Morocco Ouarzazate2
Morocco Ouarzazate
Morocco Ouarzazate Aitbenhaddou

A gateway town to the vast Sahara desert, Ouarzazate is best known for the immense Taourirt Kasbah, a 20th-century palace built for Pacha Glaoui during the French Protectorate. Today, it’s largely an administrative centre, with the city thriving on the film industry and the tourists it draws because of it.

Ouarzazate's red earth landscapes have been the setting for several famous films, supposedly depicting Tibet, Egypt and even ancient Rome and the nearby film studios are open for film buffs. Many of the townspeople have been cast in or worked on the films shot in this region including Gladiator, Lawrence of Arabia, and Babel.

Given its location, this is the perfect jumping-off place for desert adventures. One night to break up the journey between the Sahara and Marrakesh is often enough.

11 days

Classic Morocco

Imperial cities, nature and Berber culture
Casablanca (1 days) Rabat (1) Fes (1) Volubilis (1) Merzouga (2) Todra Gorge (1) Ouarzazate (3) Casablanca (1)
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9 days

Imperial cities and the Sahara

A journey through Morocco past and present
Casablanca (1 days) Rabat (1) Fes (1) Merzouga (2) Todra Gorge (1) Ouarzazate (1) Marrakesh (2)
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  • Marrakesh

    Marrakesh

    Morocco's cultural capital
    Marrakesh can be bewitching...
  • Rabat

    Rabat

    Morocco's unexplored capital
    Although it’s the capital city of Morocco, Rabat is often just a half-day stopover on most itineraries...
  • Moulay Idriss

    ...
  • Casablanca

    Casablanca

    A city full of surprises
    Morocco’s largest city and the country’s economic hub sits beside the Atlantic Ocean and has a distinctively different vibe from other cities across the Kingdom...
  • Essaouira

    Essaouira

    Morocco's windy city
    Laid-back with a dash of charm, this seaside town on the Atlantic Coast never fails to impress visitors...
  • Merzouga

    Merzouga

    Sahara nights under the stars
    Once you’ve arrived at Merzouga — the gateway to the Sahara — you will find yourself surrounded by dry heat and vast golden sand dunes...
  • Chefchaouen

    Chefchaouen

    In this city in the Rif Mountains everything is a shade of blue, from the front doors of local homes to the staircases winding through the village...
  • Meknes

    Meknes

    An imperial city off the beaten path
    Once the country’s capital, Meknes is one of four imperial cities in Morocco (the others being Fes, Marrakech and Rabat)...
  • Fes

    Fes

    Morocco's medieval city
    Founded in the 9th century, the history of Fes is storied, with various dynasties passing through and making this their capital...
  • Midelt

    Midelt

    A mountain village
    This small town lies in the high plains between the Middle Atlas and High Atlas mountain ranges and is often just a stopover to break up the long journey between Fes and the Sahara Desert...
  • Todra Gorge

    Todra Gorge

    A walk in the wadis
    No trip to Morocco is complete without a walk in the wadis...
  • Volubilis

    Volubilis

    An archaeologist's dream
    Once one of the most remote outposts of the Roman Empire, partially-excavated Volubilis is an archaeologist’s dream...

Things to do in Ouarzazate

Our recommended experiences and activities

Visit a desert oasis
Ouarzazate

Visit a desert oasis

This little oasis called Fint, where women wash the laundry in the nearby river and mud-brick houses in the kasbah are home to the few locals who remain, is perfect for exploring village life in an oasis. With one hotel in town, guests can also stop for a mint tea with a view.

Wander through a film set
Ouarzazate

Wander through a film set

Fans of The Hills Have Eyes 2 - or those who just appreciate unexpected sites - will want to make their way to the completely unexpectedly art deco, and largely abandoned, Gaz Haven located less than an hour from Ouarzazate. Left rather abandoned, visitors are free to wander freely, although a tip to the guardian is appreciated.

Where to go in Morocco

Our recommended places

Marrakesh

Marrakesh

Marrakesh can be bewitching. Palaces, koranic schools, historical sites and mosques dating back centuries are tucked away next to contemporary designer showrooms and picture-perfect restaurants. Souks filled with brightly coloured textiles, richly-patterned pottery and tribal jewellery are among the treasures on offer in Marrakesh’s medina.

Perfectly manicured gardens, private collections featuring artworks and Moroccan artefacts, and roaming the interiors of centuries-old palaces are all great ways to fill a few days experiencing Marrakesh.

In fact, with new venues, restaurants and boutiques opening frequently, it’s easy to spend a week here and still not see everything or dine in every recommended restaurant. But given the sensory overload that awaits in the old city, time whiled away in a café, slowly watching the world go by is highly recommended. Once you’ve had your fill of the medina, go beyond the old city and explore Gueliz, the neighbourhood developed under French rule. It’s here that the contemporary art galleries and designer showrooms are located and where restaurants serving up cuisine from around the world – including Protectorate-era establishments recalling French brasseries – showcase a completely different side to Marrakesh live to the old city.

Rabat

Rabat

Although it’s the capital city of Morocco, Rabat is often just a half-day stopover on most itineraries. With wide avenues for walking from the old city through the art deco downtown, passing by the Parliament building, exploring the city on foot is enjoyable.

The capital perfectly blends modern architecture and sites (the Mohamed VI Contemporary Art Museum for one is well worth a visit with world-class exhibitions) with historical sites dating back centuries. Kasbah of the Udayas, the Berber-era royal fort sits overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, and the Chellah ruins on the banks of the Bou Regreg River have links to the Roman Empire.

The city is an unexpected treasure for those who dare to add a few extra hours or even a day to their itinerary. Nearby Salé, just across the Bou Regreg River receives few visitors and home to a lovely Koranic school where travellers often have the place to themselves to appreciate the architectural beauty.

Casablanca

Casablanca

Morocco’s largest city and the country’s economic hub sits beside the Atlantic Ocean and has a distinctively different vibe from other cities across the Kingdom. Often reputed as having “nothing to see,” the city is full of surprises for those who dare to venture beyond what they are told.

The city started as what’s known as the ancienne medina, previously known as Anfa, before the city developed during the French Protectorate. The art deco lined boulevards and architecturally diverse city centre were built during this era, making it an architecture-lovers dream, along with the port. The Habous area is known as the new medina, and was also developed during the Protectorate.

It’s not hard to miss the Hassan II Mosque, the largest in Africa and the third largest in the world, with a 210m tall minaret that punctures the city skyline. It’s also the only mosque open to non-Muslims in Morocco, but by guided tour only.

Essaouira

Essaouira

Laid-back with a dash of charm, this seaside town on the Atlantic Coast never fails to impress visitors. With little to do but slow down, wander and watch the world go by while sipping a mint tea or coffee nouss nouss (half coffee, half milk), Essaouira is a great place to unwind.

If shopping is your thing, then Essaouira is a pleasant place to experience it. Once known as the Port of Timbuktu, this fortified old city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, retains a trading vibe with laid-back markets filled with locally made textiles, honey, and wooden goods made from thuya or olive wood.

Try wandering along the bustling port as seagulls hover overhead ready to swoop in for your snacks. Known for its fresh seafood, fishmongers at the local markets sell their catch of the day with the nearby grills able to cook it to perfection for tourists and locals alike.

Merzouga

Merzouga

Once you’ve arrived at Merzouga — the gateway to the Sahara — you will find yourself surrounded by dry heat and vast golden sand dunes. The main attraction here is the Sahara Desert, with mountainous dunes in hues of red and orange that hover above this small town. A night in the desert is a must for most travellers. Try arriving at your campsite for the evening on camelback for a truly Moroccan experience.

Despite being in the middle of nowhere, it’s common for camps to provide piping hot tagines, drumming and traditional music around the campfire under a starry desert sky. Hotels at the edge of the dunes with pools are available for those who want a bit more comfort.

Chefchaouen

Chefchaouen

In this city in the Rif Mountains everything is a shade of blue, from the front doors of local homes to the staircases winding through the village.

Wander up and down Chefchaouen’s narrow alleys to explore leather and weaving workshops before visiting the red-walled Kasbah, a 15th-century fortress and dungeon, in Place Outa el Hammam. Once under Spanish occupation, the influence here remains – as does the Spanish Mosque. Just be aware that Chefchaouen’s recent popularity on social media means that tourism has boomed in this small hillside town.

That said, nature awaits at the village’s doorstep, with the 6km Jebel el Kalaa trail starting from the village and further afield the Talassemtane National Park where visitors can hike to Ackour waterfalls – some of the most beautiful in Morocco. Slow travellers could easily spend a few days here and not feel ready to leave.

Meknes

Meknes

Once the country’s capital, Meknes is one of four imperial cities in Morocco (the others being Fes, Marrakech and Rabat). Its historical sites are regal and recall days of power under Sultan Moulay Ismail.

While most tour operators combine a visit here with a stop in Volubilis and Moulay Idriss, you could easily spend a day taking in the historical sites alone. Or, try simply sitting in the Place el Hadim sipping coffee and admiring the imposing city walls of this UNESCO World Heritage site and the Bab el Mansour gate, behind which the imperial city’s main sites lie.

Because Meknes receives so few visitors (the city is often overlooked in favour of nearby Fes and the Roman ruins of Volubilis), meandering in the medina is pleasant and visiting the historical sites often means very few other tourists.

Fes

Fes

Founded in the 9th century, the history of Fes is storied, with various dynasties passing through and making this their capital.

Home to the oldest university in the world, the city was once the centre of knowledge in the region. Thousands of families fleeing the Spanish Inquisition made Fes their home. The culinary and arts and crafts here are renowned across the Kingdom.

Behind closed doors, some of the finest palaces lie where the elite once resided and which open to the public or act as venues during the Fes Festival of Sacred Music.

Today the medina of Fes is the best-preserved medieval city in the Muslim world, with more than 9,000 alleyways and hundreds of workshops housing artisans producing handicrafts using traditional methods. Wandering here is an assault on the senses, but one that visitors tend to enjoy.

Midelt

Midelt

This small town lies in the high plains between the Middle Atlas and High Atlas mountain ranges and is often just a stopover to break up the long journey between Fes and the Sahara Desert. Famous for its apple crops, the town is surrounded by mountain views and gentle walks to stretch the legs between long journeys.

Todra Gorge

Todra Gorge

No trip to Morocco is complete without a walk in the wadis.

The steep-cliff valleys of Todra Gorge are a series of limestone canyons that make for a unique walking experience and are often considered one of the must-sees when visiting Morocco’s south.

Hike along paths that have been carved out by rivers and enjoy spectacular views of pink rock as you pass through. The height of the canyon walls reaches 400m in some places.

Volubilis

Volubilis

Once one of the most remote outposts of the Roman Empire, partially-excavated Volubilis is an archaeologist’s dream. It’s a beautiful place to walk around and ponder what life must have been like in this bustling hillside city in the third century BC, when the settlement was developed on rich fertile grounds.

Today, the surrounding, rolling hills remain dotted with olive trees and wineries producing a huge range of red, white, rosé and gris that are largely drunk in Morocco itself. From the historical site, the Zerhoune mountain range is visible, with the nearby holy village of Moulay Idriss Zerhoune tucked within.

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