For travelers looking for an adventure off the beaten path, Laayoune makes a wonderful choice. The city is only about an hour and a half long flight from Casablanca yet has a feel all of its own. People who live in Laayoune are a mix of Moroccans and Saharawi. Women in Laayoune wear a brightly colored dress called a melafa. A melafa is most similar to an Indian sari and is often worn with a long sleeve shirt and leggings underneath. The language also changes. Like the north, Spanish is widely spoken as a second language and most people speak either Moroccan Arabic or Hassaniya (another dialect of Arabic often spoken in countries like Mauritania, Niger, Mali and parts of Morocco) as a first language.
While Laayoune is not frequented by tourists, there are still some lovely sites to visit if you get the chance to travel there. One of the things that the area is known for is its beautiful oases. On a recent visit some of my friends and I got to visit one of the oasis’s that is especially catered towards tourists. We drove about a half hour outside the city. Everything around us was quite dry and barren, but then we came upon the Oasis situated on the side of a small hill. The Oasis was surrounded by a gate, but after knocking on the door of the owner’s house near by we were met by a friendly young man who opened the gate and allowed us inside. The grounds are quite large with a few tents available for those wishing to spend the night, several palm trees, a few hammocks and sitting areas as well as a small stream which runs into a pool in the middle of the Oasis. We chose to have tea near the pool. I believe it was the most relaxing part of the trip to sit by the pool with the only sounds around us the sounds of the wind rustling the palm trees and the occasional squawk of a bird flying by.
Laayoune is also a unique city in that it has been built up in the middle of the desert right next to the sand dunes. From certain parts of the city you can see both the city and the sand dunes behind it. Being so close to the dunes provides several opportunities to take camel treks out into the dunes or even spend the night in tents under the stars.
The ocean is also not far to get to. After driving outside the city for about 20 minutes you come to the ocean. The drive out to the ocean is beautiful in itself as the road to the ocean passes through the middle of the sand dunes. Bulldozers come about once a day to clear the roads from sand that drifts over it. If you make it to the ocean, be sure to look for the old run aground French ship appropriately named, “Que Sera Sera”. Because the ocean is close by, fish is often eaten in restaurants and homes. One of the famous dishes they eat is fish and rice. Fish and rice consists of a large plate piled with saffron rice and then covered with chunks of fish and vegetables cooked in a flavorful sauce.
While Laayoune is a relatively safe city to visit, it is good to be aware of your surroundings and be careful not to take pictures of military or police buildings–of which there are several. Also, it is wise to keep your passport with you at all times as there are several checkpoints where your passport is required.
Feel free to contact us for help planning your own Laayoune adventure!
By: Michelle Mellinger