This 3-day desert tour from Marrakesh to the Erg Chebbi dunes at Merzouga is one of the most popular itineraries in Morocco for those travellers wishing to go to the desert.
Enjoy breathtaking scenery ranging from the snow-capped Atlas Mountains to the famous pass of Tizi-n-Tichka, and take photos of your group with Berber villages perched on the mountains in the background. Visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kasbah Ait Ben Haddou and Telouet. Stop by the Skoura Oasis and photograph the beautifully restored Kasbah Amredhil.
Spend a night in a traditional guest-house in the Dades Valley, take a walk in the Toudgha Gorges, or go for a hike with a local guide there. Stop by Kela’a Mgouna and purchase organic cosmetics products from the co-operatives, if desired, explore Berber villages and chat with locals.
After a welcoming glass of mint tea, go for a sunset camel trek and take selfies wearing blue turbans with the sunset in the background. After dinner, share an evening of Berber music with the nomads round a campfire, and sleep in a comfortable nomad tent in a desert camp near the big dunes. Drive off-road in the Dra’a Valley through the palm trees groves and passed fortified Kasbahs.
1st day: Marrakesh – Dades
Morning departure at 8 o’clock from your hotel or riad in Marrakesh to cross the High Atlas Mountains. After the Tichka pass, you leave the main road and take a side road to the Telouet Kasbah, which belonged to the Lords of the Atlas, the Glaoui family. 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.
From here you drive along the beautiful and awe-inspiring Ounila Valley, full of bends in the roads, surprises at the hues of the rock and soil, Berber villages and gardens, as well as smaller Kasbahs. Almost at the end of the road, you reach Aït Ben Haddou, where you stop for a tasty lunch. This is the most famous Kasbah in Morocco and is one of Morocco’s seven UNESCO World Heritage sites, which you can visit after lunch. The road passes Ouarzazate and continues to the Skoura Oasis, where olives, almonds, lucerne, barley and fruit trees such as apple, apricots, figs and pomegranates are grown. Here numerous ancient kasbahs, some sadly in ruins, stand amongst the palm trees, but you will visit a very famous kasbah, Kasbah Amredhil, which used to be depicted on the old 50 dirham banknote. It has been beautifully restored so is intact and well worth a visit. From here, the route goes through Kela’a M’gouna, the Valley of Roses, with a stop to see cosmetic articles locally-made from the valley’s abundant roses. You stop in the Dades Valley in a guest house there.
2nd day: Dades – Merzouga
After breakfast, you will drive up the valley including some amazing hairpin bends (cf youtube Cadillac brakes test) to reach the Dades gorges, before continuing to Toudgha to the very different gorges there. Lunch will either be here in the gorges or later at the bivouac at the Erg Chebbi dunes. You drive there via the Ziz Valley, and the towns of Erfoud, famous for its fossil finds worked into beautiful artifacts, and Rissani, which is where the king’s family originates.
In the afternoon, after a welcoming glass of tea, you can take a one to one & a half-hour camel ride in the Sahara. The sunset from the top of the dunes is spectacular (250m).
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: Merzouga – Marrakesh
If you wake up early enough, you can watch the spectacle of the sunrise, when the colour of the dunes and the play of shadows are an awesome sight. The drive back west to the Dra’a Valley takes us along the length of the Saghro mountains, one of the driest areas in the country with about 100 mm rain at the bottom and 300 mm on the hills. We pass the villages of Tazzarine (featured in the film ‘Babel’) and N’Qob, where we have lunch overlooking the mountains.
In the afternoon we drive to Tansikht, where we reach the Dra’a valley, full of large palm trees and ancient kasbahs. We go along the track of the ancient caravan route which worked its way north from the Sahara to Agdez, and to the oldest kasbah in the valley, Kasbah Tamnougalte. Many of the watch tours to ensure the safety of the camels and the accompanying men as well as to spot them in advance of their arrival are still very visible on the tops of the mountains on the side of the river. Back on the paved road again, we cross the Tizi-n’Tinfifte pass, 1660m, to reach Ouarzazate, and travelling the main road back over the High Atlas we reach Marrakesh by the end of the afternoon.
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