Morocco Beyond Marrakesh

Article and photography by Scott McGlashan

 Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakesh, Morocco. © Guild Magazine - 2018.

Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakesh, Morocco. © Guild Magazine - 2018.

The very mention of Morocco conjures up images of souks and spices. Although you will find these in abundance while visiting, there is a lot more to this vibrant country than meets the eye. There are many amazing cities to visit in this North African jewel, but it is not until you leave the walls of their medina’s that you experience the true spirit and beauty of what this country has to offer. While impressive in its own right, the capital city of the Mid-Southwestern region, Marrakesh, can at times become overwhelming. For this reason, arranging one of the many trips that depart to Merzouga in the Sahara Desert is vital to attaining a welcomed relief from the busy, hectic streets of Marrakesh. It is a 10-hour road trip which often includes an overnight stay, offering ever-changing scenery and landscapes that will make this trip truly worth it.

 Ait Benhaddou, Morocco. © Guild Magazine - 2018.

Ait Benhaddou, Morocco. © Guild Magazine - 2018.

 Ait Benhaddou, Morocco. © Guild Magazine - 2018.

Ait Benhaddou, Morocco. © Guild Magazine - 2018.

Driving towards the imposing Atlas Mountains, the dusty pink buildings of Marrakesh slowly disappear, and you are whisked into the awe-inspiring and rugged landscape ahead. The road slowly creeps up to unbelievable heights, and you arrive at the famous Tizi n’ Tichka Pass; a road full of hairpin bends that straddle the side of the mountains. The ride is somewhat daunting; however, this is compensated by the amazing views of the misty valley meandering below. On this road, you will pass by many traditional Berber villages perched above the hills where you can stop to sample delicious, fresh Moroccan mint tea and get to know the local culture.

One of the many stops along the way is the awe-inspiring, fortified village of Ait Benhaddou. This commanding terracotta-coloured structure is like a scene from a movie set and has in fact been used in many films, such as "Gladiator," "Lawrence of Arabia" and "The Mummy." This United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site is truly breathtaking. As you wander up to its imposing entrance, you will feel as though you have traveled back in time with its maze of small deserted streets and alleyways. 

 Ait Benhaddou, Morocco. © Guild Magazine - 2018.

Ait Benhaddou, Morocco. © Guild Magazine - 2018.

 Sights of Ait Benhaddou, Morocco. © Guild Magazine - 2018.

Sights of Ait Benhaddou, Morocco. © Guild Magazine - 2018.

Leaving this spectacular place behind, you will continue to Dades Gorge through the towns of Ouarzazate and Skoura in the Valley of the Roses. Here, you can stop to admire the beautiful array of rose-scented products made from the flowers that bloom in the region. Eventually, arriving at the Dades Gorge, you can marvel at the natural henna-coloured rock formations called "The Monkey Feet." These spectacular natural formations towering above you will make you feel as though you are on another planet.

As you continue the drive, you will notice that the twists and turns of the road towards the desert resemble a moving art installation, each bend leading you to another amazing sight of colours and jaw-dropping landscapes. Rust-coloured valleys are densely filled with an oasis of luscious green palm trees surrounded by traditional houses rising from the ground as if they were forged from the land.  

 Kasbah Taourirt in Ouarzazate, Morocco. © Guild Magazine - 2018.

Kasbah Taourirt in Ouarzazate, Morocco. © Guild Magazine - 2018.

 Local enjoying a calm afternoon in Ouarzazate, Morocco. © Guild Magazine - 2018.

Local enjoying a calm afternoon in Ouarzazate, Morocco. © Guild Magazine - 2018.

Arriving at Merzouga, you cannot help but notice how the local habitation disperses and the land ahead slowly becomes an expanse of sand. At this point, you will reach the edge of the Sahara Desert and will have the opportunity to enjoy a spectacular ride on your very own Dromedary camel. The camel will start the hour-long trek into the desert, where you will slowly stroll through the magnificent landscape as the sun slowly sets beyond the horizon, casting a golden glow across the land. 

 Street art in in Ouarzazate, Morocco. © Guild Magazine - 2018.

Street art in in Ouarzazate, Morocco. © Guild Magazine - 2018.

 Markets of Marrakesh, Morocco. © Guild Magazine - 2018.

Markets of Marrakesh, Morocco. © Guild Magazine - 2018.

Arriving at a traditional Moroccan camp, you are treated to a delicious tajine filled with meats and vegetables marinated in local spices. As the evening light slowly ebbs away, a local guide shares some traditional stories and music by the glowing embers of the roaring fire. This is a truly unique way to become immersed in Morocco's beautiful culture.  The blackness of the night soon descends, and the dark expanse of sky is illuminated with a thousand stars. 

As you lay back and absorb the serenely quiet atmosphere of the desert, you can not help being conscious of the peacefulness of your surroundings and drift into a state of calmness. The Merzouga trip is something that needs to be experienced to be believed. If you are traveling to the mystical city of Marrakesh, it is something truly unique that must be added to your itinerary. - GM

 The Monkey Feet, Morocco. © Guild Magazine - 2018.

The Monkey Feet, Morocco. © Guild Magazine - 2018.

 Merzouga, Morocco. © Guild Magazine - 2018.

Merzouga, Morocco. © Guild Magazine - 2018.