Ouarzazate Travel Guide
Nestled between the Atlas Mountain range and the Sahara, Ouarzazate is known as “the door to the desert”, but also as a focal point to a range of Moroccan culture, surrounded not just by world renowned landmarks, but hidden cultural treasures as well. Once a small crossing point for African traders to reach Northern Morocco and beyond the Mediterranean, the city today is also known as Moroccan Hollywood. Ouarzazate cradles one of the largest movie studios in the world (appropriately named Atlas Studios).
Ouarzazate’s name comes from a Berber phrase meaning “without noise/ without confusion” and as such, the city has become a well-known starting point for Saharan/Atlas exploration, conveniently located for hidden exploration too, since some plan on long stays here. For another grand, sweeping tour of these fortresses and the defensive nature of practical Moroccan architecture, Ait Behhaddou has been on the UNESCO World Heritage Center’s list and preserved since 1987. Located within Ouarzazate, it is the site of many major motion pictures, most recently Babel, Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, and Alexander. East of Ouarzazate is the Skoura Valley of a Thousand Kasbahs, the most prominent of them being Kasbah Amerdihl.
Other than the lasting architecture, there are plenty of natural landmarks surrounding Ouarzazate’s, some better known than others, but all easily accessible despite the rough terrain. This allows for different traveling options, some of which are suited as physical activities too. Camel trips are very common around the area, as is sand skiing. Of course, hiking is a typical option, just like traveling with guides in an SUV or 4x4 is still another option. At the edge of the Sahara are the dunes of Erg Chebbi, navigable by all terrain vehicles today, but legend has it these dunes were piled as a form of punishment for those who turned away tired travelers. Todra Gorge features one of the natural beauties of Morocco, with its high range cliffs comparable to the manmade fortress walls that dot the Moroccan landscape. Hike up the High Atlas to the mountain pass, Tizi’ntest, for one of the most comprehensive topographical view of Morocco. El Kelaa M’Gouna, or the Valley of Roses, is the site of an annual rose ceremony, which is such a contrast against an earthy backdrop. For an off-the-beaten path experience, check out local Berber villages, which invite you to explore their traditional daily lifestyle. Ouarzazate is an access point into the Dades valley, which stretches to Tinerhir. Known as the Red Valley, Dades is a visual feast, with earthy tones contrasting with natural greenery. Kasbahs, gorges, weave around the meandering roads within this valley, and it is pleasantly thrilling that shrubs and trees can thrive in such a climate.
Even more commercial activities are easily available here. Feel like shopping? Well nearby towns, Tinehir and Er Rachidia, are known for silver jewelry and pottery/wooden objects, respectively. For those who plan on staying in, local riads like the Riad Salam Zagora located on the populous Mohammed V Boulevard, or hotels like Mercure Ouarzazate. Even with accommodations, choices confront visitors no matter what the purpose of the trip is. As Southern Morocco’s urban center, venturing outside the metropolitan can be just as rewarding as staying within the city; Ouarzazate is clearly a city full of options.
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