A Road Trip Through Eastern Morocco

No trip to Morocco is complete without a trip out to the Sahara Desert, and there is no better way to see this area of the country than to rent a car and hit the open road! This road trip itinerary through Eastern Morocco will have you hiking through beautiful gorges, trying your hand at rock climbing, spending a night in the middle of the desert, and enjoying the spectacular scenery along the way.

Know Before You Go

  • Road conditions in Morocco are quite good so a 4-wheel drive is not required. But you will likely appreciate having it. You’ll encounter some gravel and bumpy roads around Merzouga and if you decide to take any detours along the way the roads off the highway aren’t nearly as pristine. And don’t forget, in Morocco you drive on the right side of the road.
  • Speed limits in the area range from 20 kilometers/hour to 80 kilometers/hour. When driving through towns you’ll need to stay below 60 kilometers/hour. Speed limit signs are clearly marked.
  • Seatbelts are required by law for every driver and passenger. If you’re caught not wearing one you’ll likely be stopped at a check point and given a fine.
  • Be alert! Camels and donkeys frequently cross the highways without looking both ways…

Camel Crossing in Morocco by Wandering Wheatleys

  • There are plenty of gas stations along the way so no need to worry about getting stranded.
  • Watch out for speed traps along your road trip. The fees are minimal (our ticket was 150 Dhs, or ~$16 USD) and must be paid in cash on the spot.
  • Download some podcasts for your in-car entertainment as well as a map of the area to find your way around.
  • Check out my other post on all the things I wish I had known before visiting Morocco!
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Ouarzazate

Getting There

Ouarzazate is the gateway to the Sahara Desert and the jumping off point for your Moroccan road trip. From Marrakech you can take a private taxi for around $80-100 USD depending on your negotiation skills or 80 Dhs (~$9 USD) per person if you take the bus. The narrow road winds through the Atlas Mountains so roads may be impassable in the winter.

  • Recommended transportation from Marrakech: Supratours Bus
  • Distance from Marrakech: 122 miles
  • Drive time: 4 hours

Where to Stay

Hotel Azoul Morocco

The Hotel Azoul is a lovely hotel in Ouarzazate offering spacious rooms, comfortable beds, incredibly hot water, and friendly service. And the internet is super fast so be sure to catch up on email and everything else since you’ll be heading into remote areas.

Check prices on Booking.com

Where to Eat

If you are looking for an upscale dining experience (and wine!), then you’ll love Le Jardin des Aromes. The service is impeccable and the food is some of the best in town. And right next door you’ll find Kasbah Tafarnout which has lovely city views from the terrace and delicious pizza!

For a quick and inexpensive lunch, El Bahja is right down the street from the Hotel Azoul and serves delicious lentils and roasted chicken.

What to Do

There isn’t a lot to see in Ouarzazate aside from Atlas Studios, aka “Ouallywood”, where movies including Jewel of the Nile and Kingdom of Heaven were filmed. Sets and props from movies are on display and guided tours run every 20 – 40 minutes. The Cinema Museum has some props as well but it is poorly signed and confusing.

Reserve a rental car from the airport if you are looking to save a few dollars a day, or walk to the Avis that’s just a block from the Hotel Azoul if you are looking for convenience. Load up on snacks and get ready for a week of adventure!

Valley near Todra Gorges, Morocco by Wandering Wheatleys

Tips on Renting a Car in Morocco:

  • Use a credit card that offers some kind of car insurance protection for your deposit. We like the rental car insurance provided by our Chase Sapphire card – plus no international fees!
  • Document everything! Mark every imperfection on the rental contract prior to signing as well as taking a video and/or photos of any dings or scratches on the car.
  • Make sure you have a spare tire.
  • Know where the insurance and registration paperwork is and ask about how to handle emergencies or getting pulled over by the cops!
  • Does the car take unleaded or diesel gas? Most run on diesel but best to check before you depart.

Tamellalt (Dadès Gorges)

Kasbah in Dades Gorges, Morocco by Wandering Wheatleys

Getting There

  • Recommended transportation from Ouarzazate: Rental car
  • Distance from Ouarzazate: 71 miles
  • Drive time: 2 hours

Where to Stay

Maison D'Hotes La Vallee Des Figues

Auberge La Vallée des Figues is a modest hotel offering spectacular views, delicious cuisine, and they can help you plan all of your activities in the area. The owners are local and are incredibly interesting to chat with about their experience growing up in this small town.

Check prices on Booking.com

Where to Eat

Most of the restaurants in the area are attached to the hotels and they need some advance notice of your order to start cooking. Auberge La Vallée des Figues offers a delicious and reasonably priced dinner with large portions. But be sure to let them know well in advance if you’d like to dine in.

What to Do

The Dadès Gorges were carved by the Dadès River which created the unique formations resembling “monkey fingers”. The walls of the gorges range from 650 to 1600 feet high and are quite impressive as you hike through them. 

Overlook of Monkey Fingers Canyon, Dades Gorge, Morocco by Wandering Wheatleys

Arrange a guided hike ranging from 2-4 hours in length through your helpful hotel staff. You can do the hike on your own as well but the entrance to the gorges can be difficult to find. And some of the areas inside the walls can be tricky to navigate as you’ll need to do some scrambling.

Hiking in the Monkey Fingers Canyon, Dades Gorge, Morocco

Opt for a longer tour and you’ll have the opportunity to meet a nomadic family that resides in a cave at the end of the hike. They’ll offer you tea and you’ll get a glimpse into their living conditions and daily life. Bring snacks and some change to leave for them as a “thank you”.

Nomad Family, Dades Gorge, Morocco by Wandering Wheatleys

Be sure to take a drive through the gorges as well on the R704. The road winds up the mountain and the views from above are stunning!

Snake Road, Dades Gorges, Morocco by Wandering Wheatleys

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Tinghir (Todra Gorge)

Todra Gorges, Morocco by Wandering Wheatleys

Getting There

  • Recommended transportation from Tamellalt: Rental car
  • Distance from Tamellalt: 45 miles
  • Drive time: 1 hour and 10 minutes

Where to Stay

A Secret Garden

A Secret Garden is a reasonably priced hotel offering home cooked meals, bright rooms, and an owner who is an expert in climbing in the region. The location is perfect for walking to the gorge and the views from the balconies are stunning!

Check prices on Booking.com 

Where to Eat

This small town doesn’t offer a ton of dining options but luckily the food at A Secret Garden is tasty and convenient. Plus you can purchase wine or beer if you so desire.

What to Do

Todra Gorge is a hot spot for climbers from all over the world! The limestone walls of the gorge rise almost 1,000 feet above on either side of the road and you’ll spot climbers everywhere. A Secret Garden is owned by a French expat named Julio who can also arrange to take you out climbing, regardless of your level of expertise.

Todra Gorges, Morocco by Wandering Wheatleys

If climbing isn’t your forte, you can choose to take a drive through the gorge and/or do some hiking in the area. A loop trail runs from the large parking lot up to the highest point for spectacular views of the gorge below. And then the trail winds around back down to the town. You can even stop for tea in one of the nomad villages along the way if you feel inclined to accept their hospitality.

Merzouga (Sahara Desert)

Sand Dunes in the Sahara Desert, Merzouga, Morocco by Wandering Wheatleys

Getting There

  • Recommended mode of transportation from Tinghir: Rental car
  • Distance from Tinghir: 125 miles
  • Drive time: 2 hours and 45 minutes

Where to Stay

Auberge La Source

Auberge La Source is actually located in a quieter area of Merzouga, just outside of the town. If you do make the drive into the center you’ll appreciate that this area has far less hassle from men trying to sell you a camel ride. Plus Auberge La Source offers spectacular views of the dunes from their backyard!

Check prices on Booking.com 

Where to Eat

Restaurant Cafe Fatima is just a short walk from your hotel and offers good sized portions at reasonable prices. Their salad is one of the best in all of Morocco!

What to Do

If you stay at the Auberge La Source you’ll have the Sahara Desert right in your backyard! It’s just a short walk to the massive dunes so head over there at sunset to get a prime view of the huge expanse of desert.

You can also book a camel ride to the Auberge La Source Desert Camp right in the middle of the dunes! You’ll start with an hour or so ride on a camel and then you will enjoy an epic sunset, a tajine feast for dinner, and finally a sky full of stars before drifting off to sleep in your comfortable tent.

Night in the Sahara Desert, Merzouga, Morocco by Wandering Wheatleys

Then you’ll wake up early in the morning to climb to the highest dune and watch the sun bathe the sand in light. This overnight in the desert will be the highlight of your road trip and a once in a lifetime experience!

Sunrise in the Sahara Desert, Merzouga, Morocco by Wandering Wheatleys

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Zagora

Getting There

  • Recommended transportation from Merzouga: Rental car
  • Distance from Merzouga: 190 miles
  • Drive time: 4 hours

Where to Stay

Le Petite Kasbah is situated a bit outside of the city but offers the perfect oasis to relax after a long road trip. You’ll love swimming in the pool after enjoying the delicious breakfast spread from the terrace.

Check prices on Booking.com 

Where to Eat

There are many darling outdoor restaurants lining the main street of Zagora. You’re likely to find great people watching but unlikely to find a lot of diversity in the menu options offered. Have a mint tea and tagine while enjoying the sunshine!

What to Do

Zagora is the most bustling of all of the cities along your road trip so just taking a walk around town is enjoyable. If you’re craving more desert adventures you can also arrange several excursions from Zagora, although the dunes aren’t nearly as impressive as in Merzouga.

Just behind Le Petite Kasbah is a maze of old kasbah wall ruins that are worth taking a stroll through. You’ll see farmers working the land, women doing laundry, and people just going about their daily life in mud buildings that were constructed ages ago.

River walks in Zagora, Morocco by Wandering Wheatleys

And finally, you will have a two and a half hour drive to finish out your Moroccan road trip back to Ouarzazate. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed getting outdoors in this spectacular area of the country!

Looking for more details on what to see and do in Morocco? Enjoy our favorite Moroccan guide books!


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Road Trip Morocco by Wandering Wheatleys

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