Western Sahara is a territory located between Morocco and Mauritania. This region is disputed between the Kingdom of Morocco and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). The UN classifies Western Sahara as a non-self-governing region, which means that the people do not yet have full self-government.
Also find in this travel guide how to cross it, its level of safety and information about the “No-Man’s Land”.
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Who controls Western Sahara?
Western Sahara is claimed by the Kingdom of Morocco, which controls nearly 80% of the territory. The rest, mostly distributed along the Mauritanian border, is controlled by the Sahrawi Republic. If you travel to Mauritania, you will necessarily pass through a 3 km buffer zone claimed by SADR which separates the country from Western Sahara. This is the “PK55”.
Why is Western Sahara disputed?
The current Western Sahara as well as part of Morocco was occupied by Spain since colonial times, at the end of the 19th century. Later, in 1973 and after long conflicts, the Saharawis founded the Polisario Front to drive out the Spanish. This was conclusive since they left the territory 3 years later.
From that moment Morocco and Mauritania tried to acquire Western Sahara. The Polisario Front opposed it, then created the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, which Mauritania was forced to recognize after a defeat. However, the standoff with Morocco never stopped and provoked several armed conflicts until the ceasefire of 1991. Since then, Western Sahara has no official status.
However, Morocco managed to conquer much of Western Sahara’s territory after launching a green march during which more than 300,000 civilians came to march peacefully. Soon after, the government encouraged tens of thousands of Moroccans to settle on the land to colonize it.
Is Western Sahara a country?
About 50 countries recognize the Saharawi Republic, but the United Nations does not recognize the status of Western Sahara, which does not make it a country.
Ethnic group of the Saharawis
The Saharawi people are an ethnic group of Berber, black African and Arab descent. Its origin dates back to the time of the Caravan Route, during the trade of goods between West and North Africa. Cultures between tribes and nomads mixed and then gave birth to the Saharawis.
They now live in southern Morocco, in Western Sahara (throughout the territory, not just the area claimed by SADR) and in greater numbers in northern Mauritania.
Now that we know “how, where and why” Western Sahara, let’s now see what it is about travel. Rest assured, this region is not scary but it is always useful to know where you are going.
Is Western Sahara dangerous?
Western Sahara on the Moroccan side is not dangerous to cross. However, you may have difficulty venturing into the desert part on your way off the road since many soldiers are watching it. You will see all along the way many tents and camps, they are soldiers.
On the side of the Saharawi Republic, yes it is more dangerous because of the many conflicts and especially the almost non-existent laws. You can’t access it anyway. Refer to the map at the beginning of the article to visualize the sharing of the territory.
Second longest wall in the world
The territory of the Saharawi Republic and that of Morocco are separated by a wall composed of sand and rock of 1600 km. This makes it the second longest in the world after the Chinese Wall. This separation is called “Berm”.
Which visa for Western Sahara?
No visa is required to cross Western Sahara as the area crossed is subject to Moroccan law. So the formalities of the Morocco apply.
Crossing No-Man’s Land
No-Man’s Land is a 4 km buffer zone (PK55) located between the border posts of Morocco and Mauritania. This place has long been in conflict but today there is nothing to fear for travelers who wish to cross it, provided they stay on the road.
Having asked the border post staff, there is nothing at all to worry about. Some do it on foot and others by bike: no incident has been reported and what was valid before is no longer valid today.
Dangerous areas are off the track. There are landmines and there are conflicts, but again, the runway itself is completely safe. There used to be trapped people and a lot of wreckage, but nothing remains of them today. Everything has been cleaned and there is no one left.
Crossing the Mauritanian border
Meet my guide to cross Western Sahara with public transport and how to cross the border into Mauritania.
Hitchhiking in Morocco
Find my crossing of Morocco by hitchhiking and tips for your trip.
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