Marrakesh – Ouarzazate – Todra Gorges – Erg Chebbi Dunes – Fez (5 days, 4 nights)
Day 1 : Drive from Marrakesh to Ouarzazate
After an early morning pick up at your accommodations, we will begin our exciting day discovering the historic towns that lie in the semi-arid plain on the other side of the High Atlas Mountains.
Leaving Marrakesh, the snow covered peaks of the High Atlas Mountains will slowly become more and more visible.
Driving higher and higher, we will encounter the numerous winding switchbacks of the Tizi n’Tichka mountain pass, a marvel of modern engineering and design.
At 2,260m above sea level, we will stop at the crest of the Tizi n’Tichka to gaze at the surrounding mountaintops.
Going down the other side of the High Atlas Mountains, we will veer off the main road to discover the traditional village of Ait Benhaddou, before continuing to the city of Ouarzazate.
In this region we’ll discover villages famous for their distinct mudbrick architecture and preserved fortified town centers (Kasbah).
It’s of historic interest to note that all these towns grew powerful with the boom of trans-Saharan trade in the Middle Ages that linked Marrakesh to the sub-Saharan kingdoms; notable among them, Timbuktu.
After about a 45 minute drive, we’ll arrive at the village of Ait Benhaddou, an important UNESCO sight in the region.
With its many towers and traditional houses, Ait Benhaddou stands as the most striking example of the pre-Saharan architecture of southern Morocco.
We can have lunch at one of the excellent restaurants overlooking Ait Benhaddou.
Our last stop today will be in the capital of southern Morocco, Ouarzazate.
Like Ait Benhaddou, Ouarzazate boasts an important fortified center, the Taourirt Kasbah.
However, what makes Ouarzazate most famous today are its internationally renowned movie studios.
Taking full advantage of southern Morocco’s beautiful desert landscapes, these studios have contributed to Hollywood blockbusters, such as The Mummy, Gladiator, and Lawrence of Arabia, just to name a few.
If you’d like, we can visit either the cinema museum, or even one of the studios.
After checking into a hotel in Ouarzazate, you’ll have the rest of the evening to explore the town on your own.
Day 2 : Drive from Ouarzazate to Tinghir
Following breakfast, we’ll get back on the road and skirt along the opposite side of the High Atlas Mountains, taking the whole day to explore the region’s fascinating urban and geological beauty in its many the traditional mudbrick towns and beautiful desert landscapes.
Our day’s first stop will be in the Dades Valley, a region famous for its sprawling palm groves growing over an underground river.
Along our way, we’ll visit the famous little town of Kelaat Mgouna, known across Morocco for its traditional Rose Festival in May.
A little further down the road, we’ll discover Soukora, a traditional mudbrick town in heart of 25km² of lush palm groves.
Driving a little further on, we’ll reach Tinghir, an ancient Berber town built of traditional mudbrick architecture.
In Tinghir, we’ll turn off the main road to make a stop in the amazing Todra Gorges, where climbers from around the world fight gravity and their fear as they scale vertical cliffs.
Don’t worry—we’ll be exploring this fascinating area horizontally on foot.
We’ll finish our day by checking into a traditional Kasbah hotel deep in the Todra Gorge.
Day 3 : Drive from Tinghir to Merzouga
After leaving our Todra Gorge Kasbah in the morning, we will have the rest of the day to explore the towns on our way to the sprawling desert sands of Merzouga.
Our first stop of the day will be in the small town of Tinejdad, a small picturesque town where you can get a feel for how locals in this region live.
Continuing on our way, you’ll notice how the landscape gets more and more arid, as the temperature gets hotter and hotter, as we make our way away from the mountains and towards the desert.
We’ll pass through the town of Erfoud before reaching the historical town of Rissani, where we’ll get out and explore for an hour or so with a local guide.
After our little tour of Rissani, we’ll drive directly towards the desert to get to Merzouga, one of the last towns before the end of the road and the beginning of the desert.
In Merzouga, a camel caravan will be waiting to take us over the sand dunes to our Berber camp deep in the Sahara Desert.
Here your Berber hosts will cook traditional desert meals for you, while teaching you about their culture.
Spend the evening huddled around the campfire, venture out into the desert, or lie on a sand dune and gaze at the stars.
Day 4 : Merzouga and its desert surroundings
Sleep in or take our advice and wake up early to catch the sunrise over the sand dunes.
If you’re feeling groggy, you can also ride over the sand dunes on camelback. It’s an experience you’ll never forget.
After breakfast you will be able to spend your day exploring the desert surrounding Merzouga as you like.
Possible activities include: visiting the historical towns and palm groves around the Tafilalt Oasis (Rissani, Merzouga, Erfoud), taking a 4×4 excursion into the desert to explore black volcanic rock formations and fossils, visiting a nomadic family living in a tent, riding quadbikes around the sand dunes, visiting Khamlia village to hear Gnawa music, or relaxing around the desert tents.
We’ll finish this exciting day by returning to Merzouga, a town right on the cusp of the desert, where we’ll have dinner and spend the night in a hotel.
Day 5 : Drive from Merzouga to Fez
On our last day together, you will have the opportunity to wake up early and catch the beautiful desert sunrise from atop of sand dune.
After breakfast, we will hit the road to get to Fez before the evening and explore the Middle Atlas region on the way.
Our first stop on today’s itinerary will be in the town of Azrou, the ancient capital of the Amazigh people in the Middle Atlas Mountains region.
Situated at 1,250m above sea level, Azrou finds itself nestled cozily in the surrounding hills of the Middle Atlas Mountains.
Famous for its cedar forests, butterflies, and Barbary ape population, Azrou is a perfect place to get back to nature.
During our time in Azrou, we will stop outside of the town to explore this beautiful natural environment.
Climbing higher into the Middle Atlas, passing through oak forests, the next stop on our drive will be in the famed ‘Switzerland of Morocco’, the town of Ifrane.
Thanks to its alpine climate, at 1,665m above sea level, Ifrane can’t escape getting large quantities of snow every winter.
As such, the roofs of its houses and businesses are sloped so not to be crushed under the weight of snow, earning Ifrane the cute nickname the ‘Switzerland of Morocco’.
During the summer, though, the temperature rises and Moroccan’s flock to Ifrane for its tidy parks, clean air, and beautiful scenery.
Ifrane is also famous for the world renowned Al-Akhawayn University, which attracts the best and brightest of Morocco each year. We will also make a stop at the Ifrane National Park to admire the ancient cedar trees and try our luck at finding a colony of Barbary apes.
Our last stop will be in the provincial town of Imouzer, which is famous for its Apple Festival in September.
Many of the inhabitants of Imouzer are of Amazigh descent and speak a language different than Arabic as their mother tongue.
The area around Imouzer is dotted with lakes that were carved out during a period of intense volcanic activity in the distant past.
Stopping at one of these lakes, Dayet Aoua, you will have the opportunity to go for a quick horse or donkey ride on the lakeshore.
Leaving Imouzer, we will drive directly to Fez to get you to your accommodations at a reasonable hour.