Top 5 Highlights: What to See & Where to Go en route to the Sahara Desert

Kasbah Telouet

The Moroccan Sahara Desert has been deeply admired for centuries given it’s remote location and its undulating high sand dunes. The Sahara Desert has historically attracted travelers searching for a far off place to engage with nature and self discovery. For those with a penchant to dig deeper into the heart of Morocco touring the Sahara Desert is an essential.

Artists, writers, designers and modern day explorers have set across the Tizzin’ Tichka pass built in 1930’s by the French to visit the great South. 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair which opened on February 24, 2018 at La Mamounia Hotel showcased some artists who sourced inspiration from the Sahara desert. A well known contributor to Vogue magazine is Hamish Bowles; he was highly found of Tangiers, the city where legendary writer, composer and filmmaker Paul Bowles made his home for the majority of his adult life.

Hamish Bowles has continued to carry on the legacy of Paul Bowles through a continuation of covering Morocco between this fashion bible’s colorful pages.

Paul Bowles penned “The Sheltering Sky,” in 1949 which was set in the Moroccan Sahara. Bowles documentation of his visit to the Sahara can be found on Morocco Travel Blogs, “Journey to the Sahara, In the Footsteps of Paul Bowles.”

The Moroccan Sahara Desert is characterized by its unique flora and fauna along with its a topography that encompasses massive geologic rock formations that lie beneath the dunes and sprawl across the arid dry surrounding landscapes.

To reach the Moroccan Sahara travelers have the option of taking a private, guided tour from Marrakech or flying direct into Ouarzazate via Casablanca. The best way to guarantee an enriching journey to the Morocco’s Great South is to consider our top 5 highlights  that can be woven into your Moroccan Sahara Journey are offered here.


Top 5 Highlights of What to See & Where to Go en route to the Sahara Desert.

#1: Trek to Kasbah Telouet

Kasbah Telouet is one of Morocco’s most impressive Kasbahs. Most travelers who visit Kasbah Telouet opt to see it when en route to the Ouarzazate. The village of Telouet and this renowned Kasbah can be reached by Moroccan piste. Kasbah Telouet also makes for an excellent one-day excursion from Marrakech. Located along the former route of the caravans in Morocco’s High Atlas Kasbah Telouet is just twenty minutes from the Tizin-Tichka-Pass.

Kasbah Telouet’s opulent former ruler, Pasha, Thami El Glaoui, is often referred to as the Great Gatsby of Marrakesh. Telouet is considered one  Morocco’s most impressive Kasbahs. Its original zellij tiled walls and floors are delicately adorned with the Jewish Star of David. Preserved silks from the historic Chinese silk trade bestow each wall and are surrounded with carved stucco, hand crafted by Morocco’s sacred malem’s. Other grandiose elements which have survived the rumble of warrior-like battles of French forces of the South are Telouet’s magnificent hand painted cedar ceilings. While Kasbah Telouet is not a UNESCO World Heritage kept site and it’s preservation relies on donations, visitors can imagine themselves as part of a famous Moroccan fantasia, reminiscent of a Hassan El Glaoui painting.

#2: Visit UNESCO Ait Ben Haddou

Aït Benhaddou sits amidst a valley near the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, just thirty-two miles from Ouarzazate, the film capital of Morocco. Ouarzazate first came into the international spotlight with the Hollywood film Lawrence of Arabia; Aït Benhaddou made a feature appearance in this film. Orson Welles used it as a location for Sodome and Gomorrah; and for Jesus of Nazareth the whole lower part of the village was rebuilt.

Since then many famous directors have followed in his footsteps to exploit the magnificent scenery of Ouarzazate. International blockbusters shot there in recent years include: the French version of Cleopatra, Bertolucci’s Sheltering Sky, Scorsese’s Kundun, Gillies MacKannon’s Hideous Kinky, Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, Black Hawke Down, Oliver Stone’s Alexander The Great, Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven, and Penelope Cruz’s Sahara.

Historically, traders carrying spices, slaves, and gold on the Sahara Trade Route passed by Aït Benhaddou and its Ksours on their way to Timbuktu or the Western Sahara. Today, the usage of this old trade route is fading and as a result many Kasbahs along it have turned into relics.

The village of Aït Benhaddou sits on top of a hill and protects a series of Kasbahs and Ksour earth houses. Inside, the Aït Benhaddou village is decorated with a labyrinth like series of sandstone colored towers and walls. To one side of the village, a riverbed of the Mellah (old Jewish quarters) as well as several palm groves and trees can be spotted growing along the river bank. The village is particularly spectacular if you visit during the evening hours, at sunset, when the light and colors of remain transparent and glisten above Aït Benhaddou, making it glow.

#3: Travel through the Geologic Ounila Valley

The Ounila Valley is one of Morocco’s hidden destinations. It links Ait Ben Haddou Ksar to Marrakech and was once the formidable trade routes between Marrakech and sub Saharan Africa. Throughout the Ounila Valley travelers will discover creulated kasbahs and historic ksars dotted across the landscape.It’s geologic formations and original flora, fauna and fossilized stones offer insight into what type of life existed there centuries ago. The changing variation of colors in the Ounila Valley vary from spring to fall and sunrise to sunset. This hidden valley in particular is ideal for travelers interested in photography, geology and a time forgone where one can venture off the beaten path.

Argan Cooperative, Woman Making Argan Oil

#4: Explore a Moroccan Argan Cooperative

Not far from Ait Benhaddou, your Morocco private tour driver can take you to appreciate a local Argan woman’s cooperative. Located alongside the main road, this space supports the locals by hiring a few women who are skilled at breaking down the Argan nuts and grinding them by hand, into the famous argan oil. You can buy the Argan oil there. You can also purchase the oil from there and it will serve you well as protective night time moisturizer when you are in the dry and hot Sahara.

#5: Discover Ait Ouzzine, Berber Village  

Aït Ouzzine is located in N’kob, which is nestled within the Middle Atlas Mountains. Aït Ouzzine is a Berber village inhabited by over 300 families who live in beautifully painted crenulated kasbahs, with their own henna fields, water wells, livestock, and gardens. This peaceful village is tucked away along an impressive desert route connecting the Draa Valley (Tansikht) and Rissani. Meet a local Berber family, sip tea in the Saghro Mountains, and dine on couscous. Then explore and tour the village by foot. Walk in the green fields and see how the traditional Berbers live with their gardens of herbs, livestock, and henna plants. After lunch, have your hands and feet painted with henna or your hair adorned with saffron by a local village artist and relax.  Experience the tradition of Berber perfume made from musk and amber along with the villages own spices. End the afternoon in Ait Ouzzine with mint tea and almonds.

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