The Sahara Desert is massive - likely seriously massive. It is the same size as the entire United States including Alaska. But it is much more than just shifting sand dunes, in fact, most of it is not sandy at all. Crossing the greatest desert in the world is an experience worth having and an adventure few get to experience.
There are numerous routes to cross the Sahara, but in this article, we will discuss the coastal Morroco, Western Sahara, Mauritania, and Senegal routes. This is a beautiful route that has the advantage of being much cooler than inland routes as for the most part one is on the coast and can feel the cool sea breeze.
Coastal Route Visas
- Morocco: Three Months Visa Free
- Western Sahara: Defacto Part Of Morocco (In 2020 The USA Recognised It As Part Of Morocco)
- Mauritania: One Month Visa On Arrival - Cost 55 Euros Or $60 (Cash Only)
- Senegal: Generally Visa Free (Otherwise Visa On Arrival)
In this article, we will describe crossing the Sahara from the Moroccan city of Marrakesh (we will likely write a whole article just on this stunning touristic city) to Dakar the capital of Senegal.
From Marrakesh To Mauritania
Distance Marrakesh To Dakar: 1,680 miles (2,700 km)
Marrakesh is the fourth largest city in Morocco and it sits on the transitional zone between the desert and the arable Mediterranean zone. After Marrakesh, things get much drier as you take the highway to the coast. Eventually, the road arrives at the coastal city of Agadir - this could be said to the last city frequented by tourists before we head into the remote desert.
State Of Coastal Highway In Morocco And Western Sahara: Sealed and in excellent repair
Western Sahara Population: 570,000
Largest City: Laayoune
Considered: Southern Provinces of Morocco by the Moroccan Government
Devoid of tourists the desert might be, but there are still cities all along this coast with many people calling it home. You will never have to worry about not finding accommodation, food, or fuel (just never pass a fuel station with less than half a tank of fuel).
Traveling further still and Tantan is the last major settlement in internationally recognized Morocco. Next is the largest city, Laayoune, of Western Sahara some 4 hours' drive away. Along this route, the Spanish Canary Islands are only around 60 miles off the coast! Take your time along this route and see the traditional fishermen living and fishing off the cliffs.
Now it's a six-hour drive through the desert to the next major city. This is the coastal city of Dakhla. By the time you get here, there may be an American mission there. Part of the agreement for America recognizing Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara was that America would establish a mission in Dakhla.
From here it's driving straight down to Mauritania.
The Moroccan/Mauritanian Border Crossing
This border is likely to be like nothing else you have seen in your life. Border crossings in this part of Africa are chaotic and it's advisable to hire a border-crossing assistant (there will be plenty coming to you). $20 or $30 is a reasonable amount to pay them. Chaos? Well, actually it's complicated but professional on the Moroccan side. But after that, you're in another world.
Between Morocco and Mauritania is the Polisario-controlled part of Western Sahara. Morocco considers them rebels, Algeria considers them freedom fighters. Most of the Western countries don't seem to have a strong opinion on the matter. But these two miles are littered with trucks and cars and all manner of chaos. There is no road here. Just drive the best you can and follow your helper. And don't worry about the Polisario, they won't bother you.
- Lunch Time: In this part of Africa, the border closes for two hours over lunchtime!
Then you reach the Mauritanian side. There are some important things to know and understand about Mauritania (which is officially the "Islamic Republic of Mauritania").
Things To Understand About Mauritania
- Alcohol: Alcohol is forbidden in Mauritania, do not bring any
- Religion: Be respectful of Islam
- Visa: Visa on arrival, be sure to have 55 Euros in cash per person
- Have: Lots of copies of your planned itinerary Mauritania
This is when you will be very very happy to have your helper. The crossing point is odd, to say the least on the Mauritanian side. Everything will be fine, just enjoy the unique experience and do what your helper tells you to do. Also, he will help you get SIM cards and exchange money.
- Population: 4.4 Million
- Capital: Nouakchott
- Official Languages: Arabic And French
In order for the Mauritanian government to track the tourists and so know where to look in case, they go missing, you need to give copies of your itinerary to the many police checkpoints along the road. Don't worry about the police they will help you.
Then you can reach the capital Nouakchott. Don't expect anything too glamorous in this poverty-stricken desert capital. But it will have everything you need. We recommend you explore Mauritania, it is a huge desert and sparsely populated country with many gems.
The Mauritania/Senegal Border Crossing
When you are ready to leave Mauritania, head south to the Senegalese border. This border crossing is chaos, the last border crossing was just a warm-up. Here you really must get a border crossing assistant. You also need to take the old ferry across the river into Senegal - there's no bridge.
Once you are in Senegal you have crossed the Sahara! Drive to the capital Dakar. Senegal is much more developed than Mauritania and the main roads are excellent. Dakar can be the end of your journey unless you push on in West Africa. Be sure to visit the Boba trees though!