This 5 day private Morocco tour leaves Marrakech over the Atlas Mountains and reaches Sahara, returning via the Atlantic coast, packing in just 5 days more landscapes, activities and local traditions than any other similar length tour.
The itinerary follows the old caravan route from Marrakech into the Sahara's dunes, returning via an off the beaten track route over the majestic Atlas Mountains or by the Atlantic coast via Agadir or Essaouira. No other tour packs so much diversity in just 5 days as we take in breath taking wild nature and the local culture of the Berber, Jewish and Bedouin people. Our route will take us past valleys, canyons, palm groves, lakes, rivers, woodlands and mountains. We will explore mysterious Ksours and kasbahs, Berber granaries and grottoes, have tea with the nomads in the Sahara, walk in the shade of palm leaves, cross the Sahara desert, uncover 12the century old Tinmel mosque and shed off the desert sand on the Atlantic coast.
Day 1: Marrakech- Tizi n Tichka- Telouet- Ait Benhaddou ( 4 hour drive)
As our 5-day tour leaves Marrakech, the distant haze begins to resolve itself into a jagged mountain range - the High Atlas mountains, jutting abruptly from the plain. Our route follows the same one caravans used centuries ago, to bring into Marrakech slaves, gold and precious wood from the other side of the ocean of sand, Sahara.
[... in the sands of that country is gold, treasure inexpressible. They have much gold and merchants trade with salt for it, taking the salt on camels from the salt mines. They start from a town called Sijilmasa... and travel in the desert as it were upon the sea, having guides to pilot them by the stars or rocks in the desert. ] ( Tohfut-ul- Alaby by anonymous author, 12th century)
Beautiful scenery and small villages built in tiers succeed among oak trees, walnut groves and snow patches before arriving at the Tizi n Tichka pass, at 2100 meters high. Once over the pass a totally different picture is unveiled: the lunar landscape of the Anti Atlas. Scent of thyme from the bushes around fills the air.
Just after the pass, the tour leaves the tarmac and goes off road to then reach Telouet and former pasha's palace dominating the village, a fortified citadel that is both a microcosm of an empire and its demise. Pacha Glaoui overshadowed the sultan by controlling most of nowadays Morocco and decided to erect a palace in the middle of nowhere, where his family had originated from. He had employed the most skilled artisans to build and decorate his main residence and, in its golden age, armies, stables and Christian slaves were confined within its walls while a flourishing Jewish community was managing the nearby salt mines.
Leaving Telouet behind, our Moroccan itinerary crosses spaghetti western backgrounds to then follow the canyon. The gardens by the river bed melt into a gigantic green serpent imprisoned between the barren light brown walls of the canyon, only to escape out into the horizon. Here and there, decaying kasbahs stand witnesses of an age soon resolute. Late afternoon. The right time to visit UNESCO site of Ait Benhaddou, the postcard- like adobe citadel. A fat, red sun, only underlines the beige tones of the mud and straws mixture and through the covered passages and stone walls, the past filters itself into the present. In spite of the local ‘guides’, the best is to just lose yourselves in its alleyways. There is always a new way to reach its peak, from where the snowcapped Atlas Mountains framed by the denim blue sky will steal your breath away. If the climb up hadn’t already. Dinner and accommodation next to Ait Benhaddou.
Day 2: Ait Benhaddou- Ouarzazate- Agdz- Zagora ( 3 hour drive)
After breakfast, our trip crosses Ouarzazate, made famous by its film studios where scenes of 'Game of Thrones' and 'Gladiator' were shot. As we leave Ouarzazate behind, the road skirts through desolate arid landscapes. Soon after, the road climbs, twists and turns its way up into the bare dark brown mountains, before breaking through the scarp at the pass of Tizi n'Tinififft and descend onto the lush palmgrove of Agdz. Right after the pass you catch a first glimpse of the valley and the oases, the green swath of palms snaking up into the haze bordered by the Kasbahs, adobe guardians rising as if from the earth where the green gives way to the desert. There is no road sign but somehow you become aware you have entered a different land, Le Grand Sud.
Draa Valley, with its numerous oases, Biblical adobe villages and kasbahs, used as overnight stops by the caravans until not too long ago is the beginning of the 'caravan highway' connecting for centuries Timbuktu, Gao and the kingdoms of Ghana and Mali to Morocco.
[Until the beginning of the 17th century the Taghaza- Timbuktu road, pre- eminent in the gold trade and still more important as a cultural highway appears to have been the greatest of the routes across the desert. At any rate, up to the 1880's the Saharan trade was a factor of considerable importance in the economy of Morocco] ( E.W. Bovill - The Golden Trade of the Moors)
We will stop at Tamnougalt and roam through the eerie kasbah before crossing over the palm grove and stopping to see a small untouched community of Harratin, likely descendants from traded slaves. Further on, you can also admire megalithic rock paintings depicting animals and hunting scenes. Our itinerary today concludes with reaching the tranquil town of Zagora. A mock serious road sign spelling 'Timbuktu – 52 days by camel' still greets the visitors. Even though some guide books and travel agents want to have you believe the desert starts here, the Sahara and its saffron dunes are waiting patiently in the distance, the first real dunes a 2 hour drive away. We will stop for accommodation and dinner in a beautiful guest house nested in the palmgrove nearby.
Day 3: Zagora- Tamegroute- Mhamid- Erg Chigaga ( 3 hour drive).
In the shade of an ocean of palm trees, locals get the best out of their fertile land as olives, pumpkins, quinces, apples, pomegranate, wheat and barley all grow aroused by the ancestral system of irrigation. We more than recommend a guided tour of this unique habitat. The nearby village of Amezrou, carries on the Jewish tradition of silver crafting and the local adobe Jewish synagogue still stands. We will stop for a break in Tamegroute where century old Qorans and Arab treaties on astronomy and sciences are neatly arranged behind glass windows at the local library. The same village carries a pottery tradition known throughout Morocco and it is of interest to witness the shaping and baking of the emerald pots and dishes inside traditional earth ovens. Crossing Jbel Bani, we wave hello to Mount Tagine on our right and, before long, we reach M’hammid, where the tarmac ends - the last village before the Sahara.
The next two hours of our tour make full use of the four wheel drive as rocky desert gives way to gravel and then sand dunes, past the occasional water well and oasis. The anticipation built doesn’t quite prepare you for the spectacle ahead of you: sleepy yet shifting leviathans of sand as far as the sight can stretch, dotted by the occasional desert camp. These are the dunes of Erg Chigaga. Here, we can arrange for you to be met and taken by camel ride to the camp for the last bit of the way. While the staff of the camp is unloading your luggage and preparing your dinner, you climb onto the highest dune you can find. And lose yourself. As the sun slowly sets over the dunes, there is nowhere else you would rather be. At night, dazed by the millions of stars glittering above, the silence is so thick you feel you could cut a strip and wear it as a scarf as you fall asleep. Dinner and accommodation in a private tent.
Day 4: Erg Chigaga- Foum Zguid- Tazenakht- Taroudant ( 7 hour drive).
(If you have an extra day at hand, it is worth spending an extra night in Tata inside a 500 year old noble house to then reach Taroudant on the evening of the next day following one of the most dramatic and off the beaten track roads in Morocco).
Should you have missed the sunrise… well, try not to. If yesterday was about getting away from civilization, today is about getting back to it. After toddling across sand dunes, our trip reaches the perfectly flat Lake Iriki, nowadays completely dry, where the Draa river used to form its estuary. Later on, we will have tea with a family of nomads and search for fossils. Then, we take on the hamada, the much dreaded stony desert, to finally reach Foum Zguid. Farewell Sahara, hello tarmac. On the way to Taroudant, we pass through Tazenakht, a carpet weaving center and center of Berber carpets trade and then Taliouine with its magnificent Kasbah. This is also where the best saffron is grown throughout Morocco.
Arriving in Taroudant, there is hardly anything more relaxing after the desert trip than a plunge in the refreshing pool and/ or ridding off the sand inside the in- house hammam ( steam bath) at the local guest house. As the lights start to twinkle, in the gardens the scent of jasmine perfumes the air while dinner is set. Dinner and accommodation inside the medina of Taroudant or in the palm grove nearby.
Day 5: Taroudant- Tizi n Test- Tinmel- Asni- Marrakech or Taroudant- Agadir- Marrakech ( 4- 5 hour drive).
Taroudant lies in the middle of a fertile agricultural plain that crashes into the foothills of the Anti Atlas while nudging the Sahara in the south. Also called sometimes ‘Petit Marrakech’ due to its similar looking walled old town, it is in fact older than its northern sister. Its walls were built by the Saadi sultans back in 16th century when the city was their capital and the main base to attack Portuguese invaders on the nearby Atlantic coast. In this quiet town where most folks go around on their bycicle, hop on a caleche and have a tour around the city walls or wander the souks best known for silver, honey and argan oil and imagine how Marrakech used to be 30 years ago.
Back on the road we are now taking up the imposing High Atlas this time reaching the Tizi n Test pass at 2100 meters, surrounded by snowy peaks. After the pass, our Moroccan itinerary serpents its way through the mountains and scattered Berber villages. At first sight just another Berber village, Tinmel is the birth place of the Almohad dynasty, who was to rise and shape a great empire in the 12th century stretching from Senegal all the way into Spain and Algeria. The open air mosque was built on the model of the mosque in Cordoba and the remains are worth a visit. Later, as you cross Asni, to your right you can wave hello to Mount Toubkal, the highest peak in Nothern Africa and have a late lunch at Richard Branson's nearby Kasbah Tamadot.
If you prefer, you can also return to Marrakech via the highway from Agadir, after having enjoyed some time on the beach just north of Agadir. The beaches around up- and- comingTaghazout are embraced by a warm sea current, local restaurants offer inventive fresh fish cuisine and you can swim in the Atlantic most of the year. Agadir is only a 1 hour drive from Taroudant and 3 hours on the highway to Marrakech. Arrive in Marrakech in the evening. Drop off at your riad/ hotel for the night, the train station or the airport. End of the tour.
You may choose to follow the original tour itinerary as described on the website or have us create a customized Moroccan itinerary around you. Please note that all our tours of Morocco are private and that stops are accommodated along the way as often as you desire, for you to visit a site, take a stunning photo or stretch your legs.
We believe our guests deserve to be spoiled and stay only at the best properties while on a customized tour of Morocco. We spend a great deal of time and effort to anonymously test and hand- pick the best boutique and luxury hotels, Riads , eco lodges and Kasbahs across Morocco. These select properties are constantly monitored and updated. Each one of them is inspired by and reflecting the culture, architecture and cuisine of its location. They do not fit into a rigorous star rating system, so we have named them Dreamers, Privilege and Divine, to best resume their nature. A day- to- day customized Moroccan itinerary with the names of the accommodations suggested at each overnight will be provided at the time of the enquiry.
Please find below the resumed itinerary ( driving times exclude stops ):
Day 1: Marrakech - Tizi n Tichka - Telouet - Ait Benhaddou (4 hour drive).
Day 2: Ait Benhaddou- Ouarzazate - Agdz - Zagora ( 3 hour drive).
Day 3: Zagora - Tamegroute - Mhamid - Erg Chigaga dunes ( 3 hour drive).
Day 4: Erg Chigaga - Lake Iriki - Foum Zguid - Tazenakht - Taroudant ( 7 hour drive).
Day 5: Taroudant - Tizi n Test - Tinmel - Asni - Marrakech ( 5 hour drive) or Taroudant - Agadir - Marrakech/ Essaouira ( 4 hour drive).
Feel free to let us know if you would like to include a site/ activity of your own in the itinerary. If you don't know where to start some ideas may be:
- organic honey tasting experience;
- visit the nomad grottos;
- Moroccan cooking class with introduction to Medina's street food;
- be introduced to the architectural wonders of the Anti Atlas granaries;
- take a class in Moroccan pottery;
- trekking/ mountain biking in the High Atlas/ Anti Atlas;
- learn about life in the palm grove, the khetarra irrigations, the pottery craft, the olive oil press;
- bake bread with the village ladies on almond corks.
Below you will find our rates based on two persons travelling together, with the relevant accommodation option:
Dreamers: 695 €/ 745 US $/ 600 £ per person (double room and basic tent);
Privilege: 1090 €/ 1170 US $ / 940 £ per person (double junior suite & luxury tent with en suite shower and toilet);
Divine: rates are available on request.
Pricing is tentative and can vary slightly at different times of the year. If you book your tour to take place in December, January ( outside end of the year holidays), February, July and August, you will be charged our low season rates. We can only quote an exact rate once we have agreed on the precise itinerary, accommodation option preferred, the extras you would like to include and the duration of the journey. Discounts apply when 3 or more persons share the vehicle(s). You can also choose to mix different accommodation ranges within the same circuit.
Our rates include:
- private use of the English fluent driver-guide and modern air-conditioned Toyota 4x4;
- boutique/ luxury hotel accommodation for 3 nights;
- Sahara camel trek & private basic/ luxury tent for 1 night;
- 4 three- course- meal dinners and 4 breakfasts for 2 persons;
- airport or hotel pick- up and drop off;
- caleche ride and/ or visit to the souks in Taroudant;
- refreshing drinks inside the vehicle all along the itinerary;
- admission fees to all local sites and attractions;
- 24 hours travel assistance ( with Privilege/ Divine option);
- gasoline and highway tolls;
- transport insurance, VAT and visitors tax.
Most of our guests prefer adding an extra day to either allow for some relaxing time by the beach in Essaouira or trekking in the Atlas Mountains. We can also break the distance in two on Day 4 if you think the drive is too long.