Refreshing, endless, rolling green mountains slowly shifting to orange sand and desert. Moroccan pop music playing through the speakers. Bright bangles hanging from the rearview mirror, tinkling with each sharp bend through the mountain pass. An unlikely band of travelers: me (American) and my British boyfriend, a couple from Brighton, a family with two young kids (and a selfie stick obsession) from Dubai, an older solo traveling lady from France, and two friends (one from England, one from Spain).
We all booked an overnight Sahara desert tour through I Go Morocco or from stalls in the Souks. Early one morning in Marrakech, we all got bundled into one large van. Strangers at first, but not after traveling over 10 hours through the Atlas Mountains together and sleeping together in a little tent in the desert, surrounded by camels.
Our first stop of the roadtrip was a little restaurant off to the side of the road, perched on a cliff ledge. It was around 8am and the sun had recently peeked out, the sky getting bluer by the minute as the mountains woke up. A bit stiff from sitting in the van for the last two hours, we all piled out to the restaurant’s terrace porch, where we enjoyed our first breath of Atlas Mountain air, and the most incredible views…
Fast forward a couple more hours and we watched the Atlas Mountains geography change. The dark green hills, tall trees and red soil had slowly been morphing into a rocky, plant-less terrain, the closer we got to the Sahara. The children on the sides of the road selling herbs were replaced by empty construction sites, or this little souvenier shop that we stopped at.
As the Atlas Mountains flattened out, we approached Kasbah ait Ben Haddou, near the Sahara. Kasbah ait Ben Haddou is essentially an old fortified city along the route from Marrakech to the Sahara. It’s a UNESCO heritage site, located along the southern border of the Atlas Mountains, in the Ouarzazate province of Morocco. Its buildings are made of clay and stone, and are surrounded by a stream that you can cross on stepping stones/bags of sand. Little boys will follow you across the stream and offer their hands in support…only take them if you’re willing to pay for them!
The city itself is teetering on the hillside, extremely hot, and mostly abandoned. Only four families still actually live in the city, but you’ll find a fair few men sat on the clay steps with lamps and rugs, hiking up their prices for the passing tourists. We were passed off to a guide once we reached Kasbah ait Ben Haddou – although this wasn’t something included in our tour price, it was only a few extra dirhams which I didn’t begrudge giving to a local in exchange for some folk tales.
You may also recognize Kasbah ait Ben Haddou as the home of some famous movies. Most notably, Game of Thrones and Gladiator, but the full list is above! It defo had a Khaleesi feel to it.
We also saw some interesting painting whilst inside the fort. A man painted with clay, added a bit of water, and the painting became colorful! There were also some old press photos of movie filming. Mostly that aspect of Kasbah ait Ben Haddou seemed like a tourist trap. We preferred clambering up the fort and exploring the city from the highest vantage point…
Stop 4. Kasbah Taourirt
On our route back from the desert to Marrakech, we stopped at Kasbah Taourirt. It’s nearby to Kasbah ait Benhaddou, and also a site that’s famous for movies, such as Lawrence of Arabia. It’s known as the most beautiful Kasbah in Morocco both for its size, and its location near the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara Desert.
We were pretty exhausted at this point, so bought some Magnum chocolate icecreams and licked them on the steps, observing the Kasbah and occasional the motorcycle pass by. Talk about juxtaposition?!
Back on the road.
We drove along past the little clay settlements, and the Atlas Mountains loomed on the horizon.
But I tried to stay awake to appreciate our final journey through the mountains. The white, snowy peaks in such a hot country, the lush trees and mountain peaks.
Our Atlas Mountains “roadtrip” almost felt like a cheat – we paid for a trek into the Sahara desert on camels from I Go Morocco, but of course we had to be transported there. It almost felt like a 2 in 1 deal – at least it has been, blog post-wise! Check back next week for the post I’ve been so excited about sharing…our night in the Sahara desert!
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**This is NOT a sponsored post. All opinions of I Go Morocco are my own.**