Ouarzazate MoroccoOnce upon a time, Ouarzazate, was the ideal location for trading between the High Atlas region and the Sahara Desert. People from the Atlas, Draa and Dades Valley would meet in the Taourirt Kasbah to trade goods and news. In the 1920s, the French built a garrison on the land to keep an eye on the trading business that took place in the area. Since then, Ouarzazate has been a popular place for business transactions and much-needed vacations.

Realizing the unique oasis setting and an authentic old-world feel offered by Ouarzazate, the film industry has used the city as a backdrop for many high-profile movies, including Lawrence of Arabia, Star Wars and Gladiator. Atlas Studios is located in the city and open to the public.

Many people spend a couple days in Ouarzazate before embarking on a trekking tour. Though many of the more strenuous, popular hikes leave from Marrakesh, there are several, more leisurely walks through the countryside just beyond Ouarzazate. In town, you’ll find that the supermarkets are well-stocked for such needs, and there are plenty of places to rent bikes and other outdoor-related gear. In fact, renting a bicycle is one of the easiest and most enjoyable ways to tour the Kasbah and other areas of the city.

Ouarzazate is known also known for being the home base for the Marathon des Sables, a grueling, seven-day marathon event through the desert. Runners arrive in Ouarzazate in March or April, depending on the year, and only then are they told what the course will be. Participants take only what they can carry with them, though there are water stations along the way. The desert sun is hot and evenings are cool, so proper physical and psychological conditioning are essential for success.

Posted by JoAnna Haugen, managing editor at Journey Beyond Travel and author of Kaleidoscopic Wandering.

Photo by amerune.

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