El Aaiun is city in northern Western Sahara. It is the capital and has a population approaching 200,000.
Bus services connect El Aaiún to major transport hubs in southern Morocco, particularly Inezgane. Road N1 from southern Morocco to El Aaiún is in good condition, checkposts are frequent. Royal Air Maroc flies into El Aaiún from Casablanca, Agadir and Dakhla. There are regular buses from Marrakech. Binter Canarias flighs from the Canary Islands several times a week.
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.
The main roads are lined by shops selling non-descript 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.
Desert and deserted beaches are aplenty.
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.
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 MAD150 to MAD200 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.
It is easy to see all the sights and sounds of El Aaiún one day. However, with the Sahara all around and the ocean nearby, it is easy to link a trip here with some other cities:
- Tarfaya - Only a couple hours north via bus lies the small port village of Tarfaya, Morocco.
- Smara - Travelling deeper into the Sahara one finds this growing village. It features remains of a fortress, and is the only regional town not founded by the Spanish.