On our first road trip to this beautiful country, we were both unsure about how to get to the Sahara Desert in Morocco. Yes we had a 4×4 vehicle (which at the time we thought was essential but turns out it isn’t) so we weren’t worried about the driving conditions. Rather, which route to take. We could head south from Fes or east from Marrakech. Since our first visit, we’ve travelled to Morocco many times over and have taken both routes, in both directions.
What are the options?
Organised tour to the Sahara
Most travellers to Morocco will take an organised Morocco desert tour and guide into the Sahara from Marrakech. In part, this is because they don’t know how to get to the Sahara Desert in Morocco and in part for convenience. Average prices start at around £60 per person for a 2 day, 1 night excursion. By our standards, that’s expensive. More so when you realise that most of that time will be spent in a vehicle, driving right past some amazing spots. Sure, if you don’t have much time, plenty of money and desperate to see the dunes, this is a sure fire way to get you to the Sahara Desert. I’d suggest you don’t do the Zagora excursion though. The dunes are nowhere near as impressive as those in Merzouga.
Self drive to the desert
We travel in our own vehicle and have a self imposed policy of avoiding tours unless it’s the only way to do a trip. You might argue without your own vehicle, you have no choice but to take a tour but this isn’t the case. You can hire a car for a start. Ok, so you need to hire from a reputable firm and you’ll imagine that driving in Morocco is only for the kamikaze tourist. But it’s nowhere near as bad as you imagine.
Always use a reputable firm because you need assurance the car is well maintained and your insurance is valid.
We’re not loyal to one rental firm, and will simply go with the one that offers the best value – and that means using a comparison website. For us, Auto Europe is by far the best, and our first choice, every time. They even do camper van rentals!
When you arrive in the Sahara Desert in Morocco, you’ll see just how many people drive there. You’ll see huge luxurious Concorde motorhomes, camper vans and even the occasional Fiat Punto. If you’re lucky enough to have Berber blood, you can drive in the dunes in a 2 wheel drive car or even a moped! Sure you’ll also see a few 4×4 vehicles like ours, but we like to drive into the sand dunes and hideaway and we’re not Berbers. In Merzouga, you can park your vehicle and walk just a few metres into the dunes from your accommodation. The desert is your back garden.
Take a bus to the Sahara? I appreciate it might sound impossible but it’s true. The Sahara Desert in Morocco is more accessible than anywhere else. If you’re tight on time and money, the Supratour bus leaves Marrakech at 8:30am each day. It’s a long, long journey of 12 hours but it will get you there in one day. Far better though to travel slow using the local buses and make this journey part of your experience. It’s one you won’t forget in a hurry!
For bus timetables and latest ticket prices check with the Supratours website or the CTM website for local buses.
Which route to take?
Now you know how to get to the Sahara Desert in Morocco. But where is it and what route are you going to take? Merzouga is the desert town on the edge of the Sahara Desert and the Erg Chebbi sand dunes. No matter how you get to the Sahara Desert in Morocco, there are 2 main route options. The first is the most popular route from Marrakech to Merzouga and a much easier option if you’re travelling by public transport. The second option is from Fes to Merzouga. This route can still be done by public transport using CTM or Supratours but it’s a little less convenient because of the number of changes you have to do. This isn’t a bad thing in our book though.
How to get to the Sahara Desert in Morocco
This is a route that offers views straight out of Lawrence of Arabia, literally. From the flat plains of Marrakech, you’ll steadily climb the High Atlas Mountains to an altitude above 2000 metres and drive the highest mountain pass in Morocco, the Tizi n’Tichka. It’s a challenging road because it has so many hairpin bends and switchbacks but the road’s condition is good and the views incredible. Before reaching the large town of Ouarzazate, don’t miss the turning on your left for Ait Benhaddou. It’s home to the film set of Lawrence of Arabia and series 3 of The Game of Thrones and a wonderful example of a kasbah.
From Ouarzazate, east bound, you’re effectively in the rocky region of the Sahara Desert. The road of the 1000 kasbahs with it’s stunning views and deep gorges is the only thing between you and highest dunes in Morocco. It’s hard not to stop often for photographs but make sure not to miss a visit to Todra Gorge and Dades Valley. Try to visit Todra Gorge early in the morning when the colours from the rising sun light up the gorge beautifully.
Where to Stay
Even if you plan to get to the desert in a single day, chances are you’ll wish you planned more time. There are plenty of auberges, campsites and hotels to choose from along the route. We wild camped and stayed at small campsite that also offers rooms in the small town of Skoura, on the western end of the road of 1000 kasbahs. It’s very basic and there maybe better options in the area but it’s fine for a night’s sleep en route to the desert.
Camping Amridil Skoura GPS Co-Ordinates: 31° 2′ 21″ N, 6° 35′ 5″ W
Total Driving Distance: 560km Driving Time: 9 1/2 hours
How to get to the Sahara Desert in Morocco
It’s quite a drive. Not just in terms of distance but the beautiful and varied scenery you’ll drive through is a sure fire way of appreciating just how diverse Morocco’s landscape is. Overland travel in Morocco is the only way to go!
This is almost a 500km drive and about 8 hours of driving time. From Fes, you’ll steadily climb the Atlas Mountains and pass through the weirdly out of place town of Ifrane. Weird because you’ll feel like you’ve just arrived in Switzerland! A short while later, you’ll pass through a huge cedar forest where you’ll undoubtedly see a few Barbary Apes hanging around the roadside waiting for a few titbits from passing motorists.
Then for the most spectacular 40km stretch of road: the Ziz Gorge and onto the town of Er Rachidia. After Er Rachidia, you’re heading directly for the Sahara Desert and the landscape quickly changes from the cool mountainous region to the hot and dusty landscape. As you reach the small desert town of Merzouga, you’ll get your first glimpse of the largest sand dunes in Morocco, Erg Chebbi.
Top tip for the Ziz Gorge
Whilst you can take this route heading north or south, we’d recommend you take it in the southerly direction. The views of the lake at Er Rachidia as you leave the Ziz Gorge are breathtaking. You just don’t get the same impact of the view heading north.
Where to Stay
Even if you plan to get to the desert in a single day, chances are you’ll wish you planned more time. There are plenty of auberges, campsites and hotels to choose from along the route. We stayed at a lovely campsite that also offers rooms in the small town of Azrou, just beyond Ifrane.
Total Driving Distance: 475km Driving Time: 7 3/4 hours
Now you know how to get to the Sahara Desert in Morocco. If you need more inspiration to have a desert adventure whilst you’re on your Morocco holiday, check out some of our favourite things to do in the desert. We love the desert and hope you get to experience it at least once in your lifetime. It’s too special to miss!