South & desert

South & desert: When to Go

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02:45 | GMT + 0 Hours

TRAVEL ESSENTIALS

Getting There

OUARZAZATE TO ERFOUD

By car
From Ouarzazate to Tinerhir you drive along the Valley of a thousand kasbahs, and soon pass the huge and well-watered palmery of Skoura. Continue east and you pass the town of El Kelaa M'Gouna, well known for its rose water and rose gardens. Go in May and you might catch the rose festival (the date is dependent upon the time of harvest).

The dramatic Todra and Dades gorges snake inland from near here. Underground and seasonal rivers have drained the Atlas range of its snow- and storm-waters, carving out deep ravines as they go. In places they are neck-craningly steep-sided, with 300m high walls whose pink rock glows as the sun sets. With a little help from a jeep, a mountain bike, or a local travel company, you can make a circuit of both gorges, starting and ending at Tinerhir, a surprisingly lively little town about 2 hours from Ouarzazate

From Tinerhir you can head east for a couple of hours to Erfoud and then on another 50km to reach the beautiful Erg Chebbi sand dunes near Merzouga on the edge of the Sahara (600km from Marrakech). These are Morocco's most beautiful and accessible dunes, reaching 200-300m in height, but be warned, it is on the tourist trail, so touts will hassle you to go on sunrise excursions. We recommend booking ahead - stay at Kanz Erremal. You can also book quad-biking, sand-boarding and multi-day desert excursions through them.

By bus
Buses go several times a day from Marrakech to Ouarzazate and from there to Tinehir and Erfoud. For greater flexibility, hire a car, 4x4 or 'grand taxi' (shared with other people and cheap). Merzouga now has a paved road all the way.

There are also daily bus services between Merzouga and Erfoud.

Approximate Distances
Marrakech-Ouarzazate: 200km/4hrs
Taroudant-Ouarzazate: 5 hrs
Ouirgane/Asni-Ouarzazate: 5hrs
Kasbah du Toubkal-Ouarzazate: 6 hrs

Ouarzazate-Tinerhir: 165km/3.5hrs
Tinerhir-Erfoud: 120km/2hrs
Erfoud-Rissani-Merzouga: 50km/2-3hrs

OUARZAZATE TO ZAGORA

By car
An alternative trip into the desert from Ouarzazate is to drive south to the oasis town of Zagora, the largest town in the lower Draa valley. As you drive, the subterranean river feeds extensive date palm groves, which form a long green ribbon bisecting the cliff-ringed mountains on either side. Every now and then a crumbling kasbah, whose mud walls are slowly being reclaimed by mother Earth, reminds you of the importance of this historic trans-Saharan trade route.

Zagora itself is modern and dusty, but there's a lush, shady Palmeraie just south of town with a couple of hotels and restaurants if you need a break. It's possible to continue south to the frontier-like oasis town of M'hamid, from where it's a further 1-day camel trek (or 2-3 hour jeep ride) to the fantastic dunes of Erg Chigaga: 300-metre mountains of sand rippling over an area of 1000 km2. You can sleep at a Berber-style camp in the middle of the desert. Even here you are several days’ walk from the Mauritanian border, a full 52 days by camel from Timbuctu (as attested by a sign in Zagora) and only halfway to Morocco’s southernmost point at Lagouira.

If you plan to go any further, don’t rely on us to find you accommodation, better take your own – in the form of a fully-equipped trans-Saharan Land Rover.

Approximate Distances
Ouarzazate-Zagora: 170km/4hrs
Zagora-Tinfou: 25km
Zagora-M'hamid: 95km/2-3hrs

OUARZAZATE TO ZAGORA

OUARZAZATE TO ZAGORA

By car
An alternative trip into the desert from Ouarzazate is to drive south to the oasis town of Zagora, the last of of a string of settlements in the lower Draa valley (you can also drive to Zagora from Tinehir in a jeep across the extraordinary, jagged peaks of the Jebel Sarhro). The rarely visible river feeds extensive date palm groves, which form a long green ribbon bisecting the cliff-ringed mountains on either side. Every now and then a crumbling kasbah, whose mud walls are slowly being reclaimed by mother Earth, reminds you of the importance of this historic trans-Saharan trade route.

Zagora itself is modern and dusty, but you can restore your batteries at the surprisingly comfortable and well-equipped Kasbah Asmaa (£), located in the Palmeraie just south of town, before exploring further south (if you have the energy) on a day drive to the sand dunes of Tinfou and M'hamid, or on a 2-day camel trek (arranged by the kasbah) to a Berber camp in the middle of the desert. Even here you are several days’ walk from the Mauritanian border, a full 52 days by camel from Timbuctu (as attested by a sign in Zagora) and only halfway to Morocco’s southernmost point at Lagouira.

If you plan to go any further, don’t rely on us to find you accommodation, better take your own – in the form of a fully-equipped trans-Saharan Land Rover.

Approximate Distances
Ouarzazate-Zagora: 170km/4hrs
Zagora-Tinfou: 25km
Zagora-M'hamid: 95km/2-3hrs