The Atlantic Route is the most popular trans-Saharan route, and is likely to become even busier as the tarmac nears completion. As the work progresses, things are likely to change – which they do regularly in this part of the world anyway! This information is correct at the time we passed this way in December 2004 – any subsequent updates will be reflected in the date at the bottom of the page. Please bear in mind that we may not have remembered/written things down correctly, and that we are cyclists so any comments made regarding cars or 4WDs are educated guesses at best! Above all, it’s best to get information from as many sources as possible – Sahara Overland is a great source of information.
We’ve split the information here into three sections – the road from Laayoune south to the border between Western Sahara and Mauritania (mainly concerned with locations of food, fuel and water); the border crossing and road to Nouadhibou; and the new road from Nouadhibou to Nouakchott. Information especially useful to cyclists is highlighted in red.
South from Laayoune to the border.
The road is good tarmac all the way, distances on the Michelin map are reasonably accurate but sometimes out by 20-25km or so. Here we list what we found in terms of food, water and fuel, but it may change by the time you get there – use this information at your own risk! Drivers will probably find this more detailed than they need. Fuel means diesel and leaded petrol unless we say otherwise.
Lemsid/Lemseyed/Lamhsid – 110km from Laayoune – good café/restaurant, shop, boulangerie, fuel and water.
Boujdour – 188km from Laayoune – sizeable town with three hotels (Al Qods is good value), market, several shops, banks and restaurants. Fuel and water.
Small café and ?water – 135km from Boujdour.
Poste de Police – 145km from Boujdour – small café and filling station.
Echtoukan – 175km from Boujdour – although marked the same way as Boujdour is on the Michelin map, this is only a café and fuel station, with a well-stocked shop, good food and water available.
Small village – 280km from Boujdour – café, fuel and probably water.
PK40 – junction to Dakhla, 305km from Boujdour, 40km before Dakhla – café, well-stocked shop, good food, water and fuel.
El Argoub – 40km from PK40 – cafés and water near poste de police. Fuel station 5km further on has no café or water, but does have diesel and petrol.
Chicas – 53km from El Argoub – small village with café, well-stocked shop, water and fuel.
Barbas – 210km from El Argoub, 90km north of Mauri border – hotel, café/restaurant, fuel and well-stocked but overpriced shop, water available. This is the last water before Nouadhibou.
The Border Crossing.
Formalities for cyclists at the border are very quick and easy on both sides.
There were no suggestions of bribes and no hassle at all – everyone was very friendly. It seemed to take longer for cars and motorbikes but no-one appeared to have any real problems. We did have to fill in currency declaration forms, but no-one seemed to be interested in what we put on there. Here is the process in detail:
Moroccan formalities take place at Fort Guerguerat, 90km south of Barbas and about 250km south of the Dakhla turning. The buildings you need are on the left of the road as you approach, and the first one is customs -cyclists don’t need to call here
. Passport control is a small fenced hut a little further along, where you need an exit stamp. Then there is 7km of tarmac before the first Mauritanian checkpoint – just police taking your passport details, no stamps. After that comes the piste – 4km of sandy braided tracks. Apparently all the mines are now cleared, and we crossed from one track to another to find an easier route, although following closely in a local’s footsteps. It may be worth taking the left fork when the road splits into three around the halfway point but we saw 2WDs coming through both ways – <font ‘=”” color=”red” size=”2″ face=”arial”>if you’re cycling, you’ll be pushing a lot either way as the sand is too deep to ride. Head for the two huts on the skyline, the first is a police checkpoint, then immigration who will check your visa and documents and finally customs, where everyone has to stop in order to do currency declaration. Definitely worth keeping some Euros or Dollars to one side as black market rates in Nouakchott are at least 10% above official rates if you bargain (officially 345UM to the Euro at the moment, can get 390UM easily).
From here, it’s tarmac all the way to Nouadhibou, except a 5km diversion just before you enter the town – this may well be finished by now but if not it’s good piste. About 10km from the Mauritanian border post you cross the railway and come to a junction, left to Nouakchott (430km, see below), right to Nouadhibou (45km).
Nouadhibou to Nouakchott – the “New Road”.
Apparently there’s another five or six months work to go on this road, but locals seem pessimistic that it’ll be finished by then. There certainly doesn’t seem to have been much progress since November on the middle sections. Plenty of locals do the trip in 2WDs, but we only saw tourists in Land Cruisers or on motorbikes. <font ‘=”” color=”red” size=”2″ face=”arial”>Despite what you’ll be told in Nouadhibou it is possible to cycle, although it is very hard work and not to be undertaken lightly. There are supplies along the way, but the locations are bound to change and prices are very high – if you can, take all food supplies with you from Nouadhibou or preferably Western Sahara! The following distances are from the Dakhla/Nouadhibou/Nouakchott junction near the railway line, 10km south of the border. We’ve included GPS co-ordinates (WGS 84 Datum) as they’re more likely to be useful here than elsewhere.
0km – junction – N21°17.14′ W016°53.50′ – tarmac from here.
9km – tarmac ends, piste starts, rocky with some sand – N21°16.76′ W016°48.33′.
11km – piste ends, tarmac for 7km – N21°16.73′ W016°47.43′.
18km – piste starts again, some sandy sections – N21°16.59′ W016°43.01′ – piste for 55km.
26km – small shop, water, biscuits, tins, at high prices. Camping nearby – N21°17.17′ W016°38.48′.
38km – large industrial area, restaurant and auberge. Police checkpoint and road turns S – N21°17.62′ W016°31.95′.
73km – end of piste, good tarmac for 235km – N21°03.31′ W016°20.05′. There are shops and restaurants every 30-50km along this section.
133km – Auberge/camping Haiballah. Run by a friendly Mauritanian, food and drinks available at high prices.
270km – signposted “turning” to Banc D’Arguin – just a faint piste – N19°25.10′ W016°02.66′.
308km – end of tarmac, sandy piste for 84km – N19°07.93′ W016°08.49’. <font ‘=”” color=”red” size=”2″ face=”arial”>After a short distance, cyclists can cut across to the foundations of the new road which is much less sandy but still quite hard going with piles of rubble every km or so which necessitate leaving the road. You’ll make faster progress than on the piste though.
320km – police checkpoint and shops.
337km – restaurant and water.
392km – end of piste, tarmac to Nouakchott – N18°24.79′ W016°00.86’.
430km – outskirts of the city.
On the whole, the second half of the piste is easier than the first. We took five days to cycle this from Nouadhibou – if you are fit, lightly laden and really went for it four days might be possible.