From Marrakech to Merzouga | 3 Day Sahara Desert Tour in Morroco
…. To appreciate and discover the wonders of the Moroccan Sahara, the most popular circuit for tourists remains the one from Marrakech to Merzouga. Different valleys of tourist renowm, breathtaking canyon gorges and spectacular landscapes embellish the route. Passing through the Thousand Kasbahs Road and the Valley of the Roses, you will also discover numerous Palmeraies. In collective or private, by bus or car, this 3-day tour will take you to the dunes of the Erg Chebbi. A night under the stars at the foot of the desert dunes will remain an unforgettable experience of your stay in Morocco.
1 / From Marrakech to the Dades Gorges : Description – Day 1
From Marrakech, with your collective excursion via your Riad/ Hotel, or with your private tour guide or your personal car rental. Here are the essential steps and visits to make during your journey to the Sahara desert.
This is not an exhaustive list – depending on your rhythm, time, guide, other places are to be discovered. Please also note that your agency tour may not include the visits mentioned below, especially in a group excursion.
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Please note that, depending on the local or foreign travel agencies, the program may vary in its organisation, its progress and its duration. Indeed, tours with different themes will put more emphasis on Moroccan history and traditions and will focus more on the discovery of the different Kasbahs. While other tours aiming at making you discover the experience of the Sahara, will quickly pass over all the points of visit of the excursion.
Similarly, variations in duration are proposed by the agencies, adding 1 or even 2 extra days to reduce the return journey (9 hours drive on a 3-day tour). But above all to help you discover other valleys and exceptional places.
All this will depend on your time and budget, and above all on whether you organise your tour collectively or privately.
a- Marrakech / Ouarzazate : Descent into Berber Country
After an early morning departure from Marrakech (7.15 am) towards National Road RN9, this first day will be intense in discovery, colours and sensations.
The Tizi N’Tichka Pass
This mountain pass at 2260m of altitude in the Moroccan High Atlas is the obligatory point to link Marrakech to the Valleys of the South. Situated 100 k from Marrakech, this “pasture pass” (literal translation in Berber language) has no less than 800 bends.
The peaks surrounding the pass rise to 3000m and more, including the famous Mount Toubkal (at 4167m), the highest peak in the Atlas Mountains and North Africa. Ask about its possible closure in case of bad weather and snow.
Stop for a few minutes for an extraordinary view of the plain of the Province of Marrakech.
Facing south on the slopes of the High Atlas, this pretty valley stretches from Telouet to Aït Ben Haddou. You will find its entrance by branching off National Road RN9 to your left on Road RP1506, a few kilometers after the pass.
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There are several stopping points and places to visit in this pretty valley, which was once the old spice merchant caravan trail :
- The Kasbah of Telouet, built bêtes the 17th and 19th century, is composed of huge buildings. It was the former Glaoui Palace, strongly known and developed by Thami El Glaoui. Today in ruins, but open to the visitors because the living rooms of interior still reflect well the splendour of the Moroccan craft industry of this palace.
- The Troglodyte Caves of Tazleft, used by man as shelter/inhabitation and storage of goods and salt from the region.
- The Kasbah of Tamdaght with its gardons and citadel, opens its doors to you from this former residence of the Glaoui. Famous also because it was used as a prison for the Oufkir family, General having hatched a coup d’état against the late King Hassan II in 1972.
The road between the Pass and the Kasbah of Aït Ben-Haddou being shorter without passing through the Telouet Valley. Many excursions avoid the Valley of Ounila, so prefer a private excursion so as not to miss its splendours.
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b – Aït Ben-Haddou / Ouarzazate: Gateway to the Desert and Southern Morocco
Kasbah d’Ait Ben-Haddou
Listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, Ait Ben-Haddou is an ancient fortress surrounded by its walls and is a typical example of a Ksar. Sitting at the top of a hill, it is characterised by numerous dwellings built of pisa (earth and red mud), as well as its defensive corner towers. Unlike many other Ksour in the region, the Ksour of Aïd Ben-Haddou is very well maintained and a visit is recommended.
Many films and feature films have been shot there such as : Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia, The Mummy, The Nile Diamonds, and most recently Games of Thrones.
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– Considered as the “Gateway to the Desert”, this city at the confluence of the Dades and Draa Valleys (through its wadis) can be quickly visited. However some tourist points are worth the diversion :
- The Kasbah of Taourirt, leaning against the Medina, was built in the 17th century. Restored and classified as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, this residence of the Pasha shows the pomp and opulence of this lord of yesteryear.
- The Studios Atlas du Cinéma, because since the 60s, the city and its surroundings (notably Ait Ben Haddou) are prized for shooting feature films. Rediscover the sets of legendary films, from the oldest to the most recent.
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- The Oasis of Fint, located 15 km on the road to Zagora, is a palm oasis stretching over a few kilometres. Fint means “hidden” in Berber, or its difficulty to access and discover it. Surrounded by small hills of black rock, the striking contrast is the reason for its choice by many filmmakers.
c – On the Route of a Thousand Kasbahs and the Valley of the Roses
Let’s now take the famous road of the 1000 Kasbahs stretching from Skoura to Goulmima, 230 kilometres long (the N10). It is lined with Ksars, old Douars, and authentic traditional Kasbahs – it follows the Dades and Todra Valleys, and the Valley of the Roses.
Skoura – Kelaat M’Gouna
Skoura is a small town built by Yacoub Al Mansour in the 12th century, surrounded by a palm grove in which many Kasbahs exist including the famous Kasbah of Amerhidil.
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Built at the end of the 18th century is a former Zaouia, a religious building in which the principles of Islam were taught. For the record, it appears on the old 50 dirham banknotes. Very well preserved, on the façade and inside, it contains a small museum on gold coins, manuscripts and traditional Berber costumes.
Kelaat M’Gouna, is a city famous for its Moussem (festival) of the Roses (in May) and its production of cosmetic products based on roses (essential oil, water). At the crossroads of the Dades and M’Goun rivers, the Kasbah M’Goun overlooks the Valley of the Roses. As far as the eye can see during flowering, roses, poppies, almond trees and oleanders line the bottom of this valley.
It should be noted that on the outskirts of the town, the Douar Azlag was home to the small Jewish community (which left in the 1960s) and is the origin of the famous Daggers Azlag. Traditional manufacture still perpetuated today – often bought from tourists throughout the Kingdom.
The Dades Gorges Valley : canyons and panoramas
30 kilometres long, between the towns of Boulmane Dades and M’semrir, this valley is in fact a series of 4 levels of gorges at different depths.
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Its very sinuous road is its centre of interest, due to its numerous panoramic viewpoints over the valley and also due to its kasbahs clinging to the mountainside. Starting points for many hikes, a guide is highly recommended for the discovery of these famous canyons of millenarian formation.
Don’t forget to stop in front of the famous ” Monkey Finger Cliffs “, or “Tamlat cliff”, an amazing geological creation 9km from Boulmane. Depending on your own perception, you will be offered multiple shapes : from monkey fingers to phallus and hat shapes.
A night in this splendid Gorge is a must at the end of a first day of about 9 hours of driving, rich in visits and history.
2 / From Marrakech to Merzouga : Todra Gorges to the Erg Chebbi : Description – Day 2.
The second day starts with the highlight of the night in à bivouac in the Sahara desert. However many visits are necessary unît the gates of the desert.
Starting with the town of Tinghir, an immense oasis 30 kilometres long, known for its palm grove, the town contains relasurés to be discovered :
- The old district of Mellah located in the current district of Aït el Haj Ali near the souk Focani. It breathes the traditions of the past with its high pisa houses and its numerous craftsmen.
- The Kasbah Glaoui, built on the rocks promontory of the city, is not to be visited. However, the panoramic view overlooking the city from its ramparts is breathtaking.
- The small Kasbah Museum of Sheikh Basou Ou-Ali is full of past photographs of the Ksours along the caravan trade routes.Photo Tinghir Route de Milles Kasbahs Maroc
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a – From the Gorges of Todra to Tinejdad : end of the Dades valley
Todra Gorge : the Grand Canyon of Morocco
15 kilometres north of Tinghir, a road leads up this long gorge with steep red walls falling steeply into the 300 metre high oued. It is necessary to arrive until the Source of the Sacred Fishes, so that the spectacle of this gorge reveals.
According to a legend, a sacred source of hot water from the Toudra oued was formed as a result of a thirsty man hitting a rock. From this water, fish sprang up (no one could fish them) and any woman who was infertile while drinking would be fertilized.
A paradise for hikers and climbers, with its 300 metres – but be careful to be accompanied by a professional guide.
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Tinejdad : the Museums of the Oases and Springs of Lalla Mimouna
Before leaving the route of the Thousand Kasbahs (the N10), the Ksar Tinejdad awaits us for the visit of its 2 museums :
- The Oasis Museum : installed on 600 m2 of 3 renovated buildings in the Ksar El Korbat Oujdid, it aims to gather a panel of elements on the Culture in the South of Morocco. Maps, photos, paintings and other antiques cover the themes of architecture, war, nomadic life, Islamic and Judaic worship, the tribal system for example. Note Near the museum, the presence of the Tasselbalbate sparkling water springs should be noted.
- The Lalla Mimouna Springs Art Museum, is a group of 9 small private museums in an enclosure 10 km from Tinejdad. Gathering various objects and tools on the themes of desert life, Berber culture, water, calligraphy, etc..
b – From Marrakech to Merzouga – Rissani: Gates of the Desert
35 kilometres from Erg Chebbi on the banks of the river Ziz, Risanni is often referred to as the city of the Gates of the Desert. Cradle of the Alaouite dynasty, still in power – this holy city offers several places to visit :
City of Rissani
- The Moulay Ali Cherif Mausoleum : funeral chamber created in 1666 for the founder of the dynasty who is the 7th descendant Hassan Addakhil, eldest son of Ali Talia and Fatima Zahra, Dughet of the prophet Mohammed.
Attention, the sacred enclosure and the mosque are forbidden to non-Muslims, only the patio and its passageways are accessible to them. This patio is divided into 4 gardent representing the 4 seasons.
Place of pilgrimage nowadays for its Zaouia.
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- The Ksar El Fida, is an imposing Kasbah from the middle of the 19th century, housing since 2005 a museum of Berber carpets and other crafts of the daily life of the time. Note the portraits of the Alaouite dynasty in all the salons.
At the entrance of the town, direction Errachidia, remember to stop at the Ruins of Sijilmassa. Archaeological site on one of the cities founded in the 8th century, former capital of Tafilalet in the Middle Ages. There are only 2 decorated gates left of this city, a crossing point for the exchange of Sudanese gold and Europe as early as the 12th century.
Don’t miss the splendid Palmeraie of Tafilatet which literally surrounds the town of Rissani
c – Merzouga : Gates of the Sahara / Bivouac at the foot of the Erg Chebbi Dunes
At the end of a 4 hour drive from the Gorges de Dades, here rise like a mirage the Dunes of the Sahara. Located 50 kilometres from the border with Algeria, Merzouga is famous for its dunes, the highest in Morocco. Opening onto the Erg Chebbi, an immense 27km long and 7km wide dune belt, Merzouga is known as the “Gateway to the Sahara“.
According to legend, the Dunes appeared as a result of God’s anger at the refusal of the opulent inhabitants of Merzouga to provide food for a poor lady and her son.
To discover the dunes of the Desert, several options are available to you :
- Camel trekking 1 to 2 hours, from the inns of Merzouga, with or without bivouac in a Berber tent at the foot of the Dunes. Enjoy a magnificent sunset, take a sand bath, enjoy a delicious Berber meal, make the party. Get up at dawn with the sun and come-back with beautiful images in your head.
- On a classic hike or a trek, with the help of a guide
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Don’t forget to protect and respect the Desert and its dunes, adopt the right ecological gestures and protect this fragile natural habitat.
Many group excursions include overnight bivouacking in the Erg Chebbi – let us guide you. For the independants, don’t hesitate to enquire about hiking and bivouac rates at the many inns around Merzouga.
3 / From Marrakech to Merzouga Return through the Draa Valley : Description – Day 3.
After a night under the stars and an early dawn, it is time to return to Marrakech. A long 9-hour drive passes by the same sites for the collective excursions (Rissani- Tinghir- Ouarzazate).
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However a less boring alternative, less express but just as long in terms of time, is possible and recommended by the Draa Valley.
Several points of tourist interest can be discovered from Risanni to Agdz. Along the Djebel Saghro and Amoun rivers which dominate the Draa Valley, and the rocky desert Hamada of Draa (extension of the desert).
a – Alnif and Tazarine : In the footsteps of our ancestors
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Alnif : Cradle of Meteorites and Fossils
The first town on the Route to the Draa Valley, Alnif, apart from being famous for its potatoe, is above all known for being a site rich in fossils and meteorites. Especially the Trilobites – marine animals of the primary era, ancestors of man.
Tazarine : Henna and Rupestrian Paintings
Located at the foot of Djebel Saghro, Tazarrine with its palm grove shelters pretty gardens where palm trees and other plants grow, especially Henna. Not only famous for dates and Henna, it is also known for its Berber embroidery.
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Outside the town, follow the signs to visit the famous Rupestrian Paintings of Aït -Ouazik dating back more than 10,000 years, i.e. to the Neolithic period. They faithfully represent the fauna of the time (rhinoceros, elephants, antelopes, giraffes) and are made by Berber hunter-pastoralists.
b – N’kob and Agdz : end of the Draa Valley
N’kob : village with 45 Kasbahs
Famous for its immense restored Kasbahs, N’kob is also known for its N’Akb cave. It was used as a stopover for nomads on a nearby hill.
From the village you can go hiking, camel or mule riding. You can also go mountain biking towards the rocky desert of the Hammada, the Djebel Saghro or the canyons of the Djebel Amoum.
Agdz : the Jbel Kissane and the Kasbah of Tamnougalt
From Agdz, the Draa Valley starts to join Zagora and M’Hamid. Don’t forget to look and visit :
- Jbel Kissane, a long rocky ridge 1485m high overlooking Agdz with its summit strongly resembling a Tagine Plate.
- The Kasbah of Tamnougalt, is a fortified village built on a rocky promontory in the 16th century by a family of Berber Caïds, the Mezguita. It is now in a state of degradation after the departure of the Jewish community and the loss of its powers. Superb panoramic viewpoint over the valley.
- The Waterfalls of Draa, 12 kilometres from Agdz in the village of Tizgui. 10m high, you can swim there.
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c – Tizi N’Tinififft Ouarzazate : towards the return to Marrakech
The Tizi N’Tinififft pass marks the beginning of the return journey to Marrakech.
At an altitude of 1660m, it is the obligatory passage between Ouarzazate and the Draa Valley. Lunar and dark landscape, it is made of rocks and rocky outcrops without any vegetation. It is also a spectacular canyon down below.
After its passage and its descent towards Ouarzazate, the return to Marrakech Ouarzazate begins.
4 / How to get from Marrakech to Merzouga ? Bus, Car or Plane ?
Situated about 560 km from Marrakech, Merzouga is reached after one of Morocco’s most breathtaking roadtrips through the Dades Valley or the one further south through the Draa Valley.
Many will choose the advantages offered by a fully organised Car or 4×4 excursion in a group or privately, such as :
- Negotiated rates, usually payable at the end of the tour via your Riad/Hotel.
- Pre-arranged visits and stops.
- Hotel accommodation in Dades / Bivouac and Desert Hiking pre-organised.
- No driving worries, rest and admire the scenery. No Speed Limit Fine from the Police
However what are the different ways to get to Merzouga, car, bus or plane? Which is the cheapest, the shortest in terms of time, the fastest ?
a – How to get from Marrakech to Merzouga by car?
Allow 9 hours of travel time, excluding lunch stops and other discovery breaks and visits. With a budget of around 50/60 euros, make sure you have enough money to pay for all the activities :
- Respect the speed limits, which can vary quickly without noticing it. Beware of fines and royal gendarmes.
- Keep an eye on your petrol gauge to make sure you don’t break down. Unless you’re less than halfway through, remember to refill the tank.
- Watch your sides, workers, children, and animals that may appear at the last moment without seeing them, especially on winding and steep roads.
- Finally, choose your type of vehicle carefully. According to the seasons (air conditioning in summer, snow tyres in winter), and especially the use you will make of it (road, track, sand and rocky rides).
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b – How to get from Marrakech to Merzouga : by Bus or Plane?
The cheapest way, for budding nomads, the bus remains the ideal. Count on a budget of 30/45euros, but unfortunately also a 14-hour journey and many bus changes.
Few buses per day however, 1 per day on average. Be careful not to miss the connections between Marrakech/Errachidia and Errachidia/Rissani. From Rissani to Merzouga, only a taxi will take you there with other Moroccans.
Also take care for safety and to avoid disappointments :
- Keep an eye on your belongings throughout the journey and during stops and changes.
- Remember to buy your bus ticket the day before if possible from the CTM or Supratour agencies.
- Prepare the right change as well and negotiate the taxi fare well (around 12 euros).
- Remember to buy food and water for the duration of the journey.
By Plane, it is the fastest way, under conditions of timetables and good connections. The trip Marrakech to Merzouga can be done by plane in 8 hours time for a budget of 70/150euros.
Please note however that it depends on :
- Seasons, because at certain time of the year flights are not guaranteed.
- Transfer and waiting times between flights, different taxis.
- The price of a Marrakech Errachidia ticket or a Marrakech Casablanca Errachidia ticket via Royal Air Maroc or Air Arabia (1 or 2 flights per week only).
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c – What advice and practical information?
In private or in a group, a few tips are necessary before and during your excursion in order to optimise your experience.
Think before leaving your Riad /Hotel :
- Take a paper copy of your passport for the accommodation formalities.
- Take money accordingly, being informed in advance about what the price of the excursion covers (breakfast, lunch, dinner, bivouac and hiking, etc.) which you will pay directly to the hotel preferably.
- Take some clothes according to the different seasons, as the desert can be very hot as well as very cold in winter.
Think before you leave, and for your own safety :
- Take your identity papers and your driving licence for the accommodation and control formalities.
- Make sure you have the necessary vehicle rental papers and guarantees – and that your health cover is covered by your international insurance company.
- Take some clothes according to the different seasons, as the desert can be very hot and very cold in winter.
- Know at least the route to be taken and take your road guide, know the prices for accommodation, food and visits (bivouac, camel trekking).
From Marrakech to the immense dunes of the Sahara Merzouga desert for a night under the stars, it’s not just a step away. On the road, multitudes of visits do the route, wonderful and beautiful valleys to discover await you. An unforgettable experience to be realised during a stay in Morocco, this roadtrip will be one of your most beautiful memories.
Admission Charge : Kasbah of Aït Ben-Haddou 10 dhs for the entrance of the Ksar / Kasbah of Taourirt 10 dhs / The Kasbah of Amerhidil 20 dhs / Oasis Museum 20 dhs / The Ksar El Fida 10 dhs / The Atlas Studios of Cinémas 50 dhs /
Some places do not have a pricing policy, but consider paying the entrance guard.
Visiting hours are often from 9am to 5pm.
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