Visiting the ‘Gateway to the Sahara’

Located in Guelmim-Es Semara region of southern Morocco, Guelmim is both the region’s largest city and its capital. Alternatively spelled Guelmine, Goulimine, Guelmime and Glaimim, the city considers itself to be the ‘Gateway to the Sahara’ and is the point at which the N1 and N12 highways cross, linking it to the neighboring region of Souss-Massa-Drâa. The majority of the citizens of Guelmim speak the Hassaniya dialect of Arabic, originally spoken by the Beni Hassan nomadic tribes that dominated the region from the 15th to 17th century.

Apart from the familiar palm tree groves, visitors to Guelmim will find that it is quite different from other Moroccan cities. As a relatively new city it has developed its own style and most buildings are painted in a brick red color, with sand colored edgings around the windows and few embellishments. Buildings are two or three storeys high with small windows to keep out the heat and sun. The large central square is lined by buildings with archways and verandahs providing some shade. A round fountain with water cascading down a series of round saucer-like platforms stands in the center of the square.

There is a permanent market in Guelmim, catering more for locals than tourists, but is nonetheless interesting to browse through. Guelmim is well known for its weekly camel market, and once a year it hosts a camel festival. At the market, camels are bought and sold, with good quality animals being traded for breeding purposes and others being slaughtered for food. Although cars and trucks have to some degree taken over the role of camels as a means of transport, they are still valued as beasts of burden and offer one of the best ways to explore the desert for which they are perfectly adapted. Their long, thick eyelashes and hairy ears provide them protection from the sand, and they are able to go for long period with very little water and food. When properly handled, they are gentle and cooperative animals and visitors to Guelmim should consider taking an unforgettable journey on the back of a camel.