Go on this 5-day tour from Marrakesh combining both the largest Sahara Desert in Morocco and the coastal town and tourist darling, Essaouira. Enjoy a scenic drive over the Atlas Mountains and through the famous pass of Tizi-n-Tichka with plenty of stops to admire the landscapes, to take photos, and for breaks.
Visit the former palatial residence, Kasbah Telouet and the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kasbah Ait ben Haddou. Take a walk in the beautiful Ounila Valley, enjoy lunch with nice views in the Atlas Mountains or overlooking the kasbah. Sip a glass of traditional Moroccan tea overlooking the main-square of Ouarzazate, followed by the night in a beautiful riad.
Cross the Anti-Atlas Mountains, have lunch in Agdez and explore Kasbah Tamnougalt with a local guide. Drive through the Dra’a Valley and along the ancient road of the caravans as far as Zagora, the last town before the desert. Visit the green pottery co-operatives and the old library in Tamgroute shortly after leaving Zagora.
A 60 km off-track drive through the Sahara Desert will take you to the highest dunes of Erg Chagaga. After a welcoming glass of tea, go on a camel ride to the top of the dunes and take selfies wearing blue turbans. Witness the marvellous sunset from the top of the dunes (300 m). Taste a dinner of nomadic cuisine, dance to rhythms of Berber music, and sleep in your own private and comfortable tent.
Drive off-road through different features of the Sahara Desert, hunt for fossils in the dry lake of Iriqui, stop by the Berber rugs and carpets workshops and stop in small villages to get an idea about life in the desert and in the oasis. Overnight in a beautiful riad in Taroudant, known as the little Marrakesh.
Enjoy wonderful views driving along the Atlantic Ocean as far as Agadir, and across the Souss River and slopes filled with thousands of argan trees, the producers of that costly and precious oil. Explore the Medina of Essaouira, its colourful streets and famous seaport.
1st day: Marrakesh – Ouarzazate
Morning departure from your hotel/riad in Marrakesh at 8.30 to drive across the High Atlas Mountains. At panoramic viewpoints, there will be opportunities to stop and take photos. The first scheduled stop is at the Kasbah of Telouet, which served as a palatial residence and the headquarters of the powerful Glaoui tribe, whose wealth came in part from the salt mines just outside the village. Each addition to the building now stands in ruins exposed to the wind and the rain, having been abandoned and plundered after the last Pasha 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.
Then the route leads south and if the mine is open, you can enter and see how the pink salt rock is cut out from the walls. We continue down the Ounila Valley with the green fields and gardens running parallel down below and the road full of bends, many surprises at the hues of the rock and soil, past Berber villages and gardens, as well as smaller Kasbahs. Here olives, almonds and fruit trees are the main crops and the mainstay for many families. This stunning road leads to the Kasbah of Ait Ben Haddou, the oldest and most famous Kasbah in Morocco and one of Morocco’s seven UNESCO World Heritage sites. The architectural style is well preserved and the earthen constructions are perfectly adapted to the climatic conditions and in harmony with the natural and social environment. Probably originating in the 17th century, it is also famous as the backdrop to many Hollywood blockbuster films. A further 30 kilometers later, we stop for the night in a road in Ouarzazate.
2nd day: Ouarzazate – Chagaga
After breakfast, we drive over the Tizi-n-Tinfifte pass to the head of the Dra’a Valley at Agdez where we visit to Kasbah Tamnougalte. Much of it lies in ruins, especially the old Jewish quarter as the inhabitants slowly left after the establishment of the State of Israel. But some parts are still inhabited, which seems hard to believe as it looks so Biblical. Later we continue along a side road to Zagora for lunch. The next bigger town on our way is Tamgroute, where you can visit the famous potteries run by four families and which is well known for their unique green glaze. There is also a Qoranic library with exquisite ancient handwritten Arabic scripts and Qurans. And then, the 4×4 takes us to the Erg Chagaga dunes, travelling some 60 km off-road. This route passes different features of the desert: ‘erg’ (sand dunes) and ‘hammada’ (rocky desert), and the Sacred Oasis to dunes far away from civilization, in the desert proper where the silence and the expanse of sand are overwhelming.
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.
3rd day:Chagaga – Taroudant
After breakfast, we drive another 90 km across the Sahara over the stony desert, “erg” and “hammada” and across the now dried-up Lake Iriqui. In the middle of this lake, we can search for fossils. At the edge of the desert lies Foum Zguid. The word “foum” means “mouth”, so the name of the town is “the Mouth of the Zguid River. From here the road travels 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. There is a small but interesting saffron museum about the production of saffron, which is well worth a visit. The scent as you enter is delicious. The road takes us on 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 west as far as Agadir, travelling along the Souss river valley with all its thousands of argane trees which are endemic to Morocco. Argane oil has a high nutritional value, is used cosmetically for the skin and hair, and the leaves and “waste” products of the nuts are valuable animal fodder. The road then travels up the coast, driving through Taghazout, the surfers’ paradise and through the mountains. On arriving in Essaouira, you can explore the town, the Skala, the medina and all its innumerable shops as well as the seafront with its fresh fish restaurants. The night is spent in Essaouira.
5th day: Essaouira – Marrakech
After breakfast you can continue to wander around Essaouira, getting to know it better, perhaps enjoying more of the fresh fish. Return to Marrakesh, stopping perhaps at a co-operative of argane oil producers offering higher quality and less expensive oil than that outside Morocco. We pass many Berber villages on the way and reach Marrakech by the end of the afternoon.
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