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Take a bus five hours south of Marrakech and you’ll find yourself in Ouarzazate; the gateway city to the Sahara. Historically used as a small crossing point for African traders on their way to northern Morocco and Europe, Ouarzazate is now a popular stopping off point for travellers heading to the Sahara desert to ride camels and sleep under the stars. If you’re wondering what to do in Morocco then add a trip to Ouarzazate to your list. There are plenty of things to do in Ouarzazate from visiting the Sahara desert to exploring the Kasbah and more.
Ouarzazate is commonly known as the door of the desert and sits at an elevation of 1,160 metres. It’s just south of the High Atlas mountains of Morocco and from the streets and rooftops alike you’ll catch glimpses of the Atlas mountains of Morocco in the distance. To the south of Ouarzazate is the Sahara desert which awaits keen adventurers.
Ouarzazate has also been in the news more often as it’s home to the world’s largest concentrated solar power farm. The Ouarzazate solar power station aims to produce enough energy to power over 1 million homes.
It’s estimated that this Morocco solar plant will reduce carbon emissions by 760,000 tons per year which is incredible. Whilst you don’t seem to be able to visit the Ouarzazate solar plant I believe you can drive past it and get a glimpse.
If you’re heading to Ouarzazate, check out this map with all the things to do, places to eat and where to stay in Ouarzazate marked on it. You can add this map to your Google Maps app so you can see these places while you travel.
Where is Ouarzazate?
Ouarzazate, Morocco (pronounced Warzazat) is in the Souss-Massa-Drâa of southern-central Morocco. It’s one of the most interesting places in Morocco to visit and it’s a great trip from Marrakech.
The distance from Marrakech to Ouarzazate is about 200km heading south. It makes a great trip from Marrakech and there are plenty of options for tours and excursions from Marrakech to Ouarzazate.
Ouarzazate is the starting point, or mid-way point if coming from Marrakech, of many Morocco desert tours in the Sahara and it’s also on the route of 1001 Kasbahs. The region around Ouarzazate offers lush landscape, mud-brick built kasbahs and hidden oases covered in palm trees. Not to mention it’s one of the best places in Morocco for film lovers!
How to get to Ouarzazate
Getting to Ouarzazate is one of the easier trips from Marrakech and makes a great excursion from Marrakech whether for a day or longer. You can visit Ouarzazate as part of a Marrakech tour, or you can do it yourself which is what we did (you know we aren’t ones for organised tours!).
We travelled from Marrakech to Ouarzazate by bus. However, there is also the Ouarzazate airport with direct flights from Paris, Casablanca and Zagora.
Bus from Marrakech to Ouarzazate
If you’re on the budget, the cheapest way to get here and back from Ouarzazate to Marrakech is to take the bus. The cost of a bus ticket with CTM from Marrakech to Ouarzazate was around 75 dirhams (around £5) each way and leaves several times a day.
We found it cheaper to buy tickets at the CTM bus station in Marrakech as the website quoted 85 dirhams for the same journey. You can see the full timetable on the CTM website here.
The distance from Marrakech to Ouarzazate is just under 200km and it takes around 5 hours on the bus. On the way, you’ll cross over the atmospheric Atlas mountains and towards the Sahara desert. There’s one stop along the way for lunch or dinner and a much-needed toilet break!
If you tend to get travel sick I’d highly recommend taking some tablets or whichever form of prevention you usually take as the five hours of travel consists of hairpin bend after hairpin bend.
You can also book a bus ticket with Supratour from Marrakech to Ouarzazate.
Driving from Marrakech to Ouarzazate
If you prefer to do it yourself (and shave around 2 hours off your journey time) then you could rent a car and drive to Ouarzazate from Marrakech, Morocco.
This allows you to take your time crossing the High Atlas Mountains, stopping where you like – something I always prefer but the bus is usually a bit cheaper and easier if you’re backpacking in Morocco!
Visit as a day trip from Marrakech
If you are short on time you can also do a day tour from Marrakech. Personally I would recommend staying in Ouarzazate as otherwise you’re looking at 10 hours driving in one day, most of which is on windy roads as you cross the Atlas Mountains from Marrakech.
Most of the Marrakech day trips to Ouarzazate head to Kasbah Ait Ben Haddou, Kasbah Taourirt and a quick tour of the city.
The desert is still relatively far away from Ouarzazate so you’re really looking at another day trip if you want to do a Morocco desert trip.
What’s the weather like in Ouarzazate?
Ouarzazate weather is usually hot and dry. Temperatures hang around the high 30s over summer and mid-teens – low 20s in winter.
The best things to do in Ouarzazate?
Ouarzazate is known as the Hollywood of Morocco so if you’re a fan of films such as Gladiator, The Mummy, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, or popular television series Game of Thrones, you’ll definitely find plenty to keep you entertained. Yes, that’s right if you were wondering where Game of Thrones is filmed, then Ouarzazate is one of the Game of Thrones filming locations.
However that’s not all there is to see as there’s plenty of history just waiting to be discovered. Check out this list of Ouarzazate attractions if you’re looking for what to do in Ouarzazate.
You’ll feel a million miles from home (and as though you’ve just gone back in time, whilst walking around this ancient mud-brick Kasbah in Ouarzazate. Kasbah de Taourirt is one of the country’s most impressive buildings.
There are around 300 rooms and it’s a real maze of passageways, steps, and doors. It’s easy to feel lost inside this Ouarzazate Kasbah as you wander the Taourirt city it creates.
On the way to Zagora in the Sahara desert you’ll come across an 18th Century Kasbah: Tifoultoute. This Kasbah has an amazing view of the valley below from the top terrace making it a fantastic place to sip on Moroccan whisky (mint tea).
Atlas Film Studios, Morocco
Getting its name from the mountain range nearby, Atlas Studios in Ouarzazate are the home of many films you’ll be familiar with such as Gladiator.
If you’ve never wandered around a film studio before (as we hadn’t) you’re sure to love it. And even if you have visited a film studio you’ll bound to love it still.
These huge studios just outside the town of Ouarzazate allow you to walk inside several
Ouarzazate Cinema Museum
Bigger than you’d think, this museum located just in front of the Taourirt Kasbah has some film sets and objects used in movies such as Asterix and Obelix.
Ouarzazate Centre Market
Ouarzazate’s most lively market starts at 6 o’clock in the evening. Browse all sorts of goods including; clothes, handicrafts and shoes. It’s a lot easier to navigate than Marrakech’s Souks that’s for sure!
Al-Mansour Ad-Dahbi Lake
You can view the lake from the cinema museum and the Taourirt kasbah but that isn’t quite the same as getting right down to the water’s edge. This artificial lake transforms the dry landscape of Ouarzazate and it a great place for a short-ish hike around the area or fisherman watching.
What is there to do near Ouarzazate?
As the gateway to the Sahara desert of Morocco, many of the activities further afield from Ouarzazate feature trips into the desert with one of the most popular being a 1 night/2 day trip out to Merzouga with a night spent sleeping under the stars and a sunrise camel rides out over the sand dunes.
If you’re short on time or don’t fancy the heat of the desert you can also visit attractions closer to the town’s centre.
One of the more famous kasbahs and a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1987, Kasbah Ait Benhaddou is a short 30km away from Ouarzazate. Made entirely from clay many films and series have been shot here and you can easily while away half a day exploring the maze that is the city’s walls.
A taxi from Ouarzazate to Ait Benhaddou and back with a couple of hours to explore the area shouldn’t cost you any more than 250 dirhams – so get your haggling skills out!
Scenes from the third series of Game of Thrones were shot at the Oasis de Flint; a small town just south of Ouarzazate. This is the perfect place for a relaxing afternoon and, if visiting in October you’ll be able to eat the season’s fruits (pomegranates and dates) straight from the trees. Rumour has it this is Brad and Angelina’s favourite place to relax too!
Day Trips from Ouarzazate
In the centre of Ouarzazate, you’ll find several tour companies offering Ouarzazate desert tours or to the nearby gorges; Todrha and Dades. These trips range in duration from one day to 3 or 4 and are similar to those offered from Marrakech but with the bonus of you already having crossed the Atlas mountains!
We used Desert Majesty for our day trip to Zagora which included transport from Dar Rita to the dessert, lunch, a camel trek, English speaking guide and return transport.
Where should I eat in Ouarzazate?
There’s something for all budgets in Ouarzazate when it comes to where to eat.
You can sit with locals and have a meal for just 10 dirhams (less than £1!) or there’s also various cafes and restaurants where you can get a traditional Moroccan tagine from around 30 dirhams (£2), pizza from about 20 dirhams or, for a lighter lunch, a sandwich (from 15 dirhams) in the centre of Ouarzazate.
One of our favourite cheap eats with the locals was at El Bahja where we had enough food to feel stuffed for less than £4.
Jardin des Aromes
For a plusher, more expensive meal at an Ouarzazate restaurant then head to Jardin des Aromes on the main road into Ouarzazate (not as Trip Advisor says on the way to Marrakech).
Prices here are more similar to those found back home but the portions are very large with it. The speciality Moroccan soup as a starter was a winner for us although the couscous main was lacking in flavour. The tagines get better reviews!
Another more luxurious meal can be found at restaurant Douyria near the Taourirt Kasbah. You don’t make it to number one on Trip Advisor for nothing!
Douyria serves up Moroccan cuisine with Mediterranean influences and even serves camel if you’re that way inclined.
Where to stay in Ouarzazate
If you’re looking for hotels in Ouarzazate then be sure to check out Dar Rita, which is where we stayed. I have included a full review of this Ouarzazate hostel below.
Alternatively, here are some other hotels in Ouarzazate I’d recommend. They’re all budget-friendly hotels (under £75 a night for two people) but absolutely gorgeous!
- Kasbah Dar Daif, Ouarzazate: Has fantastic reviews and a beautiful roof terrace for meals and tea!
- Riad Chay: Includes a big breakfast which you can eat on their gorgeous rooftop terrace
- Le Petit Riad: Highlight has to be the beautiful outdoor pool!
A review of Dar Rita in Ouarzazate
We stayed at Dar Rita and I’d highly recommend staying there during your trip to Ouarzazate. It’s been designed in the style of a Marrakech Riad, and is a 7 room guest house that’s been open since 2010.
Dar Rita is well signposted from the main road and a taxi from the bus station should cost you no more than 20 dirhams. You will send you information after you’ve booked your stay to make finding this lovely guest house as easy as possible!
What’s the Tassoumaat area of Ouarzazate like?
The Tassoumaat area of Ouarzazate was one of the town’s first districts and it remains much the same as it ever was. Walking through to Dar Rita from the main road you’ll be greeted by bonjour, comment tu t’appelles and glances from the doorways of the shops and boys playing football on the street. But don’t let it make you feel uncomfortable; it’s simply a sign of an area untouched by tourism.
On Thursdays and Saturdays, there is a small market set up by the water fountain in the square where villagers head to trade and gossip just a minute’s walk away from Dar Rita.
What’s Dar Rita like?
Dar Rita is a true home away from home. Upon arriving you’ll be met with mint tea and Moroccan biscuits and given as long as you need to relax after your journey in the big open living room area.
Dar Rita is perfectly peaceful and the only sound you’ll hear is the occasional bleating of sheep and the distant sound of the call to prayer.
The guest house is set across three floors with each one offering lots of space for relaxing.
The ground floor is where you’ll tuck into a delicious Moroccan breakfast or dinner (more on which later) or relax near the fireplace in winter.
The second floor has games, a small library and a free to use computer. Five of the seven guest rooms are found on this floor.
Saving the best until last, the third floor is home to the roof terrace. Here you can relax with a pot of mint tea under the Caidal tent while listening to the sounds below or children playing. There’s also a fantastic view out over the Atlas mountains when the sun shines.
What are the rooms like at Dar Rita?
All of the seven available rooms at Dar Rita come with private bathrooms and plenty of space and all necessary amenities (towels, shampoo…). There’s air conditioning to keep you cool during the summer and speedy Wi-Fi for making friends jealous on Facebook.
Staying at Dar Rita is as good for your soul as your conscience as the guest house does everything possible to be eco-friendly as a member of It’s a Green, Green World. As part of its commitment to eco-friendly tourism, Dar Rita heats all its water by solar energy, is dedicated to recycling and reducing waste and is dedicated to improving the lives of surrounding families.
Breakfast at Dar Rita
A Moroccan feast greets you for breakfast time at Dar Rita. Breakfast comprises of much more than bread and jam as you’ll find in other guest houses. Instead, you’ll be served up cereals, fresh bread with jams and honey, eggs, pancakes, coffee and orange juice.
Dinner at Dar Rita
If you choose to take dinner at Dar Rita you’ll be in for a treat. A three-course dinner costs 150 dirhams and must be reserved.
How much is Dar Rita?
One night at Dar Rita in a double or twin rooms costs from as little as 440 Dirhams or £29. Exclusivity and large group deals are also available. Find out more about prices here.