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.
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Getting to Morocco
Most people arrive in Morocco by airplane. The largest and busiest airport in Morocco is Mohammed V Airport in Casablanca (Airport Code: CMN), but the most popular airport for tourists is probably Marrakesh Menara Airport (Airport Code: RAK) in Marrakech.
There are, of course, several other international airports in the country including Rabat, Tangier, and Agadir. There is even an international airport in Ouarzazate but you’ll only find flights to a handful of destinations.
This itinerary begins and ends in Marrakech, but when you’re planning your road trip you may want to consider flying into Marrakech and out of Fez or Casablanca so you can see more of the country in less time.
If you’re coming from Europe then another option is to take a ferry from Spain to Morocco. There are several ferry routes that connect the two countries, but the most common one is between Algeciras in Spain and the Tanger Med terminal in Morocco about an hour northeast on Tangier.
Moroccan Road Trip Basics
Rules of the Road
- Road conditions in Morocco are quite good so a 4-wheel drive is not required. But 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.
- 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 checkpoint and given a fine.
- Be alert! Camels and donkeys frequently cross the highways without looking both ways.
- 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.
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.
Preparing for your Moroccan Road Trip
- Download some podcasts for your in-car entertainment as well as a map of the area to find your way around.
- A road trip through Morocco can be challenging, so make sure you’re prepared!
- Check out my other post on all the things I wish I had known before visiting Morocco!
- A trip to the Sahara Desert should be on everyone’s itinerary even if you only have a week or 9 days in Morocco.
Eastern Moroccan Road Trip Itinerary
Ouarzazate is the gateway to the Morocco Desert and as soon as you cross the Atlas Mountains, you’ll see that the climate becomes increasingly arid and the landscape more barren. The area surrounding Ouarzazate is actually quite famous even though you may not yet realize it. The rugged, desolate desert landscape surrounding Ouarzazate has been used in dozens of movies and TV shows.
The ancient walled city of Ait Ben Haddou to the north Ouarzazate is instantly recognizable as a filming location for the Jewel of the Nile, Gladiator, and Game of Thrones.
Ouarzazate is also the jumping-off point for your Morocco road trip!
Getting to Ouarzazate
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 in Ouarzazate
Where to Eat in Ouarzazate
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.
Things to do in Ouarzazate
Of the things to do in Ouarzazate, the best is probably a visit to 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.
The UNESCO world heritage site of Ait Ben Haddou sits just 30 minutes northwest of Ouarzazate. It is an ancient walled city that has been used in the filming of loads of movies and television shows including Game of Thrones, Gladiator, and the Jewel of the Nile.
The cheapest place to rent a car is at the Ouarzazate airport, but there are also a few rental agencies in town if you don’t mind paying a little extra for the convenience. Load up on snacks and get ready for a week of adventure; you’re headed to the Moroccan desert!
Tamellalt, Morocco (Dadès Gorges)
Tamellalt is best known for the nearby Dades Gorges. You can arrange for a hike through the gorges if you’re up for an adventure or you can simple gaze upon the verdant valleys backed by the rugged mountains in the background from your car window or your hotel room balcony.
Getting to Tamellalt
- Recommended transportation from Ouarzazate: Rental car
- Distance from Ouarzazate: 71 miles
- Drive time: 2 hours
Where to Stay in Tamellalt
Maison D’Hôtes 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.
Where to Eat in Tamellalt
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.
Things to do in the Dadès Gorges
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.
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.
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”.
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!
Tinghir, Morocco (Todra Gorge)
Getting to Tinghir
- Recommended transportation from Tamellalt: Rental car
- Distance from Tamellalt: 45 miles
- Drive time: 1 hour and 10 minutes
Where to Stay in Tinghir
Where to Eat in Tinghir
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.
Things to do in Todra Gorge
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.
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, Morocco (Sahara Desert)
Spending a night camped under the stars in the Sahara Desert should be on every traveler’s bucket list! And the easiest place to access the Sahara Desert in Morocco in from Merzouga. Here you’ll find a dusty desert town with hotels sitting just a few feet away from massive sand dunes – it’s like a scene from Arabian Nights.
You’ll also find plenty of options for booking Sahara Desert trips available in Merzouga so if you don’t want to bother with spending a night in town you can head straight out into the desert. Options generally include travel by jeep, ATV, on a camel or on foot so you can pick the African desert safari that suits your taste.
Getting to Merzouga
- Recommended mode of transportation from Tinghir: Rental car
- Distance from Tinghir: 125 miles
- Drive time: 2 hours and 45 minutes
Where to Stay in Merzouga
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!
Where to Eat in Merzouga
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!
Things to do in the Sahara Desert
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.
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!
Getting to Zagora
- Recommended transportation from Merzouga: Rental car
- Distance from Merzouga: 190 miles
- Drive time: 4 hours
Where to Stay in Zagora
Where to Eat in Zagora
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!
Things to do in Zagora
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.
And finally, you will have a two and a half hour drive to finish out your Moroccan road trip back to Ouarzazate.
Hopefully this post has helped you to plan your road trip through Eastern Morocco!
Looking for more things to see and do in Morocco? Check out our favorite guidebooks!