El Aaiun is city in northern Western Sahara and capital of Sahwari Arab Democratic Republic that was previously the capital of Spanish Sahara and has a population approaching 200,000.
El Aaiún (Laâyoune in French) is de facto part of Morocco, there is no dispute that the city is any less Moroccan than Marrakesh or Casablanca. Be cautious upon mentioning the partially recognized Sahrawi Republuc, which claims the territory of Western Sahara.
Bus services connect El Aaiún to major transport hubs in southern Morocco, particularly Inezgane. CTM and Supratours have daily buses from Marrakech and Agadir, which will take 12–14 hours.
Road N1 from southern Morocco to El Aaiún is in good condition, checkposts are frequent.
Royal Air Maroc flies into El Aaiún from Casablanca, Agadir, Dakhla, and Gran Canaria. Binter Canarias also connects the city to Gran Canaria. There are regular buses from Marrakech.
El Aaiún's central sights can easily be explored on foot. Public transport has improved greatly since 2013 with a bus service that will only cost you the equivalent of about USD0.25. Petit taxis are MAD5 anywhere in town going up to MAD6 after 20:00. Extra may be charged to and from the airport but MAD10 should be the maximum you pay. Two people going to the same destination in a petit taxi will both ride for MAD5. Grand Taxi services connect to El Aaiún port, El Aaiún plage and places further afield.
The main roads are lined by shops selling non-descript Moroccan goods, the bird park seems to be closed forever and the adjoining tourism office is very well staffed but doesn't seem to have any ideas on how to spend your time either.
Along the main street, Boulevard Mekka, there is a stretch several kilometers long consisting of fountains, parks, and playgrounds.
The dunes start on the other side of the small group of reeds and water. Walk over the reeds and stand in the dunes and look at the lights of town.
The town's main square is OK for people-watching, and you can easily observe the high per capita income of this town in comparison with most in Morocco.
- Local crafts, Sheria Mekka. A beautiful line of approximately 20 shops can be found at the end of Sheria Mekka. Black and white with domed roofs, they sell a mixture of local craft, antique knives and hand crafted, high quality jewellery edit
Desert and deserted beaches are aplenty. Make the most of them.
Moroccan standard fare at most places, nothing to write home about. Wonderfully beefy camel meat available at butchers around town, dates of excellent quality in the markets. Barbecue, fruit and bread is king.
- Pizzeria Samir. Great place with food that has impressed me every time I have been. Prices are pretty standard for anywhere in town but here the food is presented well, generous and tasty. Salade de chef comes in at MAD40 (about GBP3) and is piled high with seafood and fruit. The burger royale is a must if you are only likely to pass by for one visit. edit
Gofia is a local juice in all Western Sahara cities.
Asking for a 'panache' (pronounced panashay) in most places will land you with a pint sized glass full of blended fruit. Ask for it without sugar if you like your fruit unadulterated. If you're lucky you'll get a 'royale' which will mean a topping of chopped fruit and nuts.
Hotel Parador on Rue Okba Ibn Nafia seems to have reopened after being used as an army base for years. Should easily be the best bet in town. Hotel Larkaoune is mainly occupied by UN troops, the atmosphere is gloomy, the service personnel try to avoid being helpful as far as possible.
Hotel Jodesa 233 Av. starts at MAD120, hotel Mekka right nextdoor asks for MAD200 for a double room with shared bathroom. This is a comfortable spot near the main plaza in town. There are cheaper hotels available (MAD 60-70) few hundred meters down the road.
It is easy to see all the sights and sounds of El Aaiún one day. However, with the Sahara all around and the ocean nearby, it is easy to link a trip here with some other cities:
- Tarfaya - Only a couple hours north via bus lies the small port village of Tarfaya, Morocco.
- Smara - Travelling deeper into the Sahara one finds this growing village. It features remains of a fortress, and the only regional town not founded by the Spanish.
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