Western Sahara Geography

By | November 26, 2021

Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR). Western Sahara or Spanish, which extends from the Draa River to the Güera in the Peninsula of the Cabo Blanco in its Atlantic ridge is limited within political boundaries, which are to the north the Kingdom of Morocco, separated by the Uad Draa and to the south with Mauritania. Part of the Great Desert or Sahara, with which it shares its characteristics of a warm subtropical desert, which here softens the ocean. The main city in Western Sahara has always been Laâyoune, or Aaiún, as the Spanish colonizers called it. This was the capital of the colony and then the country, thus making the northern province, Saguia el Hamra, the most economically active region (also close to the Spanish peninsula and the Canary Islands). In the south of the country, Dâkhla was the capital of the province of Río de Oro and a major seaport for the colony. Other large urban centers are Smara in the interior of Saguia el Hamra and Bojador in the coastal area between Laâyoune and Dâkhla. Laâyoune is currently occupied by some 150,000 Moroccans, making it the largest city in Western Sahara, while the Tindouf area in Algeria is home to most of the Saharawi population.


As a country starting with letter W listed on COUNTRYAAH, Western Sahara includes Saguia el Hamra in the north and Wadi ed Dahab (River of Gold) in the south. It is located between the parallels 20º and 30º around the Tropic of Cancer. It borders Morocco to the north, Algeria to the east, Mauritania to the southeast and the Atlantic Ocean to the west.

Western Sahara can be divided into three regions:

  • Northeast area, from the Atlas mountain chain to the Zemmour hills which is a rocky desert (hamadas) with steep mountains and a pronounced relief except for some scattered wells.
  • River area, the Wadi Draa to the north and the Jat to the west.
  • The Río de Oro zone is inland and consists of plains and sand dunes. The land is too permeable to hold the autumn waters and too flat to allow them to flow, therefore the water accumulates in the subsoil forming numerous wells.

Dakhla has an average annual rainfall of only 45mm. On the coast, vegetation and flora are abundant thanks to the humidity. In the interior, one finds the typical flora of the steppe and the desert; some locusts along the wadis and scrub in the sand depressions. To the south, there is a small fauna and to the southwest, mainly fennecs, antelope and gerbids.

The climate is dry and with pronounced thermal differences, although it is softened by the maritime influence. In the interior the winters are dry and the summers extremely hot with temperatures reaching 60º in the shade. Its typology is determined by zones, with the coastal zone having some drizzles and the interior stormy rains without periodicity.

These regions have in common the fact that they are desert or semi-desert climatic zones. However, these three regions present notable differences between them in terms of their geological structure, the existence of water in the subsoil and the vegetation. Western Sahara has a relatively rich flora and fauna.


The vegetation is made up of xerophilous forms, adapted to dryness, where shrubs and bushes have large roots and adopt fleshy tissues that conserve moisture. This type of vegetation offers berries and wild fruits that are highly appreciated by the Sahrawis. There are humid areas such as graras (depressions of variable size, the result of water infiltrations that end up causing the land to sink) and dry rivers, which are the richest in vegetation. In these places it is easy to find acacias, grasses such as wheat and barley, woody and herbaceous plants such as burro melon or turya.

There are many regions such as the prairie or acheb and the areas with slight depressions of the land where the land accumulates that have traditionally allowed rudimentary agriculture, complementary to the commercial-artisan activity, and the grazing and raising of livestock, mainly goats and sheep..

Rocky places have almost non-existent plant life. In steep areas and areas with permanent humidity, the vegetation diversifies and becomes more dense and constant, with an abundance of grasses, reeds and fig trees.


Like the other African countries that are crossed by the great Sahara desert, the Sahrawi territory has the camel or dromedary as a characteristic and identifying animal of its area.

The territory of Western Sahara has abundant types and varieties of birds, because it is located in an important route of migrations of birds from Europe to Sub-Saharan Africa. The ostrich has always been the most characteristic bird of the Sahara. Before colonization this bird was very abundant, however today it is totally extinct and hardly any specimens can be found in Mauritania.

Currently there are mammals such as the fox, the fennec, the cheetah, the lynx, the hyena or the jackal, as well as other smaller species, such as hares, mice, hedgehogs and shrews, among others.

In addition, there are different species of snakes, some of them poisonous such as lefa, and a few turtles live in the areas near the coast.

Western Sahara Geography