Take this 4-day desert tour from Ouarzazate to Essaouira, with two overnights in the Moroccan Sahara; Erg Lihoudi, “the gate to the Sahara, and the remote dunes of Erg Chagaga. Drive off-road as far as the remote dunes of Erg Chagaga and hunt for fossils in Iriqui Lake.
Go for camel treks, take selfies wearing blue turbans and enjoy the spectacle of the sunset from the top of the dunes (300 m). Sip traditional tea prepared by the nomads, dance to Berber music around a campfire in the evening, and stay overnight in desert camps of these magnificent dunes.
Visit Kasbah Tamnougalte at the head of the Dra’a Valley, and photograph old housing and the unlimited palm trees of the Dra’a Valley. Find out about the green pottery craftsmanship and stop by the old Qoranic library in Tamegroute.
Purchase a Berber rug from the co-operatives in Taznakht (if desired). Turn north-west to Taroudant with its splendid city walls, then the blue and white fishing port of Essaouira.
1st day: Ouarzazate – M’hamid
From Ouarzazate, we drive over the Tizi-n-Tinfifte pass to Agdez. Descending from the pass you will be amazed at the view of the extensive oasis and the number of palm trees, all indicating the beginning of the Dra’a Valley with its thousands of date palms, producing an amazing 44 varieties of dates. The date harvest starts in September and lasts a couple of months, so that is the best time to stop in Agdez for the freshest ones.
Shortly after this small town, you stop to visit Kasbah Tamnougalte, the oldest Kasbah in the Dra’a Valley, before taking the ancient caravan road between the river and the mountains for a short while. On the way, we pass many villages and gardens so that you can gain a better idea of the way of life in the life-giving oases.
Just before the police check-point in Tansikht, the driver can stop and show you the dinosaur footprints right at the side of the road. We come to the village of Tinsouline, from where you can drive just a kilometre or so off road to the fascinating rock carvings of animals long extinct in Morocco at Foum Chenna, some 4000 years old. Zagora is the largest town in the whole area and where we shall stop for lunch.
Later we pass through Tamgroute, where a stop for the potteries famous for the green glaze, which you may have already seen in Marrakesh, and also for its ancient Quranic library with exquisite hand-written Arabic texts. In the afternoon we drive further south still, to M’hamid, the very gate to the desert and the end of the paved road. This is where the Sahara starts. Here a one-one & a half-hour camel ride leads to the highest dune to enjoy an unforgettable sunset.
You have dinner and spend the night at an authentic nomad camp with shared bathroom facilities and a private tent for each couple or family.
Alternatively, you can choose a luxury camp with private bathroom, king-sized beds, beautiful Moroccan furnishings and lamps tastefully arranged to enhance your enjoyment of the silence and beauty of the dunes.
2nd day: M’hamid – Chagaga
After breakfast, you return to M’hamid by camel or by 4×4 as you wish, to visit the old village across the now frequently dry Dra’a River. The old village is typical of desert dwellings with adobe buildings and covered streets to keep out the searing heat of the height of summer. A wonderful example of these houses is Abdelhadi’s ancestral home which you can visit.
In the afternoon, there is the departure for the Erg Chagaga dunes (300m) with 60km of off-road. This route passes different features of the desert; “erg” (dunes) and “ hammada” (stony desert), oases. These dunes are far away from civilization, in the desert proper, where nomadic life is hard, subject to the vagaries of the wind, sandstorms and sparse rainfall. But the silence and the expanse of the sand are overwhelming. Here you could have a second camel ride if you wish.
Dinner and the night will be in an authentic camp in the dunes, or, once again, you can opt for a night in a luxury camp, with all the amenities of the first desert night in Mhamid.
3rd day: Chagaga – Taroudant
After breakfast we drive another 90 km across the Sahara over the stony desert, “reg” and “hammada” and across the now dried-up Lake Iriqui. In the middle of this lake, you are likely to experience a mirage and unless it has been raining hard, which is rare, and in which case we cannot cross due to the mud, we can assure you, that “water” really is not real. Here you can search for fossils; some lying loosely around but most fixed firmly into the rock.
At the edge of the desert at Foum Zguid, we drive north to Taznakht, famous for its Berber gelims and carpets, where we stop for lunch. After crossing the Tizi-n-Ikhsane and Tizi-n-Tighatine passes, we reach Taliouine, the heart of the saffron growing region. The little government-run museum is interesting about saffron agriculture and as you enter the scent of saffron is delicious. The road takes us onto to Taroudant, where we stop for the night in a riad.
4th day: Taroudant – Essaouira
In the morning there is a visit to the town known as “the little Marrakesh”. It is spectacular for its massive ramparts and beautiful medina. From here you travel along the Souss river valley with all its argane groves, banana and orange plantations as far as Agadir.
The road then travels north up the coast driving through Taghazout, a surfer’s paradise, and along the Anti-Atlas Mountains with varying views of the sea and the tantalising coves. On arriving in Essaouira, we take you to your riad there.
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