Few travellers venture south of Goulimine unless bound for Mauritania or Senegal. Certainly, the dead-end administrative town of Tan Tan has few attractions, though surfers in particular may want to check out the rather more appetizing beach resort of Tan Tan Plage. The last town in Morocco proper, Tarfaya, is really just a sleepy little fishing village that sometimes gives the impression of having been all but forgotten, but it has a charmingly lazy air about it. Once over the demarcation line into the Western Sahara, things change, and the towns of Laayoune, Boujdour and Dakhla, are bright, modern places by comparison, settled by pioneering Moroccans enticed with state subsidies. Smara is the only really historical site in the territory.
Of more interest to many travellers than the towns of the region is the surrounding landscape, and you are sure spend much of your time here travelling across vast, bleak tracts of hammada (stony desert); there’s certainly no mistaking that you’ve reached the Sahara proper. Returning, if you don’t fancy a repeat of the journey, there are flights from Dakhla and Laayoune to Agadir or the Canary Islands. And once you’ve reached Dakhla, Dakkar and Banjul are actually as close as Marrakesh and Casablanca.
Although the area covered by this chapter was all formerly under Spanish rather than French colonial rule, French has now almost entirely replaced Spanish as the dominant second language throughout the region.
The region’s economic importance was long thought to centre on the phosphate mines at Boukra, southeast of Laayoune. However, these have not been very productive in recent years, and the deposits are not especially rich by the standards of the Plateau des Phosphates east of Casablanca. In the long term, the rich deep-water fishing grounds offshore are likely to prove a much better earner. This potential is gradually being realized with the development of fishing ports at Laayoune, Dakhla and Boujdour, together with industrial plants for fish storage and processing.