Morocco’s Stunning Countryside
A large number of travellers see the drive from Ouarzazte to Mhamid as a means to reach the desert, however, sometimes it is better to take the time to enjoy the journey and savour the landscapes along the way. On our drive from Marrakesh, across the Tizi N’Tichka Pass we had already caught glimpses of the stunning countryside that Morocco has on offer but we were not prepared for the incredible scenery we would pass on our drive to the sandy dunes behind Mhamid.
Driving Across Tizi’n-Tinififft Pass
Leaving with enough time for a break en route we left our hotel, Cote Sud, early after breakfast, anticipating a driving time to Mhamid of about 4-5 hours in total. We had to meet our driver that would take us to our camp in the Sahara desert shortly after lunch to have enough time to reach the camp. The roads were still empty at this time of day and once we had left Ouarzazate we made good progress until we reached the winding road to the Tizi’n-Tinififft pass. Driving along this bendy road, we were impressed by the rocky mountains, the tops looked like some larger than life creature had scratched a claw across the hillsides. The stripy effect on the barren earth derives from the different layers of rock strata, exposed by erosion over millions of years. These amazing views were a fascinating sight and the reason for a few stops en route, before driving downhill towards Agdz and the Draa Valley.
The Palm Oasis in the Draa Valley
The Draa Valley, the largest palm oasis in the world, nestles in the valley of the Draa River, and was a large contrast to the desolate hills we had just passed through. Jerome still a little sleepy from our early morning start was amazed at the sheer number of palm trees spread across the valley floor.
The town of Agdz was already bustling with locals, shopping at the roadside market. We were planning to stay near this town, in a picturesque spot by the river, in a small hotel after our night in the desert and I was already looking forward to explore the area deeper. The fertile grounds of the Draa valley produce not only an abundance of dates but also other fruit and vegetables, many were for sale at roadside stands, the perfect spot to stock up on some juicy snacks before a night in the desert.
Driving in Morocco
Our drive led us closer to the sandy desert, passing a mass of crumbling kasbahs and mud hut villages. Whilst driving in Morocco is mostly a fairly relaxing experience, the main roads being generally in good conditions, there are road works with the country’s constant efforts to improve or extend the road system, both widening and tarmacking the main thoroughfares. It is also always advisable to be vigilant of ad hoc police checks, especially at entry points to larger towns and major junctions. We were stopped a few times by police officers on our tour, generally they only asked where we were from and then let us drive on, but I advise to always stick to speed limits, as controls are frequent and fines have to be paid immediately. I speak this from bitter experience of being caught out! Furthermore always be careful of people on the road or locals riding along the roadside on donkeys or bikes.
Driving Along Endless Roads
As mentioned before, the landscapes were overwhelmingly beautiful and totally not what we had expected. The colours of the rocks varied from earthy brown, through khaki green to dark pink and caramel yellow, much more varied than anyone expects of deserts. Heading further south and once we had left the sprawling town of Zagora behind us, we found ourselves surrounded by towering outcrops that gave us the feeling we were driving endless roads through the Australian outback or the cowboy land canyons in the USA.
Taster for the Sahara Desert
After the village of Tamegroute we got an initial taster of the Sahara desert, a few lonely sand dunes seemingly appeared out of nowhere, with signs for camps promising a stay among the sandy mounds forlorn amongst the stones all around. I could only imagine what a disappointing experience it must be for travellers expecting a stay in the Sahara desert only to find them selves in a larger than average sandpit.
Reaching Mhamid, the Gateway to the Sahara Desert
After crossing two more mountain passes, neither of them quite as spectacular as Tizi N’Tichka or Tizi’n-Tinififft we found ourselves driving the last kilometers to Mhamid, the gateway to Erg Chigaga (a vast complex of sand dunes) in the Sahara desert. Jerome was the first to notice some shallow dunes on the roadside, most of them protected from wind erosion by barriers made from palm leaves. A constant amazement for us was witnessing how green and fertile the desert actually is in many parts. The dunes were dotted with low shrubs and plants, even some low trees had found a place to grow over years in the desolate earth.
Waiting for Our Adventure Among the Erg Chigaga Dunes
Soon the first houses popped up en route and shortly afterwards we reached our meeting point at the Dar Azawad Hotel in Mhamid. We still had more than an hour left before our guide Hafid from La Kahena Camps would meet us for our expedition into the sandy Erg Chigaga dunes. Thankfully enough time for a quick lunch on the sunny pool terrace of the hotel, although our excitement for this not to be missed experience was close to boiling point by this stage…Curious about our incredible stay in the Sahara desert? Find out more, in my following posts.
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