Tarfaya – on the edge of Morocco and Western Sahara

Tarfaya – on the edge of Morocco and Western Sahara

adventure travel & photography

Destinations: Pakistan ◦◦ India ◦◦Turkey ◦◦ Egypt ◦◦ Bulgaria ◦◦ Mongolia ◦◦ Bangladesh ◦◦ Jordan ◦◦ Russia ◦◦ Turkmenistan ◦◦ Iran ◦◦ Kazakhstan ◦◦ Japan ◦◦ Hong Kong ◦◦ Greece ◦◦ Ukraine ◦◦ Syria ◦◦ Morocco ◦◦ Italy ◦◦ Mauritania ◦◦ Oman ◦◦ Algeria ◦◦ Faroe Islands ◦◦ Indonesia ◦◦ Uzbekistan ◦◦ Ghana ◦◦ Togo

The story

Here, on the edge of the Sahara Desert, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote his novel Southern Mail. This is also where the idea for his most famous work — The Little Prince — was born. The French writer's residence and work there, combined with the lack of information about the place online, convinced me to visit in person. The small, dusty town is located near the undefined border between Morocco and Western Sahara, about 700 km from Marrakech in the Kingdom's far southwest corner.

There was almost no traffic on the road. On one side lay the sea, on the other the desert. Nothing remarkable, yet it felt surreal. Rare cars and trucks drove down the one-lane road. My thoughts were only interrupted by the occasional vehicle passing by. Sometimes the distance between them was so small that my adrenaline kicked in. I was fined for not obeying a stop sign at a roundabout in the middle of nowhere. I hadn't even noticed the policeman parked nearby in his car. After taking the money, he gave me a pink receipt written in Arabic and let me go.

I had almost imperceptibly arrived at Sidi Akhfennir, a dusty desert town with a few small restaurants and a hotel. The military patrol jotted down my ID information in a grimy notebook. It is widely known that journalists and photographers are not welcome in Western Sahara. Even though I am neither a photographer nor a journalist, I concealed my camera just to be safe.


They wished me "good luck" and let me go. I wondered, "Why do I need luck?" I had read that the last incident in the region had occurred in November 2011, when three Europeans working on a humanitarian mission in a refugee camp near Tindouf in western Algeria had been kidnapped. I was sure nothing like that would happen to me.

Salt Fields of Khenifiss National Park appeared, with the Naïla Lagoon and the pink flamingo. I stopped often to enjoy the desert and the ocean. The sea took on a bluish hue and the landscape definitely took on more pastel tones. At any moment I expected the Little Prince to appear in front of me, sitting on a stone by the side of the road.

“Please draw me a sheep,” he says.

“I cannot draw,” I replied. “But I promise to send you a photo of a sheep because I like taking pictures and I have a nice camera.”

The imaginary conversation helped me avoid falling asleep during the boring drive. Then I arrived in Tarfaya.


I wandered the dusty streets of this forsaken place, picturing Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in the small post office room where he worked in the 1920s. It occurred to me that writing could be a feasible endeavour in such a place.

I imagined the small planes landing near the post office. At the time, planes couldn't fly long distances without refueling, so post offices were scattered throughout West Africa. Here, the crews could rest, refuel, and get food. Tales of planes crashing in the desert and their crews being kidnapped by hostile nomadic tribes were common. This may have been why the great writer called this place "the pure idea of nothingness." I felt the same. To confirm this feeling of emptiness and isolation, the museum dedicated to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was closed, much to my dismay.


The vastness of the beaches and ocean surrounding the city further reinforced the feeling of boundlessness and seclusion. Even the children playing football and surfing on the beach couldn't diminish this sensation. The semi-submerged Casa Mar (House in the Sea) stands out, reminiscent of a surreal film. This peculiar structure was actually built by Scottish trader Donald Mackenzie in the late 19th century.


I felt like the people hanging around weren’t far off the idea of grabbing my camera and hitting me on the head with it while running on the beach, only to make fun of me. Of course, they weren’t that wild, but I just felt it that way.


While walking on the outskirts of town, I saw the wreck of the "Assalam" ship owned by the Spanish company Naviera Armas. It sailed regularly between Puerto del Rosario in Fuerteventura (Canary Islands) and Tarfaya. The bad weather was believed to be the main cause of the incident, but experts are still unsure if it was the only reason.

The "Assalam" was a 42-year-old Panamanian-flagged ship with a Cuban crew. It remains a mystery why the passengers spent 24 hours without help, money, or food on the deserted African coast. In the rush to abandon the ship, nothing was taken. They couldn't make calls due to lack of money. The scandal that followed was immense.


I sat on a small pile of sand in front of the wreck. A line from Exupéry's Little Prince came to mind: "People start out in express trains, but they no longer know what they're looking for. Then they get all excited and rush around in circles..." I thought my trip to Tarfaya looked like a rush around in circles.


Travel to Morocco

I organize and lead small groups to Morocco through my licensed travel agency "Thousand Voyages" Ltd.

You can find out more about the guided tours here.

A list of all scheduled tours can be found here.