Tindouf (Arabic: تندوف) is a town in the Saharan Algeria, near the border with Western Sahara. Due to a large Sahrawi population living in the refugee camps surrounding the town, Tindouf is as close as most can get to a geniune (and a politicized) Sahrawi culture, since the "Free Zone" of Western Sahara led by Polisario remains inaccessible behind a border barrier and large minefields, which separate it from the Moroccan-occupied parts of the territory.
Tindouf is home to 160,000 people, out of which only 60,000 are native Algerians, the rest being Sahrawis inhabiting the camps (more than twice or even three times the whole population of the Free Zone of Western Sahara). These camps, and the larger Tindouf area, constitute the base of Polisario, a nationalist Sahrawi organization that has been fighting for an independent Western Sahara (Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, in their official parlance) for decades, with tacit approval from Algeria.
1 Tindouf Airport (TIN IATA) lies about 10 km northwest of the town. It is served by domestic flights of the national carrier Air Algérie from main centres of northern Algeria such as Algiers, Oran, and Constantine.
There are some reports that driving all the way to Tindouf (once in a lifetime experience!) involves crossing several checkpoints of the Algerian military, where you will almost certainly be stopped, and asked for a document permitting you to travel in the region.
If you are considering to visit the refugee camps, either go there during one of the events below, when the organizers will arrange trips or get in touch with the Polisario, who are unofficially in charge of the camps.
- 1 Sahara International Film Festival (FiSahara) (Dakhla refugee camp, 175 km from Tindouf). Held every year in a remote Sahrawi camp during the spring months, this is the only film festival in the world that takes place in a refugee camp, and aims to reach the Sahrawi community through film as an art and entertainment, as well as to the rest of the world to bring attention to the Western Sahara conflict and the resulting issues at the refugee camps. €700.
- Sahara Marathon. An annual marathon race run between various Sahrawi camps, organized in an attempt to express solidarity with the refugees. Participating in shorter sections (half marathon, 10 km, 5 km) is also possible. €900.
Possibly the easiest way to visit the region is to attend one of the above events. The fees are per participant and include registration, a return flight from Europe (out of and into Madrid, in both cases), Algerian visa, local transportation, accommodation with Sahrawi families, and most other daily necessities (meals and drinks).