- Dates, desert, the Dadès
- Desert life
- 4x4 touring, oases exploring
South of the High Atlas Mountains, this sunkissed stretch of dusty desert is broken up by sand-coloured kasbahs and palm-fringed fortified villages.
Ouarzazate is a recent addition to the tourist trail and the heritage of this area inhabited over the centuries by Arabs, Berbers and Haratines, is the stuff that movies are made of. Founded originally as a garrison town by the French foreign legion in the Twenties, its history and landscape is suitably dramatic for a destination which today plays host to the Atlas Film Studios.
Take a visit to the Valley of the Almond Trees during February to March when the blossoms are their most fragrant. Head there through the desert by 4x4, but make sure you leave early enough to enjoy a camel ride at sun rise.
- Most people use petit taxis to get around town and it’s perfectly normal for your taxi to stop and pick up other passengers. Don’t be alarmed if they start the cab by popping it into neutral and pushing it down a hill – eventually you’ll make your destination. Drops within Ouarzazate seem to be 10 dirhams regardless – tips not required. The price for a grand taxis (usually old Mercs) jumps to 170 dirhams.
- Tipping culture
- A standard ten per cent applies and a few extra dirham for good service goes a long way.
- Siesta and fiesta
- There are less people around during Ramadan (which is in October/November depending on the lunar calendar) due to fasting and it can be difficult to get something to eat in daylight hours, not to mention insensitive. Avoid drinking/eating/smoking in street during this time. From half an hour before sunset for an hour and a half you won’t find any fasting muslim on the street to give you a ride so plan ahead if you need to be anywhere while they are having their breakfast.
- Packing tips
- Lots of layers! Days can be burning hot but as soon as that sun sets – whew! – make sure you have warm layers to hand. Also, make sure if you plan to tour it's respectful to keep covered up. A French phrasebook is crucial if you don't speak the language.
- Recommended reads
- The The Seven Pillars of Wisdom by TE Lawrence; the inspiration for Lawrence of Arabia, David Lean's 1963 film. The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles; Bernardo Bertolucci took the book to the big screen in 1990 having shot it here.
- The traditional fare is the same as elsewhere in Morocco with tasty tagines, usually lamb or chicken, on offer. Grazers will adore the meze-style salads – the tomato and parsley salads are the perfect complement to the greasy tagine sauces. The mint tea here flows freely made from excellent assam and fresh mint leaves, mixed and poured ceremoniously. And a welcome legacy from the French is the great wine, especially light reds.
- Dirham (Dh). NB: cash cannot be taken out of the country so be sensible with your last withdrawals.
- Time zone
- GMT – one hour
- Dialling codes
- Morocco: +212; area code for Ouarzazate: (0)544.
- Do go/don't go
- The summer months are hot, hot, hot – avoid June, July and August. Christmas here is very popular, snow-capped Atlas in view but often glaring sunshine during the day.