ from 2012 still stand in the way of official approval.
Overland connections are currently only available from Morocco and an
open border crossing from Mauritania at La Gouira, north of Nouadhibou.
When crossing the border with Mauritania, you pass a few kilometers wide
strip that is not under Moroccan control. However, this area looks more
like a no man's land with many broken cars, and there is no
administrative presence there either, apart from that of Morocco and
Mauritania (2019). The directions given under "By bike" along the
coastal road through Western Sahara are also useful for motorists.
There are no border formalities at the border with Morocco, as the territory of Morocco is considered an integral part of its territory.
There are two scheduled airports: El Aaiun Hassan I Airport (IATA: EUN) in the northwest and Dakhla Airport (IATA: VIL) further south. Both are accessible from several Moroccan airports as well as from Gran Canaria. Airlines represented are Royal Air Maroc (EUN, VIL) and BinterCanarias (EUN only).
Buses run regularly from Morocco, including Agadir and Casablanca, to El Aaiún. Since spring 2018 there are also buses from Ad-Dakhla south to the Mauritian border.
In the street
The distance from Agadir to El Aaiún is about 500 kilometers. The route Casablanca–El Aaiún (over 1000 km; on road signs as Laayune) is theoretically possible on a long day, but an overnight stay is recommended.
Route description for crossing the Western Sahara. See also the description of the border crossing to Mauritania, which is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The main traffic artery near the coast, National Road 1 (RN1), is already largely a four-lane expressway when you come from Agadir to El Aaiún. Some gaps between Guelmin and Tan-Tan are already under construction, and everything should be finished by 2023 at the latest.
Gasoline, the price of which was state-controlled until 2015, is almost ten percent cheaper in Western Sahara than in Morocco. In August 2022, a liter in Moroccan cities cost about Dh 15.60, diesel Dh 14.30, just over the district border east of Tarfaya less. An exception is the 1 "last gas station before Mauritania" (24° 40′ 0″ N 14° 52′ 19″ W) a good 30 km before the border (ط و 1، واد لكراع), here as well as at the border himself, asks for more. In any case, self-drivers should also fill up the reserve canisters, since there was a shortage of petrol and higher prices in the neighboring country to the south. Otherwise, it makes sense to stock up in Bir Gandúz (22° 3′ 9″ N 16° 45′ 2″ W) (بئر كندوز = Bir Gandús), where Motel Barbas offers decent accommodation.
The ferry from the Canary Islands has long been discontinued.
The Moroccan bus network allows trips to Dakhla without any problems.
The national roads are in fair condition, which is not necessarily the case for local vehicles. You should only drive on desert slopes in daylight and preferably not alone. A navigation device and an adequate supply of water, food, fuel and spare parts are essential for survival. A competent guide does no harm on desert tours either.
Police checks of passengers on buses are more frequent in Western Sahara than in Morocco. While primarily locals are checked in Morocco, the papers of foreign travelers are specifically checked during these checks.
In principle, it is possible to cross Western Sahara.
The official language is Arabic, with the Hassānīya dialect being the most common (which is also spoken in Mauritania and northern Mali). Since there are many immigrants from Morocco as a result of the occupation, the Moroccan dialect is also often used. Some business people know some French. As a result of the colonial era, you can still sometimes see signs in Spanish and some older Sahrawis know some Spanish. Without knowledge of Arabic, however, you will often only be able to communicate with your hands and feet.
In the Moroccan occupied part the Moroccan Dirham is used to pay. The currency of the eastern part controlled by the Polisario is the Saharawi peseta, which is pegged to the euro at a rate of 1:166.39. A small amount of the Mauritanian ouguiya circulates in the south of the territory.
There are many landmines on the border between the Moroccan-occupied and the Polisario-held territory, the Moroccan Wall. The border region with Mauritania is no longer mined.
The Austrian Foreign Ministry warns against leaving the main El Aaiún-Dakhla-Mauritanian border route. The border can only be crossed at the Guerguarat/Nouadhibou border crossing (border post PK 55).
At every exit there is a police station where you have to stop briefly. Depending on the form of the day, they are waved through or the papers, especially from foreigners, are photographed with the entry stamp (more often at night). Sometimes the luggage is also searched.
risk of heat stroke.
The Moroccan-administered part of the country is now so pacified that you can travel here normally, despite the relevant warnings from various foreign ministries.
For legal reasons, consular support from the German Embassy in Rabat is not possible for travelers to Western Sahara. For practical reasons, consular support from the Austrian embassy in Rabat is difficult in Western Sahara.