Zagora is a breathtaking oasis town located in southern Morocco’s Draa Valley region. Known as the gateway to the Sahara desert, Zagora boasts palm groves, ancient kasbahs, stunning sand dunes, and camel rides into the desert. This complete Zagora travel guide covers everything you need to know to plan your visit to this magical city.
This article will highlight the top things to do in Zagora, the best time to visit, how to get there, where to stay, and much more. Read on to learn why Zagora should be on your Morocco itinerary.
With its rich history, welcoming culture, and proximity to the Sahara, Zagora is a destination not to be missed.
Why Visit Zagora?
Zagora is located in southern Morocco, about a 5-6 hour drive from Marrakech. It sits on the edge of the Sahara desert, acting as a gateway town to the sand dunes and oases beyond.
The Draa Valley region surrounding Zagora contains Morocco’s longest river, the Draa River, which passes through Zagora on its way to the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a great place to explore desert and oasis landscapes in one trip.
If you’re short on time, consider this quick 2 Days Tour from Marrakech to Zagora Desert.
For a complete Sahara desert experience, check out this 3 Days Desert Tour from Marrakech to Zagora and Erg Chegaga.
You’ll be able to ride camels into the desert, see ancient kasbahs, stay in traditional riads, and experience Berber culture. It’s also a good jumping-off point for multi-day desert excursions to Erg Chigaga and Merzouga.
How to Get To Zagora?
Most travelers visit Zagora as a day trip or overnight from Marrakesh. The best way to get to Zagora is by private transfer or tour. The drive takes around 5-6 hours each way.
You can also fly to Ouarzazate Airport and arrange a private transfer to Zagora, which is about 1.5 hours away. There are no direct flights to Zagora.
If you’re already in Southern Morocco, Zagora can be reached from cities like Ouarzazate, Agdz, and M’Hamid.
Top 11 Things To Do in Zagora, Morocco
Zagora is a magical desert oasis town in southern Morocco. Here are the top attractions and activities to add to your Zagora itinerary:
1. Explore the Draa Valley by Camel
Camel rides through the Draa Valley are one of the quintessential things to do in Zagora. Trek past small villages, sprawling palm groves, and ancient kasbah ruins on a 1-2 hour camel safari.
Most tours start right in Zagora town. You’ll mount your dromedary companion and follow a guide as you set off into the desert valley. The camel’s gentle gait allows you to relax and take in the scenery. Local women often offer henna tattooing at stops along the way.
Camel rides are a memorable way to explore the oases and dunes that characterize the Draa landscape. You’ll get a taste of nomad life as you journey past remote Berber villages and vast date palm groves. It’s a can’t-miss Zagora experience!
2. Visit Ancient Zagora on Foot
The original part of Zagora, called Amezrou, offers a glimpse into the city’s history. Located just a couple of miles from central Zagora, Amezrou’s brown mudbrick buildings, mosques, and crumbling walls harken back to Zagora’s roots as a caravan town.
As you wander past traditional homes, you’ll see remnants of the trans-Saharan trade that once made Zagora prosperous. Historically it was the last major stopping point before Timbuktu, 52 days away. The famous “Timbuktu 52 days by camel” sign pays homage to this legacy.
Walking through Amezrou’s atmospheric laneways provides a sense of Zagora’s life in centuries past. Make sure to also visit the weekly souk held here each Sunday.
3. Marvel at the Tamegroute Pottery
Just outside Zagora lies the fascinating Tamegroute pottery cooperative. For generations, the local Najjar family has produced beautiful green-glazed pottery, crafted by hand using natural pigments and materials.
At this workshop, you can watch artisans as they form intricate bowls, plates, and vases using century-old techniques. The distinctive shiny green finish comes from a mineral-rich pigment found in nearby hills.
Tamegroute’s pottery is famous across Morocco for its quality and artistic merit. Visiting the source lets you gain an appreciation for true handmade craftsmanship that’s been passed down through generations in the Zagora region.
4. Trek to the Timbuktu 52 Sign
One of Zagora’s quirkiest landmarks is a weatherbeaten signpost proclaiming “Timbuktu 52 days by camel.” Located about 7 miles north of town, the sign marks the historic routes that once connected Morocco to the fabled Timbuktu and beyond.
Though no camels make the arduous trek these days, the sign signifies Zagora’s importance as the last major stop on the caravan route south. Tuareg and Berber nomads would load salt, fabrics, spices, and other goods before their months-long journey into the desert.
The iconic sign has become Zagora’s most photographed attraction. Make time during your visit to seek it out and reflect on the “golden age” of the trans-Saharan trade that shaped the region.
5. Shop in Zagora’s Lively Souks
Zagora has some excellent souks (markets) where you can shop for authentic Berber handicrafts, Moroccan goods, and local souvenirs. The souks near the central mosque offer a lively slice of Zagora life.
Seek out camel bone jewelry, brightly colored pottery, woven rugs, ornate daggers, and spices of all kinds. The Zagora region is known for its dates, pick up a few varieties to sample. Bargaining is expected, so brush up on your negotiation skills!
Wandering among the stalls is an adventure in itself. You’ll see desert nomads in traditional dress rubbing shoulders with city dwellers. The energetic atmosphere continues late into the evenings.
6. Savor Traditional Moroccan Cuisine
Be sure to sample Moroccan delicacies during your time in Zagora. Local specialties include slow-cooked tagines, hearty couscous, and harira soup. For a quick bite, grab a falafel or brochette sandwich from one of the many food stalls.
Sit streetside for a mint tea as you watch the world go by or opt for street food. Zagora restaurants offer fresh homemade fare often based on regional ingredients like dates, almonds, saffron, and lamb.
If you get invited to share a home-cooked meal, consider yourself lucky! Moroccan hospitality means you’ll experience an authentic feast complete with sweet mint tea to end your Zagora culinary journey.
7. Sleep Under the Stars in a Desert Camp
No visit to Zagora is complete without spending a night at a luxury desert camp under the Saharan sky. Located a short drive from town, most camps offer comfortable Berber-style tents with real beds, electricity, and private bathrooms.
After sunset, take in astonishing views of the Milky Way galaxy twinkling brightly. Wake before dawn to watch the sun’s rays set the desert sands aglow.
Moroccan hospitality continues round-the-clock with tea, meals, and evening entertainment around a campfire. You’ll create unforgettable memories falling asleep to silence in your fully-equipped tent.
8. Discover Zagora’s Kasbah Museum
For insight into traditional life in the Draa Valley region, visit Zagora’s Kasbah Museum. Housed within one of the town’s oldest kasbahs (fortresses), it showcases Berber antiques, jewelry, rugs, traditional costumes, and other artifacts.
Wander through the crenelated corridors as you browse antique agriculture tools, carved doors, pottery, and basketry. English-speaking guides are available to provide context, point out rare pieces, and explain traditional practices.
The museum beautifully assembles Zagora’s cultural heritage in one place. After your visit, the region’s history as a Berber stronghold on the edge of the desert will come alive.
9. Marvel at Zagora’s Dramatic Mosque
The centerpiece of modern Zagora is its striking mosque, completed in the 1990s. The iconic pyramid-shaped minaret can be seen from all over town. Visitors are welcomed inside to view the intricate tilework, carved plaster, painted wood, and stained glass.
Moroccan and Andalusian influences blend harmoniously in architectural design. The adjacent plaza comes alive at dusk as locals stroll the periphery and children play football.
Make time to see the mosque illumination at night, the minaret glows over Zagora like a beacon over the desert sands. Hearing the call to prayer echo through the streets is an unforgettable part of the town’s ambiance.
10. Wander through Lush Date Palm Groves
Zagora boasts thousands of acres of date palm groves nurtured by the life-giving Draa River. Take time to stroll or bike ride along the palm-lined canals, called khettaras. Each village has its own personality marked by gardens, wells, and cozy cafes.
Through the leafy oases, you’ll spot desert birds, lizards, and the occasional camel or goat herd. The tranquility of the palmeraies (palm groves) showcases a different side of the Zagora region.
Know that the Draa River valley grows over 30 varieties of dates, including prized Medjool, Barhi, and Khadrawy types. Some of the common date varieties you’ll see include:
- Medjool – A sweet, tender variety often called the “king of dates”
- Deglet Noor – A popular semi-dry date known for its elongated shape
- Barhi – A soft, round date with a caramel-like flavor
- Halawi – A small, sweet date also known as the “Golden Princess”
- Khadrawy – A soft, dark red date popular in the Zagora region
The palm groves are still cultivated using traditional techniques. The date harvest takes place in autumn, often bringing seasonal festivals and celebrations.
So, take a stroll through Zagora’s palm groves to observe local agriculture and perhaps try some fresh dates straight from the trees. It’s a quintessential part of the Zagora experience.
11. Visit The Shrine of Sufi Saint Moulay Abdelkader
An important religious site near Zagora is the shrine dedicated to the Sufi saint Moulay Abdelkader Jilali.
Moulay Abdelkader was an 18th-century Moroccan religious and military leader who founded the Qadiriyya Sufi order. He is revered as one of Morocco’s “Seven Saints.”
The shrine complex contains the mausoleum with Moulay Abdelkader’s tomb as well as a mosque, gardens, and accommodations for pilgrims.
Visiting the shrine provides cultural insight into Morocco’s Sufi heritage and the veneration of its patron saints. In late August, thousands come for the annual moussem festival honoring the saint.
More Things To Do in Zagora
There are always more adventures to be had in and around Zagora:
- Take a 4×4 excursion or camel trek to the Erg Chigaga or Tinfou dunes
- Visit the historic kasbahs of Tamnougalt and Ouled Driss
- Check out Zagora’s Thursday souk, the biggest in the region
- Escape to the Foum Zguid oasis village for a peaceful change of scenery
- Hike in the rocky wilderness of the Jebel Zagora mountains
- Sample dates and local honey at Zagora’s specialized food souk
No matter your interests, Zagora offers an array of memorable activities and attractions. Its hospitality, fascinating history, and striking desert landscape will stay with you long after your Moroccan journey ends.
What is the Best time to Visit Zagora?
The best time to visit Zagora is during the cooler months from March to May and September to November. Daytime temperatures hover around 70-80°F (25°C), perfect for exploring the desert and date palm groves.
Summer is very hot, with temps over 100°F (38°C). Winter can be quite cold at night.
Where to Stay in Zagora?
Zagora has a variety of accommodations from budget to luxury:
- Riads – For a traditional experience, stay in a family-run riad (guesthouse) within the old medina. Most serve delicious homecooked meals.
- Kasbahs – There are several Kasbah-style hotels on the outskirts of town with views of the palm groves. Some offer guided camel rides.
- Desert Camps – Luxury desert camps create a romantic atmosphere in the dunes nearby. Amenities include beds, showers, wifi, and excellent food. Check out the 4 Best Sahara Desert Tour Destinations in Morocco to pick your camp.
- Hotels – Zagora has a few mid-range hotels in the new part of town, like Riad Lamane and Hotel la Fibule.
Excursions and Bivouacs from Zagora
Zagora offers easy access to iconic Saharan desert destinations:
- Erg Chigaga – The famous pink/red sand dunes of Erg Chigaga are about 2.5 hours from Zagora. Most visit on overnight camel treks or 4×4 tours.
- M’Hamid – A dusty desert outpost 3 hours from Zagora and the start point for camel treks. It’s also a base for dune buggy rides.
- Foum Zguid – A traditional oasis village surrounded by palm trees. It offers a peaceful contrast from the desert.
- Tinfou Dunes – These small red and black sand dunes are located near Zagora, good for sunset camel rides or hikes.
If you only have a couple of days, this 2 Days Tour from Marrakech and Back hits the highlights.
Zagora Travel Tips
Here are some tips to make the most of your time in Zagora:
- Respect cultural norms by dressing conservatively and asking before photographing people.
- Bargain for souvenirs, carpets, and handicrafts – prices are not fixed.
- Carry small dirham bills for tipping guides, drivers, camels, etc.
- Drink only bottled water. Dehydration comes quickly in the desert climate.
- An experienced guide is recommended for multi-day Sahara treks.
- Consider hiring a car and driver for transfers to Zagora if not coming via tour. Roads are poorly marked.
- Check travel advisories and be sure your travel insurance covers Morocco.
- Learn some basic Arabic phrases to help get around.
FAQs about Visiting Zagora, Morocco
What is the best way to visit the Sahara desert from Zagora?
The prime Saharan dune destinations near Zagora are Erg Chigaga and the Tinfou Dunes. Most tourists visit on overnight tours, either by 4×4 or camel.
Reputable tour operators, like Great Desert Tours, can arrange guided excursions, including meals and desert camp accommodations. It’s highly recommended to visit the dunes with an experienced guide.
What was Zagora’s role in the trans-Saharan trade?
Located at the edge of the Sahara, Zagora was the last major stopping point on the medieval trans-Saharan trade routes. Camel caravans loaded up on goods before embarking on the 52-day journey to Timbuktu in Mali and beyond.
Salt, textiles, spices, ivory, and gold were the main commodities traded along these routes. The famous “Timbuktu 52 days” sign pays homage to this history.
Is Zagora part of the Moroccan Sahara?
Yes, Zagora is considered one of the major gateways to the Moroccan desert region. It sits south of the High Atlas Mountains on the edge of the Hamada du Draa desert landscape.
What languages are spoken in Zagora?
The main languages are Moroccan Arabic and the Berber dialect of Tashelhit. Many locals also speak French, as Morocco was formerly a French protectorate. English is less common but improving in the tourist centers.
Learning some key Arabic greetings and phrases can help get around Zagora in your Morocco travel journey more easily. Also, don’t worry, the tour guides and hoteliers are well-educated and speak English and/or French.
How do people survive in the desert climate?
The Draa River is the lifeline that allows agriculture and settlement in the Zagora desert region. For centuries, an ingenious irrigation system of water channels called khettara has brought water from the river into the area’s vast palm groves.
The shaded oases help keep temperatures down and provide a microclimate for villages to develop despite the harsh desert conditions.
What is the Musée des Arts and Traditions de la Valleé de Draa?
This small folk museum provides insight into the arts, culture, and traditions of the Draa Valley region surrounding Zagora. It is located just outside the heart of the Draa Valley, the center of Zagora.
The museum contains exhibits on traditional Berber dress, jewelry, tools, basketry, ethnography, and other aspects of life in the valley over the centuries. There are informational displays in English and French.
Notable exhibits include jewelry made from the black agate stones found locally, costumes illustrating the different types of traditional draperies worn by Berber tribes in the region, and artifacts from the trans-Saharan desert caravan trade.
Run by the local organization Traditions de la Vallee de Draa, the museum beautifully assembles Zagora’s cultural heritage in one place. Visiting provides context into the history and diversity of the Draa Valley’s indigenous inhabitants.
Experience the Magic of Zagora
With its impressive sand dunes, tranquil oases, imposing kasbahs, and legendary history, Zagora is the perfect place to experience Morocco’s desert culture. Use this travel guide to plan your upcoming trip!
Let us know in the comments if you have any other questions about visiting Zagora, Morocco. And don’t forget to share this guide with fellow travelers heading to Morocco.
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