Some 544km from Laayoune, on a long spit of land, DAKHLA (formerly Villa Cisneros, capital of Spain’s Rio de Oro colony), is just 22km north of the Tropic of Cancer. Under Spanish rule, only the colonists and people working for them were allowed into town – the Saharawi nomads who lived in the desert were excluded. In 1975, the Spanish left and the Mauritanians moved in, to be replaced four years later by the Moroccans. Since then, Dakhla has grown somewhat, but it retains a lazy, sun-bleached atmosphere, with whitewashed, low-rise buildings and an easy-going feel. Europeans in camper vans head down in winter, drawn by the deserted beaches and year-round sunshine – even in January it’s hot, and this is the furthest south you can get by land without needing a visa. Dakhla has also been developing a small surfing scene, with windsurfing and kitesurfing increasingly popular pursuits at the northern end of the lagoon, and there are a couple of surfing supply shops in town.
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