The Sahara Desert: from Fes to Marrakech
This tour is the ideal way to visit the Sahara Desert on the way from Fes to Marrakech, crossing the Middle and High Atlas Mountains as you go. It can be taken over 3 days, with the option of extending to 4 or 5 days, depending on the time you have available. If you would like some activities such as sand-boarding or quad-biking in the desert, or hiking in the Atlas Mountains, we can include these for you too.
Day 1: Over the Middle Atlas to the Sahara Desert
Fes • Middle Atlas • Ifrane • Azrou cedar forests • Midelt • Rissani • Sahara Desert • camel trek • luxury camp in Erg Chebbi dunes
From your hotel in Fes, we head up into the Middle Atlas. The road takes us past beautiful waterfalls, cedar forests and rock formations to the pretty town of Ifrane, with its Swiss-style chalets, Royal Palace and university. There are wonderful views as the road winds up to Azrou, and if you are lucky you might see some Barbary apes in the woods! We pass through Midelt, where massive peaks of the High Atlas (over 3700m) tower beyond the town, and travel on through the green Ziz Valley and its dramatic Gorge, carving its way through the mountains. We continue through palm oases and Rissani, with its lovely antiques market, to the town of Merzouga on the edge of the Sahara Desert in time for afternoon tea. From here you will mount your camels and trek out with your camel-driver into the heart of the desert for about 2 hours in the setting sun* – an unforgettable adventure! This brings you to a luxury desert camp, with beautiful private tents, where you can relax, have dinner, listen to traditional music around the camp fire, wander into the sands and marvel at the stars…
Day 2: Across the High Atlas to the Dades Gorge
Merzouga • Erfoud • Goulmima • Amellago • Tamtattouchte • Todhra Goge • Dades Gorge
Wake up early to see the sun rise over the dunes – it’s fun to climb the nearest dune to do this! Then have breakfast in your camp before a 45-minute camel ride back to your 4×4, which awaits you at a hotel offering second breakfast and the opportunity to take another shower if you wish. We go first to Erfoud, with its spectacular Fossil Museum (shown in the first two episodes of David Attenborough’s Life on Earth), then head off-road for a very scenic journey into the High Atlas. The winding track takes us through traditional Berber villages such as Goulmima with its palmery and kasbahs, and Amellago, set opposite dramatic rock cliffs, and stunning mountain landscapes. After Tamtattouchte, with its lovely white-painted marabout (pilgrimage chapel) beyond the town, the road descends through the famous Todhra Gorge, where you can stroll between its towering cliffs. Beyond the Gorge, we pass through the lovely palm oasis of Tinerhir, and head to the Dades Valley across the plain, with views of the Jebl Sahro mountains as sheep, goats and even camels graze near the road. We arrive at the Dades Valley in the late afternoon, the best time of day as the sun lights up the spectacular red rock formations of the ‘Monkey’s Fingers’ and the mountains beyond. We spend the night in the lovely Dades Gorge.
Day 3: The ancient caravan route to Marrakech
Dades Valley • Ouarzazate • Ait Ben Haddou • Telouet Kasbah • Tizi-n-Tichka Pass • Marrakech
We descend the lush green Dades Valley, known as ‘the valley of a thousand kasbahs’, passing the spectacular rock formations of the ‘Monkey’s Fingers’, and head towards Ouarzazate, the provincial capital, with views of the M’Goun Massif in the distance. Not far beyond Ouarzazate, we visit the spectacular hillside town of Ait Ben Haddou, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where over 20 major films have been made, from Lawrence of Arabia to Gladiator and Game of Thrones. It has the largest and best-preserved collection of kasbahs in Morocco. The journey continues on the ancient caravan route that brought goods from the South of Morocco to the cities of the north. We pass through wonderful scenery, mountains, gorges and traditional Berber villages, to visit the Kasbah of Telouet, former stronghold of the famous Glaoui tribe who ruled Morocco in the 19th century. This impressive fortress has a fine interior, decorated with ornate plasterwork, painted wooden panels and ceilings, and beautiful silks. We re-join the main road just before the Tizi-n-Tichka Pass (2260m), and enjoy the mountain scenery in the afternoon light, to arrive at your hotel in Marrakech in the early evening.
To extend this tour to 4 or 5 days choose one or both of the following options:
Optional day A: Explore the Sahara
After your first night in the desert, this is relaxing day to explore some of the fascinating aspects of life, culture and nature in the Sahara. The 4×4 allows us to visit the unique landscapes of the Erg Chebbi dunes (up to 160m high), hamada (flat desert) villages, and industrial heritage sites from the time of the French occupation and its mining industry. The town of Merzouga is a major centre of traditional Gnaoua music and dance, and you will be able to see Gnaoua musicians perform – an unmissable sight as they leap and whirl! It also lies near a large lake which hosts flocks of migrating birds, and offers great views of the dunes in the distance. There is plenty of time for fun activities such as sand-boarding, quad-biking, buggy-driving, or longer camel treks if you wish.
Optional day B: Excursion to the Valley of the Roses
After your first night in the Dades Gorge, why not take what is probably the most beautiful day trip in all of Morocco? Perfect for an exciting day off the beaten track. Today your Sahara Atlas Tours driver-guide will take you on an off-road adventure through spectacular mountain scenery and rock formations towards the range of Mount M’Goun, the second highest mountain in Morocco. You will have a chance to meet nomad families in remote locations, see the caves where they live, and share a glass of tea with them. Depending on the weather, either you will have lunch in a charming local restaurant or a delightful picnic in a shady gorge. We travel on through the Valley of the Roses, one of the main regions in the world for growing damask roses, which hedge every small field. They only bloom briefly in May, when the buds are picked to make many rose products. The valley is lush and green most of the year, and we will pass many traditional Berber villages, with earth-built houses and stunning kasbahs. If you like, you can take easy walks through parts of the valley and some of the villages. We return to the Dades Gorge in the late afternoon.
What will be included in our price quote:
- fully private tour
- collection from and drop-off at your hotels at the start and end of the tour
- all travel in comfortable air-conditioned 4×4 Toyota Landcruiser or equivalent, fully licensed and insured for tourist transport, including fuel
- services of an experienced local driver-guide (speaks English, French, Arabic, Berber)
- half board accommodation in the Sahara Desert and the Dades Gorge (i.e. dinner, bed and breakfast)
- services of an expert local hiking guide if required
- camel trek
Not included in the price:
- lunches and drinks
- entrance fees to heritage sites (usually around 50Dh-70Dh per person)
- local fees for desert activities e.g. sand-boarding, quad-biking
- tips (if you choose to give them)