After spending a couple of days sightseeing in Morocco’s cities (see: Adventure Morocco – Part 1: The Cities) it was time to start our road trip. We had arranged a rental car through Auto Europe which we wanted to pick up in Fez. Picking up the car was already the first adventure, since the office had moved and no one knew the new address. Luckily we had just bought a Moroccan SIM card and were able to call the local renter. Like this, it worked out in the end! 🙂 Therefore, tip, do get a local SIM card…also helpful in case you are getting lost in a medina 😉
Our road trip should lead us out of Fez, across the Atlas mountains, into the Sahara, past gorges and oases, via Ait Ben Haddou – the Hollywood-City of Morocco – via the rock landscapes of Southern Morocco, to the ocean near Sidi Ifni.
We started in Fez with a short detour to the ruins of Volubilis, to Midelt in the middle of the Atlas mountains. Volubilis is an archaeological site where you can see ruins from the Roman antique. A perfect blue sky, great ruins – what should I say: We liked it! 🙂
We continued through desert-liked landscapes, higher and higher into the mountains – a section surprisingly green and with lots of trees. Midelt surprised us
also as being a cute town, where there are not many other tourists. In the evening it was a bit odd walking along the main road and pretty much only being surrounded by men – and everyone is staring at you 😀 But I never felt unsafe. Funnily enough the untouristy Midelt was one of the only places in Morocco where we found a supermarket that sold alcohol. The beer tasted even better because of this!! 🙂
Next day we drove further – down the other side of the mountain range until Merzouga, the place where the camel tours into the Sahara and to the famous red sand dunes start from. On the way we passed by some spectacular rock landscapes – we were especially carried away by the Ziz Gorge! I think we must have stopped every couple of meters to take another picture and took more than double the time estimated for the drive to Er-Rachidia.
The drive from Er-Rachidia to Merzouga was less spectacular and could be classified as „barren moon-landscape“ – until we reached Merzouga and were greeted by the red sand dunes from far away already. It’s best to book the camel trek in Merzouga already in advance, to escape the annoying touts who are waiting at the village entrance to stop you every couple of meters. It wouldn’t have been possible to compare different offers in peace anyways, so we were pretty happy to get picked up by Hakim from Moroccon Desert Trips (very much recommended!). We had a couple of hours to relax at the pool of the tour hotel, and then off we went!
It was about a 1 h ride through the pretty red sand dunes on the camels – a great experience!! Unfortunately it was a bit hazy so that the sun set was not that spectacular – the dunes were still awesome though.
Spending the night in a berber camp was another nice experience. Of course such a short tour doesn’t take you in the middle of the wilderness (not even possible with a 1 h camel trek), but we couldn’t see the lights of the city anymore from our camp – so there was definitely some desert feeling coming up 🙂 Dinner was delicious and abundant too – and the evening ended with berber songs and dancing.
You’re not going to believe it, but next day it was raining in the desert! 😀 Somehow almost a special experience, but of course too bad since we were not able to see the sunrise. Also, the ride back was not as much fun anymore, since all our muscles and bones were in pain from the day before… Hence: Camel trekking is all well and good, but I don’t have to do it for more than an hour! 😉
Back at the hotel we took a quick shower and continued our road trip. The first part was a bit boring, so we were relieved when we arrived at the amazing Todra Gorge in the afternoon. Simply impressive how the red rock faces rise up high above you!
Our drive further took us to Boumalne de Dades where we spent the night to explore the Dades Gorge on the next day. The Dades Gorge is an extremely steep gorge in which serpentines have been built. Once you have made it all the way up, you can take another typical Morocco-photo:
What actually impressed me more, were the cool rock formations which we passed on our drive to the gorge. Certainly fascinating how something like that can suddenly „grow out of“ a mountain ridge…
Our next stop was going to be a kasbah near the oasis town Skoura. Kasbahs are old forts made of mud bricks which are now often inhabited by multiple families with each one owning an entrance. Other kasbahs are not inhabited anymore, and only used for tourism, just like Kasbah Amerhidil. The many entrances with families wanting to sell tickets confused us a bit at first. When at once you see multiple signs for entrance, but they are all pointing in different directions… Hmmm. 😉 One family got lucky and we bought our tickets there. From the inside, there is not much to a kasbah, but from the outside they do look pretty cool!! 🙂
We were not tired yet… so we continued further to Ait Ben Haddou – probably on what was the worst road so far. Ait Ben Haddou is a „Ksar“ – a fortified city which has been used as a film location for numerous movies, for example The Gladiator. A pretty town with beautiful views from the top – but quiiiite touristy.
We then spent the night in Ouarzazate, a city which doesn’t really have any sights, but which we still somehow remember as nice and pleasant. Maybe because we managed to buy beer here for the second time?? 😉
The next day was a long day of driving! First we did a little detour into the Draa Valley, but turned around just before Agdz since we were not too enthused by the valley. More palm trees and mud brick fortresses – but we had seen that for a couple of days already. The best view in any case was this one:
A long drive led us through numerous villages to Taroudannt. Finally close to the city, we only wanted to quickly find some accommodation and eat something. Well… after all the smaller, calmer towns of the past few days we had not counted on a busy medina anymore! Suddenly we were stuck between donkeys, motorbikes, cyclists, countless shoppers, market stalls and street vendors and had to navigate our way through the chaos – preferably without getting our rental car scratched along the way. Not that easy!! With lots of luck and our GPS we found a nice accommodation in the end, outside the medina, and slowly worked our way there – meter by meter…
Ricker of one (medina-driving-lesson-)experience, we were able to really enjoy the city in the evening and on the next day!! A great market town, few tourists, lots of local life and good photo moments. The reason for it being so busy was probably the approaching Festival of Sacrifice…
After a city stroll we drove further to Tafraoute. The way there was again a feast for the eyes – amazing rocky landscapes wherever you looked!
We quickly took Tafraoute to our hearts too: A cute little town with lots of crazy rocks and a beautiful landscape around it. Only… we did not really anticipate the Festival of Sacrifice being such a big deal on the next day: Everything, really everything was CLOSED: No shops, no restaurants, no nothing. As if all the inhabitants had left overnight, a deserted city. We had anyways planned a road trip in the surroundings, but we were hungry and didn’t really have any snacks left except for a few cookies. So we needed to fast, while all the Moroccans were slaughtering animals and stuffing themselves. What irony! But at least we were able to enjoy the landscapes in all peace and quiet – there were simply no other cars on the road…
In the course of the day we found some little shops here and there which were open and got excited about every little package of chips that we found to eat 😉 Next day, we said goodbye to Tafraoute and made our way to the coast, to Sidi Ifni. But more about that in the next blog post…