Crossing the mighty Sahara Desert from Morocco to Senegal by the coastal road
This fascinating journey is life changing, to say the least, and that’s how you can take it – from someone who did.
The Sahara Desert is massive – probably very massive. It is the same size as the whole of the United States including Alaska. But it’s more than just moving sand dunes, in fact most are not sandy at all. Crossing the largest desert in the world is an experience to be had and an adventure that few people can have.
There are many routes to cross the Sahara, but in this article we will discuss the coastal routes of Morocco, Western Sahara, Mauritania, and Senegal. It is a beautiful road which has the advantage of being much cooler than the inland roads as most are on the coast and can smell the cool sea breeze.
Coastal road visas
- Morocco: Three months visa-free
- Western Sahara: Defacto is part of Morocco (in 2020 the United States recognized it as part of Morocco)
- Mauritania: One month visa on arrival – Cost 55 euros or $ 60 (cash only)
- Senegal: Usually visa-free (otherwise Visa on arrival)
In this article, we will describe the crossing of the Sahara from the Moroccan city of Marrakech (we will probably write an entire article only about this magnificent tourist city) to Dakar, the capital of Senegal.
From Marrakech to Mauritania
Distance Marrakech To Dakar: 1,680 miles (2,700 km)
Marrakech is the fourth largest city in Morocco and is located in the transition zone between the desert and the Mediterranean arable zone. After Marrakech things get much drier when you take the highway to the coast. Eventually the road arrives at the coastal city of Agadir – this could be said of the last city frequented by tourists before heading towards the remote desert.
State of the coastal road in Morocco and Western Sahara: Sealed and in excellent condition
Population of Western Sahara: 570,000
Largest city: Laâyoune
Took into consideration: Provinces of Southern Morocco by the Moroccan government
Devoid of tourists the desert may be, but there are still towns all along this coast with many people living there. You will never have to worry about not finding accommodation, food or fuel (never walk past a gas station with less than half a tank of fuel).
By traveling even further, Tantan is the last major establishment of internationally recognized Morocco. Next is the largest city, Laâyoune, in Western Sahara about a 4 hour drive away. Along this route, the Spanish Canary Islands are only about 60 miles from the coast! Take your time along this route and see traditional fishermen live and fish off the cliffs.
It is now a six hour drive through the desert to the next big city. It is the coastal town of Dakhla. By the time you get here, there might be an American mission there. Part of the deal for America recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara was that America would establish a mission in Dakhla.
From there it goes straight down to Mauritania.
The Moroccan-Mauritanian border post
This border is likely to be unlike anything else you have seen in your life. Border crossings in this part of Africa are chaotic and it is advisable to hire a border crossing assistant (there will be many who will come to you). $ 20 or $ 30 is a reasonable amount to pay for them. Chaos? Well in fact it’s complicated but professional on the Moroccan side. But after that, you’re in another world.
Between Morocco and Mauritania is the part of Western Sahara controlled by the Polisario. Morocco considers them as rebels, Algeria considers them as freedom fighters. Most Western countries do not seem to have a firm opinion on the matter. But those two miles are littered with trucks and cars and all kinds of chaos. There is no road here. Just drive the best you can and follow your assistant. And don’t worry about the Polisario, they won’t bother you.
- Lunch time: In this part of Africa, the border closes for two hours at lunchtime!
Then you reach the Mauritanian side. There are important things to know and understand about Mauritania (which is officially the “Islamic Republic of Mauritania”).
Things to understand about Mauritania
- Alcohol: Alcohol is prohibited in Mauritania, not bring everything
- Religion: Be respectful of Islam
- Visa: Visa on arrival, make sure you have 55 Euros in cash per person
- Have: Many copies of your planned Mauritania itinerary
It is then that you will be very, very happy to have your help. The crossing point is strange to say the least on the Mauritanian side. Everything will be fine, just enjoy the unique experience and do what your assistant tells you to do. Moreover, it will help you get SIM cards and exchange money.
- Population: 4.4 million
- Capital city: Nouakchott
- Official languages: Arabic and French
So that the Mauritanian government can follow tourists and know where to look in case of disappearance, you must give copies of your itinerary to the many police checkpoints along the road. Don’t worry about the police, they’ll help you.
Then you can reach the capital Nouakchott. Don’t expect anything too glamorous in this poverty-stricken desert capital. But he will have everything you need. We recommend that you explore Mauritania, it is a huge desert country and sparsely populated with many gems.
The Mauritania / Senegal border post
When you’re ready to leave Mauritania, head south to the Senegalese border. This border crossing is chaos, the last border crossing was just a warm-up. Here you really need to get a border crossing assistant. You also have to take the old ferry to cross the river to Senegal – there is no bridge.
Once in Senegal you crossed the Sahara! Drive to the capital Dakar. Senegal is much more developed than Mauritania and the main roads are excellent. Dakar may be the end of your trip unless you continue to West Africa. Be sure to visit the Boba trees though!
Next: An Africa Travel Guide: 11 Things To Know When Planning Your Trip
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