If you are searching for a tour from Marrakech that combines both the gate to the Sahara at the Erg Lihoudi dunes in Mhamid with the remote dunes of Erg Chegaga in the largest Sahara desert region of Morocco, then this is definitely the perfect tour for you.
Your desert tour from Marrakech begins with a wonderful drive over the majestic High Atlas Mountains and the famous Tizi-n-Tichka pass. You will love the panoramic views round every bend and visiting Kasbah Telouet and Kasbah Ait Ben Haddou. These are the two most famous in Morocco and quite astonishing. At the Atlas Studios you will be amazed by the film sets of many Hollywood blockbusters.
Next you have the more barren and fascinating Anti-Atlas Mountains, making you wish you had a good knowledge of geology. Driving down the Dra’a Valley’s palm groves, passing ancient Kasbahs and many Berber villages takes you back centuries. And after Zagora, the last town before the desert, you will see the ancient way of making pots at the green pottery cooperatives. Here there are exquisite manuscripts in the ancient Qoranic library in Tamgroute to be admired.
And then the camel ride through the dunes, wearing blue turbans, and witnessing spectacular sunsets and sunrises from the top of the dunes is an absolute highlight of this desert trip. Dinner under the stars, evenings of music and drumming with the nomads just add to this wonderful experience. And your night in a luxury camp in your own private, comfortable tents in the midst of the dunes are Ines of clam and peace.
Next comes an exciting 90km thrilling off-track 4×4 drive through different features of the Sahara Desert, and a perhaps successful search for fossilsn by Iriqui Lake. Another traditional art passed from mother to daughter is the Berber rug- and carpet-making in Taznakht. In Taliouine you get to visit the small, beautifully saffron-scented museum. In Taroudant, you can explore the interesting intact ramparts.
The last night of this great adventure in is the High Atlas near Toubkal Mountain, the highest peak in North Africa, where Berber life differs greatly from that os the valleys and oases.
Throughout the tour you will taste Moroccan cuisine and stay in beautiful guest-houses, and traditional riads.
6 days from Marrakech Atlas Mountains to Sahara Desert
Morning departure from your hotel/riad in Marrakech 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.
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 Marrakech, 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 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.
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 Chegaga 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 a luxury camp, with all the amenities of the first desert luxury camp in Mhamid.
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.
In the morning there is a visit to the town known as “the little Marrakech”, 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.
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.
On the drive back to Marrakech, you have an opportunity to visit the stunning Anima Garden designed by Andre Heller over a period of about ten years and full of colorful sculptures and plants from across the world.