Morocco : High Altas and the Sahara Desert
Grade: 1 to 2
This adventure starts from the northern port of Tanger, only 35 minutes away by fast ferry from Tarifa in Southern Spain. As you watch Africa approaching from the deck of the ferry the excitement builds as the Moorish port hove's into view. On the way across the Sraights from Tarifa you may be lucky enough to see dolphins playing around the ship.
Our route uses tarmac roads until we are deep into the High Atlas. It is only there that mountain passes are still rock and mud. As our route gets closer to the Sahara golden sand appears, sending a tingle of excitement through you with the anticipation of the dunes to come. Four days of desert driving is the off road highlight of this trip. You have to experience the thrill of only seeing sky for a second or two as your car crests a dune before that rush down the other side.
One important change for 2012 will be the introduction of camping or hotel options to this adventure so that it can fit into your budget. The hotels that we will be offering are at Tanger, Marrakech, Zagora and at Mhamid El Gezlane. These hotels are traditionally Moroccan, some of them newly built, each one with a spirit of its own. The quality is equivalent to European four star hotels so you can expect comfortable beds and excellent food.
The wild campsites that we use are chosen to get you close to the spirit of both the Mountains and the Sahara Desert. The contrasts between the High Atlas Wild camp and the Sahara are spellbinding and you will enjoy each one, leaving a part of your spirit in the wilds, eager to return.One of the many highlights is a visit to Marrakech and the Place D’ Jemna Fna. In fact our hotel in Marrakech is situated behind the maelstrom of life in the Place D' Jemna Fna. You will enjoy the contrasts between the hotel and the Place as you dip in and out of the noise to the cool calm of the alleys and back streets of the Medina.
The climate in Morocco is so varied due to the variations in Altitude. All seasons can be expected during the winter months in the Mountains. Sunshine is a certainty south of the High Atlas with temperatures reaching 40 degrees centigrade or more in the desert itself. Because Morocco is close to the equator there are around twelve hours of daylight whatever the time of year.
High Atlas and Sahara Route.
Day 1: Tanger to Le Coq Hardi Hotel near Ait Ourir
After breakfast in the Ibis Tanger City Centre we will head south on good dual carrageway roads towards Marrakech. The Hotel Le Coq Hardi is only 34km from the last Toll Booth at the Marrakech Palmerie so by late afternoon we will all be enjoying the warmth of the sun beside the pool, gin and tonics in hand!.
Day 2: Hotel Le Coq Hardi to High Atlas Wild Camp
After a leisurely breakfast under the olive trees in the courtyard of Le Coq Hardi you will head south into The High Atlas to our first wild camp. The route that runs along the top of the valley south of Tighedouine along red mud tracks can be challenging if rain has fallen and our campsite has two options, one an easy drive to camp beside a track running alongside the river the other a difficult climb onto a level grassed wild camp. During the night nightingales sing from seemingly every tree, their song rising above the rushing of the river.
Day 3: High Atlas Wild Camp to Quarzazate Wild Camp
Deep to the south of The High Atlas, just off the new tarmac road to Quazazate from Telouet is a track, little used now. This track runs into and across the dry foothills south of The High Atlas. This track is our goal, because the off road challenges here are fantastic, gulley's, washouts and loose rock climbs lead us out onto the high plateau near Quazazate. Our second wild camp is along one of the rivers that meander across this plateau, dry now but many centuries ago would have run with water.
Day 4: Quarzazate Wild Camp to Berbere Hotel Dades
Between The High and Anti Atlas there is a vast plain laced with wide fast flowing rivers that feed a vast rural industry: Rose Water. Our route passes along this valley where you will pass many shops extolling the virtues of this famous cosmetic and healing water. At Boulmane Dades we turn north once more to find the Berbere Hotel nestling just the other side of the mouth of Dades Gorge. This delightful hotel offers rooms or a campsite for your tent and it is possible to book a traditional Berbere meal here which you can enjoy to the sound of drums.
Day 5: Dades Gorge to Grotte Akhaim Wild Camp
The route over the High Atlas to Agoudal is the last track in the mountains that has not been turned into a fast piste or to have been tarmacked. It climbs high into the sky topping out at 9552 ft and the views are stunning. As you drop down towards Agoudal a track of to the left ends at an auberge where the omelette and hospitality comes highly recommended. There is also an exciting finish to today where our wild camp is situatedclose to The Grotte Akhaim. here there is a series of caves running deep into the mountains and as long as you have some powerful torches there is an exciting underground walk full of stalagmites and stalactites with eventually a view in tourch light of an underground river.
Day 6: Akhaim Wild Camp to Tizi-n-Tazazate Wild Camp
After the excitement of the wild camp near the Grotte Akhaim, today's route has a lot to live up to. You will, by the time that your tent is set up on top of the plateau near Tizi-n-Tazazate, feel that your senses are ready to explode, this is because they will have been bombarded throughout the day with sights and experiences that just continue to get more incredible at every turn. Just before our wild camp take the opportunity to visit a small village of blacksmiths where you can watch a demonstration of horse shoe fabrication as well as, bizarrely cedar mugs and bowls: Not a Cedar tree can be seen anywhere near the village
Day 7: Tizi-n-Tazazate Wild Camp to Hotel Zagour Zagora
The view from Tizi-n-Tazazate is stunning. Mountains stretch away seemingly for ever, lost in the distant haze of the early warmth of of a morning sun. The desert is getting ever closer and when you turn onto the tarmac at Nkob to your left are the Anti-Atlas and to your right sand runs up the low mountains at the edge of the desert itself. By midday the sun is not, very hot so lunch will need to be taken sat under the shade of an Acacia tree, its wide umbrella spreading a cool dappled shade. At the hotel Zagour there is a swimming pool and there are also cool high ceiling rooms awaiting you
Day 8: Hotel Zagour to Hotel Kasbah Azalay Mhamid
Hotel Kasbah Azalay is an oasis of luxury and hospitality on the edge of the Sahara and is our destination for today. This hotel sits on the banks of the Oued Draa and it is along this river(normally dry here) where we will enter the desert tomorrow. Today our route runs along the Oued Draa where there is water and on the way takes us past a 16th century Kasbah, now runied before running into the Palmerie of Tagounite. you will have an hour or two to explore Zagora before you leave for Kasbah Azalay and if your car needs some attention then Aziz, Said and Salem will be on hand to look over it for you.
Day 9: Hotel Kasbah Azalay to Lac Iriki
The immense experience of Lac Iriki awaits us as breakfast is taken in the cool comfort of Azalay. Hassan the chef prepares a good breakfast for us before the heat and dust of the Sahara. We will give a briefing on Lac Iriki before you are sent on your way, straight into the river and onto the desert. Some cars get stuck within yards of the Hotel, but we will be on hand to help and build your confidence. so that by late afternoon you will be enjoying the silence and spirit of the desert at our wild camp in one of the acacia groves near the table top mountain
Day 10: Lac Iriki
This is an incredible day of immense off road driving through dunes, across flood plains and clambering along a river bed, sometimes dry, sometimes wet. Near the mountains to the south of Foum Zguid you will spend some time searching amongst the grey rocks for fossil belamites, seashells and coral-fantastic stuff. The camp is close to the dunes of Chegega. Tomorrow we pass through them!!
Day 11: Lac Iriki
The stillness of dawn is only broken by the high pitched whistle of the Hoope Lark. The direction of its call is difficult to pinpoint and the bird is often only yards away but excellent camouflage conceal it from us. After breakfast in the shadow of the dunes of Chegega our group makes its way into the field of sand, following the Impala lead cars tracks. Advice and help is on hand at the top of the steep climbs and before the morning coolness has turned into the heat of a desert noon you will be accomplished drivers in the sea of sand. afterwards the smaller dunes seem no problem at all, although some of you will relax at the wrong moment and stick fast-digging will also become accomplished!!. By evening the delights of the cool shadows at Azalay will be our haven as we laugh and tell tales of our desert adventure.
Day 12: Kasbah Azalay to Cascade D'Tizgui
Our journey north begins today as you climb out of the desert through many passes, stopping for a short while in Zagora, where the hustle and bustle of this provincial town washes over us. Said, Aziz and Salem from the Garage Iriki are on hand to clean air filters, change oil and of course grease props and track rod ends. Enjoy tea and almonds as your car is prepared for its journey back to Europe. Of course we still have some delights to come and the first is a wild camp close to the Cascade D'Tizgui where Omar, its self proclaimed guardian will treat you to some learning(Arabic) and in a most gracious way that only a true Berbere can accomplish, will charge you 10Dh for making a cup of coffee with the ingredients that you brought down to his shade beside the blue frog filled pool.
Day 13: Cascade D'Tizgui to Marrakech
Marrakech is only six hours driving away so you will have time to stop and explore along this route. Perhaps you will turn left along a track at the Tizi-n-Tichka and climb even higher, stop your car to walk the few hundred meters up to the summit and be enthralled by the view, stretching around all points of the compass or you may stop at one of the co-operatives where local women make produce from argane oil. Whatever you do by evening a taxi will have rushed you through the maelstrom of the Marrakesh traffic, which never seems to thin out at any time of the day and night, to enjoy the "Place" and to eat in one of a thousand restaurants.
Day 14: Marrakech, A day in the Medina
Marrakech has a lot to explore and today you will have time to find some of its jewels: Jardin Marjorelle, Jardin De Manara, The Medina or suprisingly modern shopping hidden deep within its walls. Two recommendations from us at Impala would be to enjoy a coffee, Jus d'Orange and a crepe at The Old Post Office as well as buy some excellent belgum chocalates made in the traditional way in a small shop hidden down a back street not far from our hotel.
Day 15: Marrakech to Spain
Tanger is an easy journey north as it is paege almost all of the way. Wherever you may be at lunch time, take a left or right off the main road and find a wild picnic place to savour the last smells and sounds of the Moroccan countryside before the port at Tanger. By evening you will find yourself on the road in Spain. Enjoy your journey north, do not rush as it may be some time before the call of adventure brings you forth once more.
Conditions to Expect in Morocco
Temperatures will range from 45°C at the hottest part of the day to 15°C at 2am
Sunshine all day. Shade is important· Warm wind from a zephyr to force 8· High winds will mean that sand will be airborne·
Stones (small to large), flat rock, dry lakes, sand rivers, mountain passes and sand dunes 200 meters high
Camps are basic.
Hotels vary from good to excellent
High Atlas and The Anti-Atlas
Temperatures will range from 35°C during the hottest part of the day to 0°C at 2am
Weather is variable but generally warm and clear
High winds will mean that dust will be airborne
Rock or sand track abound. Flat rock, mountain passes and if it rains very slippery mud will be an interesting challenge
Camps are basic. Hotels vary from good to excellent
Driving and Rules for Morocco
1. Always Slow down early for Police Checkpoints and be polite and courteous. They will ask you where you are going and are often interested in talking about what it is like in England and in your car.
2. On the off road tracks it is often very slippery and you should always use four wheel drive with a locked center diff. Extreme Caution is often needed on bends and brows of hills. Always drive at a speed where you can stop easily in the distance that you can actually see ahead.
3. Punctures can be quite numerous and you will be able to get tyres repaired at all towns and most villages.