If you are looking forward to going on a tour from Marrakesh that combines both the gate to the Sahara; the Erg Lihoudi dunes in Mhamid and the wild and remote dunes of Erg Chagaga in the largest Sahara Desert in Morocco, as well as a revealing glimpse of Toubkal Mountain in the Atlas Mountains, (the highest peak in North Africa, then this is definitely the perfect tour for you.
Begin your desert tour from Marrakesh with a wonderful drive over the majestic Atlas Mountains and over the famous Tizi-n-Tichka pass. Enjoy panoramic views from the summit of the mountains and visit Kasbah Telouet and Kasbah Ait Ben Haddou. Stop by the Atlas Studios to learn about the film sets of many Hollywood blockbusters and savour a glass of Moroccan mint tea overlooking the vivid square of Ouarzazate.
Drive over the Anti-Atlas Mountains, and through the Dra’a Valley’s palm groves, passing ancient Kasbahs and many Berber villages. Stop by Zagora, the last town before the desert, discover the green pottery workshops and the ancient Qoranic library in Tamgroute village.
Experience camel treks wearing blue turbans, witness spectacular sunsets and sunrises from the top of the dunes, taste nomad dishes, share evenings of music and drumming with the nomads, and sleep in your own private, comfortable, traditional Bedouin tents in a desert camp in the midst of the dunes.
Enjoy a 90km thrilling off-track 4×4 drive through different features of the Sahara Desert, search for fossils In Iriqui Lake, discover the Berber rug- and carpet-making in Taznakht, visit the small museum and the saffron fields in Taliouine. Explore the ancient medina, the vibrant souks, and the interesting ramparts of Taroudant.
Take a walk or go for a hike around Toubkal Mountain, discover the Toubkal National Park, the Berber village of Asni, Moulay Brahim Mausoleum, and stop by the Lalla Takerkoust Reservoir. Taste Moroccan cuisine and stay in beautiful guest-houses, and traditional riads.
1st day: Marrakesh – Ouarzazate
Morning departure from your hotel/riad in Marrakesh at 8 o’clock and driving 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 family, 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 full of bends in the roads, surprises at the hues of the rock and soil, 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. In Ouarzazate, you spend the night in a riad.
2nd day: Ouarzazate – M’hamid
After breakfast, we continue south 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. Soon after the police checkpoint in Tansikht, 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- to two-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.
3rd day: M’hamid – Chagaga
After breakfast, you return to M’hamid 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.
4th 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.
5th day: Taroudant – Imlil
In the morning there is a visit to the town known as “the little Marrakesh”, so-called due to its massive, intact ramparts and beautiful medina.
Retracing our steps a little, we turn left and north back up over the High Atlas Mountains across the famous Tizi-n-Test pass, stopping at the beautiful, elegant, brick Tinmal mosque, which may be visited by non-Moslems. Lunch will be in a mountain restaurant with superb views.
From here we continue through the mountains to the village of Imlil, where we stay the night. Here the quiet and beauty of the views are overwhelming.
6th day: Imlil – Marrakesh
After breakfast, we have time to walk and look up at Toubkal Mountain, the highest peak in North Africa. Passing the Toubkal National Park we reach Asni, a small Berber village, which is famous for its permanent as well as for its weekly soukhs. We then pass the mausoleum of Moulay Brahim, a well-known Moroccan Sufi saint who died in 1661. Here you can have tea with a local Berber family, who will show you the traditional hammam and bread ovens.
The last valley of the trip is that of the Lalla Takerkoust reservoir, which supplies Marrakesh and the surrounding area with water from the snowmelt of the High Atlas. Here there are stops to take photos of the wonderful scenery over the lake. And then back to Marrakesh.
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