An active adventure in the Moroccan wilderness exploring North Africa's highest mountains and the world's largest desert. Ride mules in the High Atlas and cycle the southern mountain slopes. Explore the great Sahara desert by camel, sleeping in a traditional Berber tent among the dunes. Finally discover the ancient city of Marrakech and experience the evening street entertainment on the Djemaa El Fna Square. Atlas Mountains villages - Head into the remote Atlas region of the fertile Tighza valley by mule and stay overnight in a traditional Berber gite, enjoying local hospitality. Sahara Desert - Travel to a desert camp by camel, spend a night camping under the stars. Marrakech - Explore the captivating medina and Djemaa el Fna with its snake charmers and lively food stalls.
Arrive in Marrakech. Morocco's famous Red City, Marrakech is the spiritual heart of the country, a cultural melting pot of the mountain Berbers and the desert peoples of the south. Blessed with some of the most stunning architecture in Morocco, its mix of tradition, colour and history makes it the ideal starting point. You will be met by a local guide at Marrakesh Menara Airport (RAK), which is around 20 minutes from the hotel depending on traffic. There are no activities planned today, so feel free to arrive in Marrakech at any time. For those booking their own flights, you will just need to let us know your flight details no later than three weeks prior to departure, in order to be met on arrival. If your flight arrives earlier in the day, perhaps you might choose to relax beside our hotel's swimming pool or take a stroll around Djemaa El Fna Square. Our hotel is located in the heart of the new town surrounded by many restaurants with easy access to the main avenue to the old town.
Unlike many of our private trips, this tour includes an Explore Tour Leader who will be with you throughout your journey to show your family the very best of this diverse country. Departing Marrakech after breakfast head south, crossing over the Tizi 'n Tichka Pass (2260m) following a meandering course into the towering peaks of the Atlas Mountains. North Africa's greatest mountain range, the High Atlas contains some of the country's wildest landscapes, a region culturally removed from the rest of Morocco and one that has provided a barrier between the northern plains and the pre-Sahara for centuries. This is the land of the fiercely independent Berbers, the 'Lords of the Atlas', whose traditions and ways still hold sway up here in their mountain strongholds far away from the cities below. The Berbers present us with a unique view of a way of life lost to the rest of North Africa, where music and dance, even language and religion, are far removed from their Arab neighbours. Pass the ruined Glaoui Kasbah of Telouet en route to the fortified village of Anmiter, which lies at the end of the tarmac road. Here, leave the vehicle to join your mules and, at a more relaxed pace, follow a winding track with stunning views onto the small village of Tighza where you spend the night in a remote, local gite high above the valley. The base for tonight is a family-owned village house in the outskirts of Tighza. This small property features traditional decor throughout and offers large panoramic terraces for you to enjoy views over the village and the High Atlas mountains. There is a small restaurant and a tea room where you can enjoy Berber cuisine; made from fruit and vegetables grown in their own garden. It's a very peaceful and tranquil place to stay.
After breakfast, head out for a hike through the valley in this remote corner of the Atlas. Walking along cultivated fields, learn about the traditional irrigation used in this arid region with channels built to divert the snow melt waters into the terraces and mud built villages. Heading down the southern slopes of the High Atlas, reach the trailhead in Anmiter where the vehicle awaits. The total hike duration is between two and three hours. A chef will prepare a deserved picnic lunch under the shade of almond trees before continuing the journey. After one hour driving along the picturesque Ounila Valley, with its barren slopes in sharp contrast to the rich green valley floor, arrive at the famous Kasbah of Ait Ben Haddou. Tonight's hotel is just opposite. The rest of the afternoon is free to enjoy the swimming pool. Late afternoon when the lights are suitable for the photos, take a guided tour of the UNESCO Heritage Site. Ait Ben Haddou is one of Morocco's most famous locations, a once important stop along the old trading routes between Marrakech and the Sahara during the 16th century and a superb example of a typical fortified ksar.
Take to the saddle this morning for a bike ride from Ait Ben Haddou down towards the fertile landscapes of the Draa Valley and the town of Ouarzazate. Helmets are supplied in two sizes, or you can bring your own for a better fit. The total duration is 21km, which whould take approximately two and a half hours. A support vehicle is also in attendence for anyone feeling tired, and in summer months, you'll set off early to avoid the midday heat. Known as the 'Doorway to the Desert' this fascinating outpost, lying to the south of the High Atlas and sandwiched between the high mountains and the expansive sands of the Sahara is home to one of the largest movie studios in the world. The Atlas Film Studios boasts an impressive list of productions, including The Mummy, Gladiator, Babel, Kingdom of Heaven and Lawrence of Arabia. Pay a visit to the studios today, taking a tour of some of these famous film sets before departing on the journey through the beautiful Draa Valley. Driving by bus from Ouarzazate, cross a landscape lined with palm groves, Kasbahs and traditional ksours (villages), en route to the village of Tamnougalt to explore what was once the capital of this remote desert region. The village's name translates as 'meeting point' and its history has been interwoven with the ruling qaids (masters) of the Mezguita region for centuries. Even today it hosts an annual festival in October when all the surrounding villages gather for a celebration of the religious and cultural traditions of these hardy people. Tonight's kasbah style accommodation is located in the middle of the Draa Valley with its green palm groves. It has a swimming pool and easy access to the valley for nice walks in the fields. The rooms are air conditioned.
Turning south today, follow the course of the Draa River towards the vast oasis of Zagora, referred to by many as 'The Gate of the Desert'. Once a major outpost along the caravan routes, it takes 52 days by camel from here to Timbuktu, or so a nearby sign indicates! Continue on to Tagounite, which lies at the outer fringes of a line of undulating sand dunes that provide a taste of the immense grandeur of the Saharan Desert beyond. Amidst this seemingly inhospitable landscape the desert heat causes the air to blur and quiver, creating mirages that shimmer in the soaring temperatures, the ideal setting to explore in the time honoured manner of the Tuareg nomads. Taking to camels, form a caravan from the oasis of Ouled Driss (the camel ride may take place in the late afternoon on summer departures). The Arabian camel is ideally suited to these conditions and has long been highly prized by the nomadic peoples of the desert. Living for up to 40 years, they are not only valued for their endurance as beasts of burden, but also for their fur, skin and dung, all of which can be utilised for tents, leather and fuel for the fires. Stopping to enjoy the quiet desolation of the setting and to learn something of desert life, reach the overnight camp in time to enjoy a late afternoon of bread making, before settling down under a desert sky for the evening. After a hearty Berber style meal settle down under the twinkling blanket of the African sky. The desert camp consists of a combination of twin person tents and some 3 and 4 person family tents with a central communal tent where the evening meal and breakfast is served. Rather than sleeping in tents, you may choose simply to sleep out in the open, enjoying the rare majesty of the setting and watching out for shooting stars racing across the horizon. Please note a sleeping bag is required for this night, these can be hired locally at an extra cost of 160 Moroccan Dirham (approx £13) per person and need to be requested in advance of travel.
Retracing your steps this morning, head north once more by camel for a couple of hours back to the road. Make a stop at the settlement of Tamegroute to visit its famous 17th century zaouia, one of the most important in the Moroccan Sahara. This was once a centre of great learning and the base of the Naciri Brotherhood, who for centuries held sway over the tribes of the Draa Valley. The holy leaders of Tamegroute were traditionally (up until quite recent times) the arbitrators of desert disputes, settling differences amongst the residents of the surrounding kours and the traders that passed through these lands on the great camel caravans that journeyed through Zagora. Also pay a visit to the local potters' cooperative, before continuing back to Ouarzazate later this afternoon. Located in the main avenue of Ouarzazate and close to the main market, the hotel has a swimming pool and the rooms are air conditioned.
Today is a final drive northwest back to Marrakech, where the rest of the day is spent exploring a city that has for centuries been a meeting place for the mountain Berbers and the desert peoples of the south. This afternoon there will be an opportunity to explore something of its rich heritage with a sightseeing tour of Morocco's fascinating Red City, a city that can boast a staggering array of spectacular architecture and wonderful facades. Like many North African cities, Marrakech is divided into two distinct parts, the Gueliz (the modern French-built city) and the Medina (the Old City), a place where trade and barter amongst the colourful souks still has at its ancient heart a glittering cacophony of noise and colour. Journeying into this vibrant city with a local guide affords a chance to discover some of its most enthralling sites. The city's beating heart is the spectacular Djemaa-el-Fna, a site not to be missed and a scene straight out of the pages of the Arabian Nights. Here you will find the streets and alleys alive with storytellers and musicians, jugglers and acrobats, snake charmers and clowns. You can wander past vendors selling doughnuts and fried grasshoppers, meander through native markets where Muslim women, their hands and feet dyed with henna, call out to sell their wares, and enjoy the sounds and the smells of the exotic. After our tour you may like to take some time to enjoy more of the remarkable Medina, haggling for a bargain or two, or simply sit at one of the local cafés and watch the street tableaux unfold before you. Do remember that many of the mosques may be forbidden to non-Muslims and be careful of photographing women, as this may be unacceptable, it is always best to ask.
Today the trip ends, and you'll be taken to Marrakesh Medara Airport (RAK) for your international flight. There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart Marrakech at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day, luggage storage facilities are available at the hotel. Depending on the schedule of your flights, you may have some additional time to wander in the souks of Marrakech or buy your last souvenirs before departure.
7 Break Fast(s) 4 Lunch(es) 2 Dinner(s)
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