On the road of a 1,000 kasbahs from Marrakech to the Sahara, one pitstop stands out for its movie-star credentials and sunset-soaked citadels. Ouarzazate is Morocco’s desert-based Hollywood. Here’s how to see it.
While there are loads of great things to do in Marrakech many make the popular road trip to the Saharan sand dunes. Heading passed the Ounila Valley & Aït Ben Haddou almost all travellers spend a night in Ouarzazate. It may look like a sleepy town, but under the surface, this dusty road stop has a few surprises up its sleeve.
The first thing you notice as you approach Ouarzazate is a massive shining beacon of light. Radiating from something similar to a modern lighthouse, the world’s largest solar power complex towers above the desert.
But, Ouarzazate is also the leader in another dazzling field. Atlas Studios, just outside the centre of town, has been churning out Hollywood blockbusters since 1983. Over 200 movies have been filmed in this landscape. It has served as everything from biblical scenes to ancient Egyptian fables.
In addition to being the hub of the Moroccan movie industry, the area surrounding Ouarzazate is home to intriguing kasbahs – both decaying and restored – and a hidden oasis making it one of the most interesting places to visit in Morocco.
Located on the edge of the starkly beautiful Sahara Desert, Merzouga is a small, dusty town in eastern Morocco. Although the town itself has little to offer the intrepid traveler (besides a handful of hotels and restaurants), it is famous as the gateway to the vast Erg Chebbi dunes. Here, soaring peaks of sand change color with the shifting light of dawn and dusk. Camel trains create romantic silhouettes, and Berber villages act as remote oases in an environment that has remained unchanged for thousands of years. These are the archetypal Sahara landscapes of which Moroccan dreams are made.
Situated in central Morocco, the Dadès Gorge should be at the top of the bucket list for adventurous souls in search of astonishing scenery and immersion into authentic Berber culture. The gorge (actually a series of separate gorges) was carved out by the passage of the Dades River and is navigable via a road known locally as the Road of a Thousand Kasbahs.
Those that drive its hairpin bends can expect to discover breathtaking rock formations in colors that range from tan and beige to gold, rust red, and dusky mauve. The historic kasbahs and ksour, or fortified villages, of the Berber people overlook the valley, where the river breathes life into groves of palm and almond trees.
Local people still inhabit some of these villages, while many of the kasbahs have been converted into boutique hotels for Dadès Gorge explorers.
Between tradition and modernity, Marrakech is the promise of unequalled sensations. Strolling the Jemaa El-Fna square and the souks with their shimmering colours and oriental smells, the red city offers you a complete change of scenery. Horse-drawn carriage rides, sunny terraces, travelling artists and other day and night activities will give a tates of wishful comeback.
You will be able to admire all the architectural richness of the Medina, upon visiting one of its many riads, small oriental palaces overlooking a beautiful patio. You can also relax and recharge at the Menara, a vast garden with an emblematic basin. Marrakech shower its visitors by its splendour and its diversity, you just have to leave the ramparts to be immersed in modern Morocco. The districts of Gueliz and Hivernage offer the most modern infrastructures, luxury boutiques and international ready-to-wear stores, airy avenues; which all contribute to Marrakech’s unique offering.
Being a growing economic bustling city, Marrakech has special festive and cultural places, such as the « Palais des Congres » and the splendid Royal Theater. Enjoy Marrakech at night by discovering the many themed venues, trendy clubs and traditional evenings that reflect the lively part of the city.
- Hotel pickup / drop-off
- Transfer in comfortable vehicle
- English speaking driver
- Local guides
- Meals as per itinerary
- Tips and personal expenses