Infinity pool and the Bangkok city skyline from The Residences at Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok, Thailand. Nicolas Axelrod / Bloomberg
Krakow is understated, charming and has an air of melancholy about it. You can feel the history pulsing through the small streets, decades after they were home to some of history’s most extraordinary events.
Though I was only here for two days, Krakow left an impression on me. The main areas to explore are Stare Miasto, which translates to the Old Town, and Kazimierz, the Jewish Quarter.
To go even further into the city’s emotional past, cross the Vistula River and find Schindler’s Factory. Here you’ll get a feel for a less gentrified area. While history is very evident in this small city, you can tell that residents have gone through great lengths to rebuild its bones and core.
Marchewka z Groszkiem serves as the perfect entry to a couple of days in Krakow. Night number one brought me to this dark, candlelit, traditional restaurant. I chose to try the dumplings stuffed with spinach and cheese.
The menu is full of country staples like Polish soups and meat and trout variations, all worth trying at some point while visiting this country.
Vegan sushi is a pure contradiction, but it absolutely worked here. Right in the heart of the Jewish Quarter is the small but funky Youmiko Sushi, churning out some of the most excellent tasting sushi creations I’ve come across.
The fact that all of this is done sans fish makes it all the more impressive and unique. A must try.
As would be expected, there are several Israeli restaurants to be found in Krakow. The one I went to was Hamsa, found behind the brick walls right in the center of Kazimierz.
The dedication to hummus is overly apparent, but the food is solid enough to push that aside. The great atmosphere makes for a very enjoyable lunch backdrop.
The Polish milk bars are ex-Socialist era workers’ canteens. In their previous incarnations they were run as government subsidized cafes where workers could get a good, nutritious and affordable meal.
The first milk bar was set up in 1896, and the trend has continued into present day Krakow. Milkbar Tomasza gives you a fun and interesting back in the day feel worth experiencing.
These are two bars you should make a stop at. Alchemia is a cocktail bar reminiscent of decades past.
Forum Przestrazenie gives a look into a modern and changing Krakow, set up for those looking to have some drinks in lounge chairs as the sun sets on the water’s edge.
Come explore the island of Antigua! Snorkeling in the Caribbean on Reef Riders, Shirly Heights view point , St. Johns and more!
Chase the Race sailing race in Antigua! It’s Sailing Week and we are in for some epic boat rides! Come dance to Reggie in the Park and explore Antigua & Barbuda!
Western Sahara is a disputed region in North Africa and is not a recognized country. About 80% of the territory is controlled by Morocco and 20% makes up the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. There is a sand wall that separates the two regions.
From what I’ve gathered, after the Spanish gave up control of this entire territory in 1975, Morocco and Mauritania shared control, with the native Sahrawi people lacking the power needed to take over their claimed homeland. Eventually, amidst fighting, Mauritania moved out of the region and Morocco reinforced its presence. Western Sahara has been a disputed territory ever since, with most of the Sahrawi people living in and operating from refugee camps in Western Algeria.
Dakhla is under Moroccan control, with Moroccan military checkpoints throughout the area and Moroccan government buildings and flags clearly displaying their presence. However, Morocco’s sovereignty over the territory has yet to be recognized by the international community.
Some people consider the entire region to be Western Sahara, while others (such as the Moroccan government) consider the Moroccan controlled portion to be Morocco or Moroccan Sahara and only the area under the control of the Sahrawi Republic to be Western Sahara.
Like many places, the history and current situation is complicated.
Most people arrive via flight from either Casablanca or Agadir or overland from Morocco or Mauritania. Entry requirements are the same as Morocco given its control over Dakhla and 80% of Western Sahara. As a result, you do not need a visa if you have a passport from the UK, EU, USA, Canada, Australia or New Zealand and you can stay in the region for 90 days. Other nationalities should check for the latest information as you might need to apply in advance for a visa.
The very small airport is actually in the center of town. It’s about a 3 minute drive to any hotel. When you arrive you will go through a quick immigration check and then be on your way. Taxis and drivers are waiting outside the one exit and are easy to find. Overall, arriving and departing at the airport is very simple as there are only a couple of flights per day, either to Casablanca, Agadir or Las Palmas, Gran Canaria.
You can also arrive via land from the north (Morocco) or the south (Mauritania). I did not cross the land borders but from what I’ve heard, it’s a standard immigration check to enter the region.
In Dakhla, the currency used is Moroccan dirhams. There are several ATMs in town and a few money exchange offices as well. There are also two ATMs at the airport in the arrivals hall. Most restaurants and smaller businesses will not accept credit cards so cash is important to have.
Languages spoken in Western Sahara include Hassaniya Arabic, Moroccan Arabic, Spanish and French. In Dakhla itself, there wasn’t much Spanish spoken, mostly Arabic and French. Very little English is spoken but people are friendly and will certainly do their best to communicate.
Western Sahara is a disputed territory and as a result, there is always the possibility of conflict and political demonstrations. You should check for the latest information on safety, via local and government websites, to assess any potential danger. With that said, Morocco’s heavy military presence in Dakhla itself does keep things relatively quiet. From what I was told by those I met in the region, Dakhla is quite safe in terms of regular crime.
The main thing to watch out for is dehydration and a constant dry and dusty wind during the spring and winter that can really take its toll on you.
Guesthouse Dar Rio Oro – There aren’t many decent sleeping options in Dakhla but this one was as solid as the reviews stated. Good sized rooms in a cozy building across the street from the water, centrally located and with a friendly Arabic, French and Spanish-speaking owner who can assist with organizing a day trip into the desert. Rooms are approximately $40 USD per night, breakfast included. (Request a room with a private bathroom and this view!)
After walking around for 1 week, the only other accommodation that looked decent were the Hotel Albaraka ($100 USD per night) and Hotel Mansour ($80 USD per night), both in the center of town. However, I don’t see any reason to pay those prices when you can get the Dar Rio Oro for less than half.
*If you use this link to book accommodation, you’ll save up to $30 on your booking (and I’ll receive $20 as well): Booking.com discount
There’s a handful of restaurants in town and you can always head into one of the bakeries for a sandwich, pastry or quiche as well. The main market, while quiet, does have some stalls serving prepared food.
I ate most of my meals at the friendly Ikram’s. This small restaurant is in the exact center of town at the main traffic light and offers simple, inexpensive and tasty soups, wraps, grilled meats and fish and salads. A hearty meal costs about 50 dirhams ($5 USD). The place only has about 6 tables but seemed to be popular compared to other restaurants. Across the street is the decent Restaurant Bahia, again, with simple offerings that were, in my opinion, not as good as Ikram’s.
For proper restaurants, there is the Villa Dakhla, offering typical Moroccan dishes as well as international food at a premium price. The setting is great, right on the water and they do serve alcohol. Casa Luis serves up good Spanish-Moroccan cuisine and Chez N’Tifi, on the edge of the town center, is an excellent option for cheap, local fare. Casa Lola and Samarkand were also both recommended but I never tried them.
In the evenings, many tea shops open up in town, although most remain pretty empty. If you find one with patrons, it’s a good chance to enjoy some Moroccan tea while trying to interact with locals who will certainly be curious about you.
Dakhla is small! You can walk everywhere and anywhere in this town. You can even walk from the airport to the town center in about 18 minutes. If you want to visit the outskirts, which include the opposite coast, the lighthouse or the nearest beach, you might want to take a taxi.
Taxis are shared and you simply wave one down, although you might have to wait a while for one to actually pass. Then, just tell the driver your destination and get in. They’ll get you there eventually, probably picking up and dropping off another person or two along the way. At the end, you hand over 15 dirhams ($1.58 USD) and you’re good. If you’re taking a taxi to the Beach KM 25 or the popular windsurfing area, located about 20-25 minutes north of town, you’ll have to negotiate a price ahead of time.
In Dakhla itself, there isn’t much. Lighthouse, market and Oum Lbouer, the closest beach which is about 10 minutes drive out of town.
North of Dakhla, about 20 minutes, is Beach 25 (at KM 25 on the main road) on the edge of the Dakhla Lagoon. This spot marks the start of an area that is popular with those interested in windsurfing or kitesurfing. You can actually stay out here at one of the windsurfing camps, such as Ocean Vagabond, which offer bungalows and a restaurant/bar near the water (they range from budget to quite upscale). The main downside is that apart from the beach and windsurfing camps, there is nothing else around. If you’re really into windsurfing or kitesurfing, it’s perfect. If you’re just curious, it’s best to stay in Dakhla and spend an afternoon out here.
The desert and mainland coast! If you gain anything from this guide to Dakhla, it should be the need to hire a driver with a 4×4 vehicle and let them take you off the peninsula and show you the surrounding desert and the untouched coast. It’s some of the most inhospitable land on the planet but with that comes some of the most stunning and surreal landscapes I’ve ever seen in my 19 years of travel (it even rivals the unbelievable Socotra Island). We’re talking off-roading in the rough, barren Sahara, gorgeous white sand beaches without a soul around, 100 meter tall sand dunes rising out of the water, massive sweeping plains of soft pink sand and so much more.
I’ll be posting more about this in my next post, complete with videos and photos such as this one…
(The owner of Guesthouse Dar Rio Oro organized my driver. It was actually her neighbor, Sidi, a really kind guy that charged a reasonable $80 USD for a 10 hour adventure all over the mainland.)
Check out my post Travel to Dakhla: Straight Into the Unknown for the complete story.
If you have any questions after reading this guide to Dakhla, just let me know!
Imagine an eerily quiet town in North Africa, set at the edge of the Sahara Desert, right in the middle of an impossibly narrow peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean. Imagine a harsh and constant 40 kmh wind blowing into your face, with sand flying around, caught up in the gusts, and going straight into your eyes and mouth.
Looking around, you find empty intersections and very few vehicles on the streets, and you quickly notice that there’s barely any people walking around either. When someone does glide by in the distance, in their traditional hooded robe or cloth covered face to protect themselves from the elements, you wonder where the other people could possibly be.
Imagine a town with seemingly little connection to the outside world, as if it were located on an entirely different planet altogether.
Welcome to Dakhla, Western Sahara.
The reason I decided to travel to Dakhla, Western Sahara (or Moroccan Sahara depending on who you talk to) was a random one. I was in Casablanca, Morocco and I had 8 days before I needed to be in London to meet up with my girlfriend. I searched for flights to all kinds of cities and suddenly, I saw Dakhla on the map. It was a relatively short distance away by plane, the fare was quite inexpensive and I knew absolutely nothing about the place.
It seemed like the perfect destination and I booked my ticket.
On my first afternoon in Dakhla, I found myself sitting on a bench in the middle of an empty, yet brand new, concrete boardwalk along the water. I zipped up my windbreaker and stared out in front of me, across the Dakhla Bay, with the faintest view of the mainland far away in the background.
After 10 minutes, a man walked by, we nodded, and he sat down at another bench. The wind pounded my head. I sat in disbelief at how little activity was around me. Where were the people? What was I supposed to do here?
And I started to wonder if my decision to travel to Dakhla was a good one.
Time passed, the wind howled, the sun began to set. And before long, perhaps as the sky turned from blue to bright pink, I began to perk up.
I don’t know what triggered it exactly but I soon made an important realization that would change my perspective.
It’s actually quite exhilarating to not know. There’s something special about having no clue whatsoever about where you are and what there is to do. If I was going to make the most of my time in Dakhla, I needed to find the people, I needed to bust out some horrendous French and try to communicate, I needed to start asking questions and creating my experience.
What I really needed was to go back in time 15 years, to those days when we didn’t have access to all kinds of information and had no choice but to show up in a new city without knowing what to expect. Sure, I could have looked up some information about Dakhla and its surroundings but I didn’t really have time and there really isn’t that much information out there anyway.
Prior to my trip, all I had done was book a room.
And so it went. I transported myself back to the good old days.
I asked the guesthouse owner for recommendations. I talked to the woman in the bakery and the man at the travel agency that I had mistaken for a tourism office. I tried my best to communicate, in my horrendous French and so-so Spanish, with the waiter at the small local restaurant and with the man selling fruit on the side of the road.
And in the end…I got nothing. Nada. Rien du tout.
Turns out, there really isn’t much to do when you travel to Dakhla. As my guesthouse owner bluntly put it, “there’s nothing going on here at all.”
There’s a lighthouse (that was closed), a market (that was quite empty) and a main square that was as desolate as could be. The beach in town was all torn up and under some kind of construction. There were tea shops but they were almost all without any tea drinkers.
The experience was raw, and fascinating in its own way. It was an old school trip straight into the unknown.
By Day 3, I had a routine. I woke up in my comfy room at the Guesthouse Dar Rio Or and went upstairs to the owner’s apartment. Here they served me a large breakfast of coffee, eggs and several kinds of bread, which I ate on my own of course as I was naturally the only guest. Two hours of work on the little balcony off my room. Three hours of roaming around town, an afternoon rest and an evening wander along the water, with a simple dinner at one of the simple eateries.
On paper, and based on my description above, it would seem that there is little reason to travel to Dakhla.
But on the other hand…
…when’s the last time you’ve been in a city and you were the only traveler there? How often can we visit a place that is completely without tourism infrastructure or tourism influence and is as real as it gets?
Dakhla is eerily quiet. The wind really does hurt. You’ll inhale a good amount of sand, too. You’ll spend a lot of time sitting on benches, sipping tea and pondering life, not because you’re in the middle of a spiritual awakening but because, again, there is nothing else to do.
However, when a local sits next to you on the bench, when the baker smiles, when the shoesmith offers to show you how he makes his shoes…when the kids kick you the football, when the taxi driver doesn’t want to drop you off because he can’t believe a foreigner is in his taxi, when nobody tries to rip you off…when a market seller realizes you’re not from these parts and you share a laugh after they tried to sell you a live chicken, when you stare out at the Bahia de Dakhla and your mind drifts into a state of pure peace and quiet…
…you won’t want to leave. Okay, I did want to leave, but I was definitely happy I visited!
To be outside the normal influences of tourism was invigorating, challenging and rare. And as a result, such an experience can only be positive.
Here’s my Quick Guide to Dakhla post where I talk about entry/visas, safety, accommodation, where to eat, what to do and more.
If you plan to travel to Dakhla and have any questions, just let me know!
The post My Travels to Dakhla, Western Sahara: Straight Into the Unknown appeared first on Wandering Earl.
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