For anyone wishing to visit the Sahara desert from Marrakech, they will need to pass through the “door of the desert”, Ouarzazate.The name of the town itself comes from the Berber phrase meaning, “without noise,” and it’s for this reason why a lot of people travel here. Ouarzazate is one travel spot in Morocco that is popular for having a lot of down time without hassles.
To be honest, Ouarzazate is really the door to many other great sites of Morocco. You can easily enter into the Draa Valley, head to the Todra Gorges, or access the desert near Zagora.
One of the highlight of Ouarzazate itself is the Atlas Studios. This movie studio is one that has done a number of great movies filmed in Morocco, like Cleopatra, Gladiator, and The Man Who Would Be King. It lies just on the edge of town and is a fun visit for those interested in the cinema arts. In 2006, this movie studio also helped shoot some of the episodes of the Amazing Race 10. You may meet some busloads of tourists, but it is a fun visit.
Speaking of movies, the Kasbah Ait Benhaddou is another site easily accessible from Ouarzazate. Only 27 Kilometers from Ouarzazate, Ait Benhaddou is one of Morocco’s jewels. Tucked away at the base of the Atlas Mountains, this ancient fortress type structure is well worth your time. Upon arrival to the site, you will head down across the little river up into the magnificent walled village. As it rises above the plains, you can understand why peoples over time have lived in this fortified Kasbah. Recently, Ait Benhaddou has become famous for movies like The Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven and Four Feathers. Take some time to look at the interesting artwork at the base of the Kasbah; coffee, henna, and lemon make for great mediums of this unusual art.
As you set off from Ouarzazate, you will probably head up along the road of 1000 kasbahs through the Dades Gorges and Todra Gorges. Stop for a visit at the restored Kasbahs located back in the date palmeries! If you have time, a night in the Xaluca Dades Hotel will be a wonderful addition to your trip. The Todra Gorges are over 600 ft high, towering above you as you drive up the small river side road. Keep your eyes out for rock climbers who have come to test their skills on Morocco’s cliffs.
If the desert is on your agenda, from Ouarzazate, you can either head north to the Dunes of Merzouga (Erg Chebbi) or head east to the Dunes of M’hamid (Giant Dunes of Cheggaga). North is the most popular because of the larger dunes, but if you have your own 4 wheeled-drive, you might want to leave the other tourists and head out into the Giant Dunes of Cheggaga.
Ouarzazate, the door of the desert, could be renamed…the door of the southern jewels.