Morocco is a terribly exotic destination, full of bright colours and vibrant flavours. For a first time in Morocco, you are likely to explore cities such as Marrakech, Chefchaouen or Tangier. However, the countryside is incredibly beautiful and adventurous. If you are keen on a road trip, Morocco is a great destination and driving is not as daunting as it seems. Driving the most dangerous and most beautiful roads in Morocco is a great adventure. I have three itineraries for you to choose from:
- Anti Atlas from Tiznit back to Agadir via Tafraoute
- Tizi n’Tichka from Marrakech to Ouarzazate via Air Benhaddou
- High Atlas: Tizi n’Test
The Anti Atlas is a mountain range in the south of Morocco, extending from the Sahara desert to the edges of the Atlantic Ocean. Interestingly, it is one of the least visited regions of the country but it has some of the most beautiful roads in Morocco. The road going from Tiznit to Tafraoute is beautiful though and the narrow valley has some beautiful “palmeraies”.
We took a long drive from Essaouira to Agadir and Tiznit, and then on to Taroudant, so it was a long day. I would recommend a day round trip out of Agadir, via Tafraoute and Ait-Baha. The road from Agadir is in very good condition, and flat, but not particularly attractive.
In Tiznit, you will suddenly realise that you are in the south of Morocco. The women wear very colourful clothing and the Berber culture is dominant, with signs in the Amazigh language. Tiznit has a colourful market, worth stopping by for some photography.
The R104 road starts in Tiznit and isn’t particularly interesting, running across a dry plain with not a single tree in sight. Then, the Anti Atlas mountain range starts rising. The Col du Kerdous has an impressive hotel overlooking the valley.
Tafraoute itself isn’t particularly attractive but its position in the narrow valley is quite interesting. We stopped at a hotel for an orange juice and wandered around for a while. We found people very friendly. Tafraoute is also known for its unique and colourful babouches, available in the market in the centre of town. I wasn’t too focused on shopping that day, it was more about driving but there is always something to buy in Morocco! And as always, you’ll have to haggle to get a good price!
The road becomes really beautiful and very torturous after Tafraoute. The valley is full of “palmeraies” or palm tree oasis, which make a really nice photography subject. Whilst the road before the valley is quite plain and dry, the scenery comes to life when you enter the valley encased in the mountains.
The highlight of this drive is the Tizourgane Kasbah. Now hosting a guesthouse, the 13th Century fortified village cuts an impressive presence in the valley. The road is quite good and apart from some tight bends, relatively easy to drive. We took a shortcut to make our way to Taroudant just after Ait-Baha.
The valley around Tafraoute is quite prosperous and we saw a number of newly built houses.
The road linking to Marrakech to Ouarzazate goes through the Tizi n’Tichka pass, at 2,600m altitude, and is one of the most beautiful and most dangerous roads in Morocco. From Marrakech, take the Route de Ouarzazate and expect a flat drive up to Ait Ourir. After that, there is a steep climb into the mountains. The road is the only gateway to the South of Morocco and its desert, so it can get quite busy. If you are travelling south, I recommend taking this road in the morning an avoid any crowds. The thoroughfare is not just made of tourists, there are lots of trucks.
On the climb, the road is quite good, and some parts have recently been upgraded. Interestingly, the road is upgraded in chunks, so you may alternate between the old road and newly sealed road. At the time of our visit, we found a lot of road works in progress. We ran into stopped traffic on the way back and had to wait for an hour. This is not uncommon when you drive on the roads in Morocco.
We waited patiently and watched the ballet of trucks carving into the mountainside.
Tizi n’Tichka Pass
The pass stands at 2,600m and has some beautiful views over the valley. There are shops selling minerals and the sellers are quite pushy, so we found no reason to hang around there too long.
We took the road left towards Telouet and Ait Benhaddou. The Telouet Kasbah is the seat of power for the powerful Glaoui dynasty and the village was a point of passage for the caravans coming from the Sahara desert. During the French occupation, the ruler Pasha Glaoui offered his support to the French.
The Glaoui family had considerable wealth and influence, thanks to the exploitation of local salt mines. The Kasbah was built in 1860 at great expense and has some beautiful stucco and zelliges decorations. However, the Glaoui family was removed from their power in 1953 by the independence movement. Today, the kasbah is very run down and we didn’t visit it this time.
Due to the political connotation, there has been no public funding to renovate the place. Local people have been petitioning the King of Morocco and the Glaoui descendants have raised some money for renovation, but there hasn’t been much progress. The road to Telouet and Ait Benhaddou is seriously pot-holed. We managed fine in the dry weather and there was no-one around, but I wonder if it would be possible (and safe) taking a 2WD vehicle in rainy weather. The most difficult part is the 11 km from Telouet to Anmiter.
Ait Benhaddou is a red mudbrick Ksar 32 km from Ouarzazate and is a very good reason to visit Morocco. It is protected by the UNESCO and the 11th Century Almoravid caravanserai has been rebuilt for movie sets. It features quite prominently in Lawrence of Arabia, Jesus of Nazareth, Jewel of the Nile and Gladiator. More recently, Game of Thrones has been filmed here. You have to admit this is a beautiful sight and well worth tackling the roads in Morocco!
Aside from the movie references, Ait Benhaddou is a spectacular fortified village. If you are lucky to get a sunny day, the colours are amazing. Ait Benhaddou is a very popular day trip from Marrakech, or on the way to the Sahara desert, so you’ll come across a lot of tour buses. However, the kasbah is a beautiful example of pre-Saharan habitat. High walls and defensive corner towers protect the houses huddled together.
When the river is too high to cross on foot, there used to be donkeys available for a small fee by the river bank. I crossed on foot and there is a bridge now so I don’t know if this still exists.
With the stop for lunch at Telouet, the drive from Marrakech to Ait Benhaddou took four hours and at least as much for the way back.
Tizi n’Test – High Atlas
The Tizi n’Test is one of the most beautiful and most dangerous roads in Morocco. It used to be the only road between Agadir and Marrakech and is incredibly torturous. The road stretching from Taroudant is flat and boring initially. But then the Atlas Mountains rise quickly and the climb starts. The road was damaged and under repairs at the start, which concerned me for the rest of the journey. However, things improved and the rest of the road was in decent condition.
The climb is very steep and we came across several trucks. There are several cafes along the road, where we had an orange juice and took in the gorgeous views. Nowadays, there is a straight and flat road from Agadir to Marrakech, which everyone takes. This means that the Tizi n’Test road isn’t as well maintained. If I’m being very honest, I found this road quite scary. I couldn’t bear having my father behind the wheel, the edge of the road to the precipice always felt way too close… And even with being in control of the car, I felt slightly terrified…
So I took my time and remembered that my parents had to take that road back to Marrakech in the 1970s, with me as a dehydrated and sick toddler, in a banged up Mercedes with no air-conditioning… Therefore, I put things in perspective and courageously drove on. The road is absolutely spectacular. The climb is very steep and I had to wonder if the car would make it.
The Tizi n’Test pass stands at 2,100 m and makes a gorgeous photo opportunity. Take a moment to look back at the climb and the valley in front of you. The French colonialists built the road between 1926 and 1932.
The descent to the other side is not as steep and the scenery is quite different. Green cypress trees (Cypres de l’Atlas) cover the hills which is a stark contrast from the other side. Interestingly, the valley doesn’t seem to have many inhabitants, yet there are school buses and fruit stalls along the roads in Morocco.
Tinmel is a small village in the High Atlas and is the cradle of the Berber Almohad empire. The Almohads launched their military campaigns against the Almoravids based in Spain, in the 12th Century. The mosque has been renovated and as it’s no longer used for religious purposes, it is open to non-muslims for visits, one of only two in Morocco. The building is absolutely stunning and I highly recommend paying a small fee to discover this gem. The place feels quite remote and you could almost miss the mosque, however it’s a highlight of the road trip.
The Toubkal mountain peak is in the High Atlas and is the highest mountain in Morocco at 4,167 m and the area is covered in snow in winter. There are plenty of hikes to do in the area and one of Morocco’s ski resorts, Oukameiden, is also nearby.
We drove straight to Marrakech from Asni, but there is a narrow road that crosses to the Ourika Valley and I’m sure it is stunning.
Dangerous and Beautiful Roads
These three roads are incredibly beautiful and driving them requires some skill. However, the driving is easier now that roads are getting upgraded. If you are planning a road trip to Morocco, make sure some of the beautiful and dangerous roads are on your itinerary, and you will create lasting memories. Before starting your planning, don’t forget to read my list of 20 things to know before travelling to Morocco.
If you are enjoying dangerous roads in Morocco, seek out the Controversial Spanish Islands, they won’t disappoint. Alongside the Spanish Enclaves, they make for good travel memories. For more inspiration on Morocco, check out my Pinterest board.
Have you driven along Morocco’s beautiful and dangerous roads? Please tell me about your experience in the comments below!