Sitting on the Western edge of the Sahara desert and the edge of the Atlantic ocean is the Moroccan city of Laayoune. This desert town is reminiscent of the old times by being the last stop before you hit the more uninhabited areas of the alluring Sahara desert. It is one of my Morocco destination guides which aim to help you plan your time around Morocco.
It is the place to escape to where civilization ends and the desert begins beyond its gates for hundreds of kilometers. That is a place worth exploring.
If you’ve never been to Morocco and you are not sure what you’ll need for your trip, then this first-timer’s guide to Morocco should help you on your journey.
Laayoune is also referred to as El Aaiún in Morocco by Spanish speakers. The city is located in the North West of the Sahara and is the capital of the Laayoune province of Morocco.
Laayoune means ‘water sources’ in Arabic, referencing the natural oasis providing the town with its water supply. It’s also the largest city in the area and has the nickname ‘the city of sands’ due to the sands of the beach meets the sands of the Sahara.
El Aaiún itself is divided by the dried river of Saguia el-Hamra. The Southside of the town is mainly made up of the older buildings constructed by the Spanish colonists.
The city is moderately safe but be alert when walking around. This area is a disputed area between Morocco and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. There is a fairly large military presence from the UN in the area.
Laayoune is only 13km inland from the Atlantic ocean in the geographic region of Saguia el-Hamra. The city sits at the gates of the Sahara and is the most important city in the region, being the last stop before entering the uninhabited parts of the desert.
It is 500km south of Agadir and 400km West of Tindouf on the road to Dakhla. Off of the coast of Laayoune, 108km to be exact, in the Atlantic ocean are the Spanish Canary Islands.
With Laayoune being close to both the ocean and the desert, it is often the adventurous activities nearby that bring travelers to visit this remote city. Don’t come here and expect to have a list of activities to check off but if you’re interested in adventure and getting (far) off the beaten path, it’s worth checking out!
Located on the edges of the city is the beach of the river of Foum El Oued. It extends all the way to the Atlantic ocean. Less than 25km from the city, this excursion to the beach is the perfect way to cool down in the summer heat and enjoy the ocean breeze.
It is an ideal place to have a swim in the cool water and relax on the beach, escaping the city for a few hours. Don’t forget your beach bag to carry your supplies for the day with you.
This square in Laayoune city is buzzing with coffee shops, restaurants and plenty of street food stalls for all the food lovers. Sample some of the best local Moroccan food, such as harira or tagine.
This area is full of locals, so it is the perfect place to just relax, eat some dinner and soak in the atmosphere while engaging in a little people watching to witness Moroccan culture.
There is an oasis 19km from the city, Lamsayad, where the people of Laayoune gather to enjoy different desert activities, such as watching camel racing or bathing in the natural spring.
Remember, Laayoune is a desert city so you have to visit the Sahara when you go there. If you are unsure what you need to pack, you can read this guide on what to wear in the Sahara.
When it comes to staying in Laayoune, finding mid to high-level accommodation can be tough. This is because a lot of the hotels have blocks booked by UN personnel staying in the city. But, do not despair as there are still plenty of more traditional accommodation options available.
Are you wanting a taste of luxury in the Sahara? The Hotel Emilio Moretti is a 4-star hotel in Laayoune. It caters to those who want to be spoiled a little while on holiday. Don’t let the understated exterior fool you, the inside of this hotel is about as glamorous as it gets. With stunning rooms and mouth-watering food from its restaurant, you are taken to a new world.
Free wifi and a range of activities are available, one of which is diving. The hotel offers a 24-hour front desk to handle your requests, meeting facilities for those who couldn’t leave the office behind them, and even shops on-site. What more could you ask for?
For the traveler who wants a little comfort and attractions, you can call the Hotel Al Massira home for the duration of your trip. It has a nightclub to party the night away, two restaurants and a buffet breakfast to keep you fed and energized for your adventures.
The hotel is only a 10-minute drive away from Laayoune National Airport, so those late night arrivals will not be an issue. It really is a full-service experience, with a dedicated tour desk offering trips for hotel guests and free wifi throughout.
Tucked away in a quiet area of Laayoune is the Hotel San Mao Sahara, offering amazing service and most importantly, free wifi. They have a restaurant, a 24-hour front desk, and a terrace with a bar to enjoy drinks as you watch the sunset over the Sahara.
They have a host of activities available on-site and can arrange incredible experiences near to the hotel. For those who want a no-frills, simple place to just rest their head at night while exploring during the day, this hotel is perfect.
Laayoune is a place where few visitors to Morocco venture. Outside the city the sands of the Sahara desert meet the Atlantic ocean. Laayoune is the last outpost for civilization before you enter the arid Sahara.
This city takes you to the end of the modern world, the last frontier if you will.
With a beach suited for swimming, camel rides into the desert, authentic Morrocan food, and comfortable accommodation with wifi, what more could a modern traveler to El Aaiun, Morocco want?