In many ways, travels to Morocco are defined by a trip to the Sahara Desert, which makes up the southern half of the country. But Morocco is also defined by its impressive mountains and rich cultural heritage. To appreciate the beauty, vastness and diversity of the country, consider taking a guided tour that introduces you to some of Morocco’s greatest highlights; a five-day, four-night tour is ample time to satisfy your curiosity.
Find a tour company in and depart from Marrakesh. You’ll drive along the Tizi-n-Tichka pass in the High Atlas Mountains. En route to the desert, you’ll pass through a number of notable areas. Ait Ben Haddou, an UNESCO World Heritage site, has served as the backdrop for a number of films including Gladiator and The Mummy. Though relatively new compared to Ait Ben Haddou, Ouarzazate is also used in movies. This is the site of Atlas Studios, and travelers can take tours through the facility. You’ll likely lay your head in Skoura, a small town built on one of Morocco’s oases.
By the time you reach the Sahara Desert—on the second day of your travels—you’ll be ready to hop out of the vehicle and on to a camel, which will transport you into the desert. As you wander further into the Sahara and closer to the location where you’ll be spending the night, you’ll realize how truly far away Berber families live from other regions of Morocco. If you tire of riding your camel, you’re welcome to walk beside it. In fact, it can be quite satisfying to feel the sand beneath your feet.
At night, you’ll dine alfresco under an astounding starry sky. If the stars aren’t enough to impress you, wait until you awake in the morning to a majestic desert sunrise. If camping isn’t your style, there are tour companies that provide comfortable stays at local hotels.
Expect to spend a day in Rissani, a small town on the edge of the Erg Chebbi (the largest sand desert in Morocco), and Ziz Valley, which is a palm grove oasis in the desert. This is a fascinating place to learn about the farming techniques and history of the area. You’ll likely spend the evening in Errachidia, a city rich in museums, hotels and restaurants. Though it is one of the most famous and ancient cities in Morocco, it is more of a stopover than a destination.
As the end of your tour nears, you’ll have the opportunity to visit the High Atlas Mountains. Stops at Todra Gorge and Dades Valley offer impressive canyon views and the opportunity to hike in the area. Many tour groups spend the night in a hotel that overlooks the valley. The next morning, you’ll pack your bags, hop into your tour vehicle and head back to the city.
Throughout your tour, whether you’re deep in the desert or teetering on the canyon’s edge, expect to be impressed with Morocco’s diversity of natural wonders. When you depart on your final day of the tour, try to hold on to this feeling. All too soon you’ll be forced to return to long to-do lists, phone calls and stacked schedules.
Posted by JoAnna Haugen, managing editor at Journey Beyond Travel and author of Kaleidoscopic Wandering.
Photo by wonker.