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El Aaiún

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Travel Guide Africa Western Sahara El Aaiún

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Introduction

El Aaiún (Arabic: العيون) is the capital and the largest city of the Western Sahara, a territory occupied by Morocco since 1976. The city is located in the north of the country along the Atlantic coastline and has about 200,000 inhabitants. El Aaiún is also claimed by the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic as their capital. The city is the economic heart of the Western Sahara and has a mix of Moroccan and Sahrwai people, but not of particular interest for travellers. Most travellers are either travelling overland to West Africa or on a brief visit from southern Morocco.

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Sights and Activities

The main roads are lined by shops selling nondescript Moroccan goods, the bird park seems to be permanently closed and the adjoining tourism office is very well staffed but doesn't seem to have any ideas on how to spend your time.

You can view old Spanish outposts and the last remnants of their Empire in El Aaiún. A small handful of Spanish expatriates still live there.

The lagoon is pretty beautiful, with lots of birds. When entering the town from the north, about one km after the checkpoint, the road goes down a hill. Just before going up again, turn right onto the parking lot.

The beach is very popular with locals. It is a few miles away (follow road signs to "Laayoune Plage"), the road to it goes through one of the few places where one actually sees dunes in Western Sahara. Especially at sunset, the area is the meeting point for the local youth, with football being played at the beach and rallies/burnouts in the dunes.

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Weather

Temperatures in El Aaiún are somewhat tempered and generally are between 25 °C and 30 °C during the day and between 15 °C and 20 °C at night. With winds blowing directly east from the Sahara, also El Aaiun gets its fair share of hot days above 40 °C. Rainfall is sparse and unreliable but usually summers are virtually rainless while most of the rainy days are between November and March, but only a few each month.

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Getting There

By Plane

Hassan Airport (EUN) near El Aaiún receives most international flights, mainly from Agadir and Casablanca in Morocco (Royal Air Maroc and Regional Airlines) and to and from Las Palmas and several other seasonal flights from cities in Spain. Air Algérie has flights as well.

By Car

Road N1 from southern Morocco to El Aaiún is in good condition, check-points are frequent.

By Bus

Bus services connect El Aaiún to major transport hubs in southern Morocco, particularly Inezgane.

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Getting Around

El Aaiún's central sights can easily be explored on foot. Public transport is virtually non-existent with the exception of petit taxis that go anywhere in town (about 5-6 dirhams for a short hop, sometimes it is helpful to guide the driver using your smartphone map). Grand taxi services connect to El Aaiún port, El Aaiún plage and places further afield.

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Eat

Moroccan standard fare at most places, and nothing particularly noteworthy. Wonderfully beefy camel meat available at butchers around town, dates of excellent quality in the markets. Barbecue, fruit and bread are popular.

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Sleep

With the UN still having a pretty large presence here, there are lots of hotels but they are all pretty expensive compared to the rest of Morocco.

Much cheaper hotels, also preferred by Moroccans, can be found along the road due south, south of the airport (about 150-200 dirhams for a single room per night).

Hotel Parador on Rue Okba Ibn Nafia seems to have reopened after being used as an army base for years. Hotel Larkaoune is mainly occupied by UN troops, the atmosphere is gloomy, the service personnel try to avoid being helpful as far as possible.

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Keep Connected

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

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Contributors

as well as Hien (6%)

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This is version 11. Last edited at 15:01 on May 29, 17 by hasbeen. 5 articles link to this page.

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