Embark on this 6-day desert tour from Marrakesh spanning both the largest Sahara Desert in Morocco at the Erg Chagaga dunes and the Atlantic town, Essaouira. Visit argan co-operatives selling high-quality argan products, photograph goats climbing argan trees, and explore the windy streets, the calm medina, and the famous seaport of Essaouira.
Drive along the Atlantic Ocean, stroll along Agadir’s corniche, stop by many Berber villages and discover the famous painted rocks at Tafraoute. Tour the old medina, the vibrant souks and the fascinating ramparts of Taroudant, visit the local museum and the saffron fields in Taliouine, learn about Berber rug and carpet craftmanship in Taznakht, look for fossils in Iriqui Lake and drive through the Sahara Desert.
Go on camel treks to the top of the dunes, witness the spectacle of the sunset from the summit of the sand dunes, practice sandboarding and walk barefoot in the warm sand dunes. Enjoy dinner under a starlit sky, dance to Berber music and drumming, and sleep in nomad tents at the foot of the big duns.
Experience a 60-km off-road 4×4 drive through rocky desert and sand dunes to the Erg Lihoudi dunes for a second camel ride and for lunch. Discover the green pottery workshops and Qoranic Library in Tamgroute village. Stop by Zagora, explore the Dra’a Valley palm trees, ancient Kasbahs, and green oases, visit Kasbah Tamnougalt and drive over the Anti-Atlas Mountains.
Photograph the film sets in the Atlas Studios outside of Ouarzazate, visit the UNESCO Heritage Site, Kasbah Ait Ben Haddou and the former palatial residence, Kasbah Telouet. Have lunch in the mountains, drive over the Atlas Mountains and arrive in Marrakesh.
1st day: Marrakesh – Essaouira
Departure at 8 o’clock in the morning when the driver will come to fetch you from whichever riad or hotel you might be staying in. You will take the motor-way, passing several argan co-operatives selling high-quality argan if you are interested in this precious oil, used either in cooking, cosmetically, or one ingredient of the delicious “amlou” made of argan, ground almonds and honey.
Essaouira, this blue and white, very individual, sea-side town and port is many tourists’ darling! Previously known as Mogador by the Portuguese inhabitants, it is a charming place, well- known for local handicrafts, especially thuja wood furniture, carving and small artifacts, sold in innumerable shops along the windy streets.
At the seafront, the customer can choose a selection of freshly caught fish to have prepared on the spot. Essaouira has a favourable micro-climate; mild in winter and cool in summer, although frequently windy, which makes it very popular among surfers. The night is spent in a riad.
2nd day: Essaouira – Tafraoute
After breakfast, we leave Essaouira to travel down the Atlantic coast as far as the largest town of the region, Agadir, a seaside resort and port. From here, we continue south as far as Tiznit, famous for its silver.
The road turns inland to the east to follow one of Morocco’s most scenic roads, the R 104, passing the Berber villages of Assaka and Tighmi and then crossing Tizi-n-Kerdous to Tiffermit and Had Tahala, until we reach the little town of Tafrouate.
Throughout this day and the following, you will see millions of argan trees up the slopes beside the roads. It is endemic in Morocco and becoming increasingly popular across the world. The night is spent in a riad.
3rd day: Tafraoute – Taroudant
After breakfast, we visit the famous painted rocks, coloured in 1984 by the Belgian artist, Jean Verame. He used 18 tones of blue, pink, red, and black paint, helped in his project by men from the Tafraoute fire-brigade. This work of art has proved very controversial; people choosing to wonder at it, question its existence and to despise it. It is certainly an individual and “other” piece of art and makes the individual and peculiar shapes of the rocks in this area even more noticeable.
We then set out north-eastwards. The first part of this road, the R 106, to Tiguermine is also regarded as one of the most beautiful roads in Morocco. It continues to Ighrem in the Anti-Atlas Mountains, turning back a short way along the main road west to Taroudant, “the little Marrakesh”, so-called for the similarity of its ramparts and town walls to those of the “red city”. Here we spend the night having explored the town.
4th day: Taroudant – Chagaga
After breakfast, we continue towards the desert driving first due west and later turning south. The first town we reach is Talouine, famous for the amounts of saffron grown here. There is a fascinating little museum in the centre of the town, which is well worth a visit, and smells divine as you enter. Saffron is a wonderful addition to Moroccan green tea, to biscuits and rice as well as possessing many health-giving properties.
We cross the two passes of Tizi-n-Tighatine and Tizi-n-Ikhsane before reaching Kourkouda and Taznakht. This small town is famous for its Berber gelims and carpets and the place we turn south to drive into the Sahara across the stony desert, “reg” and “hammada” and across the now dried-up Lake Iriqui. In the middle of this lake, we can search for fossils.
Once at the camp where you will be welcomed with tea, you take a camel ride of an hour – an hour & a half and can clamber up to the top of the high dunes to watch the 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.
5th day: Chagaga – Ouarzazate
After breakfast in the bivouac, the itinerary crosses another 60 km of the desert road via the Sacred Oasis to arrive in M’hamid.
You continue to Erg Lihoudi for a camel ride and then have lunch just outside the village before setting off again north up the Dra’a Valley towards Zagora. This small town is the largest oasis in the Dra’a Valley and is particularly famous for its dates. From here we follow the ancient caravan route used by the caravans that had crossed the Sahara for days and weeks bringing treasures from Mali or Mauretania. The road passes between the river and the mountains past all the Kasbahs and the local gardens giving you a clearer impression of life here in this area of Morocco.
In Agdez at the head of the Dra’a Valley, you can stop to visit the oldest and most famous kasbah in the valley, Kasbah Tamnougalte. It is still partly inhabited by about eleven families. You then continue to Ouarzazate crossing the Tizi-n-Tififte pass, where some scenes from the film “Babel” were shot. In Ouarzazate, you stay in one of the nicest riads in the town.
6th day: Ouarzazate – Marrakesh
After breakfast, driving north from Ouarzazate, you leave the main road and take a side road to Ait ben Haddou, one of Morocco’s seven World Heritage sites, and the backdrop for many Hollywood blockbusters. It is the most famous Kasbah in Morocco and some of the buildings date back to the 17th century.
From here you drive along the beautiful and awe-inspiring Ounila Valley, full of bends in the roads and surprises at the hues of the rock and soil, Berber villages and gardens, as well as smaller Kasbahs.
We continue to Telouet set right in the midst of the mountains and once the seat of the last Pasha of Marrakesh, El Glaoui, from where the highest pass in Africa, Tizi-n-Tichka was controlled. Each addition to the building now stands in ruins exposed to the wind and the rain, having been abandoned and plundered after Thami El Glaoui, fled the country following the departure of the French in 1956. Wait to be pleasantly surprised by the traditional interior decoration as you reach the farthest end of the Kasbah. At the end of the afternoon, having crossed the Tichka pass, we arrive in Marrakesh.
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