Desert and mountains in Morocco
Wandering through Morocco on a journey without a fixed route. A self-drive 4×4 tour that is a true discovery. Of the land of course (“what will we see next?”) and perhaps even more of yourself. Are you able to travel without knowing where you’ll be at the end of the day?
Only the first three days of this tour have been planned. After our arrival on the ferry in Tanger Med, we drive to Chefchaouen, where we will spend the first day. On day two we drive to Meknès via the Roman settlement Volubilis. And day three will be in Meknès.
From then on your only certainties are that you will have two experienced guides to see you through everything safely. You will meet the extremes of Morocco: city, desert and mountains and how people live there. Your guides decide on the basis of your input where next day’s trip is going. You don’t have to worry about anything. Obviously, given its nature, the journey may involve having to turn around because the road has been washed away; or is simply not there anymore. That’s part of the fun. Expect something unexpected to happen.
Morocco is a dramatic, endlessly fascinating country. Its geographical position and way of life mark the transition between Western Europe and Africa. You feel you’ve left Europe behind you, yet you are not quite in Africa. Over the centuries it has been conquered by the Phoenicians and Romans and, more recently, colonised by the Arabs and French. It has absorbed these influences and nevertheless preserved its Berber culture in the mountains and deserts.
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The result is a country of extremes, where the traditional and modern live side by side, where you can find the primitive and sophisticated within a few hundred meters distance. All this against the perpetual backdrop of one of the most spectacular landscapes you can find anywhere.
Before we visit the smallest of Morocco’s Imperial Cities, we first go to Chefchaouen, a lovely blue and white town, bustling with life. We will stay in a hotel on the mountainside overlooking the town, with sheep grazing in the meadow.
After Chefchaouen we go back in time at Volubilis, the most remote outpost of imperial Rome in Africa. Even though sultan Moulay Ismail stripped it of most of its marble and many pieces have been moved to the Archeological Museum in Rabat, it is one of the most impressive Roman ruins you can find. Its mosaics have been well-preserved. And in contrast to the more famous Roman ruins in Italy, there’s hardly anybody there. You feel you have the place to yourself.
We drive on to Meknès, the smallest of the Imperial Cities, from which Moulay Ismail ruled with an iron fist from 1672 to 1727. The remains of the many imperial palaces, gateways and mosques he had erected, can still be seen. One of the city’s highlights is the tomb of Moulay Ismail, one of the few shrines in Morocco that can be visited by non-Muslims.
Into the desert or the mountains?
After Meknès there are many great places we can visit. We will certainly see quite a few of them. But which exactly? When? In what order or from what direction?
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- El Ateuf and then south over the Rekkam Plateau, where we reach an altitude of 1600 meter.
- Boudnib, the gateway to the dunes of Erg Chebbi. From here you drive almost exclusively on pistes.
- Figuig on the Algerian border, a stunning place, hardly visited by tourists.
- The east side of Erg Chebbi. You can deeply enjoy the beauty of the exotic landscape here, where it is much quieter than at the popular west side of the dunes.
- Hotel Yasmina, spectacularly situated near a lake in the middle of the sand. Here you can decide to take a camel tour deeper into the desert, watch the sun set from a dune, have a traditional meal and sleep in a Berber tent. The next morning you will enjoy one of the most beautiful sunrises you will ever see, before you return to the hotel on the back of your camel. If you don’t want to take the camel ride, you can stay at the Hotel Yasmina.
- Imilchil, sitiuated in one of the most impressive landscapes of Morocco. The mountainsides are peppered with villages, some so remote that you wonder how people can live there. Donkeys and 40-year old Mercedeses are the main means of transport here.
- The famous Dadès Gorge, which starts on tarmac and, when all regular cars have to turn back, turns into a track leading high into the mountains.
- High into the Atlas mountains to Agoudal, Boumia and Ifrane, where life becomes more sophisticated again.
- Gorge Toudra, the beautiful valley running more or less parallel to the Dadès Gorge.
- Whatever we do and wherever we go, we will return to Tanger Med, where we prepare for out journey home. Full of memories of Morocco, its mountains, desert, dunes, rocks, villages, towns, stunning views and hospitable people.
Unlike what you may think, the desert in Morocco consists of stony ground and rocks. Only when you get to the dunes of Erg Chebbi is there any sand. This is quite fortunate as sand driving puts a great strain on your car and, as the day progresses and the sand becomes looser, the risk of getting stuck increases as well.
There are several ferry crossings to Morocco. It depends on where you’re coming from which is the best for you.
If you come from the UK, it is best to cross from Portsmouth to Santander, drive to the south of Spain (you will need at least one overnight stay in Spain) and take the ferry from there to Morocco. You can sail from Algeciras to Tanger Med or Ceuta, or from Gibraltar to Tanger Med.
If you come from North-Western Europe, you can sail from Genua (Italy), Sete (France) or Barcelona (Spain). Choose what suits you best. The total cost compared to driving all the way through Spain is the same, as taking the ferry saves you fuel, at least one overnight stay and the ferry from the south of Spain to Morocco. It is also comfortable and relaxing.
Because of all these different options, the price of the tour does not include any ferry crossings.
The exact dates of this tour may change in case the ferry companies change their departure dates.
We are agents for Grandi Navi Veloci and can book your crossing at a competitive price from Genua, Sete or Barcelona.
Example of the route
Here’s an overview of the area we covered in 2016 – next time it may be different. Click to enlarge.
We will drive a lot on tracks, which in Morocco are never really difficult. Only when it comes to sand driving, which may happen if we get to the Erg Chebbi dunes, requires some special skills.
The price of this tour assumes you drive your own 4×4 vehicle. If you don’t own a suitable car, you can rent a Landrover Defender via us at an additional fee.
- 14 overnight stays during the trip in hotels, campsites, Berber tents, wild camping, including breakfast
- 14 days of travel
- Support car and two guides
- Hand held radio in car
- Any other meals
- Overnight stays outside trip dates
We will decide on our overnight stays as we go along. They are likely to be partly in hotels and partly (or indeed mostly) camping. Most campsites offer rooms as well so that you have a choice. We will definitely camp in the wild as number of times when there are no hotels nor campsites. It’s a phenomenal experience. A ground tent is fine and you need some cooking equipment. If you don’t have those, let us know and we’ll help you out.
You car needs to be in good condition and must have a low range gearbox. Good all-terrain tyres with lots of profile left are a must. No further special preparation of your car is necessary.
If you want to rent a 4×4, ask us for availability and a quote.
You will get a full briefing well in advance of the trip on what to take with you (and what to leave home), the documentation you need and everything else you must know to be well-prepared for what might be the journey of your life.
More information or booking