When it comes to visiting a middle-eastern country, Morocco no doubt comes into your mind. While tourists around the world are flocking around the picturesque blue city of Chefchaouen, some of them are craving for a more rustic side of Morocco. And Ouarzazate is certainly that real gem.
Ouarzazate has the power to reel you back in time unlike the hubbub city Marrakesh where you can easily get lost in the chaos. Ouarzazate has a particular charm. It’s an unostentatious attraction where you can get glimpses of the traditional architecture through its many mud-clad houses. It’s also a place to experience surreal landscapes, especially the ochre deserts contrasting with the verdant oases. And it doesn’t take long to understand why hordes of tourists and travelers come to visit this honey-colored city bestowed with majestic kasbahs (citadel) and a rich traditional Berber culture.
Ouarzazate comprises around 70,000 inhabitants, which makes it the 51st most populous city in Morocco. It is usually dubbed as ‘the door of the desert’ nestled in the south-central part of Morocco, just 193 km away from Marrakech (about a 4-hour drive). Because of its low-key nature and dramatic landscapes, Ouarzazate has been featured in several Hollywood movies such as Gladiator, Prince of Persia, Indiana Jones, Lawrence of Arabia, you name it. And more recently it came into the limelight because of the Game of Thrones TV series where Yunkai (the Yellow City) was shot.
Of course, the coming of Hollywood meant the constructions of several film studios that have no doubt attracted many curious tourists. But the city has also seen significant developments such as the creation of a solar power station (Noor Power Station) – the world’s largest concentrated solar power plant thanks to its 3416 annual sun hours.
Ouarzazate can be pretty hot during the summer season reaching up to 47C°, while in winter the temperature plummets -6C°. In order to escape the scorching sun, it is recommended to visit Ouarzazate in the month of March, April, October, and November.
So if you’re ready to pack up your luggage and jaunt around the door of the desert’ then here’s our round-up of top places to visit in Ouarzazate:
Atlas Film Studios
One of the prime reasons travelers visit Ouarzazate is to tour the magnificent film studios, and you wouldn’t want to miss the world’s largest film studio, right? Then head to Atlas Film Studios situated 5 km (3 miles) away from the city of Ouarzazate, just close to the Atlas mountains and the desert. Coming here you will feel like you have stepped back in the ancient times where once civilizations flourished. Find replicas of ancient Egyptian temples adorned with eye-popping pictograms, or even Tibetan monasteries showcasing beautiful Buddhist statues. And of course, there are also gigantic props such as the jet plane which was used in 1985’s Jewel of the Nile.
Just close to Ouarzazate lies the Fint Oasis-a blissful Eden garden thrives in the rugged landscape. This gorgeous green oasis provides an ideal hole up to weary travelers who are welcomed with much grace and warmth by the inhabitants here. Its scenery is quite laid-back and bucolic yet it still has the power to charm visitors-think enchanting palm grove, beautiful indigenous people, adorable children, livestock animals, and flowing streams. And for cultural immersion, there’s the evening music event where you’ll get to enjoy ethnic music influenced by Berber (Amazigh), Arab and African rhythms. The best thing to do is to relish the local food, watch the sunrise or sunset and bask in the incredible vistas. Though if you’re planning to come here it is recommended to take 4×4 vehicles.
Not far from Fint Oasis is the sublime Tifoultoute Kasbah standing majestically with a backdrop of the honey-colored mountains. Easily accessible and beautifully restored, this kasbah was once owned by the family of Thami El Glaoui (Pasha of Marrakech from 1912 to 1956). Be ready to get pleasantly surprised by the interior of the Kasbah deck out with beautifully-designed carpets contrasting the white-washed walls. And if you wish to feast your eyes with the surrounding vistas then head to the rooftop for a breathtaking moment!
It’s no wonder why Hollywood directors chose to shoot at the enigmatic Ait Benhaddou. Once a prosperous fortified village, Ait Benhaddou was an important resting place for merchants who would take the caravan route between Marrakech and Sahara. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a very good example of the 17th-century Southern Moroccan earthen architecture. The fortified village accommodates about nine families and is comprised of a mosque, two cemeteries, a public square, and a traditional cafe. And if you’re into local products then there is a small market where locals sell ethnic products such as tapestry with intricate designs, jewelry, and paintings.
One of the many highlights of traveling to Morocco is of course its traditional architecture and interior design which dates back centuries old. If you’re someone who enjoys art and design then you’ll find the Telouet Kasbah somehow interesting. Visitors will have the chance to contemplate the Moorish architecture, cedar paintings, beautiful ceramic tiles, and ornate windows. Dubbed as the ‘Palace of Glaoui’, the Telouet Kasbah was probably built between the 18th and 19th centuries. The Kasbah in the past had a strategic position since it was on the way of the passing caravans and major salt mines. It is believed that the kasbah was constructed with the help of about 300 workers.
Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Taourirt Kasbah has gone under several restoration and conservation processes thanks to the governmental initiatives. The 18th-century kasbah is studded with intricate interior designs, and beautiful motives. It once consisted of stables, workshops, markets, servants quarters, and hammams. Today the kasbah occasionally hosts cultural concerts for tourists.
Attractions to consider close to Ouarzazate:
There’s something peculiar when you venture into the arid deserted landscape of Jbel Adad. Completely away from the buzzing cities, the Jbel Adad lies on the foothills of Jbel Saghro Mountain (the driest mountain region of the whole Atlas Mountain System). It’s a place where you can find a weird kind of peace. A timeless location abounds with very ancient cave paintings (petroglyphs, geometric patterns), including unique floral and fauna which have undoubtedly adapted to the climate of the region. But what’s more fascinating are the gigantic stones and oval structures. These could be tombs of an ancient civilization that once thrived here.
Another attraction that you can’t ignore is the centuries-old M’Hamid Oasis located about 133 km away from Ouarzazate. Tucked away from the Algerian border, this surreal oasis lies about 500 meters above sea level on the Wadi Draa. This little peaceful haven is fortunately untainted by commercialism, but the real risk is the rapid desertification which is pushing some of the inhabitants to abandon the place. For travelers, this place is an authentic destination packed with lush valleys and off-the-beaten hiking trails. It’s definitely a place where you would like to be stranded forever…
For a secluded natural retreat head to the Tizgui Waterfall. A little oasis in the desert, the Tizgui waterfall is 20 km away from the Agdz town. This is an ideal haven for backpackers, nature lovers, and those looking for a parking area for their motorhome. It’s a place teeming with flora and fauna, where there are high probabilities of encountering macaque monkeys, turtles, and frogs. Relax, swim, and enjoy the friendly company of the local Berbers here.