Dakhla: An Oasis in the Desert

By | Category: Travel destinations
Dakhla from the sea

Dakhla from the sea

Dakhla in the South West of Morocco is an area of the country that is still virtually unscathed by tourism. A town on the edge of the Sahara desert, yet having the benefits of being by the Atlantic sea. For a truly authentic visit with no sophistication this is certainly the time to visit, as plans are afoot to promote tourism to the area.

The town of Dakhla is situated on the Atlantic sea in a peninsular where a lagoon shields the water from becoming too rough. Being in the desert, its position means that it doesn’t get as hot as it might. As this is a windy corner of the country it is ideal for sports activities such as board and kite surfing. The sports aren’t permitted in the main town but on the outskirts there are numerous spots with a choice of very basic accommodation or camping facilities. Kite surfing isn’t something you can do without lessons and to, in anyway master the skill needs a minimum of six, two on the sand, two in the water with the kite and two on the water with both the board and the kite. Places like Dakhla Attitude give lessons at all levels and have facilities for experienced kite surfers to practise their twists and turns. From  March 23th until March 28th,  competitors from around the globe will be congregating there to take part in the Kite Surfing Championships.

The town itself is very quiet during the day only coming to life after 5pm. People tend to take long siestas, and stay up late. Don’t expect to eat dinner before 9 or 10pm.

kite surfing, image courtesy Dakha Attitude

kite surfing, image courtesy Dakhla Attitude

In the 1800s the area was under Spanish rule but was reclaimed by Morocco in 1975 so many of the people in addition to Arabic, speak Spanish and French. Heated by the sun, the sea is warm enough to swim even in winter although the wind chill factor can make it cold when coming out. Apart from the sporting activities, highlights include a trip into the dessert in a 4×4 driving along tracks of sand, hanging on for dear life, as it is incredibly bumpy, to see the most wonderful sand formations. The white dune, 50 klms from Dakhla, is apparently a phenomenon as when the tide comes in although it gets covered by the sea it doesn’t get washed away. Visiting here is an additional reason for a desert safari as this is considered an area of outstanding beauty. If there are several of you, it is worth having a truly authentic experience by hiring a bivowac, a Berber tent in which you stay while your meal is cooked outside on an open fire, and sleeping under the stars makes a really romantic evening. You wouldn’t be alone as to drive through the desert you need to have a driver so you don’t get lost, and another person to put up your tent and cook the food.

Depending on where you stay activities may include early morning yoga and pilates classes or boat rides on the lagoon. In the past ten years, the area has started to grow baby tomatoes and now produces 70 percent of the country’s production. A visit to the factory can be arranged to see how the fruit is produced in long polytunnels. A man on stilts showed us how he picked the crop from high up. The town has several markets which are very much for local use, one for vegetables, another for fish, and a separate one for clothes and household items.

shucking oysters after the catch has been brought ashore

shucking oysters after the catch has been brought ashore

Fish is the thing to eat in this area, as it is caught locally. Fresh lobster seems to be in abundance as are oysters. At Talhamar, there is an oyster farm where they have a veranda with tables overlooking the sea. We were able to eat the crustaceans on the spot just above where they are farmed. Pagout royal, a large white local fish, is served whole. When eating with several people, there are no formalities. The fish is placed in the centre of the table and is shared, with everyone digging in, and helping themselves rather than being served. Vegetarians are not recognised in this part of the world, and anyone not eating fish would have a problem.

Out of town there are several caravan sites with people coming for several months. There are no restrictions on fishing and these nomads are allowed to fish, selling their catch in the local fish market. Camels are also indigenous to the area, and are used both to ride on, and as food. We were served camel tagine in a conical shaped terracotta dish in which food is cooked in the oven, on several occasions.

As the weather is so lovely the chances are that you will take your meals outside. The Moroccans have a sweet tooth so expect to be offered cakes and sweet items such as dried figs, dates and apricots before a meal as well as after. Their tea making ceremony is particularly interesting to watch. The tea is brewed in a metal or silver looking teapot and poured from on high into a cup in which there is sugar. When the sugar has dissolved, the liquid is transferred back to the teapot, and the process is repeated again and again to create bubbles.

there are lots of opportunities for visitors to travel into the Sahara from Dakha

there are lots of opportunities for visitors to travel into the Sahara from Dakhla

If time allows travelling south from Dakhla the National Park of Safia which stretches to the Mauritanian border is a haven for wild gazelles, antelope of which there are several species which are protected. Apparently the best time to see them is at night.

For a truly authentic Moroccan experience now is the time to visit Dakhla as it as yet undiscovered. At present there are no direct flights but this will hopefully change soon. Visitors from the UK need to change flights in Casablanca, spend a night there and then catch the 16.00 flight to Dakhla.

There are no trains and the bus is probably not an option for most visitors as CTM, the equivalent of the National Express, goes from Agadir to Dakhla and the journey is 1200 kilometres.

For more information about Morocco, click here.


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