After experiencing some amazing hospitality in Northern Morocco I continued towards Southern Morocco and Western Sahara for some more Moroccan adventures! My first stop was Agadir.
Southern Morocco and Western Sahara – Agadir
Once I was settled in at my host’s place, we went for a walk. We had decided to head to the nearby souk, but my host had forgotten that it was closed on Monday. Whoops. We thought a detour to the beach area would be in order. The beach area had a carnival kind of atmosphere, with a Ferris wheel and dodge ’em cars. There were also people selling their wares along the promenade, expensive brightly lit restaurants and even a casino.
Take Me Down to the Paradise Valley
The next day, I made my way to the Ibatwar area to get a taxi to Paradise Valley. Paradise Valley is a natural attraction containing rock pools. The taxi was super old. From the 1970s. It looked like it was barely holding together. A couple on a short holiday in Morocco were already waiting in the taxi. It was a five seater with the driver. It wouldn’t leave until there were six people in it, not including the driver. Four in the back seat and two in the front passenger seat. Was this a sign of things to come in Africa?
After waiting for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably only 30 minutes, no more passengers had joined us. We decided to go to a closer town, called Awrir and get a taxi to Paradise Valley from there instead. With the destination change, we were full up and ready to go a few short minutes later.
A very squeezy and bumpy ride to Awrir ensued. When we got there, we were dropped off right next to a roomier green taxi. Thankfully, that was our ride the rest of the way to Paradise Valley.
Southern Morocco and Western Sahara – Paradise Valley
Upon arrival at the Valley, we started walking towards the trail to the rock pools. We passed some locals on the way, who of course offered us their guiding services. We could already see the trail by that point and it looked like it was very easy to follow, so we declined.
The first part of the trail was slightly uphill and very exposed, but fairly short. Once we got to the top we had a lovely view down into a valley lined with palm trees. A small steam could also be seen meandering through the trees, presumably running to, or from, the rock pools we were heading towards.
Another 5 Minutes on the trail brought us to a part of that steam where a small artificial swimming area and waterfall had been created by sandbags used to dam the watercourse. There were several stalls there offering drinks and Tangin, a local Moroccan dish, in clay pots.
Making Friends With Locals at Paradise Valley
We continued along the trail for a few more minutes until we reached another area with stalls. A portly man from one of the stalls ushered us towards him to show us his food. We let him know that we were heading to the pools first. He then showed us the right trail to take and told us which way to go at the tricky junction. He also strongly encouraged us to come back to see him when we were finished.
Following his suggestions, we were soon looking down on people swimming in small pools and sunbathing on the surrounding rocks. There were even some people camping in the area, as well as kids jumping the 5 metres or so from near the trail, down into one of the pools.
Once we’d walked to the end of the pools to see the small waterfall, we were feeling a bit hungry, so we returned to the portly man’s stall for some food.
After filling up on food, I returned to the entrance to grab a taxi back to Agadir, while the portly man showed the couple I was with the secret swimming hole where they could enjoy a peaceful, secluded swim away from the crowds.
Finding a way Back to Agadir
Once I’d made the short trip back to the road, I found a green taxi to take me all the way back to Agadir for only a few dirham more than the taxi I’d gotten to Awrir earlier. I was already sold on that fact alone, but then the lovely driver offered small glasses of cold water to all his passengers. Given how hot it was, they were very appreciated!
While I wouldn’t say that Paradise Valley is spectacular in any way, it is still quite lovely and it was nowhere near as crowded as I thought a popular tourist destination would be. Also, considering it’s free to enter the area, I think it’s definitely worth the visit. At around 30 dirhams, or €3 each way for transport and 45 dirhams, about €4.5, for the portly man’s food, it certainly is a cheap way to spend a day with nature and relax for a while.
Laayoune, Capital of Western Sahara
From Agadir, I continued onto Laayoune, the capital city of Western Sahara. There were a couple of things I noticed about Laayoune straight away. One was structures on roundabouts. These normally took the form of fountains, sometimes accompanied by trees. The other was the sheer amount of Moroccan flags hung on street lights or in other public areas. Obviously, this is the Moroccan government trying to assert their ‘rule’ over the area. You see, no UN member state officially recognises Moroccan sovereignty in Western Sahara. That essentially makes it a state under Moroccan occupation.
Locals there do not consider themselves Moroccan and would rather be formally recognised as their own sovereign state. The occupying government has policies in place that mean their families and livelihoods could be under threat if they make their true views known. They even fear talking about it in private in case they are being surveilled. That’s why you never really hear of protests in the area, despite local sentiment. Police checks along the roads aimed at finding out if journalists are in the country could be another factor.
Another thing that became very clear whilst walking around Laayoune was that it was windy all the time. There was no point during my stay where there was no wind. The effect of the wind was very cooling though, which meant that even though the sun was quite hot, the ambient temperature was quite pleasant. I was okay with that.
Yet Another Long Bus Ride
I purchased my onward ticket to Dakhla at the bus station as there was no bus from Laayoune that went all the way to the Mauritanian border. I was seated next to a guy who had figured he had two seats to himself. When I moved his stuff to his seat and sat down, he got all angry. Pointing at the number on my ticket didn’t make him any happier. He tried to grab my bag, then he tried to grab me. I shooed him away and luckily the lady who was sitting across the aisle said something that made him stop and he went back outside.
With that crisis averted, it was a pretty uneventful trip to Dakhla, where I had to wait for the ticket office to open before I could get my bus ticket to the border.
Shortly after leaving the Dakhla station there was a police stop which seemed specifically aimed at checking up on how many foreigners were on the bus. They only asked for foreign passports. One of the policemen asked me some questions, but I couldn’t understand his English. At one point it sounded like he was saying, “Is this your nation”, when he was actually saying, “What’s your destination?”. That explains the confused look.
As we were driving along, the ever-present wind had been hard at work moving the sand dunes onto the road. In fact, the whole right-hand side lane had been rendered completely unusable for a couple of kilometres. Some of the sand had even started encroaching on the left-hand lane, meaning that the bus had to move onto the road shoulder at a few points on the journey. I’d never seen anything like that before, so I was equally amazed and frightened at the power of nature. And what trip to Morocco would be complete without a camel blocking your way?
🇲🇦Morocco and Western Sahara Summary🇪🇭
In a few words – Tea and amorous locals
Languages – French and Arabic
Currency – Moroccan Dirham (MAD)
WiFi Availability – 📶📶📶📶📶
Cafes with WiFi are everywhere. Most will give you the WiFi password without buying something, just check with them first. Some will be sneaky and try to charge you for it.
Transport – 🚗🚗🚗🚗🚗
🚍 Modern air-conditioned coaches are used on all intercity routes, but their cost is on par with European coaches.
Public transport systems are pretty well developed in major cities and reasonably priced.
🚇 There are trains in the north, but they are expensive and rarely run to schedule.
🚘 Shared taxis can be found for short trips and they’re normally reasonably priced, but they will be overcrowded.
Roads – 🛣🛣🛣🛣🛣
All main roads, as well as suburban roads, are sealed and well maintained.
Scenery – 🏔🌳🏞🏖🏜
The combined area of Northern and Southern Morocco and Western Sahara is huge! It offers a great variety of scenery, from coastal plains, to snow-tipped mountains, to tree-lined streets and moving desert sands.
Prices – 💰💰💰
Most things, except for transport, are quite reasonably priced in Morocco. You can get a meal at a cafe for around 30 MAD, (€2.7). Note that the prices get more expensive the closer you are to tourist areas. Marrakech and Casablanca, for example, are more expensive than places like Tanger and Agadir.
Checkpoints – 🛑🛑
I didn’t encounter any checkpoints until I was on the way from Dakhla to Rosso, near the Mauritanian border. They specifically exist to check that foreign journalists aren’t trying to sneak into a sensitive area. Officers will look at your passport and ask what your occupation is, then let your bus go.
Border efficiency – 🛃🛃🛃🛃
The port entry was quite efficient. The land border was relatively efficient, but the lack of signage made it a little confusing.
Corruption level – No corruption was evident.
Overall – 👍👍👍👍👍