7 Fantastic Things to Do on a Scenic Road Trip to the Atlas Mountains
Attempting an Ouarzazate day trip from Marrakech may be a somewhat tricky task. What seems like a short distance between these two destinations will, in fact, take up to 4 hours. That’s driving one way. Add another 4 hours for a return trip, and you’ll get half of the day in the car.
Does this mean, then, that you should quit planning a day trip from Ouarzazate to Marrakech? Well, not at all!
On our circular car route around Morocco, we did manage to fit everything noteworthy on the Ouarzazate travel itinerary into one day. We were driving from Marrakech towards the desert and stuffed the road trip between these two locations with all the great stops in the Atlas mountains.
If you would rather not rent a car, and would still love to come back to Marrakech and continue exploring it after a day in Ouarzazate, we recommend looking into the organized tours. There are plenty of companies that make this round trip possible.
Things to do in Ouarzazate, Morocco
It is amazing how a relatively short trip to the Atlas mountains from Marrakech can be so saturated with things to see and do! Not to mention that the road itself is well worthy of mentioning. It is scenic, and these sceneries change dramatically several times along the way.
At first, you are driving through the loud and busy Marrakech. Then come the small and authentic villages, then the rocky, almost Martian mountains. And then, all of a sudden, the road runs along the lush palm groves.
If we’re talking only a day trip to Ouarzazate from Marrakech, you will most probably need to prioritize. The list of things to do in Ouarzazate and in the area definitely beats the number of hours in a day. That being said, here are the stops to contribute to your Ouarzazate travel itinerary.
Kasbah Ait Benhaddou: for lovely sunsets or sunrises
If you are driving from Marrakech, you will be in time for the sunset. If you decide to stay for the night in one of the nearby villages, then it is a good idea to save this iconic location for the sunrise.
From the personal experience, we can say that sunsets at the Kasbah Ait Benhaddou are absolutely lovely. Also, navigating through this old fortified village and climbing up its terraces to the top is easier in the evening. The sun is much more gentle.
There is a lot of feedback online about driving to Ouarzazate to visit Kasbah Ait Benhaddou. To put our two cents in, just this location alone is totally worth the trip. Once a thriving village on the former caravan route between Sahara and Marrakech, this site is peaceful and somewhat magical.
Leave the car in the nearest parking lot and head across the dried watercourse to the main gates. If you arrive late, most of the commerce and souvenir shops along the way will probably be closed. But even in those few that will be opened, you will see cute vanity lists with movies filmed at Ait Benhaddou, topped with the latest hit, the Game of Thrones.
For those of you who are not the avid GOT martyrs, there are still lots of things to do. Stop by the old Berber houses, visit an old school, and reach the top of the village. from here, admire the colorful mountains with the shades on red and yellow. Ait Benhaddou is on the list of the UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Ouarzazate, to grasp the atmosphere of the region
Travelers’ feedback about the town of Ouarzazate itself is mixed. Some prefer to skip visiting it altogether. Many mention that there is not much to do in this small and dusty town.
However, we recommend driving through the downtown and stopping at the main square for a decent lunch or dinner, depending on the time of the day. The sunsets are lovely here, too. Plus, in addition to the tajines of which you’ll have plenty in Marrakech, you will be able to try the Berber cuisine. We particularly recommend ordering the lentil cream soup.
Dades Valley and Gorges, for the breathtaking views
If stopping in Ouarzazate is definitely optional, exploring Dades is an absolute must! The valley offers an authentic mix of Berber villages and palm groves. Then, the road paves its way between the rocky mountains of the gorges. There is nothing like driving between these tall red cliffs.
The mountain pass with its demanding hairpins will lead you up to a lovely viewpoint. From here, the only way down is by taking the same road back, but the views are worth the drive.
Atlas Film Studios, if you’ve always wanted to see the miniature Hollywood
Oddly, while many refer to it as Hollywood in miniature, the Atlas Film Studios are in fact among the largest in the world. Unfortunately, its size does not equate to being commercially successful, but some of the blockbusters were filmed here. The list of movies includes Gladiator, Babel, and Cleopatra.
Every few hours, the studio runs a guided tour for its visitors. It may be worth your while if you know and enjoy some of the films shot here. It can also be a bit disappointing as a lot of time passed since, and the sets are gradually falling apart.
Oasis Fint, for a sneek peek of the local life
What we loved about visiting Oasis Fint is that despite being a somewhat popular destination on the list of things to do on an Ouarzazate day trip from Marrakech, this is still a very authentic place. You will get to see the locals living their everyday life, running errands, mingling. It will probably be a good idea to decline somewhat persistent offers from the guides to show you around, as there’s not much to see in particular. Just life in the oasis and some lovely panoramas from the nearby kasbah….
Kasbah Telouet, for the wow-effect
What seems like a small and unnecessary detour, Kasbah Telouet hides beautiful interiors behind its simple walls. Wander the corridors, and enjoy the restored rooms with beautiful tile work and massive carved wooden doors. Finding the entrance and crossing dusty corridors prior to arriving in the room turns the visit to this Kasbah into a fun little adventure.
Any of the Berber villages, for an authentic experience
Accommodations in Marocco are definitely part of the travel experience (riad is a must-try, and so are tents in the desert), and Ouarzazate area will contribute to this experience. An array of sites will offer a stay in clay houses, Berber-style. We discovered our hidden gem within a half-hour drive away from the Ait Benhaddou village.
If opting in for a night in this part of Atlas mountains, also don’t miss out on the local dishes!
Day trip to Ouarzazate from Marrakech: Frequently Asked Questions
What is the distance from Marrakech to Ouarzazate, and how long does it take to get from the city to the mountains?
From Marrakech to Ouarzazate, the distance is 194 km (120 miles). This seems like a short ride, but in Morocco, the road trip experience will probably differ from the experiences you had in Europe or any other part of the world. The urban speed limits are 60 km (37 miles) per hour. Towns and villages happen quite frequently. For the rural areas, the speed limit is 100 km (62 miles) per hour.
Plus, the route to Ouarzazate from Marrakech will run through mountain passes with serpentines, which will slow you down, too. Definitely, plan at least 4 hours one way.
What are the peculiarities of driving in Morocco?
The roads are of good quality, most of them are new, but run a single line in each direction. The Moroccan police guard the speed limits like a hawk and there will be lots of patrols with the radars along the way. The local drivers will frequently warn by blinking the headlights twice.
While both the urban and rural speed limits are quite high, in fact, the average speed in towns will be around 40 km (24 miles) per hour due to lots of markets on the way. Where there are markets, there are crowds, trucks parking in and out, and locals walking slowly in the middle of the road and chatting with each other. Plus, add roundabouts. Moroccans love their roundabouts!
On rural roads, there will be a lot of signs limiting the speed to 80 km (49 miles) or even 60 km (37 miles).
What is the best season to visit Ouarzazate?
In general, it is better to visit Morocco in the fall. We went in October and found the weather to be great for road trips. There was plenty of sun, but not exhausting heat. Picking the right weather in Morocco is the key to most of the activities, from wandering the cities to trekking the High Atlas mountains.
Is it a good idea to plan a day trip from Essaouira to Ouarzazate?
While an Ouarzazate day trip from Marrakech is possible, we would not recommend a day trip from Essaouira (we have a great itinerary for 3 days in this beautiful coastal town) to Ouarzazate. It may be a drive-through, for sure, if you are headed towards the desert. The distance is 385 km (239 miles), and given all the information above, this will turn into a seven-hour drive. Maybe, just enough to see the Dades Gorges and the sunset at Ait Benhaddou before you have to stop for the night in any of the nearby villages.
Written by Inessa Rezanova
I am a Kyiv-based screenwriter with 10+ years of experience in producing scripts. I love my job, and no, I did not quit it to travel the world. I see different countries in my spare time. As a storyteller, I believe that it is the emotional journey that matters the most. This is why together with my sister I started this blog to encourage everyone to travel and to do so with a heart and mind opened to adventures.
Images by Natalie Rezanova
I am a photographer based in Kyiv, Ukraine. I am lucky to be able to do what I love the most for a living. Photography is an endless source of inspiration for me. My mission on this blog is to inspire by sharing some of the favorite captions from my journeys. I also provide professional photography tips to help the readers bring home some beautiful photo memories.