Ouarzazate, “the quiet city”
Ouarzazate, the gate to the Great South will take you to the immense arid expanses of the Moroccan desert. At the junction of the Draa and Dades valleys and oueds, not far from the Ziz, the landscape becomes a kingdom of palm groves, orchards and gardens but also of ergs (large body of sand) and regs(vast stony desert). Over the valleys and at the confines of the desert, Ouarzazate is perched 1160 metres up on the Atlas’ high plateaus. This makes the city’s climate exceptionally mild for the region. Winters are not too harsh (around 15°C), and in summer the temperatures are around or a bit above 35°C. Be sure not to miss the quiet city!
In the heart of the Saharan universe, Ouarzazate was once a garrison town during the French protectorate. It is a critical junction in the caravan trails between Marrakech and the Sahara. The meeting point of civilizations, the region has known prosperity for centuries and boasts a particularly flourishing artisanal commerce. Take off on the route des oasis, to discover adobe kasbahs, guardians of the history and legends of the south. Ouarzazate is the ideal starting point for a number of day trips to the oases and the great dunes of Southern Morocco.
What to do in Ouarzazate
- The market road, the rue de la Poste and the avenue Mohammed VI enclose the downtown, where the majority of the shops, cafes and restaurants of Ouarzazate are located. Go for a stroll around the 3rd of March square to check out the city’s lively evenings. The city souk is held on the edge of the avenue Mohammed V. For your purchases, head to the city’s artisanal centre. Here you can visit the workshops of stone carvers, and copper and silver sculptors.
- When visiting Ouarzazate a stop at the kasbah of Taourirt, the ancient palace of the pasha of Marrakech, is mandatory. It faces the artisanal centre on the other side of avenue Mohammed V. This colossal adobe edifice shelters a true labyrinth of halls and stairways as well as sumptuous rooms. In the kasbahs fortified village, venture through the maze of shaded alleyways, the peaceful atmosphere here is very pleasant.
- Around Ouarzazate, you’ll observe a number of movie studios in the middle of the desert plateaus. These sets are often fake antique villas or temples used to film historical epics or other American productions. The most interesting sets can be found at the studios of the Atlas Corporation, easily recognized thanks to the enormous Egyptian statues guarding its entrance.
Hiking around Ouarzazate…
- On the road to Zagora discover the Tamesla kasbah the “stork fortress”. It is near Tabounte only two kilometres from Ouarzazate. From here, go for an enchanting walk in the surrounding area, well removed from the usual tourist haunts. Back on the road to Zagora, turn right after the Tabounte bridge towards the Tiffoultoute kasbah. This place offers a magnificent view over the Draa Valley. After 3 km, follow the trail coming up on your left. Admire the black rocks of the pre-Saharan Anti Atlas that surround you. Follow the oued’s course on a beautiful walk through the Fint gardens.
- East of Ouarzazate, you can take the Tinghir road about twenty kilometres to reach the shores of the great El Mansour Eddahbi lake at the feet of Jebel Kissane. This site is a starting point of many excursions in the surrounding area. Drive south on the kasbah road to M’Hamid where many desert expeditions await…
Ouarzazate is about 200 km from Marrakech (a 4 hour drive), and 442 km from Casablanca (7 hours). Ouarzazate has an international airport, 3 km from downtown.