Travel Destinations

Morocco – Road Trip to the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara

This post is a detailed account of the road trip from Fes to the Sahara desert and then on to Marrakesh, passing through the plains of the Middle Atlas and the passes of the High Atlas mountains. My other posts cover Morocco in more detail:

12 Things I Learnt in my 12 Days in Morocco
Morocco – Sea, Mountains, Desert, Medinas, and Goats on a Tree

We picked Merzouga as the place to visit the sand dunes of the Sahara. The sand dunes are called Erg Chebbi and spending an evening and night at a camp in the sand dunes was one of the highlights of the Morocco trip. We went from Fes to Merzouga via Midelt, and on to Marrakesh via Ait Benhaddou. The trip can be done in the other direction also.

>> Fes to Midelt (200km, 3.5h) While it is possible to drive all the way to Merzouga from Fes in one day, we decided to take a more relaxed option by stopping for the night mid-way at Midelt. This way there is more time to enjoy the sights along the way. There are many small towns mid-way to Merzouga and we chose Midelt. There isn’t much to do in Midlet except to take a short walk, have dinner and retire for the night. We found a very comfortable hotel called Villa Pomme D’Or, which was just off the main highway. The superior family apartment was perfect for us as it had two bedrooms (separated by a curtain) and two bathrooms. The dining room was wood-fire-warmed cosy, and the food was delicious.

>>> Midelt to Merzouga (264km, 4h) The road goes through the vast plains of the middle Atlas mountains and the scenery is quite stark. There are many oases along the way and we stopped at one called Source Bleue de Meski. It’s a pleasant place to visit/take a break but be aware that someone will approach you and offer to take you down to the Oasis. They will then expect you to come to their shop and buy something. My advice would be to decline the offer of the guided visit, just walk down to the Oasis yourself, pay the 5Dh entry fee per person and see the Oasis yourself. While the bit of history that the guide provides is nice, it is not worth the time you will waste being entertained by him in his shop, and then doing the song and dance of deciding what to buy and at what price. We lost a good hour that we could have spent having a nice lunch somewhere.

>>> Desert Camp at Erg Chebbi We reached Merzouga around 3pm and went to our Riad from where they took us in a 4×4 to their camp in the sand dunes. There is also an option of going to the camp on camelback but we weren’t too keen on it. There are many desert camps in the Erg Chebbi sand dunes. We picked Azawad Luxury Desert Camps, which was a bit expensive but the camp/service/food etc. was excellent. This one is relatively at the edge of the sand dunes; we could see a few that were deeper in the dunes as well. It took us around 20 mins to reach the camp where we had some mint tea and then set out for a walk on the dunes. Kids enjoyed playing in the sand and the sunset over the dunes was spectacular. After dinner, we enjoyed a warm camp fire in the cold desert night and the staff there played some Berber music for us.

>>> Merzouga to Ait Benhaddou (397km 5.5h) Ait Benhaddou is close to where the High Atlas mountains begin. It’s pretty much a small village, well-known for the Ksar (traditional earthern buildings surrounded by high walls, almost like a fort) which gained even more fame after it was featured in Game of Thrones as Yunkai. The hotel we picked for the night here is called Riad Paradise of Silence and would rank as one of the best one-night stays for us anywhere in the world. The Riad is around 500m off the main road, reached by a dirt track which is well marked with signs for the Riad. The Riad is built using traditional Berber architectural techniques and has very comfortable and spacious rooms around a central wood-fire-warmed courtyard. The food, as always, was delicious and they had cats that kept my kids entertained for a long time. There is a small hillock just behind the Riad which provides excellent views of Ait Benhaddou in the morning. For people staying there longer, they also organise tours etc. of the surrounding areas into Berber villages and the mountains.

Exterior view of Riad Paradise of Silence | Pic Courtesy:

>>> Ait Benhaddou to Marrakesh (185km 3.5h) This was the final stage of our road trip and we were looking forward to some stunning mountain scenery and switchback roads. We got all of it and a little more thanks to incessant rains in the higher reaches of the mountains.

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