South into the Sahara

Laâyoune Plage and Port

To get to Laâyoune Plage, it will probably be necessary to hire a whole grand taxi, as the regular services go to the port. However, the beach itself is not very clean. Laâyoune Port, is a sand-swept phosphates port 25 km from Laâyoune with few café-restaurants but little else.

Smara

The town of Smara lies east of Laâyoune, 240 km along the road to Tan Tan (daily bus services). There is not much to attract the traveller along this route, except a liking for long desert journeys. Some 150 km further on towards Tan Tan, the settlement of
Abattekh
is the best place for a coffee break.

Smara is situated in one of the most inhospitable regions of southern Morocco. It was built by Sheikh Ma el Anin (The Blue Sultan - known for masterminding the resistance to the French and Spanish) in 1884-1885 and stood astride the great caravan route to Mauritania. It was a grandiose scheme, a town built from the local black granite on a rocky prominence some 6 m higher than the rest of the stone strewn plateau. Here stood the larger kasbah with the mosque (never completed), which was based on the Mezquita in Cordoba. The circular cupola, arcades and some of the pillars survive today. There was also a library and a Koranic school (for Sheikh Ma el Anin was a scholar), grain silos, a hammam and living quarters. The isolated, smaller kasbah was some 100 m away.

It was from this region that Sheikh Ma el Anin launched his last stand against the French, hoping to save at least the Souss and the far South from Roumi domination. He led his nomad forces north towards Fès to overthrow the sultan. The clash with French forces took place on the Tadla plain in 1910, the fighting lasted for all of June and July, the Saharan tribesmen were routed by superior French firepower. Exhausted, Ma el Anin fled south to Tiznit where he died in October. French vengeance was slow in coming, but terrible: one Colonel Mouret led a raid of reprisal on Smara in 1912, destroying the town.

Today, as the Reguibet leave behind their nomad ways, Smara is becoming an important centre. Though gradually sanding up, the oasis planted by Ma el Anin in the late 1890s still survives, as do the Spanish barracks. Today Smara is a big settlement, with petrol, banks, post office, hammam and half a dozen hotels, plus restaurants/cafés on the main street, Avenue Hassan II.

Boujdour and Dakhla

Dakhla is over 1000 km south of Agadir and almost on the Tropic of Cancer. To continue along the coastal road, there are lorries making the journey to Dakhla, and an ONCF bus service leaving Laâyoune. Boujdour, 199 km south of Laâyoune, is capital of the new province of Tiris el Gharbia, and has a fishing port and beach. Some 542 km south of Laâyoune, Dakhla is located on a spit with impressive beaches and cliffs. Under the Spanish, it was called Villa Cisneros. Today, it is a very minor administrative centre and a military outpost. There is ocean fishing (sea bass) and surfing.

Bay of Cintra

The Bay of Cintra, 120 km from Dakhla, is a wild and remote place where ocean-going turtles and rare monk seals can still be found. The shy seals, or 'sea wolves' were much hunted by the Portuguese back in the 15th century. Their meat was also highly appreciated by the local tribes. Today, the monk seal is almost extinct in the Mediterranean; here on the Moroccan Atlantic, they have a last quiet refuge at the foot of the cliffs of Cintra.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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