The remote town of Zagora is the last outpost of civilization before the vast reaches of the Sahara Desert.  There's not much here for the tourist but daytrips to sand dunes.  If you venture out beyond here be prepared for the heat, blazing sun and blowing sand.

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The grand taxi was washed and fueled, ready for us at the step after our decadent Western-style lunch. The driver spoke only French and Arabic, and mercifully little of it. Leaving Ouarzazate you climb over a mountain range as you head south. The mountain passes are filled with ancient villages and Kasbahs, mostly in ruins, some still inhabited. Satellite dishes sprout in profusion from the oddest assortment of mud huts I’ve ever seen. Goats and sheep are everywhere, camels too. The rushing streams and spring greenery provide a nice relief to the stark backdrop of the mountains. The road then winds down to the Draa Valley, on the way to Zagora.

We stopped at one notable Kasbah and suffered the tour by the “official” guide who insisted on being paid for his services, and made it clear that we couldn’t go through the ruins alone. It was sort of interesting to see how an Italian film crew had trashed the interior with faded paintings of carpets on some walls and a wrecked, burned hulk of a car in the center of an ancient courtyard. The views of the surrounding area were fabulous, miles and miles of date palms, and the river winding down through the Draa Valley. 

Gateway to Zagora and the Sahara

As soon as our taxi came through the gateway into Zagora, we were hassled by a "blue" man, a Tuareg, the people of the Sahara.  Fortunately our driver told him to get lost that we already had a hotel and didn't need his guide service.  He argued vehemently and looked very upset.  We checked into to the Hotel Tinsouline, sister to the Hotel Asmaa in Chefchaouen. It was about the same quality, but with a nicer courtyard and pool. Our meals were included, and the Tagine that night was served with raw chicken. Breakfast the next morning was incredibly dreadful, rotten milk in the pitchers, cold coffee, dead bread.... Not a welcome sight.

Zagora Street Scene

It was at this point that we started formulating our Four Star Rating System for Moroccan restaurants. 

Hotel gardens

We also started joking that night about doing a creative segment for CNN, called “Sights & Sounds of Morocco”; which would include vomiting sounds, farting sounds, belching sounds, sights of swirling flies, blowing dust, camel shit, beggars and garbage. The possibilities are endless.

A Blue Tourist

In the morning we got out early and met our driver. Heading further south into the Sahara, we passed Tamegroute, an interesting ancient trading post with an underground Medina. The tour through took awhile, but was worth it. Especially fun were all sorts of air shafts and stairways and doorways to explore. One moment you’d be on the roof admiring the views, the next in the dungeon enjoying the cool.

The Underground City

At the end of the paved road past the last village are the Tinfou Dunes. This area of sand dunes has been used by photographers and cinematographers for years. Bus loads of tourists come here as well as adventurers in their Land Cruisers to admire the camels and the blowing sand. Fun. Just glad I wasn’t there in August, April was warm enough.

The Sahara Desert Awaits You!

Our journey back to Ouarzazate was back up the same road, and through the same mountains we came down on. We zipped right through Zagora without stopping, and flew up the valley and over those mountains as if pursued by a thousand camels ridden by Tuareg waving their rifles.

Zagora Tips
Zagora is the last outpost before the vast reaches of the Sahara Desert.  It's not a great place to spend more than a night.  If you haven't made arrangements for onward travel, you'll probably be pressured by local guides.  It's best to just make arrangements through one of the hotels in town.

Things to Do:There's not much to do in Zagora itself, except for a few shops.  However if you've made it this far you're probably going to visit the Sahara.  The road south to Tamegroute and the Tinfou Dunes is a popular day trip.  Beyond there travel is via four wheel drive or camel. 

Sights: Tamegroute, with it's underground kasbah is a worthwhile stop.  The monastery and library are popular with Islamic scholars.  The Tinfou Dunes are hot and windswept. If you've never seen sand dunes they can be fun. 

Shopping: Not much in Zagora, and even less further out, unless you want to buy a camel from a "blue" man (the Tuareg).

Food: The food at our hotel in Zagora was pitiful. There weren't any worthwhile restaurants in town, but in Amazrou, across the river (1 km) is La Fibule du Draa which is recommended.

Accommodation:There are a number of hotels in town and the quality varies. The Tinsouline had somewhat smelly rooms, but a good view of the gardens. Again the food was bad, so perhaps you should try another place.  By the Tinfou Dunes, is an inn popular with independent travelers called the Auberge du Repos des Sables with an internationally known artist in residence.

Getting Around: There are taxis and camels and even a bus to M'Hamid, if you don't already have your transportation.

Next stop, Asilah!
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