OUARZAZATE, MOROCCO:Ouarzazate is about 200 km south of Marrakech. Although 200 km sounds nothing for day trip but it took us about 4 hours each way on a private taxi. But the hectic journey through the rugged Atlas mountain range was worth every bit of it. If not for this trip, we wouldn’t have seen the true beauty of Morocco’s giant landscapes and its desert. This was a nice way to get out from the city life and visit not only the natural beauty of this country but also the life-style of the local Berberes. We needed some fresh air after being in Djemaa El-Fna, Marrakech for few days and this was just a great escape to the wilderness.
We paid 1200 Moroccan Dh for the whole arrangement. He was a great driver, being very careful while driving on elevated roads of mountains without rushing or anything. The main problem came when we found out that we’ve asked for an English-speaking guide/driver and we were stuck with a French/Arabic-speaking driver for a whole day of the journey. He was a very charming man but could barely explain what we were seeing. Also, making a day trip with kids where we had to spend total 8 hours in the van was a bit tiresome. My almost-3 year old daughter actually fell sick from being in the car for that long and riding on twisty and zig-zaggy mountainous roads to reach there. Visiting all those place were actually very relaxing and enjoyable but it’s the van-ride that kinda made all of us sick. We were planning to take another day-trip to Ourika Valley but had to cancel it for the sake of the kids and especially after finding out that the same person would take us there L …. So, yeah…other than that I would recommend anyone going to Ouarzazate to get some real taste of the beauty of desert and mountains all in one place.
TIME of TRAVEL: We flew to Marrakech on the first week of January 2013 during my daughter’s winter break. It can be very cold in Marrakech around this time of the year. And Ouarzazate is even colder and windier at times than Marrakech because of its elevation and surrounding mountains.
OUR HOTEL: We stayed in a hotel (actually a Riad) called, Riad Dar El-Ihsaan in Marrakech. This is actually not really a hotel, it’s a traditional Moroccan style Bed & Breakfast type inn, usually known as Riad. Our riad was located inside the boundaries of Medina (old town) thru some small alleys and passages and very close to Djemaa El-Fna and other major souks (bazaars). These riads are usually decorated with very traditional Moroccan style features, like cozy inner-courtyards surrounded by the rooms, bright colored living spaces with old-style furniture and linens; some riads may have swimming pools and other cool features. Every day after coming back to our riad, I used to order some Moroccan mint tea, sit down in the courtyard sofas, and enjoy the surrounding which was warmly decorated with some Moroccan lamps, candle-holders, some plants, and a small fountain. It’s a family run riad and one of the staff’s mom used to prepare breakfast for us. We had cheese, olives, breads (sometimes home-made crepes or Indian style parathas), boiled eggs, coffee, and milk for the kids. The breakfast and Wi-Fi were free. Our room was very clean and all the staffs were very helpful and friendly. Every night they used to burn incense in the courtyard and I could get that sweet smell from our room…I felt like I am sleeping in a Sultan’s palace. But one thing specifically about our room was that we had NO DOORS for our bathroom…yes, it sounds weird but I guess that was a little part of the whole experience in Marrakech. Using the toilette and taking shower in a bathroom without doors is a funny feeling, especially when you have curious kids around you. I never got used to that during our stay there, so I ended up using the bathroom near the reception J
EATING and SHOPPING: We stopped at a road-side restaurant near Ait Ben Haddou before entering the Kasbah. It’s a traditional style Moroccan restaurant, can’t really remember the name, with a gorgeous view of Ait Ben Haddou, nearby valley and mountains from its terrace. I wasn’t really up for any meat dishes after being in the van for 4 hours going thru the twisty highways of Atlas Mountains, so decided to go with simple rice, with some veges, and fried egg.
While walking towards Ait Ben Haddou, we saw some shops carrying local hand-crafts, like rugs, babouche (Moroccan slippers), tagines (their traditional cooking clay pots), and other souvenirs made by the native Berbere people. The price may be a bit cheaper than the ones in Marrakech, but the options and qualities here were limited. Other than these, we saw many other Berbere shops on the side of the highways while driving towards Ouarzazate. Moroccan argon oil is another famous (and very expensive) souvenir that tourists buy from here. We stopped at a road-side service inn for a small break on our way to Ouarzazate. It had a restaurant in one side and an argon cosmetic factory/showroom right beside it. We were lucky to get glimpses of the ladies breaking and processing the argon nuts to get cooking oil and for making cosmetics.
PLACES WE’VE VISITED: We visited only few spots in Ouarzazate in about 4/5 hours. It’s not just these places that amazed us, it were the snow-capped Atlas Mountains in the distance, the rugged desert during the sunset, beautiful valleys with old Kasbah every now and then, and up & down terrain of hilly landscapes that made this trip an enjoyable day-trip.
1) AIT BEN HADDOU: This was our 1st destination after about 4 hours of drive from Marrakech to Ouarzazate. This is a Kasbah in a desert valley where 15 native Berbere families still live. As far as I understand, Kasbah is something that rich Berbere (native Moroccans) families made to live together under one roof. They look like they are risen from the desert and are blended with the mountains for similar colors and textures. We didn’t go inside the Kasbah but standing on the scenic valley with a small stream running thru it and surrounding small hills were good enough to entertain our eyes and make good memories in our heart.
As soon as we arrived at Ait Ben Haddou, one young gentleman (probably a local Berbere) approached us to guide us through the Kasbah for 50 Dh (later he came down to 30 Dh) but we preferred to take time and do it ourselves instead. There are 2 ways to reach the mountain top overlooking the Kasbah: 1) thru the community, where you can actually see the life-style of Berberes, it costs 10 Dh per person to enter and 2) thru another entrance which requires more walking but is free. It takes you around the Kasbah to the top.
2) OURZAZATE KASBAH or KASBAH de TAOURIRT: This Kasbah is from 1750 A.D. and was built by the same families who built Ait Ben Haddou. It was like a maze inside the building with few levels, many small doors and rooms. Some of these rooms still have Moroccan tiles on their doors or windows or fireplace while some had nicely carved ceilings. Small windows of these rooms give breathtaking views of Atlas and the surroundings.
This Kasbah is located right opposite of Cinema Museum of Ouarzazate and is less than 10 minutes’ drive from center of Ouarzazate. Its 20 Dh to enter the Kasbah and guided tour is charged separately. It took us about 30-45 minutes to go around and explore the rooms of this place. The small doorways and lots of stairs doesn’t make this a stroller-friendly place, but we couldn’t find a place to park it; so my husband ended up carrying it with us.
3) MAIN SQUARE of OUARZAZATE: This is the center of Ouarzazate and in a way the “Djemaa El-Fna” of the city where all the fun things happen. City town hall is located in this square in one side along with couple of shops and many restaurants. This was our last stop before heading back to Marrakech on another 4 hours’ drive. We sat down in a restaurant for mint tea and some snacks. The square was empty that time, but our guide was saying this place comes to life after dark with more vendors and street entertainers.