Desert Hike & Tour 7 Days
Key: on a scale of 1-5
1 = short driving days and / or short overall distance
5 = sustained driving days and / or long hours in the car
When to tour?
Try to avoid the height of summer and depth of winter
Temperatures not only in the Sahara but also in Marrakech, Ouarzazate & Anti-Atlas are in the 40s °C in summer. In winter (typically January) snow in the mountains can close the high passes at times, or lead to unexpected delays and route changes. The weather conditions in the desert are prone to change quickly and never predictable. However windy conditions in the desert are common, this is not the same as a sandstorm.
Going the extra mile
Don’t underestimate geographical distances and travel times. Although Morocco is smaller than Spain, traveling in the South can lead to long driving hours due to the nature of the terrain here (mountains, desert, valleys). Be prepared to travel on average 5-6 hours per day. It’s far better to miss out a couple of places to maximise time elsewhere and to enjoy the journey. You can always come back!
Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus, commonly known as the ‘saffron crocus’. Saffron crocus grows to 20–30 cm (8–12 in) and bears up to four flowers, each with three vivid crimson stigmas. The styles and stigmas, called threads, are collected and dried to be used mainly as a seasoning and colouring agent in food. Saffron is one of the world’s most costly spices by weight. Its aroma is often described by connoisseurs as reminiscent of metallic honey with grassy or hay-like notes, while its taste has also been noted as hay-like and sweet.
EXPLORING SAHARA DESERT BY FOOT & JEEP
With this 7 days circular tour explore the Sahara Desert of Morocco both by foot and jeep. Cross the Atlas mountain range at its two most renowned high passes, each above 2000m, the Tichka and Test passes. Enjoy Morocco’s southern hospitality in characterful kasbah guest houses. A great introduction to Morocco’s outdoors for those who wish to combine a desert hike, and camping off the beaten path, with comfortable rural accommodation.
Click on the images to enlarge / © Images courtesy of R. Fiserova & Wild Morocco
Drive from Marrakech towards the UNESCO Site of Ait Ben Haddou. Gaining altitude after leaving the plain of Marrakech, eventually traverse the High Atlas Mountains via the Tichka Pass (at 2260m), offering some exhilarating driving via lush valleys and traditional pise villages. After the pass, take the route to Telouet (visit the Kasbah Glaoua there) and then follow the course of the beautiful Ounila Valley*, in the foothills, to reach Ait Ben Haddou. Ait Ben Haddou is essentially a living museum, comprising numerous ksar (series of earth dwellings) and has been used as the backdrop in many international films. You will overnight close to Ait Ben Haddou in a Berber village, in a restored kasbah guest-house. We propose Kasbah Ellouze. A more luxurious option (at additional rate) would be the Ksar Ighnda. Both properties nestle within the walls of villages.
*The route of the Ounila Valley was part of the main caravan trade route to Marrakech, from sub-Saharan Africa, and when the High Atlas were crossed at the Telouet Pass (centuries before the French constructed the road used today, across the Tichka Pass).
Option to wake early to bake bread with some of the Berber neighbours in their home. Take breakfast and also sample the fresh bread once it is baked. (You won’t be able to do so if you opt to stay at Ksar Ighnda guest house – you could instead take an early morning guided walk from Ksar Ighnda). Thereafter, set off for the day’s drive to Zagora to bypass Ouarzazate, and then cross the outer reaches of the Anti-Atlas mountain range to join the course of the Draa Valley at Agdz. The route follows the Draa southwards (the Draa is Morocco’s longest river, flanked by glorious palm oases & crumbling kasbahs). We suggest you overnight at Zagora palm grove to minimise the driving hours. Proposed guest house in Zagora is Villa Zagora. You will have chance to enjoy the pool on arrival and take a late evening walk in the palm grove.
After breakfast, drive south to the end of the tarmac road at the village of M’hamid El Ghezlane. Driving beyond M’hamid a short distance, and then off-road, reach the end of the M’hamid palm groves before the desert terrain opens out. Stopping under shade, you will rendez-vous with your desert guide and camel caravan. Lunch should be prepared and waiting for you. After lunch, the camels will be loaded and then you will trek by foot in to the desert during this and the following morning, aiming west towards Erg Chigaga Great Dunes. Your driver and vehicle will meet you the next day after lunch. Trekking duration today approx. 3 hours.
Late afternoon, wild camp will be established in the seclusion of small dunes, a fire lit, dinner prepared, and, after dinner, some fire-side singing with your Berber hosts.
After breakfast, camp is struck and the morning’s trek will continue westwards. Trekking duration today approx. 3 hours, with break for lunch under the shade of Tamarisk trees. The terrain is ever-changing, with desert scrub and broad plateaux. Option to ride by camel-back during the trek.
After lunch, your driver and vehicle will collect you to transport you the remaining distance across the desert (approx. 1 hour off-road drive) to a fixed desert camp at Erg Chigaga great dunes (either a Deluxe Camp or a simple Berber Camp).
Expect to arrive at the desert camp late afternoon with chance to freshen up before walking out on to the rolling dunes. Watch the sunset from a vantage point. Enjoy music next to the campfire after dinner. Overnight at the fixed desert camp for one night.
After breakfast, enjoy a relaxing morning and exploring the dunes by foot. Leave the camp and drive out of the desert in the opposite direction to how you arrived, i.e. north-west. Drive off-road across the desert for 90km to the town of Foum Zguid, via arguably some of the finest remote scenery in Morocco (including the vast dried salt flats, at Lake Iriqui, the imposing mountain ridges of the Jebel Bani, and acacia tree groves). You will also cross vast fossil beds, stopping to make a fossil hunt.
We’d suggest you take picnic lunch with you, to eat en-route, or take lunch at camp before setting off. Spend the night at Foum Zguid at Bab Rimal guest house.
From Foum Zguid, pass westwards through the Anti-Atlas mountains (the Jebel Bani) via dramatic and arid scenery, interrupted by palm oases and small settlements. Drive through the towns of Tazenakht and Taliouine (gateway to the Jebel Sirwa range and the main source of Morocco’s saffron production). Beyond Taliouine, gradually descend to the plain of the Souss River to reach the medieval walled town of Taroudant, you will spend the night just outside the town. We propose guest house Dar Zitoune. If time permits, we’d suggest a visit around the remparts in the early evening.
From Taroudant today return to Marrakech, via the adventurous route across the High Atlas mountains, crossing at approx. 2100m (at the Tizi n Test pass – weather dependent) through some breath-taking mountain scenery. The road is single-track in places and steep on the ascent. Descend via the villages of Ijoukak and Ouirgane, and alpine peaks, eventually reaching the Marrakech plain.
The itinerary includes:
- 4×4 vehicle with driver-guide for 7 days;
- guest-house accommodation on 4 nights;
- desert guide and cook for 2 days;
- camel caravan for 2 days (transport of equipment, luggage, and with option to ride by camel);
- 1 night wild camping, camping equipment provided (dome tents, sleeping mats, blankets);
- 1 night fixed desert camp tented accommodation at Erg Chigaga great dunes – either Deluxe tents or Berber tents;
- all breakfasts;
- all evening meals;
- 3 lunches in the desert;
- drinking water and hot drinks during the desert trek and at fixed desert camp (at the Deluxe camp, also included unlimited alcohol and soft drinks, with sunset aperitifs on the dunes);
- special dietary requests catered for.
Alternative travel to the desert frontier
There are a number of options for reaching the village of Mhamid (the start of the hike), it is more accessible than ever with the introduction of flights to Zagora. If you are arriving to Morocco through Casablanca, you can take a direct flight to Zagora (or to Ouarzazate) and we can collect you there.
Please contact us for a tailor-made price quotation.