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Introducing Western Sahara

Ask any Moroccan about the status of the Western Sahara and they will insist it belongs to their country, yet the UN is clear that this is still under dispute. Local maps may show this region as a seamless continuation of the hammada around Tarfaya, but few outside Morocco will agree.

This area largely comprises the former colonies of Spanish Sahara and part of the Tarfaya Strip. Crossing the vast tracts of desert here, one does marvel at the dispute. The towns are merely administrative centres, and the terrain stretching away from the N1 is featureless, arid, inhospitable and uninviting. Despite this distinct lack of postcard prettiness, this environment has phosphate, oil and fishing potential – significant factors in the dispute.

It’s one of the world’s most sparsely populated territories, and, despite the 1991 ceasefire in the Polisario-led war, the Moroccan military sometimes seem to outnumber civilians. If you want to appreciate the Sahara and see oases and dunes, the likes of Merzouga, Figuig and Tata are better choices – more scenic, safer and reached via less gruelling journeys from central Morocco. For travellers who need to cross the Western Sahara to reach Mauritania, bear in mind that this is a disputed area and read our safety guidelines.