Guelmim (also spelt Goulimine or Guelmin) is a town with a population of 95,749 (2004 census) in southwestern Morocco, often nicknamed "Gateway to the Desert" (la porte du désert). It is the capital of the Guelmim-Es Semara region which includes Southern Morocco (south of the Souss-Massa-Draa region) and northern Western Sahara. Situated in the southern Anti-Atlas Mountains near the northwestern edge of the Sahara, Guelmim is a walled town with houses built out of sun-dried red clay and is encircled by date palm groves. Historically it was a caravan centre linked (especially in the 19th century) to Timbuktu (now in Mali), and it remains a commercial gateway to Mauritania.
When hippies "discovered" certain types of colourful African trade beads there in the 1960s, these became known as "Guelmin beads", although they were actually manufactured in Europe, mainly in Venice.
As with most other places in Southern Morocco, public life in Guelmim is easygoing and the people are fantastically friendly. This is a place where you can meet everyone approaching you as the friend they claim to be. Even female travellers can open up to advancing strangers.
Things to See & Do
Guelmim is home to the biggest camel market in Morocco and is held every Saturday at daybreak. The absolute stars are the "Blue Men of the Desert" or Tuareg, so called because they wear an indigo coloured outfit, consisting of robes and a long blue scarf or tagilmust they use to swathe their heads and faces. These indigo-dyed garments are most prized. Because water is scarce in the desert, the indigo is pounded, instead of boiled, into the cloth. This method of dying the fabric imbues the cloth with a shimmery blue-black patina. With wear, the colour seeps into the pores of their skin, casting a bluish-violet hue. Since indigo is precious and expensive, their bluish skin has become a status symbol among them - the darker blue a man’s skin, the wealthier he appears. Guelmim is one of the trading towns where the Tuareg come for supplies and to have their robes made.
Beware of the many theatrical cons where the locals bring people out to tents to see fake "blue men" outside of town. Our drivers and guides at Erlebnis Tours will ensure you are protected from such cons, and if you come on a Saturday, you will have the chance to meet the real Tuareg nomads as they come to the market. If you plan your trip to coincide with region's annual moussem in May, you will have the chance to see big crowds of real Tuareg Blue Men.
On top of the weekly Camel Fair, the people of Guelmim hold an annual Camel Festival at Tan Tan Road every July. While once evoking images of Lawrence of Arabia, the festival is more of a tourist attraction than an actual market, due mainly to the decline in camel transport and the rise in 4x4s. The festival is still extremely fascinating and offers the opportunity to witness the ancient dance ritual known as the Guedra, which is associated with Guelmim. The dance is performed by a woman to the beat of a drum made from a kitchen pot (guedra) and the chanting and clapping of onlookers. The dance often induces a hypnotic state and is carried out to serve as a blessing or to submit oneself to God.
A good place to visit is Fort Bou Jerif, which is the remains of a Foreign Legion fort. This place is really in the middle of nowhere, in miles of undulating hills and sandy shrubbery, halfway between Guelmim and the Atlantic coast. It can only be reached by tracks and a tour guide is pretty essential, or you could get lost. As if from nowhere, the Fort will appear, with lovely looking buildings, including a hotel, a motel, a restaurant, a shop, a place to camp, and all the accommodation anyone could desire. A short drive away is Plage Blanche, an enormous sandy beach, which is completely unspoilt. An alternate beach to visit is at Sidi Ifni, an odd little cliff-side town. The town and surrounding territory were controlled by Spain until 1969 when the Moroccans forced them out. Its appeal lies not just with the beach but its beautiful art deco buildings.
Enquiries & Booking
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Date last edited:
12 November 2012