Guide to Ouarzazate, Morocco
Ouarzazate (Berber: ⵡⴰⵔⵣⴰⵣⴰⵜ; Arabic: ورزازات1) is a town and commune -municipality- in the province of Ouarzazate (Morocco), of which it is the capital, in the Draâ Tafilalet region. The city is nicknamed “the gateway to the desert “.
What to see in and around Ouarzazate
Where to eat
Top places to visit in and around Ouarzazate
Unlike other cities in Morocco, Ouarzazate is not really a tourist destination in itself. However, it has its own charm to attract tourists from all over the world. The city – nicknamed the “gateway to the desert” because of its immediate proximity to the Sahara – has a privileged geographical location.
Ouarzazate is the perfect starting point for a desert expedition. In fact, you cannot miss this wonderful destination during your vacations in Morocco. To better organize your stay in this beautiful city, here are the must-see places you can easily visit from your hotel in Ouarzazate during your trip:
1. The Kasbah of Ait Benhaddou
This fortified village – located on the old caravan route – is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located just minutes from Riad Ksar Ighnda, a luxury hotel in the heart of Ouarzazate, this Moroccan Kasbah attracts the attention of tourists from all over the world. It is a classic example of Moroccan architecture with its terracotta buildings. In addition, its elevated location offers a breathtaking view of the desert and mountains. In fact, this stunning part of the Moroccan landscape has often been depicted by Hollywood directors in their movies.
2. The Kasbah of Taourirt
Built by the Glaoui, one of Morocco’s most famous pashas, the Kasbah of Taourirt welcomes you among the majestic mountains and the breathtaking Sahara desert. This historic site is a true representation of traditional Moroccan architecture, with its spiderweb-like village of sun-drenched buildings, multi-story towers and turrets rising from the tightly packed ksours. If you want to change the luxury of your hotel in Ouarzazate and experience magical moments in the middle of the desert, come and enjoy the sunset on the terrace of this Kasbah.
3. The Atlas film studios
Ouarzazate is known as the city of cinema or the “Hollywood of Africa” and has been the scene of more than a dozen films of international renown. The Atlas Film Studios are only 5 km from the city center and can be easily reached from your Ouarzazate hotel. This tourist site extends over the surrounding deserts and mountains. It was founded in 1983 by businessman Mohamed Belghmi, but since its inception it has seen many successful movies and TV series. When you visit, you can take guided tours of the giant movie sets and ruins.
List of some movies, TV series or telefilms shot partially or entirely in Ouarzazate17,16 (the movies are listed in chronological order, the years refer to their release date):
Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1954).
The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
Sodom and Gomorrah (1962)
One Hundred Thousand Dollars in the Sun (1964)
Oedipus Rex (1967)
The Man Who Wanted to be King (1975)
Flight of the Sphinx (1984)
The Diamond of the Nile (1985)
The Diamond of the Nile (1986)
Killing is not playing (1987)
The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)
Tea in the Sahara (1990)
The Mummy (1999)
Return of the Mummy (2001)
The Fall of the Black Falcon (2001)
Spy Game (2001)
The Ball and Chain (2002)
Asterix and Obelix: Mission Cleopatra (2002)
What Girls Dream Of (2003)
Kingdom of Heaven (2005)
The Hill Has Eyes (2006)
The Hill Has Eyes 2 (2007)
Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (2007)
State Lies (2008)
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2010)
Roads to Freedom (2010)
Salmon in the Desert (2012)
Game of Thrones Season 3 (2012)
The Bible (2013)
The Girl in the Desert (2014)
Queen of the Desert (2015)
The New Adventures of Aladdin (2015)
A Hologram for the King (2016)
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)
The Transporter film series
4. Oasis of Fint
An hour’s drive from Ouarzazate, the oasis of Fint is an ideal break before exploring the Sahara desert. It is located in the middle of an arid wasteland and is home to some unique Berber villages. To reach it, you have to cross a long and dusty unpaved road, but it is worth it, as this oasis is well worth the detours. For example, you can enjoy a magnificent view of the sunset and sunrise over this oasis of date palms. You can also familiarize yourself with Moroccan culture by opting for a homestay for a rural experience. In short, the Fint Oasis is undoubtedly the perfect destination if you want to take a donkey ride.
5. Ouarzazate Cinema Museum
Located in front of the Kasbah of Taourirt, this museum exhibits the works of art that were included in the creation of historical films that were made in the region. Large pharaonic statues, plaster decorations, wooden sculptures… a variety of surprises await you in this monument. For only 30 dirhams, you can see its large collection of art objects: photographic material, costumes, props, cameras… This unique museum is, in fact, the ideal place to acquire knowledge about the film and show business industry.
For tourists, Ouarzazate remains a city of passage rather than a vacation spot. Indeed, the city itself is not of great tourist interest, but as we have seen, in its surroundings are hidden real treasures that it would be a shame to ignore. So, for your trip to Morocco, head south and stay in a hotel in Ouarzazate. There you will spend pleasant moments of relaxation and discovery.
The best addresses to enjoy a good meal in Ouarzazate
The city of Ouarzazate is home to several restaurants and hotels where you can enjoy a wide range of cuisines. This makes it one of the few places in the south where you can eat well outside your Ouarzazate hotel. Whether you’re looking for pizza, ice cream, pastries, kebabs or the usual tajines and kefta, this is a great place to stop and enjoy some culinary delights before heading to the dunes for a more rustic adventure. To help you out, we’ve selected some good addresses where you can enjoy a delicious meal.
– Riad Ksar Ighnda
In this luxurious hotel in Ouarzazate, you will live an extraordinary culinary adventure with Moroccan and international flavors. The chef invites you to his tables to savor delicious dishes prepared with local products. Indeed, he offers an international and Moroccan cuisine, with gourmet taste and seasoned with fresh vegetables from the market.
If you come to enjoy a romantic dinner, in the evening you can enjoy the intimate and refined atmosphere of the hotel’s terrace, lounges and patios. In addition, there is also a lounge bar on site, in case you want to have a few drinks with your friends. You will be able to taste a wide range of cocktails and cognacs with a good selection of cigars. The hotel is located in the Douar Asfalou-Amerzane.
– La Kasbah des Sables
For an unforgettable dining experience, come and dine at the Kasbah des Sables. It is a must for a gastronomic getaway after a pleasant night at your hotel in Ouarzazate. The restaurant resembles an Arab palace and is decorated with comfortable lounges and nooks. With its lights and jewel-colored walls, this restaurant offers a warm atmosphere and an incredible ambiance that you will not find anywhere else. The menu features a mix of French and Moroccan dishes, such as monkfish and chicken with morels from the Atlas. The restaurant is located on Mohamed V Avenue and is open every day.
– Douyria Restaurant
If you want to enjoy a breathtaking view of the area, while tasting a delicious meal, come to Douyria. It is the perfect place for a romantic dinner in Ouarzazate. In a quiet corner, bordered by a cushion, you will enjoy a breathtaking view of the Atlas Mountains and the Kasbah of Taourirt, while savoring a traditional Moroccan meal. The hotel is located on Mohamed V Avenue. It is open from Thursday to Tuesday, but reservations are recommended.
– Garden of Aromas
Bright colors, intimate spaces and ambient lighting make this one of the best places for a romantic evening in Ouarzazate. On site, the chef prepares dishes typical of Moroccan cuisine to make you feel in the local atmosphere. On the menu: tasty tagines, delicious couscous and countless local dishes. The restaurant is open from 12 noon to 10 pm, Tuesday to Sunday. This hotel in Ouarzazate welcomes you at 69 Avenue Mohamed V, in Taourourirt.
– The Accord Majeur restaurant
Famous for being the favorite restaurant of Hollywood film crews, Accord Majeur is the ideal place if you want to eat in the desert. In fact, you are very likely to run into movie stars while dining here. For a change from the usual dishes at your Ouarzazate hotel, the chef offers you a range of well-prepared international dishes on the menu. These include duck confit, veal fillet and Italian pasta. All served in a relaxed atmosphere and you can even eat on the terrace for a unique experience. It also has a select wine list to accompany your meal. The establishment is located on Al-Mansour Ad-Dahbi Street.
In short, all these places will make you live a real culinary adventure on your trip to Ouarzazate. You just have to choose the one that best suits the nature of your trip and your budget. What we recommend is to choose the Riad Ksar Ighnda. In addition to its charming restaurant, it also offers comfortable suites and rooms for your stay in the “gateway to the desert”.
Geography of Ouarzazate
Located at an altitude of 1,150 meters, at the confluence of the Dades and Imini wadis that form the Draa, it is the main urban center of the Draa Valley.
The city is located in the southern foothills of the central High Atlas, dominated to the west by the Toubkal massif and to the northeast by the M’goun massif, which reach more than 4,000 meters in altitude. It is located at the crossroads of the routes linking it to the northwest with Marrakech through the High Atlas passes, including the Tizi n’Tichka; to the east with the Tafilalet; to the south with the middle valley of the Drâa, and beyond with the Saharan desert; and finally to the west with the Souss valley and the Atlantic coast, bypassing the Jebel Siroua massif.
The agglomeration of Grand-Ouarzazate is extended on the south side of the wadi by the village of Tabount – sometimes called “Ouarzazate-Sud” – which, like the kasbah of Tifoultoute, is part of the rural municipality of Tarmigt.
Climate of Ouarzazate
Ouarzazate has a warm desert climate (Köppen BWh classification) with continental influence. The climate is pre-Saharan, but with mountainous overtones given the altitude. Thus, the climate is not as dry and hot as the typical Saharan climate. Ouarzazate receives about 112 mm of rainfall, most of which falls in autumn and winter. In summer, average maximum temperatures hover around 37°C in midsummer. Winters, on the other hand, are quite cold, especially at night. Temperatures can easily drop below freezing between December and February, due to the proximity of the Atlantic coast and the High Atlas Mountains.
Population in Ouarzazate
The vast majority of the population is of Amazigh (Berber) rural origin from the surrounding area, as evidenced by the vernacular languages used, 70% Berber in 2014. The city of Ouarzazate is located on the linguistic border between Tachelhit and Tamazight speaking areas: 62.1% Tachelhit speaking and 6.8% Tamazight4. Only 10% of the population does not speak Darija Arabic.
The schooling rate for children aged 7 to 12 years is 98.6%, which has not been the case for older generations, with 16.8% of the population not literate, according to the 2014 census.
History of Ouarzazate
The site of the city of Ouarzazate retains traces of human occupation since prehistoric times. In fact, carved stone tools dating from the Paleolithic, of the Moroccan Acheulean type, have been discovered there.
The Berbers were the first inhabitants of this region, as well as the Jews and the Haratins, descendants of very ancient populations who later mixed with sub-Saharan slaves.
The Ouarzazate region was for a long time a place of passage between the sub-Saharan kingdoms and the ancient Moroccan cities of Marrakech and Aghmat, via the cities of the Drâa valley or Sijilmassa6. The first mention of the name “Ouarzazat” is found in Al-Bakri’s “Description of North Africa” in the 11th century, in his description of the route from Sijilmassa to Aghmat.
In the Middle Ages, the region was Islamized by Oqba Ibn Nafia in 681 (year 62 of the Hegira). From the middle of the 7th century, the spread of the Kharijite revolt and the appearance of the Idrissites in Morocco (opponents of the authority of the Khalifates of Damascus) led to the foundation of Sijilmassa in the Tafilelt. This caused the decline of the ancient cities of Todgha and Ziz in favor of the province of Ouarzazate.
From the second half of the 13th century, the Maâquil Arabs infiltrated all the provinces of southern Morocco, except for the mountainous areas7.
During the Saadian period, the region was still alive and experiencing an economic and cultural boom favored by the development of a fruitful trans-Saharan trade, especially after the expedition organized by Sultan El Mansour to Timbuktu. This trade passed through the cities of the Draa valley and the oasis of Ouarzazate was a passageway to the Atlas passes and Marrakech. At that time, Ouarzazate was not yet a city. But after the disappearance of El Mansour, the Atlantic coast became the preferred commercial area to the detriment of the Ouarzazate region, which went into decline.
In the 19th century, after a period of conflict, the region came under the authority of the fallen Telouet, appointed by the Alaouite sultans. In 1884, Charles de Foucauld described the oasis of Ouarzazate, which includes the kasbahs of Tifoultout, Taourirt and Tamasla, as well as a dozen ksour such as Tamassint, Fedragoum, Tagheramt, Tassouma’t, Zaouiat Sidi Othmane, Tabounte and Tazroute. There was only one souk in Zaouia Sidi Othmane, but there was not yet a real city. The Jews were then quite numerous and had eight mellahs spread throughout the ksour of the oasis8. In 1893, Sultan Moulay Hassan undertook an expedition from Fez to Tafilalet, the cradle of his dynasty, and south of the Atlas to assert his authority. On the way back, he crosses the oasis of Ouarzazate and, according to his doctor’s account, the expedition only passes by the ksar of Taourirt and the ruins of a kasbah on a hillock where Ouarzazate would be built thirty years later. He stopped at the kasbah of Tifoultout.
With the arrival of colonial troops in the region, a garrison town was founded in 1928, Ouarzazate became the administrative center of the Drâa region. An aerodrome was built in 1926, the beginning of the Ouarzazate airport10. A road links it to Marrakech in 1928 through the Tizi n’Tichka pass.
The construction of the El Mansour Eddahbi dam, between 1972 and 1979, gave new impetus to the region’s economy, especially in the field of agriculture; the reservoir allows the irrigation of the Drâa valley and part of Ouarzazate’s drinking water supply.
According to the censuses :
From 1994 to 2004, the population of Ouarzazate increased from 39,203 to 56,616 inhabitants, spread between 6,012 and 10,767 households respectively12 ;
In 2014, it had 71,067 inhabitants1.
The population is quite young, with 29.3% of the population under 15 years of age. However, the birth rate has declined significantly, with a fertility rate of 2.5 in 2014 in Ouarzazate, compared to 5.9 in 1975 for Morocco as a whole.
Economy of Ouarzazate
The city of Ouarzazate is booming in terms of tourism and film. Ouarzazate has an international airport and is accessible by road from Marrakech (4 hours by bus, 3.5 hours by cab) via the Tizi n’Tichka.
Tourism plays an important role with over 400,000 hotel nights in 201413.
The Noor solar power plant project has created a new economic dynamic for the city by attracting major investments by 202014.
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