You may have read my previous post on “Sahara Desert FAQs”, but I thought I would take the time to properly detail both the road trip through the Atlas Mountains and the actual night in the desert in separate posts. This first one being about the trip through the Atlas Mountains!
We had taken a trip to Ouzoud Waterfall the day beforehand, so we had caught a glimpse of the incredible scenery that Morocco offers but it was nothing in comparison to our road-trip through the Atlas Mountains.
The trip obviously starts within the city of Marrakech. How people have the courage to drive in the city is beyond me, bikes and cars zoom left, right and centre continuously and I’m really surprised that we never saw any accidents!
As we headed out of the city, things got VERY green, something that I wasn’t entirely expecting from Morocco which in my head is depicted by warm colours and desert terrain. I’m not sure if we saw Morocco in a particularly “green” season given the fact we visited in March and they will have had rainfall over the Winter period, but seriously, it was beautiful.
If you’re thinking of taking this trip, don’t worry about catching photos through the minibus’ windows, our driver made sure to stop at all of the most picturesque spots – but sometimes I just couldn’t help myself and had to take a few shots through the window (despite the glare) – just look at that valley running through the mountains!
Slowly, the bright green landscape transformed into rocky plant-less terrain.
This is where the roads started to get really crazy (just look at those photos)! If you’re afraid of heights, there may be moments that you peak out of the window an recoil in horror at the tight road bend around the mountain and sheer drop – I can only remember this happening a handful of times during the 8 hour journey – nothing in comparison to mountainous regions in Europe!
We were greeted with nearly 30 degrees heat, yet at all times we could see the snowy peaks of the Atlas Mountains – very surreal and almost taunting when you are THAT hot.
As the Atlas Mountains began to flatten and a more desert-style terrain was in sight, we were told our first lengthy stop was coming up – Ait-Ben Haddou.
Ait-Ben Haddou is a small town which houses 8 families (a total of 40 people) who live without electricity and make a 3 km walk for water. While the town is pretty spectacular in itself, it has been famed more recently for being a top filming spot – you may have seen the location in Gladiator, Indiana Jones, Game of Thrones and many more! I was actually playing monopoly with Charlie and Amy recently and was very excited by the fact I could buy somewhere I’d been in real life ha!
Of course, as with most towns/stops on organised tour routes, the experience was very geared towards tourists. We were handed over to a local guide who took us on an hour tour of the area and asked for a small fee (the tour is not included in the overall price of the trip). The cost was a few dirham per person and we were more than happy to support a local man.
Ait-Ben Haddou is HOT. I felt uncomfortable for much of the tour as it felt like you couldn’t escape the heat at all.
The tour of Ait-Ben Haddou finished with lunch at a local restaurant with a view of the main town. It was a really beautiful location and was thankfully a lot cooler!
One thing to note about taking tours in Morocco is that the restaurants you stop at usually have a limited menu for tour groups and largely, they offer the same at each. After a day travelling to Ouzoud waterfall and two days travelling to and from the Sahara Desert, I was really starting to get bored of the offerings provided – that’s not to say they weren’t tasty however!
Dishes were priced at 100 dirhams per person (around £9 at the time) which is pricey for Moroccan standards.
Next up was terrain unlike anything I’ve ever seen before – huge sandy canyons as far as the eye could see. There was a big part of me that just wanted to run down the sloping hills… then I remembered how un-graceful I am… it wouldn’t end well.
Slowly things are starting to look more and more like a desert… eeek!
And with that, we were off. The rest of the journey saw us creep closer and closer to terrain that represented the desert. Of course, a few more photo/toilet stops were made along the way (the total journey was around 8 hours after all).
Panic struck as our minibus broke down at the last stop before the desert (where we all stocked up on water for the night) but luckily the driver fixed the problem and it didn’t set us back too far!
Unfortunately, it did mean we were only just reaching the desert by sunset, rather than being in the middle of the desert relaxing to watch it properly – but more on that in my next post about the night in the desert!
Have you ever been through the Atlas Mountains? What was your favourite part?
Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post and all thoughts are my own.