Ouarzazate lies in a valley at the foot of the Atlas Mountains.  It's popular with tourists on their way to the Sahara Desert.  Scenic daytrips into the surrounding region offer a glimpse of times gone by in the ruins of ancient kasbahs. It's a good place to stock up on provisions for desert treks.

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The CTM bus to Ouarzazate was interesting to say the least… The lady in front of us vomited into various containers the whole way. We all sighed with great relief when she got off the bus in the middle of nowhere about half way to Ouarzazate. Everyone made sure she took her container collection with her. After winding through the mountains for awhile longer, we stopped for a break in a dusty mountain village full of buzzing flies and crowds of Kefta-eating Moroccans. It's not surprising a week after the slaughter of the lambs, people are getting sick from the unrefrigerated leftovers!

Moroccan desert village - note the courtyards and irrigated fields

We managed to pass the time by hiding inside a Weeping Willow trees’ branches, and smoking our Sipsi. A very bizarre German woman came by and struck up a conversation with us. She was carrying a small pet rabbit in her arms, had a shaved head wrapped in a turban, and wore mainly Moroccan rags. Tres chic. The rest of the journey passed uneventfully, and the air-conditioning worked wonderfully. 

Ouarzazate is the film capital of Morocco, with everything from Lawrence of Arabia to The Mountains of the Moon and Star Wars being filmed there. The studio outside town is an impressive sight, and open to the public for tours. Of course the town has its share of luxury hotels, expensive restaurants and shops. The Kasbah is very nice, recently restored and has been used as a movie set many times. The shopping here is pricey, and the merchants inflexible. The town has an Artisans Cooperative with some nice rugs worth seeing. 

Our balcony at the Hotel Palmyrie, on the second floor, overlooked the attractive pool and gardens. The food was the usual, Tagine or couscous, how boring! After dinner the guests were treated to a display of Moroccan singing and dancing by the pool. Accompanied by drums, a large group of women in traditional Moroccan dress sang and wailed their way through the evening. 

Ouarzazate Kasbah

Our next day was spent arranging a grand taxi to take us to Zagora and back. We found a guy to take us for $80 round trip. We left around two, after lunching at Dimitri’s, the oldest restaurant in Morocco (from 1928). It was a nice send-off for our desert journey – the fresh pasta was great, the wine nice and the salad fabulous.

We returned to the same hotel.  The food was the same, barely edible; so we eat out as often as possible during the next two days. Of course, Dimitri’s pasta was a relief, and another place nearby had pizza in a setting with movie posters from every film made in Ouarzazate. 

Mural outside Ouarzazate Pizzeria

Walking through town is strange, everything is so new and bland. Acres of paved roads and lots of huge hotel complexes. The surrounding valley has lots of date palms and some irrigated farming. The surrounding mountains are stark, and dry. A bit of snow was clinging to the peaks, providing a spectacular backdrop in the distance. 

I felt really good in Ouarzazate as the clean dry desert air is soothing on my asthmatic lungs.

Ouarzazate Tips
If you're planning a trip to the Sahara it's likely you'll be passing through Ouarzazate.  It's a good place to coordinate your tour and there's a good selection of hotels in town.  You may find it more convenient and cheaper however to make arrangements like hotel reservations and vehicle rentals before arriving.  Remember this is the edge of the Sahara Desert so it will be hot in summer!  Be prepared!

Things to Do: If you've come to Ouarzazate you're probably going to visit the Sahara Desert, or at least tour the surrounding area.  If you haven't made arrangements you can hire a grand taxi to show you around.

Sights: The Kasbah Taorirt is very well preserved and is worth visiting. Atlas Studios, where many famous movies were filmed is open to the public.  Maybe you'll get to watch them make a movie! Any of the roads out of town lead to picturesque scenes of ruined Kasbahs, remote villages, and date palmeries.

Shopping: There's a shopping center across from the Taorirt Kasbah along with the Ensemble Artisanal.  For desert provisioning there are a couple of markets in the center of town.

Food: Most restaurants are located in hotels and provide your basic Moroccan cuisine.  The only exception worth noting is the famous Chez Dimitri, which serves very good pasta and salads.  This is worth the small splurge for the history, ambiance and the best food this side of the Atlas mountains!

Accommodation: There are many hotels in Ouarzazate, but we recommend you make arrangements in advance to guarantee a room as this town often gets crowded. 

Getting Around: It may be difficult to find a taxi unless you're right in town.  Distances to hotels are long so see if your hotel can call you a taxi so you don't have to wait.  If you're planning a trip to the desert you can rent four wheel drives, but beware they are very expensive.  Try to arrange transport before coming out to Ouarzazate!

Our next stop is Zagora!
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