Morocco is an intriguing country that conjures up images of trading caravans trekking across the desert and bustling spice markets. While there are a number of great and interesting cities in Morocco—Marrakech, Fez, Tangiers, etc—perhaps its most unique destination is Ouarzazate.
Ouarzazate is a historic walled city situated on a plateau high in the Atlas Mountains, southeast of Marrakech. The city was once a popular trading spot for the many caravans crossing the Sahara Desert, though now the city is mainly visited by tourists. Its iconic sand-colored buildings have been a popular Hollywood backdrop for decades now, having appeared in classic films such as “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Gladiator”.
Wandering through the small lanes of city’s medina, past the many markets and eateries, haggling with the shopkeepers or enjoying a glass of mint tea, it’s not hard to picture oneself as a great adventurer from a bygone era.
The name Ouarzazate literally means “without noise,” but for a truly noiseless experience try getting out of the town and spending the night in the Sahara Desert. There are a number of excursions leaving Ouarzazate that offer camel trekking and overnight camping in the desert.
The easiest way to reach Ouarzazate is by bus from Marrakech. There are several buses each day and the trip takes five hours and travels through a scenic part of the Atlas Mountains. There are also occasional flights from Casablanca.
For even more of an adventure, travel further afield to the oasis town of M’Hamid five hours southeast of Ouarzazate. This small town is on the border with Algeria and is literally surrounded by the vast desert and giant sand dunes. There’s a small medina to accommodate intrepid travelers, but the real attraction is the isolation of the desert.
M’Hamid is a five hour bus from Ouarzazate or a ten hour bus from Marrakech. The road to M’Hamid travels across the desert and through small towns, literally ending at M’Hamid with only the vast expanse of the Algerian Sahara beyond the town.