The Sahara Desert: Round Trip from Marrakech
Discover the Sahara Desert in just a short tour from Marrakech, crossing the High Atlas Mountains on the way. This tour can be taken over 3 days, with the option of extending to 4 or 5 days. We can also break the long journey back to Marrakech in two stages, stopping over in Tamnougalt or Ait Ben Haddou. If you would like some activities such as sand-boarding and quad-biking in the desert, or hiking in the Atlas Mountains, we can include these for you too.
Day 1: The ancient caravan route to the South
Marrakech • High Atlas • Tizi-n-Tichka Pass • Telouet Kasbah • Ait Ben Haddou • Ouarzazate • Skoura • Dades Gorge
From Marrakech, your Sahara Atlas Tours driver-guide will take you up into the mountains of the High Atlas and over the Tizi-n-Tichka Pass (2260m), amid traditional Berber villages and dramatic peaks that are often capped with snow. Just beyond the pass, we turn off the main road onto the ancient caravan route which brought goods from the south of Morocco to Marrakech and the cities of the north, stopping to visit the beautiful 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. The route continues on through spectacular scenery, mountains, gorges and traditional Berber villages with houses built from the local earth, to the hillside town of Ait Ben Haddou, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where many 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. From here we head across the plain to the lush and peaceful Dades Valley, with views of the M’goun mountain range in the distance. Late afternoon is the best time to arrive, as the sun lights up the spectacular red rock formations of the ‘Monkey’s Fingers’ and the mountains beyond. You will spend the night in the lovely Dades Gorge.
Day 2: From the Dades and Todhra Gorges to the Sahara Desert
Dades Valley • Todhra Gorge • Erfoud • Merzouga • Erg Chebbi dunes • camel trek • luxury desert camp
We set off down the Dades Valley to the provincial centre of Tinerhir, and detour here to visit its extensive palm oasis and stroll through the famous Todhra Gorge – an unmissable sight in this area. We then head out towards the Sahara Desert, past stunning kasbahs, stopping at Erfoud to visit its renowned Fossil Museum, featured in David Attenborough’s BBC TV series about the origins of life on earth. We continue on to arrive for tea in the late afternoon at the foot of the golden dunes of the Erg Chebbi in the Sahara. 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…
*Guests who wish to take a shorter camel ride or do not wish to ride camels can be transferred all or part of the way to the desert camp by 4×4 this evening and the next morning.
Day 3: Through the Draa Valley and back to Marrakech
Merzouga • Rissani • Draa Valley • Tamnougalt • Ouarzazate • Tizi-n-Tichka Pass • Marrakech
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 set off through palm oases to the town of Rissani, with its lovely antiques market, and then along the Draa Valley. There are many beautiful kasbahs and palm groves along the way, including the huge ksar (large kasbah for many families) at Tamnougalt which you can visit if you wish. The valley brings us to the town of Ouarzazate, and we then return over the High Atlas, passing traditional Berber villages, and crossing the Tizi-n-Tichka Pass from a different direction. Once again, the mountain scenery is spectacular, especially bathed in the afternoon light. You will be dropped back 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: Excursion to the Valley of the Roses
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: Explore the Sahara
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)