Our first day of driving took us into the Atlas Mountains, the mountain range that crosses through the center of Morocco, separating the Atlantic coast from the desert. The scenery of this area is beautiful and dramatic, with an overall tranquil feel.

Driving in Morocco - Toulet Wanderlusters

 

Tizi n’Tichka Pass

To get up and over the highest part of the mountains required driving over the Tizi n’Tichka pass, a winding switchback into the mountains. This pass is much lower than the highest elevation of the Atlas Mountains, which goes over 4000 m high with snow peaked caps.

Tizintichka Pass in Morocco - Wanderlusters

 

Rockin’ the Kasbah

After coming down from the pass we arrived at our first overnight stop on the drive in the small town of AΓ―t Benhaddou.

Ait Benhaddou Kasbah Morocco - Wanderlsuters

AΓ―t Benhaddou is a UNESCO protected Kasbah (ie. traditional marketplace) and also the site of movies like Gladiator, Cleopatra, and the Game of Thrones television series.

The ancient town is picturesquely placed on the top of a hill. Because we never know where we’re going in the narrow maze of streets that makes up Moroccan towns, we ended up at a river crossing which required hopping from sandbag to sandbag, while we looked longingly at the modern bridge in the distance that we managed to miss. Once at the Kasbah, we wandered the tiny streets until we popped out on at the granary on top.

Ait Benhaddou River Crossing - Morocco - Wanderlusters

We spent the night in a newly built riad on a hill, with a patio overlooking the whole area:

Paradise of Silence - Ait Benhaddou Morocco - WanderlustersAit Benhaddou Town Views - Morocco - Wanderlusters

This riad, like many other homes in this region, are made of bricks composed of mud, sand and straw (the straw you can easily see sticking out of the walls) which are laid out in the sun to dry. Many homes don’t have glass windows, but instead have metal grates which allow airflow. Ceilings are made of bamboo stalks and eucalyptus:

Straw Walls Moroccan Homes - WanderlustersArabian Chairs in Ait Bendahout - Morocco Paradise of Silence Ait Benhaddou Morocco Views

 

Dades Gorge

One of the best parts of the journey was the drive through the high cliffs of limestone in Dades Gorge, which felt like the Grand Canyon of Morocco.

Dades Gorge Grand Canyon - Morocco Road Trip - Wanderlusters

Getting up to Dades Gorge tested our skills driving up these crazy switchbacks and squeezing between narrow cliff walls:

Zig Zag Road - Dades Gorge Morocco - WanderlustersDades Gorge Cliff Walls - Morocco - Wanderlusters

As we wound along the canyon walls, we drove through several small towns camouflaging into the surrounding orange rocks.

Dades Gorge Town - Morocco - WanderlustersAtlas Mountain Towns - Morocco Road Trip - Wanderlusters Atlas Mountain Towns in Morocco (3x4)

I don’t know if we ever drove for longer than 15 minutes at a time without having to stop to take pictures and take in the view.

Which, as per usual, meant we were usually approached to purchase some local goods…

Rose Flowers Atlas Mountains - Morocco - Wanderlusters

 

On the Edge of Glory (Slash Death)

Our initial plan was to drive a distance into Dades Gorge and then turn back to the highway for an easy breezy drive to the next gorge (Todra Gorge).

However, we became so elated with the beauty of the drive that we all agreed to push on to a secondary highway which connects to Todra Gorge. I’m not sure why we assumed these roads would be just as well developed as home since we are, after all, in Africa…

The drive initially was amazing. We drove into a deep and dramatic canyon:

Dades Gorge Canyon - Morocco - Wanderlusters

But coming out of the canyon resulted in a somewhat harrowing experience of hanging onto a cliff edge with our Duster and hoping the road wouldn’t crumble beneath us, as it was already beginning to do.

Deadly Road in Morocco - Dades to Todra Gorge - Wanderlusters

The road then turned into one narrow lane of rock and rubble which we traversed at the lightning speed of 10 kph.

Dades to Todra Gorge Highway Morocco - WanderlustersDriving Dades Gorge Canyon - Morocco - Wanderlusters

The single-lane road was perched on the side of the cliff, where all I could see on my passenger side was a straight drop into the canyon. We couldn’t help but lean left uphill, hoping that would keep us from falling in.

Leaning Left on the Dades Gorge Drive - Morocco - Wanderlusters

There was not another car in sight and the only people we came across were the local Berber people, the people of the Atlas Mountains with their own language and traditions. The only interactions they had with us, as they squeezed by our car with their donkeys carrying goods, was to knock on our window and ask for our clothes and food.

Berber Mountain People - Dades Gorge Morocco - WanderlustersDriving in Morocco - Donkeys on Road - Wanderlusters

After pulling over and having a pow wow to decide whether or not to turn around, we agree to continue on. Eventually we headed down into the valley, where we were happy and relieved to be back on ground level.

The road was suddenly paved once again, roomy enough for two, and beautifully scenic. Though our 1.5h detour turned into 4, there were no regrets!

Todra Gorge Road Trip - Morocco - WanderlustersTodra Gorge Towns - Morocco - Wanderlusters

Plus, when we told our next riad host about our route he looked at us in amazement. “With that little car out there?”…”With all five of you in it?”… And after a long pause of silence, “Wow…”

Worth it.