Started in 1963, Tan Tan Moussem is an inter-tribal festival that brings together Saharan peoples. The festival’s main event is camel trading, but there are also wedding celebrations, inter-tribal competitions and lots of music and dancing. The most dramatic aspect of the festival is a fantasia, a reenactment of a traditional Berber attack charge on horseback.
The festival was suspended from 1979 until 2004 due to tension in the Western Sahara, but since its revival by the Moroccan Ministry of Tourism and UNESCO, it has drawn nomadic peoples from Morocco, Mali, Niger and as far away as Saudi Arabia. Festival participants stay in a temporary city of more than 800 tents handmade from goat and camel hair.
Tourist facilities at the festival are limited, although there are a number of budget hotels in Tan Tan proper. The event takes places yearly in late May or early June. It’s best to contact the Moroccan Ministry of Tourism for current event dates and lodging information. In past years, a number of foreign journalists and guests have been invited courtesy of the Moroccan government.
Tan Tan is in the far south of Morocco. If you’re traveling internationally, the most straightforward way to reach Tan Tan is to fly to Casablanca and take a domestic flight. The Royal Air Maroc flight from Morocco’s largest city, Casablanca,to Tan Tan is about three hours and may include a technical stop. It’s not worth taking an internal flight from elsewhere in Morocco, even from cities closer to Tan Tan like Laayoune and Marrakech, because flights are routed through Casablanca.
If you’re coming from Marrakech, a bus ride of roughly ten to eleven hours will get you to Tan Tan. CTM and Supratours offer air-conditioned buses that ply the route into the Sahara several times a day. The route isn’t scenic; it’s mostly flat and dry desert. To save daylight hours consider taking the latest bus from Marrakesh and arriving in Tan Tan for morning. Arriving in Tan Tan in the middle of the night is not advisable as there are limited tourist facilities. The majority of people on the bus are likely continuing south to Laayoune, so make sure you tell the driver that you need to get off at Tan Tan.
If you find yourself stuck in Tan Tan without onward transport, hire a grand taxi to Guelmime and seek onward transport there.
Written by Heather Carreiro.
Photo by chacabuco.