June 14, 2024

Sandy Hook

There's a Travel About

Marrakech to the Sahara – From Bustling Souks to the Tranquility of Desert Dunes

Morocco’s natural beauty spans from a Mediterranean coastline in the North through scenic mountain landscapes to the empty wilderness of the Sahara in the South; it is a country that captivates and inspires me with its contrasts, colour and rich cultural heritage.

Marrakech is the perfect place to start a Moroccan adventure. Framed by the snowy peaks of the Atlas Mountains, with rose-colored ramparts and a thousand year old palmerie, Marrakech is immediately fascinating.

Explore the colourful souk of Marrakech where each trade has its own area e.g. the metal quarter where proud artisans craft objects as their forefathers did centuries before them; the dyers quarter where colourful skeins of wool hang drying in the sunlight that streams into the narrow walkways; the carpet quarter where home-crafted Moroccan rugs hang like exquisite paintings; the jewellery quarter where glass-fronted windows glitter with 18ct gold.

Discover the sights and sounds of Marrakech’s Djemaa El Fna, one of the greatest squares in Africa and a UNESCO World Heritage site. In the afternoon you will see tooth-pullers, snake charmers, water-sellers, storytellers and scribes. At night the square transforms to a festival atmosphere when a myriad of food stalls are wheeled in from the alleyways; their tables and benches illuminated by lamplight and wreathed in the smoke of one hundred Berber Barbeques.

From Marrakech, travel across high mountain passes & along verdant gorge oases; through Berber villages & passed one thousand kasbahs to watch the sun set over the slowly shifting sands of the Sahara. Enjoy the highlights of a journey through the Berber Heartlands of Morocco:

The World Heritage Site of Ait Benhaddou, a huge cluster of ancient ksours (dwellings) and grain stores that stand on a dark shaft of rock above a reed-strewn river;

The partially renovated Kasbah Taourirt in Ouarzazate;

The valley of One Thousand Kasbahs and a route lined with children selling garlands of roses in Spring (Rose Valley);

The oasis valley of Dades Gorge with its ruined hilltop kasbahs, valley-floor gardens and the strange rock formations of the Tamnalt Hills;

The Todra Gorge, the highest gorge in Morocco with 300m sheer cliffs. In summer the oasis palms are heavy with dates offered for sale, in hand-woven palm baskets, by Berber children;

The spectacular Erg Chebbi Merzouga desert dunes.

Camel trekking in Morocco is, for many, the highlight of their Tour of Morocco. Take a camel ride into the Erg Chebbi desert dunes to watch the sun set across this incredible sandscape or camel trek further, to a desert oasis, and spend the night in a nomad tented desert bivouac set amongst the palm trees. The desert oases are a popular destination and, after dinner, camel guides create a festive atmosphere by drumming and singing traditional Berber songs.

If one night in the desert is not long enough, walk out of the ‘world as you know it’ and wander in the Sahara with your camel and a nomad guide. I have undertaken two extended camel treks and I remember on one occasion, when we stopped for lunch by a well in a small oasis, looking across the shimmering black desert (hammada) and seeing hundreds of camels walking towards us. I watched for hours as litres of water were raised, bucket-by-bucket, and brown furry bellies visibly expanded to accommodate the vast amount of fluid needed to last until the next watering hole. It was one of those moments in life when time stops and the moment is all encompassing.

The desert is a special place and I never tire of walking in the sand dunes, listening to Gnawa musicians and sipping sweet mint tea as the world passes by.