On November 14, 1975 Spain gave up its rule of the former colony of Western Sahara. Only a few months later, on February 27, 1976 Saharan Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) was found by the Polisario Front. To a large extent the country known as Western Sahara is dependent and controlled by Morocco. Despite its long struggle and striving to gain independence, Western Sahara is suffering because of its status.
Many countries from all around the world admitted Western Sahara as a sovereign and independent country, but there are also many other states which never though about this possibility.
Because of this reason the political situation of Western Sahara is especially complicated. According to the UN, the country is considered a non-autonomous territory under the control of Morocco.
Geographic location, boundaries and size. Western Sahara is a country in West Africa on the Atlantic coast. It is located between 21.20 and 27.40°N and between 8.40 and 17.06°W, and occupies an area of 266,000 sq.km. It borders with Morocco, Algeria and Mauritania. About 100 kilometers north-west from Western Sahara are located the Spanish Canary Islands.
Climate. Western Sahara falls entirely within the tropical climate zone. The northern tropical line (tropic of Cancer) crosses the southern parts of the country. The weather is hot, dry and sunny throughout the year.
The coastal areas of Western Sahara feel the strong influence of the cold Canary Current that maintains pleasant temperatures. The city of Dakhla for example, which is located on the Atlantic coast enjoys temperatures from 22 – 23°C in January to about 27°C in August.
Western Sahara’s interior however, experiences much more extreme weather conditions with very hot days and freezing nights. Temperatures over 40 degrees are quite common. Fog is typical occurrence on the coast of Western Sahara, despite the constant sunny weather.
Nature. Western Sahara is often described as one of the most deserted countries in the world. Approximately 100% of the total territory is occupied by dry and hot sandy or stony desert.
The landscape of Western Sahara is almost totally devoid of vegetation. Sometimes you can see different types of dry, thorn bushes, adapted to survive under the hot tropical sun with almost no moisture.
The thermophilic date palm is typical of the flora in this part of the world, although it is also rare amidst the desert.
Western Sahara’s landscape is dominated by plains and hills. The highest point of the country is unnamed and rises to a height of 463 meters. The coast line is a combination of endless sandy beaches and steeply descending cliffs.
It is slightly indented. In Western Sahara there are practically no permanent flowing rivers. Small streams are formed only when it is raining, but it happens very rarely.
Since living conditions in Western Sahara are quite raw, very few species survive here. Local fauna is dominated mainly of snakes, lizards, scorpions, insects and some other resistant species.
However, Western Sahara is home to a few mammals that are perfectly adapted to local climatic and natural conditions. Camel is the most famous animal in Western Sahara. It is notorious with its ability to withstand high temperatures without water for a long time.
Adax antelope is another less known representative of the desert local fauna. It is a close relative of the desert scimitar-horned Oryx antelope.
In Western Sahara are found also certain types of predators. Jackal is one of the most common species. Similar to the camel, it is adapted to cope with the harsh desert conditions.
The small desert fennec fox is the most interesting predator in Western Sahara. It has huge ears, which help to give the greatest possible amount of heat. The fennec fox is most active during the night hours when it hunts small birds, insects and different types of desert rodents.
Population. Western Sahara is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world. Its population is less than 500 000 people, many of whom are members of the Moroccan military.
Locals speak Arabic, Berber, Spanish and French. Islam is the official religion of almost 100% of the population. Larger cities are the capital El Aaiun (190 000), Dakhla, Boujdour, Es Semara and Galtat-Zemmour.
Many locals, including Moroccans, left the country due to the uncertain political environment. However, the population of Western Sahara usually increases by several percent per year.
Culture. The locals call themselves Sahrawi. By origin, but also in cultural and historical terms, they are very close to the population in neighboring Mauritania.
Sahrawi culture was formed under the influence of Islamic religion, Arab culture, local African customs and traditions and European influence during the colonialism.
Economy. In Western Sahara, there is almost no functioning economy, as the country is focused on solving its political problems.
For this reason, almost all goods necessary for everyday life of local residents are imported from abroad. Phosphate mining and fishing are the main sources of revenues in Western Sahara.
It is assumed that the bottom of the Atlantic near the coast of Western Sahara has significant reserves of oil and natural gas, but not yet proven. As Western Sahara is not fully independent country, it has not its own currency. The role of legal tender plays the Moroccan Dirham (MAD).
City Dahla. Undoubtedly this is one of the most interesting places to visit in Western Sahara. The city with a population of 56,000 inhabitants is located at the end of a long and narrow peninsula that extends parallel to the shore.
The peninsula forms elongate and sheltered lagoon, which is ideal for water sports fans. The place enjoys a wonderful climate, similar to the Canary Islands. From January to December temperatures are between 22 and 27°C and the sky is clear and sunny.
When is the best time to visit Western Sahara? As Western Sahara is a tropical country, the weather is suitable for hiking practically all year-round. In winter daytime temperatures are pleasant, but the nights are frosty, while summer days are usually too hot.
What clothes should I wear? The huge difference between day and night temperatures is probably the largest inconveniences, travelling in the desert.
For daytime are required summer clothes no matter when you are planning to travel. But remember that night temperatures in the desert are very low. There are cases in which the difference between day and night temperatures reaches 40 degrees!
This means that warm clothes will be needed. Pay attention to the shoes, especially if you want to make a safari in the desert. It is good to be equipped with everything – from slippers to hard and comfortable hiking shoes.
Sunglasses and a hat can be extremely useful as shadow here is a rare pleasure. Always use sunscreen before going out. In Western Sahara is not necessary to go to the beach to burn your skin under the strong tropical sun.
Visa requirements. As Western Sahara is considered part of Morocco, citizens of most countries need a Moroccan visa to visit this state. There are few countries whose citizens do not need a visa if they want to remain in Western Sahara up to 3 months (Britain, Ireland, France, Netherlands, Denmark, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and so on).
If you need correct additional information, you could turn to the nearest embassy of the Kingdom of Morocco.
What can we do in Western Sahara? Western Sahara is not a popular tourist destination and this is what makes it so interesting and attractive.
100 years ago very few people could afford to travel around the world, but now tourism is a way of life. Worldwide there are almost no remaining wild and unknown places.
The advantage of Western Sahara is that the country has always been far from the world tourist flows. Here are some things you can do while you’re there:
Photography. Western Sahara is a spectacular place if you are into the photography. Fiery red sands and rising in some places steep eroded cliffs resemble the American Wild West.
Camping. Sleeping in a tent in the desert is one of the most exciting experiences you can have in Western Sahara. You may start a fire and cook dinner directly under the open sky. The pleasure would be completed if you prepare a camp-site near an oasis.
Riding a camel. It is hardly surprising that camel riding is one of the main attractions in Western Sahara. On the back of this large animal you will see the desert and the lifestyle of locals in a completely different way.
Coastal fishing. If you travel along the coast you will quickly notice that no one is swimming in the sea. Tourists are missing, sea water is cold, and the waves are usually quite large. The dangerous of underwater rocks and stones is significant.
All this makes Western Sahara quite different from the summer tourist destinations which we are used to see along the Mediterranean. However, the coastline attracts attention with something else – the opportunity for fishing.
A common view is to see fishermen standing and relaxing on the coastal rocks, waiting to catch something.
Skiing and snowboarding. Western Sahara is a great place to skiing and snowboarding, but no on snow, of course. Huge sand dunes rise tens of meters and offer a really fun alternative to these traditionally winter sports.
Kite surfing and windsurfing. The deeply cut into the land Bay of Dakhla is the most attractive place to visit along the coast of Western Sahara. There are excellent windsurfing and kite surfing conditions. Moreover, the place is very beautiful. Dark blue calm waters of the bay are surrounded by high sandy dunes.
Paragliding. The endless landscapes of Western Sahara are a good place for you if you’re into the paragliding. Western Sahara’s desert is beautiful, but the view from above, is just enchanting! The most appropriate place for this purpose is also the beautiful bay of Dakhla.