Activity: Overland Travel from Marrakech to Mhamid, Morocco

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Activity: Overland Travel from Marrakech to Mhamid, Morocco


Booking and Planning:

While we were in Morocco, we had about 6 days in the country thanks to the schedule of our trip and award availability. I wasn’t interested in spending all the time in Marrakech so I set out looking for something interesting to do. While we considered visiting Essouria, the Erg Cheddi Luxury Tented Camp outside of Mhamid seemed interesting.

The Erg Cheddi camp is located in South East Morocco and is situated approximately 40 minutes drive and 20 kilometers away from the now closed international border of Morocco and Algeria. The Camp offered an “all inclusive” experience where all meals and drinks were provided. The days were filled with daily activities. The activities included sand boarding, camel rides and sunset cocktails on the sand dunes.

Overland Travel from Marrakech to Mhamid, Morroco – 502 Km travelled.

The drive today was advertised as being about 9 ½ hours from door to door plus stops over 502 kilometers travelled. It was a super long day and we were pretty exhausted by the time we got into camp. The reality was that the drive was about 11 ½ hours by the time we had gotten door to door. This included getting partially lost in a sand storm on arrival. It’s a fair statement to say that I would have enjoyed this drive more in my twenties than I did in my forties. Despite this, we were able to see a very large amount of Morocco in a way that we wouldn’t have explored had we not done a trip such as this. Of interest, flying on Royal Air Maroc is possible from Casablanca to about 4 hours drive from the camp. This doesn’t help if you are travelling from Marrakech as the flight times with connecting flights to be about 11 hours which is about the same as over land travel.

We were up at 5:40 AM for a 6:20 AM breakfast and our 7 AM collection at the Anayela riad out to Erg Cheddi. Our driver Ayboud was ready waiting for us at 7 AM in the riad lobby.

We loaded up a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado and started heading out of town. We stopped in a suburb of Marrakech to briefly meet with owner / operator. The main purpose of the stop was to load up the car with a case of wine and a flat of beer destined for the camp. It seems that the locals are not allowed to carry alcohol in that many quantities (if at all) so the camp has to use the tourist transport in order to so do. The drive leaving Marrakech immediately started to get hilly. We were in the rolling hills among the Berber villages before we knew it.

We arrived to the small town of Oued Tamjdert. We stopped for breakfast at the base of the mountain pass. The driver had a Berber Omelette; eggs baked in a pan with tomato, cumin, onion over bread along with some Moroccan Tea. It was actually quite tasty.

We then drove up through one of the first serious passes on the trip. We stopped at the top for some amazing photos of the road and drive up.

It was an absolutely spectacular view and one of the more twisty roads I’ve had the experience to travel on.

At the top of the pass, we stopped at Col du Tichka. The elevation was 2260m, which was quite substantially high for an African country. Stepping out of the truck, you could feel the difference in temperature with cooler breezes and wind.

The pass itself was pretty amazing. I had no idea that there were this many mountains in Morocco. While I had heard of the Atlas Mountains, I hadn’t seen many pictures or other first hand experiences of the area. Coming down over the interior side of the pass, the terrain was mostly arid and desert like. There were vast areas of emptiness.

We pressed on past Atlas Studios in Ouarzazate as we were keen to get to the camp in daylight. The Atlas Studios is the world’s largest studio by square footage and has been home to many contemporary films such as “Jewel of the Nile”, “The Living Daylights”, “Gladiator”, “The Mummy” and “Game of Thrones” to name a few. We had offers to stop at various places which we took advantage of when the need arose. The topography of the terrain got to be a bit more hilly and arid as we moved closer to the Sahara Desert.

Similar to our road travels in Namibia, there were simply miles and miles of nothing in this country. We would continue on for another hour and a half then stop for a quick photo break to stretch the legs and refresh. At each stop, another view awaited.

We eventually made it to the town of Agdz and the start of the Draa Valley. The Draa Valley is home to over 3 million date palm trees and stretches on for miles between Agdz and Zagora. I later learned that it was approximately 150 km and full of palm trees end to end. We would end up driving the entire length of it. The valley is backed up against a mountain which looks like an extended version of Table Mountain from Cape Town, South Africa.

Visiting the Draa Valley:

We had a brief stop at the start of the Draa Valley at a viewpoint in Agdz. It’s a start contrast to see all of the date palms after miles and miles of desert. Immediately opposite, there are dry river beds which show how dry things can get here when it’s not raining.

After a quick spin through town (many of them look the same), we stopped for a simple lunch on the outskirts of Agdz. Lunch today was chicken brochettes grilled over charcoal along with Moroccan Salad (chopped tomatoes, cumin and onions). The chicken was surprisingly well cooked over charcoal; so much better than the gas barbecue attempts at home.

Before we left lunch, we took an opportunity to look at the palms of the Draa Valley up close. Across from a nearby Kasbah, we wandered across the street from the restaurant where a local guide took us on a short paid walk through the fields.

The Draa Valley fields are surprisingly irrigated and green in comparison to the other areas around. The palm trees are lush with dates which are a major export product for Morocco. Our guide even gave us a climbing demonstration; the things you do for money (laughing).

It was nearing 3 pm at this time and although there were offers from our driver to visit the CheChe scarf factory to have the berber head scarfs fitted, we opted to push through to avoid missing sunset and getting to the camp after dark.

We arrived to the last outpost town of Mhamid, passing several military installations that had since popped up since the Moroccan government officially closed the border with Algeria. It’s now reportedly heavily guarded, with surveillance cameras and fenced in some areas. In second though, a visiting camp next to an International border may not have been the best idea security wise but we didn’t feel any danger or experience any surveillance or security problems at all.

From Mhamid, the pavement ended and it was off road to the camp. I had hoped in first world order that the camp would actually be close to Mhamid for supplies and logistical purposes. It was actually about 90 minutes of off road bashing to get there. The surface was a mixed of gravel, dried sand riverbeds (salt flats) and soft sand that slowed the SUV. It was quite flat at the start of our trek into the desert and it eventually the dunes got a little bit larger. The flat route was frequently used in the past by camel caravans making the trading trek from the Draa Valley to Timbuktu in Mali for the spice trade.

About 75 minutes into our trek, we saw a sand storm approaching on the horizon. I had not been inside a sand storm other than seeing the digitized effects of them in Hollywood movies. The sand essentially just blows and swirls reducing visibility to almost zero. It was the same case here and we could hardly see a few feet in front of our vehicle.

Somehow, we managed to locate the camp, thanks to our driver. How he managed to do this with near zero visibility is beyond me. It must be his Berber roots.


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