Ouarzazate is a city in southern Morocco that serves as the gateway to the Sahara Desert. With its kasbahs, oases, and breathtaking landscapes, Ouarzazate is one of the best places to visit in Morocco.
In this travel guide, we will share the top 11 things to do in Ouarzazate to help you plan the perfect trip. From admiring the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ait Ben Haddou to exploring the Atlas Film Studios where Game of Thrones was filmed, Ouarzazate offers plenty of unique attractions for every type of traveler.
Read on to discover why Ouarzazate should be on your Morocco itinerary!
Ouarzazate Travel Guide Key Points:
- Stay in a traditional kasbah for a cultural experience
- Visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ait Ben Haddou
- Tour the Atlas Film Studios where movies like Game of Thrones filmed
- Explore Taourirt Kasbah, one of Morocco’s most beautiful kasbahs
- Wander around Ouarzazate’s old town medina & markets
- Take a day trip to the Draa Valley oases and Kasbahs
- Go trekking in the stunning Atlas Mountains
- Experience the Sahara Desert on a camel tour from Ouarzazate
- Visit between October and April for ideal weather
- Need 2-4 days to see the highlights and take day trips
We hope this travel guide helps you plan an amazing trip to Ouarzazate and discover the best things to do in this Southern Morocco gem!
How To Get To Ouarzazate?
Ouarzazate is located about 200 km south of Marrakech. The most convenient way to reach Ouarzazate is to take a grand taxi from Marrakech, which takes about 4 hours.
You can also opt for a private transfer or join a guided tour from Marrakech to Ouarzazate. Those coming from Fez can take a bus or grand taxi, which is about a 6-hour journey. Ouarzazate does have an airport so flying is also an option.
Hiring a car and driver or self-driving is another excellent option for getting to Ouarzazate and exploring the surrounding areas. The roads are well-paved and signed. Just be sure your rental car has insurance for traveling beyond major cities.
1. Stay In A Traditional Kasbah
One of the top things to do in Ouarzazate is to stay in a traditional Moroccan kasbah. Kasbahs are fortified castle-like structures made of mud bricks that once housed entire villages.
Many kasbahs have been converted into charming boutique hotels.
2. Visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ait Ben Haddou
One of the top attractions near Ouarzazate is the famous ksar (fortified village) of Ait Ben Haddou. This stunning example of Moroccan earthen clay architecture sits along an ancient trading route in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains.
Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987, Ait Ben Haddou has also been the filming location for many Hollywood movies like Lawrence of Arabia, The Mummy, Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, and Game of Thrones.
Take a guided tour to walk through the narrow alleys and climb to the top of the ksar for panoramic views of the surrounding area. Go early in the morning before the crowds arrive!
3. Explore Ouarzazate’s Movie Studios
As a filming destination, Ouarzazate is often referred to as “Morocco’s Hollywood”. The Atlas Film Studios are one of North Africa’s largest movie studios and have provided the backdrop for many major motion pictures over the years.
Blockbuster movies like Lawrence of Arabia, The Mummy, Gladiator, and Game of Thrones have been filmed here.
You can take a guided tour of the studios to see the massive sets, and props used, and also get a behind-the-scenes peek at Morocco’s film industry.
Walk through the recreated Egyptian temple from The Mummy or see props from Game of Thrones like the Hall of Faces. You can even dress up in costumes from the productions!
4. Visit the Taourirt Kasbah
Considered one of the most fascinating kasbahs in Morocco, a visit to the Taourirt Kasbah is one of the top things to do in Ouarzazate.
Wander through the maze-like kasbah and explore the lavishly decorated rooms and chambers with intricate woodwork, painted ceilings, and ornate furniture. Don’t miss the spectacular views from the rooftop terrace.
The Kasbah is located in the center of Ouarzazate city.
5. Wander Around Ouarzazate’s Old Town (Medina)
Take some time to wander around Ouarzazate’s old town, also called a medina. Here you can get a taste of local Moroccan life by exploring the labyrinthine alleyways and souqs (markets).
Sit at a cafe and watch some people shopping for Moroccan handicrafts like rugs, pottery, and leather goods.
Make sure to visit the historic 9th-century mosque, Jamaâ El Fna, with its unique minaret. The medina is very close to the Taourirt Kasbah.
6. Visit the Fint Oasis
Just outside Ouarzazate lies the Fint Oasis, a lush palm grove filled with freshwater pools. Walk through the oasis and see local farmers tending to their crops.
Have lunch at the Auberge Restaurant, housed in a restored kasbah on site. The Fint Oasis is perfect for going for a peaceful stroll surrounded by nature.
7. Take a Day Trip to the Draa Valley Oases
Just an hour south of Ouarzazate lies Morocco’s longest river, the Draa River, which has created a stunning palm-filled oasis valley. The Draa Valley has dozens of verdant palm groves, kasbahs, and Berber villages to explore.
Stop for a mint tea break under a palm tree or have lunch at one of the local restaurants. This oasis paradise is one of the top day trips from Ouarzazate.
8. Take a Day Trip to Zagora & Tamegroute
From Ouarzazate, you can take awesome day trips further south into the Draa Valley. Zagora is a laidback desert town with a famous “52 Days to Timbuktu” signpost.
Stop at the Saadian Kasbah and Tamgrout, an ancient village with a renowned Koranic library and Green potteries.
9. Go Trekking & Rock Climbing in the Atlas Mountains
The High Atlas Mountains provide a beautiful backdrop to Ouarzazate. Take the opportunity to arrange a trekking excursion into the mountains while you’re here. The Atlas Mountains offer diverse hiking from easy walks to multi-day treks.
See beautiful mountain scenery, Berber villages, and ruins along the way. Some popular hikes are the Tizi n’Tichka Pass, Mount Toubkal (the highest peak in North Africa), and Dades Gorge. The small village of Imlil is a popular base for these hikes.
You can also go rock climbing amidst the dramatic formations of Legzira Plage, located 40 km from Ouarzazate.
10. Go Sand Dune Bashing in the Sahara Desert
One of the ultimate highlights of a visit to Ouarzazate is to use it as your gateway to the Sahara Desert. Ouarzazate is a popular starting point for Sahara Desert tours.
You can book a private or group excursion to drive into the desert and camp out under the stars. Activities include riding camels, sandboarding down the golden dunes, trying sand dunes bashing in a 4×4, and watching the sunrise over the sand sea.
It is a magical desert experience. Make sure to allow 2-3 days for a memorable Sahara desert tour from Ouarzazate.
11. Shop at the Ouarzazate Souks
No trip to Morocco is complete without browsing the local souks (markets)! Ouarzazate has a small souk near Place Al-Mouahidine where you can pick up pottery, rugs, spices, lanterns, and other Moroccan souvenirs.
Practice your haggling skills for the best deals on quality handicrafts. The souks are busiest in the morning.
When to Visit Ouarzazate?
The best time to visit Ouarzazate is during the fall, winter, and early spring between April and October. Summer can be very hot, especially in the desert.
During the cooler months, daytime temperatures are ideal for sightseeing while nights can be quite chilly. Be sure to pack layers! A visit in autumn can also let you catch Ouarzazate’s cherry festival in October.
Whenever you visit, be sure to wear sunscreen and cover up from the intense desert sun.
Where to Stay in Ouarzazate?
As the major city and transport hub near the Sahara, Ouarzazate has lots of accommodation options from budget to luxury.
In town, the Hotel Oscar By Atlas Studios is conveniently located near the film studios. Luxury desert camp stays can be arranged as part of your Sahara tour.
Frequently Asked Questions About Visiting Ouarzazate
What languages are spoken in Ouarzazate?
The main languages are Moroccan Arabic and the Berber language Tashelhit. French is also widely spoken. In tourist areas, some English is spoken but learning a few Arabic or French phrases will be helpful.
What is there to do in Ouarzazate at night?
While Ouarzazate is not a major nightlife destination, there are a few nice options for evenings. Have dinner at a rooftop restaurant like Dar Kamar with views of the Kasbah.
Relax at your riad’s courtyard cafe with Berber music. Or check out the cafes around Place Al-Mouahidine.
How many days do you need in Ouarzazate?
Ouarzazate can be seen in 2 full days, allowing you time to visit the main attractions like the kasbahs, film studios, and Fint Oasis. For the Sahara desert, Atlas Mountains, or other side trips, add at least 1-2 extra days.
What should I eat in Ouarzazate?
Try traditional Moroccan staples like couscous, tagine stew, and harira soup. Local dates and mint tea are a must. For snacks, sample pastries like sfenj doughnuts or rghaif pancakes.
The nightly Ramadan feast of harira, chicken, and sweets is a unique experience.
Is Ouarzazate safe for tourists?
Yes, Ouarzazate is very safe to visit. As with anywhere, keep your wits about you in crowded tourist spots. Always take officially licensed guides when venturing out into the desert.
Overall, travelers should feel secure visiting Ouarzazate.
What should I wear when visiting Ouarzazate?
Dress is relatively relaxed in Ouarzazate but avoid anything too revealing out of respect for local culture. Light, modest clothing that covers knees and shoulders is appropriate.
Bring a scarf to cover your head when entering mosques. Closed walking shoes are essential.
Ouarzazate truly is the gateway to Morocco’s Sahara region, with no shortage of things to do for culture, thrills, and natural beauty. Visit ancient kasbahs, explore desert and mountains, see where famous movies were made, and more!
With this list of the top attractions, you can make the most of your time in Ouarzazate. Just be sure to allow at least 2-3 days to see the highlights. Pair it with time in Marrakech for an epic Morocco itinerary.
For hassle-free tours and transport, consider booking with a reputable local agency like Great Desert Tours. They can arrange customized Ouarzazate itineraries including transfers, guided tours, accommodations, and Sahara excursions.
Have you traveled in Ouarzazate or anywhere else in Morocco? Share your experiences in the comments!