Travel

Kitesurf the waves in unlikely Western Sahara

DAKHLA, WESTERN SAHARA : In the heart of disputed Western Sahara, a former garrison town has become an unlikely tourist magnet after kitesurfers discovered the windswept desert coast was perfect for their sport.

In Dakhla, an Atlantic seaport town punctuated with military buildings in Morocco-administered Western Sahara, swarms of kitesurfers now sail in the lagoon daily.

"Here there is nothing other than sun, wind and waves. We turned the adversity of the elements to our advantage - that is the very principle of kitesurfing," said Mr Rachid Roussafi, who founded the first tourist camp at the lagoon at the start of the 2000s after an international career in windsurfing and kitesurfing.

"At the time, a single flight a week landed in Dakhla," the 49-year-old Moroccan said.

Today, there are 25 a week, including direct flights from Europe.

Tourist numbers have jumped from 25,000 in 2010 to 100,000 today, with a target to reach 200,000 annual visitors.

Kitesurfing requires pricey gear - including a board, harness and kite - and the niche tourism spot attracts well-off visitors of all nationalities, with a week's holiday costing about €1,500 (S$2,249).

The exploits of kitesurfing champions like Brazilian Mikaili Sol and the Cape Verdean Airton Cozzolino were also widely shared online during the World Kiteboarding Championships in Dakhla last month.

But with the influx of tourists, the protection of the environment has become a major concern.

"Everything is developing so quickly... we need to recycle plastic waste and resolve the issue of wastewater," said Mr Roussafi. - AFP

TOURISM & TRAVEL