If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.James Michener
Feb 1-4 2015
During out trip to Morocco we planned to do a road trip from Fes to Marrakesh, with the main destination being the Erg Chebbi sand dunes, but we passed stayed in and passed through a lot of fantastic scenery along the way. The route would take us through a diverse landscape that included snow, desert, mountains and gorges. We picked up the car Fes and quickly hit the road heading south.
After about an hour of flat and clear open roads, we began our descent up into the Middle Atlas Mountains. Near the summit we passed through the towns of Irfan and Azrou, popular resort towns and retreats from the hot climates that surround the area. The area is dominated by dense cedar, fir and oak forests. We also drove through snow that had recently fallen, something you don’t usually associate with Africa. Hills nearby the road were full of people sledding, making snowmen, and having snowball fights. We even saw a skiing Santa.
A little further down the road we came across Barbary macaque monkeys hanging out alongside the road. Of course we stopped to check them out, as did many other people. We watched as they would run up and grab food that was being offered to them. We’d continue to see more near the road and stop a few additional times before begining the descent down the mountains towards wide open plateuas.
We traveled for a few more hours as the landscape slowly got more and more barren, getting closer to the desert. We traveled pass many lush valleys through which rivers flowed, with small villages built alongside, a nice break from the sand and rock that dominated the landscape. Eventually we reached our first destination, Erfoud, where we would spend the night and rest. It was a long day of driving, but we had a set time to meet up with our guide for our oveernight adventure into the desert, so needed to be within an hour or two of our destination the following morning.
The next morning we traveled the short distance to Merzouga where we would meet up with our guide to begin our overnight camping and camel trip into the Erg Chebbi dunes. You can read about the awesome adventure it in the post the Erg Chebbi & Sahara Desert.
After spending the night in the dunes, we headed back on the road again towards Marrakesh, heading back north from Merzouga before turning and heading west. We made detour along the way into the Toudra Gorge, recognized around the world as one of the most spectacular canyons. Here, the Todra River has carved out cliff-sided canyons on it’s final 25-mile stretch through the mountains, leaving behind a series of reliefs and etches in the rock. In places, this gorge measures just 33 feet across, but the cliffs are more than 500 feet tall on either side. In other spots, the gorge is wide enough that there are villages dotting the area. The river has mostly dried up, leaving only the imagination to picture the powerful natural forces that once carved this region. We could have spent much more time exploring, but decided to continue to Dades where we would spend the night, wanting to make it before nightfall.
It’s a good thing that we left when we did, as once we arrived in Dades we found that the location we were staying involved driving through rocky riverbeds, across narrow roads with ditches on either side, and a more or less maze of unmarked pathways. We eventually found our way though and were able to get a good nights rest before heading out again the next morning.
From Dades we took a quick detour into another canyon, known as Dades Gorge. We didn’t go as far as we went int the Toudra, but we went just far enough to find a good lunch spot that overlooks a stunning winding road. From the gorge we continued west towards Quarzazate, along the Dades Valley, known as a Road of a thousand Kasbahs. The winding road offered stunning views to the Dades gorge and historic kasbahs dotting the landscape.
We soon passed through the Moroccan movie capital of Quarzazate. Films such as Lawrence of Arabia (1962), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), The Mummy (1999), Gladiator (2000), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), and The Hills Have Eyes (2006) were shot here, as was part of the TV series Game of Thrones.
Next up was a stop at the World Heritage site of Ait Ben Haddou, a fortified village along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech. It is a great example of Moroccan earthen clay architecture and still home to several families as well as merchants houses. After some photos and exploring the vertical village, we hopped back in the car for the last stretch of our journey.
Instead of backtracking back towards the main highway, we took a smaller scenic rode that would instead meet up with the highway at a later point. Before long we would begin ascending again, this time crossing the High Atlas Mountains. The scenery was breathtaking as we rode near an unprotected cliff full of twists and turns, passing through many small villages that rarely see any visitors. Once we made it near the top we rejoined the main highway and began the long and final descent into Marrakesh.
Driving in Morocco was a lot of fun, and highly recommended for anyone that wants to get away from the main cities to see the ‘other side’ of the country. The roads are mostly good, the scenery keeps your interest and the natural beauty along the way is extremely varied. We would definitely do it again given the chance, as we could spend days just exploring the gorges, hiking the mountains, or going deeper into the desert. This, along with our adventure into Erg Chebbi, were the highlights of our Morocco trip.