The unspoiled landscape of Morocco’s Guelmim-Oued Noun

Between Guelmim and Tan-Tan on the Atlantic coast, the Plage Blanche offers captivating scenery of beaches, cliffs, estuaries, gorges, desert areas and oases.
Saturday 03/08/2019
A view of Asrir oasis from the hill.
A view of Asrir oasis from the hill.

GUELMIM - Known as the gateway to the desert, the Guelmim-Oued Noun region in western Morocco is a quiet tourist destination with unspoiled landscape and inexhaustible cultural riches because of the oases and historic trade road that linked Moroccan merchants with Timbuktu in the 19th century.

Some of its most famous oases are Asrir and Tighmart, which are, respectively, 7km and 15km from Guelmim. Their luscious fields ornamented by palm trees make them little heavens on Earth.

As soon as visitors reach Asrir, there is a sense the surrounding houses have been abandoned and life in the village is almost non-existent but not for long because children wearing FC Barcelona and Real Madrid jerseys soon appear to play football.

Decades-old palm trees, cactus plants and fertile green farms await visitors at the entrance of the oasis where serenity fills the air apart from the shallow water flowing down traditional falaj irrigation channels, which have been well-preserved through several generations.

However, the village lacks the proper infrastructure to accommodate tourists apart from very few cottages.

There are few hotels in Guelmim where tourists can stay, including the four-star Oasis Palm Hotel a few kilometres outside the city. Built as a kasbah about three years ago, the hotel organises excursions to Tighmart and to the Plage Blanche (White Beach), which is 60km from Guelmim, said hotel manager Hassan Bourayda.

“Our prices are very competitive because we seek to promote tourism in the Guelmim region,” said Bourayda.

Between Guelmim and Tan-Tan on the Atlantic coast, Plage Blanche offers a captivating scenery of beaches, cliffs, estuaries, gorges, desert areas and oases.

Tighmart is 8km farther from Guelmim and has better tourist infrastructure than Asrir. The oasis rosary of Tighmart, which was once the capital city of No Lamta, a major medieval capital of the north-western shores of the Sahara until the sixteenth century, has been proposed by Morocco for its inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

In 2017, the kingdom warned about the definite disappearance of the heritage unless rehabilitation measures were undertaken.

Former tourist guide Brahim Taharo set up a sustainable tourism project in Tighmart in 2009 by converting his grandfather’s crumbling house into a 10-room guest house he called Maison Nomades.

“My project is based on ecological tourism. We offer bio food to our customers and organise outings in the desert as part of our several activities to help them discover the beautiful surroundings of the region,” said Taharo.

The traditionally decorated rooms cost $15-$30 per night and pick-ups and drop-offs can be arranged from Guelmim and Agadir.

Taharo said his aim was to help the area benefit from sustainable tourism by employing residents and doing business with cooperatives while preserving the environment.

“Tourists have also the opportunity to explore our Sahrawi heritage through Guedra dance shows and storytelling,” he said.

Guedra is a traditional Sahrawi dance that has been preserved since ancient times in the Noun region. It is performed in festivities such as weddings and moussems.

A kasbah in the heart of Tighmart has been turned into a museum where the traditional artefacts, objects, paintings and photos tell the story of nomadism and Sahrawi culture.

Guelmim is famed for its camel market — the biggest in Morocco — every Saturday. Animal lovers can explore the trade of a fine selection of camels from all desert regions and learn about the traditions and tales of Sahrawis — also called “Blue Men of the Desert” — and the importance of camels in their culture and heritage.

Guelmim also presents a local craft industry through its leather goods, which mainly uses goat skins to make pouffes, bags and snuff boxes. Traditional Berber jewellery and carpet weaving are not left out. These are characterised by the simplicity of the patterns and the few colours used.

One of the Sahrawis’ distinctive customs is warm hospitality, with tea as the main drink served to guests, along with dried fruit. Watching tea being prepared could last several minutes before service because it is slowly brewed on coal to give a stronger flavour.

Guelmim is served by a state-of-the-art airport, which opened in January. Flights between Guelmim and the Canary Islands are to begin soon to enhance the city as an international destination and boost tourism in the Guelmim-Oued Noun region.