Take a bus five hours south of Marrakech, and you’ll find yourself in Ouarzazate, the gateway city to the Sahara desert.
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 travelers heading to the Sahara Desert to ride camels and sleep under the stars. If you’re wondering what to do in Morocco, add a trip to Ouarzazate.
Ouarzazate can offer plenty of things, from visiting the Sahara Desert to exploring the Kasbah and more.
So if you are excited to know about this amazing Moroccan city or plan a trip to visit it then you’re in the right place at the right time.
Let’s get straight into it!
Ouarzazate City: The Basic Informative Guide
To break down this article, I am going to start with a basic guide in which I will discuss some of the basic information you need to know about Ouarzazate such as its location, its weather, and what makes it worth visiting.
Ouarzazate In A Bird’s Eye View
Ouarzazate is the largest city in southeast Morocco. Previously, several other cities were its provincial subordinates, now, it is known as the Big Ouarzazate. Located 540 kilometers from Rabat Morocco’s capital, and 205 kilometers from Marrakech city, the region comprised about 56.000 habitants (2004 census).
Aside from its demographics, Ouarzazate has many fascinating features that interest tourists and lovers of Morocco, including the city’s historical and economic composition and landmark sites such as cinema studios, Kasbahs, and oases.
Etymologically, Ouarzazate is derived from the Amazigh words for ‘without’ (ouar) and ‘noise’ (zazt), essentially meaning a city without noise.
Historically, Ouarzazate is known as a strategic and commercial junction between the south and the north. It is a site where different cultures and peoples meet. Ouarzazate had assumed a crucial strategic position since the French colonization (1956) when French powers chose it as a military base controlling the whole southeast region of Morocco.
Economically, Ouarzazate depends on simple agriculture and tourism. In terms of tourism, many sites, including Kasbahs, attract tourists, thereby contributing to developing the region’s economy.
Interestingly, in the last few decades, Ouarzazate became a center for film production where many famous films such as Gladiator took place.
The result of this relatively recent phenomenon is that Ouarzazate has become even more globally recognized and has drawn the attention of investors in tourism and cinema. To encourage and enhance this domain, two studios were established for the professional production of films.
In addition to cinema, Morocco’s ambition is to make Ouarzazate the source of unprecedented solar energy. In 2010, King Mohamed VI launched the project NOOR (light or glare in Arabic) to provide Morocco and various adjacent countries with solar energy.
This project, in addition to tourism and cinema, contributes to Ouarzazate becoming an economic hub in Morocco.
What is the weather like in Ouarzazate?
Ouarzazate has a hot desert climate (Köppen climate classification BWh). The city is hot and dry in summer but can be very cold in winter, with icy winds coming from the High Atlas Mountains.
Where is Ouarzazate Located?
It lies on the Saharan side of the High Atlas Mountains and is situated in the valley of the Ouarzazate River near its juncture with the Drâa River.
The Complete Ouarzazate Experience: A Traveler’s Guide
Now that you have all the basic information about the city. Here is a full travel guide answering all the questions related to planning your next amazing trip to Ouarzazate.
Is Ouarzazate safe?
Ouarzazate is very safe, both day and night, and crime throughout this city is minimal. Meanwhile, it’s best to take only a few) chances.
Morocco is a conservative country, so it’s the city of Ouarzazate, it is important to stay covered up. Ensure shoulders are not bare and skirts are long. Women inappropriately dressed by local standards will get much more unwanted attention from males – such as catcalling and being approached.
Avoid walking alone at night and aim to stay in areas with plenty of people. As with other destinations, women face these challenges, so it’s important to take additional precautions.
You’ll have a less stressful experience if you travel in a pair or a group. If you’re solo (a solo traveler), try to make friends in your riad (hotel) and explore together. This goes for males and females, as the former can get plenty of hassle too.
Many Moroccans believe as a Westerner, you are laden with spare cash – which by local standards may be true. As such, you will be enticed into every shop and every market stall in Ouarzazate and offered all goods and services.
You will almost certainly be quoted an inflated price – but this is also part of the haggling process. If you do want an item, aim to pay a third of the first quoted price unless that price is particularly excessive. If you feel you are being pressured into buying, walk away.
How To Get To Ouarzazate?
Here are the most popular ways you can use to get to Ouarzazate Morocco:
i. By flights
The city has one airport that recently began welcoming international flights. Ouarzazate Airport is close to the city center and can easily be reached by taxi.
ii. By Bus
If you’re on a budget, the cheapest way to get to Ouarzazate 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 it leaves several times a day.
How to get around Ouarzazate?
Within the main parts of the city, it is easy to walk around to your next destination. Petit taxis, colored red, charge a flat rate and are the best way to get around in the extreme heat or if you’re trying to travel across town.
Grand taxis, colored beige, can take you to cities and Kasbahs near Ouarzazate. Always check the price beforehand so that you are not charged the extra “tourist fees” when you try to depart your destination.
If you are planning frequent trips outside of Ouarzazate, the nearby airport also offers car rental options. This is a pricier but more convenient way to travel around the area.
How Many Days Do You Need In Ouarzazate?
When it comes to visiting Ouarzazate city a minimum of 2 days will be good to have plenty of time to catch the highlights, experience a bit of cinematic history, and explore the desert and High Atlas scenery that makes Morocco so stunning.
Explore the kasbah movie locations and museums in and around Ouarzazate on a full-day private tour. This Kasbah is very well-preserved and had even been inhabited until 1960.
You will get a great impression of the past Kasbah and Berber life. Don’t miss a visit to the upper floor, where you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the beautiful landscape and the green oases!
You can sit with locals and have a meal for just 10 dirhams (less than £1!). There are also various cafes and restaurants (Le Kasbah D’Sable is a popular dinner option), 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 center of Ouarzazate.
What Is The Best Time To Visit Ouarzazate?
March, April, May, October, and November are the best times to visit Ouarzazate city, as the average temperature remains very pleasant.
November experiences rain and the summers are scorching (it is best to avoid these months if you are not used to extreme desert heat), with July being the hottest and driest month, and the coldest month is December.
What To Pack When Traveling Ouarzazate?
Packing is pivotal. Forget an essential item, and you’re left disappointed and scrambling to find the nearest store in your destination. Pack too much, and you end up disorganized, burdened with heavy bags, and hemorrhaging money to pay for pricey airline baggage fees.
Here is an entire packing list that every traveler should learn before heading to the city of Ouarzazate:
For Men Traveler:
- Toothbrush and toothpaste/toothpowder
- Shampoo (or a shampoo bar if you want to avoid the hassle of airport security)
- Driver’s license (if you want to drive yourself when exploring all the areas in Ouarzazate).
- Prescription medicine
For Women Traveler:
- Shirt and Sweater
- Pairs of underwear, depending on your trip length.
- Pairs of socks
- 1 set of Pyjama
- Scarf, shawl, or sarong — especially for more conservative destinations in Ouarzazate.
- Shampoo (a bar shampoo is easier to pack)
- Makeup essentials (lipstick, eyeliner)
- Travel-sized bottle of hair product (if you use it)
- Feminine hygiene products
- Passport or ID
- Water bottle
- Healthy snacks
- Eye mask
- Travel pillow
- Travel Blanket
- Laptop or tablet (optional)
- Changing sheet
- Disposable plastic bags
- Child’s toiletries, including toothpaste and brush.
- Toys and small books
- Clothes, socks, and shoes depending on the season you are going to Ouarzazate city.
- Towels/bathing suit
- Sunhats and sunscreen
- Feeding sets
- Medical kit
- Car seat
If you would like to know the right way to dress in Morocco and what to avoid. Check out my previous article about the dress code of Morocco and things to avoid when traveling in Morocco.
Top 10 Cool Things To Do & See In Ouarzazate
Whether driving through the city or planning to stop for a day or two, there are several different things to do in Ouarzazate.
Here are some of the best things to do and see while visiting Ouarzazate city:
1. Visit Ait Ben Haddou
The region’s most famous film set is also an iconic cultural landmark – Aït Benhaddou, a 17th-century ksar located half an hour’s drive west of Ouarzazate.
The impressive fortified town has been used to represent several fictional locations, including the slaving city of Yunkai in “Game of Thrones” and Zucchabar in Gladiator.
It’s also UNESCO-protected for its importance as an example of traditional southern Moroccan architecture. Its embellished, red clay walls are reinforced with high-angle towers and a baffle gate, while the warren-like buildings of the citadel itself house local vendors selling brightly colored crafts.
Discover a ruined mosque and a public square, and astonishing rampart views. Many operators offer day tours from Ouarzazate, including hotel pick-up, transport, and an English-speaking guide.
Ait Ben Haddou is one of the most popular kasbahs in Morocco where you can find some stunning views and places to explore. So don’t miss it (:
2. Visit Cinema Museum
Open in 2007, the cinema museum is housed in a former studio built by an Italian film production company in 1981. The museum exhibits a collection of old film sets, props, and cinematic equipment. Located opposite Taourirt Kasbah, it is a convenient alternative if you can’t visit the Atlas Studios.
The museum consists of four main buildings. The first building in which you will find is the throne hall. It also has a small jail and other rooms you will be pleased to discover when you visit. After that, you will go through a hallway featuring posters of the most famous films shot in Ouarzazate.
This is the entrance of the second building with a throne hall. After that, you will pass through the torture room. And next to it is the jinn court.
Upon exiting the jinn court, you can visit the Asia Pharaonic room. Accompanied by pictures of Hollywood stars who worked in Ouarzazate.
Then you will enter the technical building, featuring old gear and cameras used at that time. The visit ends by passing alongside cinematic boats used to film in Lake Ouarzazate.
3. Shopping For Artwork
Ouarzazate is a great location to shop and pick up a souvenir or two. As this village is not as popular as a tourist destination, the shop owners are not as pushy, and the streets are less chaotic.
Exquisite hand-woven carpets designed and created by local Berber women can be found at CoOperative Des Tapis. And if you are looking for something smaller to bring home, Ouarzazate locals sell a variety of beautiful Moroccan artworks.
Various tour companies also include and stop by local stands and shops selling locally made Moroccan wares. Purchasing a handmade item designed and sold by the locals is a great way to support the community and remember your visit.
4. Visit Telouet Kasbah
Telouet Kasbah is a Kasbah along the former route of the caravans from the Sahara over the Atlas Mountains to Marrakesh city.
It is a beautiful, expansive Kasbah where you can tour endless stairways, hidden rooms, and stunning courtyards. Originally built in the 17th century and then expanded in the 19th century by the Glaoui family. Kasbah Taourirt was known as the home to the Glaoui family until the fall of French colonial rule.
This resulted in the eventual decay of the massive 3 stories fortified structure, made from rammed mud and earth brick. In 1990 the building was restored and converted into a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Kasbah is still visited today via local guides. Entry is monitored by a guard, who receives low entry fees. Attracting visitors worldwide, tourists can enjoy exploring the many hallways and over 300 rooms that fill this fortress.
If you are someone who enjoys visiting kasbahs and getting lost in them. Then, you should definitely check my previous article about the best kasbahs in Morocco.
5. Explore Atlas Studio
Atlas Studios is a film studio located 5 kilometers (3.1 mi) west of the city of Ouarzazate in Morocco. Measured by acreage (an area of land), it is the world’s largest film studio. Most of the property lies in the nearby desert and mountains.
Many sets from the filming of various movies remain in place, and because of this, the studio also operates with guided tours and has become a popular tourist destination.
The company was founded in 1983 by entrepreneur Mohamed Belghmi. Since then, it has been able to expand, thanks to reliable climate and weather conditions, and because the area is of a nature that can mimic the natural environments of many countries well.
Here are some films and TV series that were filmed in Ouarzazate studio include:
- The Jewel of the Nile (1985)
- The Living Daylights (1987)
- Aladdin (2019 film)
- Gladiator (2000)
- Game of Thrones (2011-2019)
- Prison Break
- The Old guard
A visit to the Atlas Corporation film studios is also a must, as it will provide a background into how many films were created.
6. Enjoy The insane views Of Fint Oasis
The oasis of Fint is a green place surrounded by rocks.
Majestic date palms and orchards grow on the banks of the river that runs through it. The origin of its name in Amazigh is “n’fint”, which means “hidden”.
Fint is populated by an entirely Amazigh community known for its hospitality. Its first inhabitants lived in cave dwellings. Four traditional villages still call this beautiful place home. As a visitor, you can partake in nightly entertainment shows and may even be asked to join a family in enjoying a round of mint tea.
The beauty of its nature and the friendliness of its inhabitants make the Fint oasis a haven of peace. Walks along the river, friendliness with the friendly villagers, resting under the palm trees, and a panoramic view of the oasis are moments of happiness to be experienced in peace in the Fint oasis.
7. Visit Taourirt Kasbah
Ouarzazate’s main historical attraction is the Taourirt Kasbah. Located on the eastern edge of the city, its fortified façade and densely packed red clay buildings were occupied by members of the El Glaoui dynasty, who controlled the city in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Although it is now partly ruined, sections of the 300-room palace have been restored and can be explored on foot. Discover maze-like passageways, steep steps and dizzying ramparts, and recognizable features such as the harem quarters and palace kitchens.
In some rooms, traces of the original stucco and woven reed ceilings remain. On the battlements, the great citadel and Atlas Mountains views await. The Kasbah is open every day from 8 p.m. to 6:00 p.m., and entry costs 10 dirhams (about $1) per adult.
For more in-depth information check out my full guide about the top kasbahs in Morocco.
8. Watch Sunset & Sunrise
Ouarzazate allows you to see southern morocco’s sceneries, such as the mountains, admire great views over Morocco’s largest valley, and watch a memorable sunset or sunrise on one of its highest sand hills.
Just head to the top of one of the surrounding hills, and you will be rewarded with beautiful, desolate mountain scenery.
9. Go On A Quad biking Excursion
Ouarzazate is home to some of the most breathtaking natural beauty in Morocco, and there’s no better way to explore it than on a quad bike.
This excursion offers unique adventurous quad tours around Ouarzazate, between the village of Ait Ben Haddou and the Oasis of Fint, through the beautiful trails and Berber villages.
Don’t miss out on this exciting opportunity to explore Ouarzazate on a quad bike. Book a space with a reliable tour guide and experience the beauty of the desert like never before.
10. Ouarzazate Noor Solar Plant
Ouarzazate Solar Power Station (OSPS), also called Noor Power Station, is a solar power complex and auxiliary diesel fuel system located in the Drâa-Tafilalet region in Morocco, 10 kilometers (6.2 mi) from Ouarzazate town, in Ghessat rural council area.
At 510 MW, it is the world’s largest concentrated solar power (CSP) plant. With an additional 72 MW photovoltaic system, the entire project was planned to produce 582 MW. The total project’s estimated cost is around $2.5 billion.
The auxiliary diesel fuel system is used to maintain the minimum heat transfer fluid temperatures during times when the sun does not shine (including at night), to start the startup and synchronize the turbine to the electrical grid, and other auxiliary functions.
The buildings can be deceiving from the outside, looking like how the structures were designed many years ago. But upon entry, it contained modern amenities and interior designs. Unfortunately, visiting the plant is impossible; however, you can catch glimpses of it from some roads nearby.
Other things to do in Ouarzazate
If you are looking for more adventurous things to do in Ouarzazate, try the following activities:
Admire the View From Tizi n’Tichka Pass
If you’re traveling from the north, the only way to reach Ouarzazate is through the Tizi n’Tichka Pass (which translates from the Berber for “difficult mountain pasture”). The French constructed the road in 1936 and incorporated more than 100 switchback turns.
Although the ascent can be hair-raising, the view from the summit is a breathtaking panorama of Atlas peaks and rolling foothills studded with distant villages. Stop to admire the view, take pictures and browse street-side stalls selling minerals from the surrounding mountains.
Even if you’re traveling from the south, the pass is worth a special visit from Ouarzazate and can be combined with a trip to Aït Benhaddou (see below). It remains open year-round but can be treacherous with ice and snow in winter.
Sign Up for a Dades Valley Tour
Ouarzazate is also a natural jumping-off point for the spectacular Dades Valley. Tours usually stop in Skoura, a historic trading town famous for its mudbrick kasbahs, palm groves, and colorful souks, and Kelaat M’Gouna, the capital of Morocco’s rose water industry.
If you travel in mid-May, your visit may coincide with the town’s annual rose harvest festival.
Stop to admire the stunning mountain scenery and hike on foot to the region’s many ruined kasbahs. The final destination is Todra Gorge, where sheer pink rock walls tower 985 feet above your head, and a crystalline river gives life to cool palm thickets.
Tours typically last all day, although you can drive from Ouarzazate to Todra Gorge in just over two hours.
Feast on Authentic Moroccan Cuisine
Those interested in authentic Moroccan cooking will find plenty of places to sample local delicacies. For a fine-dining experience, the top-ranked restaurant Le Jardin des Arômes cannot fail to impress.
Expect a magical garden setting and sumptuous dishes ranging from Lebanese mezze to seafood tagines and couscous with almonds and raisins.
An equally high-end option, La Kasbah des Sables blends Moroccan ingredients with French culinary style, while more affordable Restaurant Douyria serves filling tagines, grilled meats, and pastillas.
The latter is a traditional adobe home with a terrace that boasts mesmerizing views of Taourirt Kasbah. If you’d rather people-watch while enjoying dinner, visit the street vendors and cafés in bustling Place Al-Mouahidine. Ouarzazate also has a variety of international restaurants.
Stay in a Luxury Kasbah or Riad
If visiting Ouarzazate’s magnificent kasbahs leaves you wanting to experience the grandeur of the old dynasties, consider staying in one of the city’s lovingly restored historic hotels.
Kasbah dar Daif is located on the banks of El Mansour Eddahbi Lake and features gorgeous rooms decorated with antique tapestries, rugs, and paintings. It also boasts a gourmet restaurant, a private hammam and spa, and lush gardens complete with a sparkling pool.
Alternatively, luxurious Riad Ouarzazate is instantly recognizable for its wonderfully ornate façade. It’s adorned with carved wooden doorways and colorful zellij mosaics, while all nine bedrooms are inspired by different desert destinations ranging from Fint Oasis to Merzouga.
The riad has its Moroccan restaurant and terrace and can arrange luxury day trips and multi-day tours.
Stay the Night in the Sahara
If you go to Ouarzazate, plan a trip to M’Hamid. Staying in the Sahara all night will make an unforgettable experience and probably the best part of your holiday in Morocco.
You can find a lot of agencies in Ouarzazate that arrange treks to the desert, or you can rent a car and go there with your friends and arrange to stay in one of the inns offering overnights.
The trip may be long, but there were many great stops along the way, helping you learn a little about Berber culture. You usually visit the dunes in Zagora and Erg Chebbi, camping for a night or two, enjoying the beautiful stars at night and unbelievable sunrise in the morning.
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|Fes (Fez) City||Rabat City|
|Agadir City||Meknes City|
|Tangier City||El Jadida City|
|Tetouan City||Kenitra City|
|Ifrane City||Merzouga City|
All in all, Ouarzazate is, as already mentioned above, a top-rated stop on round trips through Morocco.
Concerning the culture and traditions, Ouarzazate is a point where different cultures meet; however it is primarily known for its Amazigh customs and traditions. Ahwach is an example of traditional music that is much appreciated there. To this day, Ahwach is an important feature in people’s celebrations, especially weddings.
Ouarzazate deserves to be discovered for its marvelous landscapes, studios, oasis, kasbahs, culture, hostels, and hospitable people. Travel to Ouarzazate, and you’ll find forgotten desert beauty and traditional Moroccan lifestyle. It is a trip that will be forever remembered as unique, thrilling, and exciting.
Thanks for reading!
Is Ouarzazate in the Sahara Desert?
Located south of the High Atlas Mountains, Ouarzazate is the gateway to the magnificent Sahara Desert.
What was filmed in Ouarzazate?
Movies were shot in Ouarzazate, including The Living Daylights, Asterix & Obelix: Mission Cleopatra, Lawrence of Arabia, The Man Who Would Be King, The Mummy, Kingdom of Heaven, Gladiator, and Babel. It was also the location of an episode of the television series The Amazing Race 10 and Game of Thrones (Season 3).
How far is ouarzazate from Marrakech?
The distance between Marrakesh and Ouarzazate is 132 km. The road distance is 200.7 km.
Is Ouarzazate famous?
It is famous for its film studios (The Atlas Cooperation Film Studios), which can be visited as a guided tour. Also, it is a primary tourist destination in Morocco during the holidays and a starting point for excursions into and across the Draa Valley and the desert.
Does Ouarzazate have snow?
Snow in Ouarzazate is common, as the city has not experienced it for more than 40 years. Still, according to research, Ouarzazate experienced a little snowfall in January and February 2022.