ACTIVE 4X4 ADVENTURES
Exploring the Best of Morocco by 4X4!
Leaving the early morning ferry and clearing customs at the modern new port of Tangier Med, we head due south through the interior of the country, which provides an excellent introduction to this diverse country, allowing us to witness the daily existences of ordinary Moroccans, carrying on about their businesses, unaffected by mass tourism in these regions.
Meandering through the beautiful Rif Mountains, blanketed by vast expanses of fragrant Pine trees, we make our way to Azrou, located on the northern edge of the enchanting Cedar Forests – home to raucous troops of North Africa’s primate, the Barbary Ape. It’s a fascinating drive south, through vibrant and bustling towns whose sights, sounds and smells are a delight to behold. We make our lunch stop on the beach-like bank of the Oued Ouerrha, where we enjoy the delicious local bread, generously slathered with houmous and tomatoes, and accompanied by refreshing oranges. Later, we skirt by the old Roman ruins of Volubilis near Moulay Idriss, surrounded by sprawling Olive plantations, before passing through the imperial city of Meknes. We continue through El Hajeb, characterised by its profusion of street BBQ’s, billowing out their enticing, appetizing plumes of fragrant smoke. Our campsite near Azrou is a charming rustic place, little more than a clearing amongst an ancient cherry orchard, though offering excellent showers, heated by an old donkey-boiler, itself fuelled by shards of dry cedar wood from the local mill, which incense the air with an exotic, heady perfume. It’s an exciting first day, which concludes with a tasty chicken curry.
10 minutes after leaving camp the following day, we are off-road, and so it will stay for the lion’s share of the next fortnight. We pull over to air down for the tracks, beginning an exhilarating day of exploring the mystical area of the Cedar Forests, usually featuring some moderately challenging sections caused by the destructive winter storms just passed. The scenery is magnificent throughout, encompassing picture-perfect vistas across rugged valleys, overlooked by the majestic mountains of the Moyen (Middle) Atlas, a smaller cousin of the High Atlas just to their south, where we are going. That night we camp out in the hills, and feast on charcoal-grilled burgers, served on brioche buns with fresh salad, followed by dessert and coffee. We eat like kings on these trips, it's what sets us apart from the masses.
The following exhilarating days are spent traversing the awesome High Atlas mountains, which are world famous for their imposing scale and grandeur. We are en route to the Sahara Desert in the south, but not before enjoying the splendours of high altitude driving. Depending on the degree of destruction inflicted by the preceding winter, there is occasionally some rock shifting and road building involved to facilitate our progress, and the river crossings sometimes require our careful scrutiny to navigate. For most people, these activities enhance our non-touristy, non-canned-tour approach to exploring off-the-beaten-track Morocco, contributing to their numerous memorable highlights of a genuinely authentic 4X4 overland expedition experience. It’s not all about hard work though, we’re here to have fun and enjoy the wilderness, and that is exactly what we do. There is ample to be impressed by, not least the seemingly biblical-age way of life led by the more isolated Berber tribes, eking out a difficult existence, husbanding the harsh terrain to cultivate barley and shepherd livestock, continuously subject to the whims of tempestuous weather. Meals during this stage of the tour include rib-eye steaks, chicken breasts and spare ribs, all BBQ’d to juicy, succulent perfection on our specially customised charcoal braai. Meals from the pot feature chicken tagine, beef Bolognese, Thai green curry, plus plenty more culinary delights.
Descending the High Atlas, we enter a transitional region of semi-desert, approaching the Sahara proper. The ambient temperatures get higher, vegetation becomes sparser and the rocky terrain gradually gives way to tracts of sand and intermittent arrangements of mini-dunes. For many people, the desert is the main attraction, though personally I feel it’s the combination of both mountain and desert which makes Morocco such an exceptional experience. Having completed our navigation of the High Atlas, we fill our fuel tanks and reserves, stock up on fresh bread and water, and make for a campsite at the foot of the dunes of Erg Chebbi. From here we will be embarking on a remote desert crossing for the following few days, negotiating ever changing areas of deep sand and stony hamada and salt pans in between. First though, we motor to the top of the golden sands of the Erg Chebbi dunes. Not in our cars this time, but on 500cc quad bikes, the ideal makings of the first adventure activity of this tour. It’s a truly wonderful experience, the automatic transmission quads making it fully inclusive for the whole group, from the die-hard petrol heads to the most novice beginners, including confident children. And later, for those who enjoy a more peaceful ascent of the dunes, in the evening the group gets to enjoy a camel trek to the top, and watch the sun set over the horizon, before returning to camp for another legendary BBQ feast. No camel meat on this BBQ, it’s all top quality produce from the UK, which I season, vacuum pack and transport at 1 degree C, in my 3 on-board Engel fridges.
Crossing the desert south westerly from Merzouga to Foum Zguid is an other-worldly experience, and camping out under the Milky Way is as wondrous and fascinating as the diverse landscapes and terrain which we encounter en route. Travelling parallel to and just north of the Algerian border, the intrepid voyage passes as many old military forts as it does desert kasbahs. Many of the forts are still manned, by friendly soldiers grateful for a little company and temporary respite from the boredom of their remote isolated postings, as they check our passports and record details of our movements. Eventually we reach the pink-hued dunes of Erg Chegaga, at the foot of which we camp and enjoy another mouth-watering BBQ meal. The more energetic amongst us take the opportunity before dinner to hike to the apex of the highest adjacent dune, to see the dazzlingly beautiful evening sunset.
After skimming across the seemingly endless Bonneville-like salt pan of Lac Iriki, we ultimately exit the desert at the garrison town of Foum Zguid, from where we make our way to Morocco’s hidden gem, the Anti Atlas. Lesser known than the popular High Atlas, the mountains of the Anti Atlas boast all of the positives and none of the negatives of its better known counterpart. Blessed by nature with incredibly impressive gorges, canyons and mesmerising rock formations, travelling through this area offers one spectacle after another. Having explored the region since 1995, I am fortunate to be able to take my clients where others don’t go, providing them with a uniquely special insight into the real unspoiled Morocco. We make a point of exploring new tracks on every trip, thereby enabling the group to experience first-hand the concept of a surprise around every corner. And there always is.
Descending the northern aspect of the Anti Atlas, via the fabulous Tizi-n-Test mountain pass, we reach our luxurious campsite on the outskirts of Marrakech, for hot showers and a good scrub, before spending the next day exploring the ancient medina and haggling for bargains in the souks. Marrakech is a continuously buzzing, good natured, hive of activity, the main square or Jmaa-el-Fna being an amalgamated melting pot of North African and Sub Saharan cultures, all vying for business. The excitement of the experience makes a fitting conclusion to this outstandingly exotic adventure, exploring wild Morocco from the Atlas to the Sahara.
This highly acclaimed 4X4 tour of Morocco is the culmination of over 25 years exploring the most remote and unspoiled parts of the Maghreb - the real Morocco, areas well off the beaten track, unknown to tourists. Our route takes in all the very best for the intrepid traveller; from the Rif Mountains in the north, southward through the Cedar Forests, before traversing the majestic High Atlas Mountains, followed by a lengthy crossing of the Sahara Desert, and concluding with an exhilarating ascent of the beautiful and isolated Anti Atlas Mountains. Fascination lurks around every corner, afforded as much by the local inhabitants as by the impressive geology, fauna and flora. This really is an outstanding itinerary, there is none better, leaving no stone unturned in the quest to experience genuinely exotic Morocco, and providing perhaps the most off-road driving of any tour operator. Perfectly scheduled in the springtime, when the temperatures are warm but not too hot, it's the perfect ti