Sahara Desert – High Atlas


ITINERARY
DAY 1:  MARRAKECH  
►Arrive in Marrakesh, enjoy breakfast at your hotel and then begin your tour.
Marrakech, known as the “red city or Al Hamra,” is a city in southwestern Morocco in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. Marrakech is the second largest city and administrative center in Morocco. The heart of the Marrakesh, Djemma El Fna Square, offers an exciting experience with its souks, gardenspalaces, snake charmersoutdoor food stalls and fabulous shopping for Moroccan goods.
►Depart from your hotel. Your introduction to Marrakech will begin in the Medina, the old quarter of the Marrakesh. From here we will explore this historically charming area by foot. In Djemma el Fna, you will visit the famous 12th century Koutouba Mosque and its influential minaret. Your guide will help you navigate through the labyrinth like streets and alleys of the Djemma.
Marrakech is a city of underground channels built by the architects from Cordoba, Spain to provide water for the town and Palmary. We will drive to the Lower Medina to explore more of Marrakesh’s secrets: El Mansour mosque, the sixteenth century Saadian Tombs with its stark towers, the ruined 16th century El Badhi Palace, and the Mellah and the Jewish quarter.

►Enjoy a three- course lunch consisting of fresh salad, tajine and fruit at one of Marrakech most delectable restaurants. After lunch we will head north of the Mellah to visit the 19th century Bahia palace, originally built for Si Moussa, a former slave who became King Moulay Hassan’s chamberlain. The palace holds a courtyard and riads decorated with beautiful carved stucco and Arabic architecture. Next we will visit the contemporary Moroccan Art Museum or Tiskiwin, a private museum dedicated to popular arts & crafts, styled as a beautiful Spanish-Moroccan house, next door to Dar Si Said palace, a smaller version of the Bahia.
Now onward to the new city, we will navigate our way to French, Gueliz and head to the Majorelle Gardens, a magical and lush small garden estate designed by Jacque Majorelle and maintained by Yves Saint Laurent. The Majorelle Garden is filled with colorful walkwaysponds, cactus and plants as well as a beautiful shop with hand-made goods. On our return to your hotel, we will pass by the La Mammounia Hotel Garden (where Alfred Hitchcock wrote the famous film The Birds).
►For dinner, dine in the Djemma el Fna, a UNESCO recognized site. After dinner, return to your hotel to rest and prepare for next day’s journey.
DAY 2:  MARRAKECH – TELOUET – AIT BENHADDOU
►Rise early, have breakfast and then prepare for an early morning departure from Marrakech. Drive through the High Atlas Mountains. Heading south of Marrakech you will pass Aït Ourir, a charming Berber village where you can stop to take some pictures of the Atlas foothills. Back on the P31 you will pass the Grouka hunting reserve and Forestry Department Buildings that are a reminder that the French presence was once felt in the High Atlas. Soon after seeing views of the olive groves of the Oued Zat, you will begin ascending onto the Tizi-N-Tichka Pass Road.
►For lunch enjoy a tajine or grilled meat in a cafe restaurant of the Tadart. At 2260 meters above sea level, the highest part of Atlas as well as the highest pass inMorocco, your lunch will be complemented with overwhelming mountain views.
►Driving on the road to Ouarzazate, you will pass the town of Amerzgane where you will bear a left to reach the ruined Kasbah Telouet. Once home to the Pasha El Glaoui, the kasbah has a rich history that is intertwined with the French and is located in a fertile valley surrounded by palm, fig and olive trees. Inside you can see the kasbah’s painted wooden ceiling and low level corridors leading to two well preserved Andalusian style reception rooms engraved with stuccowork and colorfulzellij tile work.
Next we will drive to the picturesque village of Aït BenhaddouAït Benhaddou is situated in Souss-Massa-Draâ on a hill along the Ouarzazate River and was once a significant stop for traders carrying gold, salt and slaves along the famous Southern Caravan route moving through the Sahara. Lawrence of Arabia was filmed here andOrson Welles used it as a location for Sodome and Gomorrah; and for Jesus of Nazareth the whole lower part of the village was rebuilt. In recent years more controlled restoration has been carried out under UNESCO auspices. Your guide willlead you on a private tour through this Berber village of towered and crenulated kasbahs that once guarded the lucrative caravan route through the Atlas Mountains.
►Have dinner and sleep in Hotel Etoile Filante in Aït Benhaddou or drive toOuarzazate where you can luxury hotel with kasbah views.
DAY 3:  AIT BENHADDOU –SKOURA – EL KELAA DE MGOUNA (VALLEY OF ROSES)  
►After breakfast at your hotel, we will journey an hour away from Aït Benhaddou, taking the “Road of One Thousand Kasbahs” to visit SkouraSkoura is a fertile oasis lined with immense palm groves that provide great views of the Atlas Mountains alongside deserted landscapes. It is renowned for the cultivation of roses. The palm groves were laid out in the 12th century by the Almohad sultan Yacoub el-Mansour and named after its original inhabitants, the Berbers of the Haskourene tribe. The most beautiful kasbahs in southern Morocco can be found here. Many of them are still partially inhabited.   
►We will stop to visit the most imposing of the kasbahs in this area that you will tour is 17th Century Amerhidil Kasbah. This fortified residence once belonged to the most powerful family responsible for protecting the village and its lands called theGlaoui. Today it is owned by the Sheikh of Amerhidil. Touring the kasbah is a most charming opportunity as its interior is now restored. The Amerhidil Kasbah is featured on a 50.00 note of Moroccan Dirhams and on an Orange Juice boxbranded, Marrakesh. The kasbahs of Aït Abou were built in the 1800’s and the oldest in the palm grove, is six storeys and walls 25 m high.
►After lunch in Skoura, drive north heading towards the El Kelaa Des Mgouna, theValley of Roses, where your driver will stop for you to view the Capp et Floraledistillation factories laid out in El Kelaa Des Mgouna, a small Kasbah town that manufactures the entire nation’s products of eau de rose. The rose water and other products such as hand and body soaps, oil, crème perfume and dried flowers are for sale and also popular among Moroccans.
►In spring of each year, the Rose Festival is attended by local villagers and celebrated with traditional Berber music, food and dance. The festival features a an exhibition of local crafts and a street-parade with bright colorful floats made out of faux roses whereby the Ms. Roses of El Kelaa Des Mgouna is chosen.
For dinner, we will relax on a petite terrace at Kasbah Itran, a local auberge that overlooks two large abandoned crenulated Jewish kasbahs and a river. Stay the night at Kasbah Itran.
DAY 4:  EL KELAA DE MGOUNA (VALLEY OF ROSES) – DADES GORGE
►Breakfast at a local pâtisserie of Café Cassis (Moroccan cappuccino) Moroccan sweet breads and fresh fruit, then climb aboard a Travel Exploration’s air-conditioned/heated 4×4 for day filled with great adventure. Your journey will take you through the Dadès which covers 125 km between Ouarzazate and Boumalne du Dadès in the High Atlas Mountains.
►Driving along you will pass flower filled fields, fertile fields, riverbanks and several fortified ksours. At the bottom of Gorge of Boumalne Dadès there are ruined hilltop Kasbahs and valley floor gardens. Protected by the mountains, Aït Youl is among the largest Glaoui Kasbah that is worth a pit stop. Your driver will take you to explore it and go for a sort hike to Tamnalt where an impressive natural formation of rocks known by locals as the “Hill of Human bodies exists”. A series of fascinating kasbahs can found there. Your driver will take you past the Boumalne hills so you can see how the gorge narrows into a canyon passing directly through Aït Oufi to Msemrir
►Lunch will be served in an Msemrir guesthouse that offers local Moroccan fareand a panoramic view. On Saturdays, there is a large village souk in Msemrir. Moving on, your driver will continue the road towards the breathtaking Todra Gorge. The Gorge extends from the village of Tamtatouche to Tinerhir. The Todra, with cliffs rising dramatically up to 300m on each side of a narrow corridor, make up some of the most impressive cliffs and are by far, the highest in Morocco.
►.As we drive by the gorge to get to Tamtattouchte, your final destination for the day, you may see Nomad women with children from the Atlas Mountains visiting the Gorge to carry water by donkey to their village. Upon reaching the picturesque village of Tamtattouchte, you will be transported to your Berber guesthouse where you will dine and spend the night.
DAY 5:  TAMATTOUCHTE –  GOULMIMA – ERRACHIDIA – ZIZ VALLEY
►After breakfast, depart by the Amllago Canyons crossing several Berber villages, Todra palmeries, oases of impressive kasbahs, valleys lined with date palms, olive terraces,pomegranate and almond and fruit trees. Back on the main road, you will run into the town of Tinerhir. Built on a rocky outcrop, Tinehir has an elongated layout and makes an interesting stopping place to visit kasbahs and ksours orTinehir’s silver jewelry mines producing mines that play an important part in town’s economy. Continue on driving by the small village of Tadighouste and the valley ofTaltfraouteto arrive in Goulmima, a modern village set in the heart of the Rheris oasis.
►Stop at Goulmima for lunch and try Madfouna, southern Morocco’s version of pizza: griddle- fried wheat flour bases topped with onions, tomatoes, olives, minced lamb and cheese. After lunch, stretch your legs as you walk through a labyrinth of narrow streets and alleys leading to houses and a mosque located within the old fortified village of Goulmima Ksar. The village’s ksours are said to be unusually sturdy and the ksar itself a great example of southern Moroccan defensive architecture. Next get back on the road to look for signs for Er-Rachidia.
 
►Spend the night in the Ziz Valley.
 
DAY 6:   ZIZ VALLEY – ERFOUD – MERZOUGA
►After breakfast we go hiking in the Ziz Oasis. During your walk you will see palm trees alongside a long limestone corridor that provides shade for the Kasbah of Ifri.
►Have lunch in the  Ziz Valley, one of the world’s largest and longest fertile valleys. Located south of the Ziz River, the Ziz Valley has historical roots of being part of the caravan route that took travelers from the desert near Merzougato the Mediterranean Sea. After lunch walk around the ksar country which overlooks the oasis. See many pise and earth red houses located within fortified villages that protected Berber families from bandits and rival tribes. Descend the Ziz Valley toErfoud, a peaceful town with a military past and an extensive palm grove. Erfoud is also known for selling fossils and other local crafts.
►Dinner will be alongside live music in a traditional auberge near the Erg Chebbidunes. If you prefer, you may choose to sleep in a Berber tent underneath the desert stars.
DAY 7: MERZOUGA – ERFOUD –TODRA GORGE 
►Rise early and watch the magnificent sunrise sweep the sands of Erg Chebbi. Have Malawi, fruit, natural squeezed orange juice for breakfast then prepare for a morning of camel trekking through the Erg Chebbi. The Erg Chebbi dunes rise up out of stony, sandy desert and extend for thirty kilometers reaching a height of up to two hundred fifty meters.
►Spend the next few hours on a trek, then return to your auberge, pack your bags and head out for a drive in Travel Exploration’s 4×4 to the Dayet Srji.
► Leaving the Tifilalt Palm Grove, we pass the Saharan town of Rissani. Rissani, an ancient capital for the Alaouite Sultans and the most important market town for Sub-Sahara camel caravans was built on the ruins of Sijilmassa. Stop in Rissani to visit its souks where stalls are piled high with pyramids of dates, vegetables, spices, rugs, carpets, pottery, jewelry and metalwork.
►After passing Erfoud, we will stop to have lunch by the palm plantation of Tourougand also Tinjdad. After lunch, drive to the Todra Gorges Cayons where you can go on foot to explore the surrounding Berber villages. Enjoy dinner at your hotel with the panoramic views.
DAY 8:  TINERHIR – SKOURA 
►After breakfast and a morning walk through the canyons, walk via the Imarighen spring “the spring of the sacred fish”, to trek through a network of Tinerhir’s palm groves orchards. You can also see the ksour located on the other side of the Wadi. Of the most interesting are the Aït Boujane Ksar and Asfalou Ksar. After site seeing in Tinerhir, head towards Skoura.
►Have lunch in a local restaurant in the town of Skoura.
►After lunch, continue towards Ouarzazate, a mystical town that is the door to the Sahara desert. Located just four hours from Marrakesh, Ouarzazate is the main Berber city in the south known for its spectacular sunsets and dramatic mountain and desert scenery. Surrounded by breathtaking valleys, Ouarzazatewas once crossing point for African traders seeking to reach northern cities in Morocco and Europe. During the French period, Ouarzazate expanded considerably as a garrison town and became the administrative centre of the Zagora region.
 
►In Ouarzazate, visit a local Berber natural herbal pharmacy where you can have a massage and purchase some local fragrant crèmes made with rose water, orange water and almonds. Then have dinner in “Jardins de Ouarzazate“. Stay the night in a luxury five start hotel such as the Berber Palace or a four star hotel such as Riad Salam.
DAY 9:  OUARZAZATE – MARRAKECH
►Fill up on a savory breakfast of baguette, fresh fruit, jams and a café cassis (Moroccan cappuccino) at a local pâtisserie and then begin your tour to Atlas Film &Aït Benhaddou.
 
►Visit the Atlas Film Studios. David Lean filmed Lawrence of Arabia at The Atlas Film Studios in the early 1960’s. Since then many famous directors have followed in his footsteps to exploit the magnificent scenery. International blockbusters shot here in recent years include: the French version of Cleopatra, Bertolucci’s Sheltering Sky, Scorsese’s Kundun, Gillies MacKannon’s Hideous Kinky, Ridley Scott’sGladiator, Black Hawke Down, Oliver Stone’s Alexander The Great, Ridley Scott’sKingdom of Heavenand Penelope Cruz’s Sahara.
 
►Take the road to Marrakech, passing the village of Tadart, where you will stop for mint tea and an afternoon snack in a local restaurant with incredible views. Then, you will continue the road towards Marrakech passing by breathtaking views of the TichkaPass in High Atlas, a French built road that is among the largest mountain chain inNorth Africa.
►Arrive to Marrakech in the evening. Your last night in Moroccan can be spent in a riad in the Palmary or a local hotel. You are free to explore the exciting night clubsand restaurants of Marrakech or experience a traditional Fantasia.
Dinner and Fantastia Show Option: The fantasia is a ceremony opposing various groups of horse riders. Each group quivers under light, and the riders point their long rifles to the sky, shout out simultaneously and leave behind them a cloud of dust, before spouting their “black baroud of honor.” During dinner, made up chiefly of traditional Moroccan food, you will experience Moroccan traditional music such as Berber, Hadous, Chabbi, Gnaoua and other forms.
DAY 10:  MARRAKECH
►Depart from Marrakech’s Menara Airport. This ends your Morocco Travel experience.

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