Ouarzazate: Morocco’s Gateway to the Sahara Desert

person in white long sleeve shirt and blue hat standing on brown sand during daytime

Ouarzazate, often hailed as the “Gateway to the Sahara,” is the capital city of the Ouarzazate Province in the Drâa-Tafilalet region of south-central Morocco. It’s situated on the southeastern side of the Maghreb State, sharing its borders with the southern Arab region of Marrakech, which is approximately 200 km away.

History behind Ouarzazate

Ouarzazate has a rich history that spans centuries, with ancient Berber settlements scattered across the region. It served as a small yet strategically important crossing point for traders from all over Africa looking to expand their markets into northern Africa and Europe. During the French colonial administration, Ouarzazate underwent considerable expansion, transforming into a larger garrison town, administrative centre, and customs post.

Ouarzazate city
A man walking inside Ouarzazate

What can you see in Ouarzazate?

Ouarzazate is a city that boasts of its Hollywood film sets, stunning landscapes, fascinating kasbahs, and a palm-tree-filled oasis. Here are some of the top attractions in Ouarzazate:

  1. Ait Ben Haddou: Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ait Ben Haddou is a traditional pre-Saharan habitat, also known as a ‘ksar’. It consists of a group of earthen buildings enclosed by high walls and is situated in the province of Ouarzazate. This remarkable example of southern Moroccan architecture has been a renowned ksar in the Ounila Valley and has served as a backdrop for numerous Hollywood films.
  2. Telouet Kasbah: The Telouet Kasbah is a historical site that was once the stronghold of the El Glaoui family. Positioned along the former caravan route from the Sahara over the Atlas Mountains to Marrakech, the Kasbah is a fusion of a fortress, castle, and caravanserai. It is celebrated for its unique architecture and cultural significance.
  3. Fint Oasis: Amidst the arid Moroccan desert lies the lush, green paradise of the Fint Oasis. It encompasses four traditional villages and is home to approximately 100 people. The oasis presents a unique amalgamation of Sub-Saharan, Moroccan, and Berber cultures, making it an intriguing place to visit.
  4. Quad Adventure: Quad biking in Ouarzazate provides an exhilarating way to discover the region’s stunning landscapes. Companies such as Quad Fouad and Quad Evenement offer thrilling quad biking experiences through the desert and mountainous terrains.
  5. Film Studio: Known as the ‘Hollywood of Morocco’, the Atlas Film Studios in Ouarzazate are the world’s largest film studios. They have been utilized as a shooting location for renowned movies like Gladiator, The Mummy, Game of Thrones, and many more.
  6. Film Set: The film sets in Ouarzazate bears witness to the city’s rich cinematic history. These sets have been used to depict places like Jerusalem, Tibet, and ancient Egypt in various films.
  7. Desert Tour: Desert tours in Ouarzazate offer a unique opportunity to explore the breathtaking landscapes of the Sahara desert. Companies like Desert Majesty and Morocco Desert Tour offer a variety of tours, including trips to the Erg Chebbi dunes and the Erg Chigaga dunes.

How can you get to Ouarzazate?

Ouarzazate is well-connected by road, making it easily accessible by car or bus. Major cities like Marrakech and Casablanca offer direct routes to Ouarzazate, providing scenic drives through Morocco’s diverse landscapes. For those who prefer to fly direct, there are flights from London Standsted to Ouarzazate [OZZ] airport with RyanAir twice a week.

Where to stay

Ouarzazate offers a variety of accommodations to cater to different budgets and preferences. Some of the popular options include:

  1. Berbere Palace: Known for its excellent service, this 5-star hotel is a top choice for many visitors.
  2. Hotel Kenzi Azghor Ouarzazate Morocco: This 4-star hotel is conveniently located in the heart of Ouarzazate.
  3. Hotel Marmar: Centrally located, this hotel offers comfortable rooms.
  4. Hotel Azoul: This hotel is known for its warm hospitality.
  5. Hotel Riad Amlal: This hotel offers a unique blend of traditional Moroccan design and modern amenities.

The Moroccan experience

Ouarzazate offers a wide range of experiences for tourists. From exploring the UNESCO World Heritage site of Ait Ben Haddou, immersing yourself in the cinematic history of Atlas Studios, or embarking on an unforgettable Sahara Desert adventure. You can also enjoy a quad adventure or take a desert tour. For a more immersive experience, you can opt for guided tours offered by local operators such as Sahara Experience Tour and Marocco Experience.

Ouarzazate is a captivating destination that promises an unforgettable experience for every traveller. Whether you’re a film enthusiast eager to step into the world of cinema or an adventurer seeking to immerse yourself in the beauty of the Atlas Mountains, Ouarzazate has something special for everyone.


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