Ad Dakhla, Western Sahara

Photo: YoTuT from United States (Dakhla, Western Sahara  Uploaded by ecemaml) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo: YoTuT from United States (Dakhla, Western Sahara Uploaded by ecemaml) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Moroccans have a secret. They want everyone to think that Western Sahara, the disputed territory they occupy south of their border, is a vast, empty desert. In large part, that may be true. The arid, inhospitable land is one of the most sparsely populated areas in the world. Except on the coast. Just north of the Tropic of Cancer, there’s a little hideaway that attracts artists, wind-sport enthusiasts, and beach lovers.

Ad Dakhla is almost 600 miles south of El Aaiún, the territory’s capital. It would take forever to drive down the coast to this narrow peninsula that sits between the Atlantic Ocean and a tranquil lagoon. But Moroccans don’t drive here. They fly from Casablanca to one of only three paved runways in Western Sahara. Flights depart daily.

Like the rest of the territory, Ad Dakhla was colonized by the Spanish. They built a military fortress, a Catholic church, and, during the Spanish Civil War, a prison camp in this waterfront city. Much of it was demolished by the Moroccans. Ad Dakhla now has arcaded streets, whitewashed buildings, and mosques. Fishing boats line the docks. Windswept sand dunes stretch as far as the eye can see. Graceful greater flamingos wade through the lagoon. While the street shops, the cafés, and the seafood restaurants in the pedestrian-only area come alive at night.

Photo: Zenith Dakhla Kite Resort
Photo: Zenith Dakhla Kite Resort

After exploring the city—and eating more than your fair share of oysters—head north to the Zenith Dakhla Kite Resort. You may see lounging monk seals or playful bottlenose dolphins in the sheltered bay’s calm water along the way. The new resort is remote—yes, even more so—and strikingly modern. Its riads have slanted roofs and huge picture windows. Wetsuits are drying in the sun outside. While the spare interiors have platform beds, modern bathrooms, and outdoor tubs surrounded by stone walls.

You arrive just as the kitesurfers are returning from an exhausting day on the water. After stashing their gear, they excitedly fill you in on the wind, the waves, and the neat tricks they attempted and, in some cases, accomplished. You listen attentively over a Moroccan feast featuring some of the best seafood you’ve ever tasted. You watch the stars light up the sky and look for constellations you’ve never been able to see before. And you listen to the waves crash against the sand that has finally cooled off. Tomorrow it will be your turn to tackle those waves. If they’re what you expect, it’s going to be very hard to keep the Moroccans’ secret for them.

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