some go east
some go east mountain some go east mountain

Rif, Atlas and Sahara

Merzouga sunset
posted on 15 Mar 2023 Marrakech — 31 Dec 2022 Merzouga sunset

As always: here’s what happened a few months ago :-)! This update is about the first of our two months in Morocco. In that time, we travelled from Melilla(SP)/Nador(MA) to Marrakech. On the way we crossed two different mountain ranges and had some fun in the desert.

Apart from a figuratively bumpy first week, Morocco has been really incredible. The people are very friendly, the weather was good (especially compared to winter in Belgium), the old medinas and kasbahs are beautiful, but, most of all, the nature side of Morocco impressed both of us immensely. The mountains, as well as the desert.

We first crossed the Rif mountain range, then spent some time on "the other side", i.e. the edge of the Sahara, and after that we crossed the Atlas mountains a couple of times more to get to Marrakech.

Week 1

About that first week I’ll be short because it was really only the first week. A few years ago two Scandinavian girls got killed while hiking near the Toubkal and, as a result the authorities made a big deal out of making extra sure tourists can travel safely in the country. During our first week the local authorities got a bit carried away in doing that which made it somewhat hard for us to travel as we liked. It reminded us a bit about Iran too, which didn’t help. Luckily after that first week, when we arrived in Fès, this stopped.

It did mean, however, that wild camping was not really an option in Morocco. We heard from many other travellers that, if you try, there's a big chance someone wakes you up in the middle of the night in order to move to a more secure place, most likely next to the police station. Instead we opted to stay either in cheap hotels and camp sites, or try to stay with families. Which happened to be not that hard to do, and make for some great evenings. The only requirement was that we sometimes needed to check in with the local village chief (the caïd) so he knew where we were.

The other weeks

So! Now, on to the better experiences we had in Morocco. One thing that distracted us from the annoying situations were the mountains. It started with the Rif mountain range in the north of Morocco. After our time on the coast in Spain it was nice to be climbing again.

Rif Mountains Rif Mountains

The first night we stayed with a family and right away had to figure out some of the customs. We immediately got served some nice mint tea (with loads of sugar), nuts, bread, etc... And of course, they had family in Europe so we called someone living in Antwerp. Very similar situation like in Turkey. When it was getting close to 23h and we were ready for bed, we were unexpectedly served the actual dinner. Lesson learned! First casse-croûte, i.e. tea and snacks when you arrive, then a proper dinner just before going to bed.

We arrived in the first big town Taza just when Morocco had won their football game against Belgium. Everyone was celebrating, it was a crazy time to arrive, but definitely nice to experience and share the joy. We did play it safe though and decided to hide the fact that we were Belgians :-).

Except for the celebrations the town was quiet, luckily, and we spent our time there wandering around in what was our first medina, or old town. It was a labyrinth of old houses, small shops, bakeries and butchers, and hidden mosques. There was no much hassle involved in trying to buy anything. We thought it was mostly because not many tourists visit this area. Later, it turned out that there's actually not so much hassle in Morocco (anymore) anywhere. Even in Marrakech.

Old town, Taza Old town, Taza

Familiar faces

My parents decided to pay us visit in Fès. It was nice seeing them again since we said goodbye in Athens. We had travelled a lot from there, so there were many stories to tell.

It was a curious time to be in Fès, and all of Morocco actually. Fès' Unesco inscribed medina is one of the largest of Morocco and is usually very busy. However, because of the football games and Morocco performing so well, the merchants were often glued to their phone screens at the back of the shops. Resulting in a very quiet medina instead.

The famous leather tanneries in Fès The famous leather tanneries in Fès
Small streets in the Fès medina Small streets in the Fès medina

Somewhere between Fès and Merzouga, we also finally met up with Sixtine and Tom again. Not a big surprise as we had influenced each other in changing our travel plans, but it was definitely nice to see each other again. This time around we cycled together for almost two weeks.

Tom, Six and Tini! Tom, Six and Tini!

First we descended to Merzouga, a small village on the edge of the Sahara , before setting off to incredible gorges of Todgha and Dadès in the Middle Atlas.

Erg Chebbi near Merzouga Erg Chebbi near Merzouga
Camels in the desert Camels in the desert
Todgha Gorge Todgha Gorge
Taking a mountain pass from one gorge to the other Taking a mountain pass from one gorge to the other
Enjoying the winter sun in the mountains with Six and Tom Enjoying the winter sun in the mountains with Six and Tom

We split up again somewhere in the mountains, they went down to Ouarzazate, we went up. After a first mountain pass at 2 500 m, we went climbed to the highest point of our trip: 3 005 m above sea level! A hard and long climb, but it was definitely worth it.

A gorge on the way to the mountains A gorge on the way to the mountains
Our highest point: 3005 m Our highest point: 3005 m

The Atlas was definitely one of our favourite places to ride through on the whole trip. The views, the mountain passes, the colours, the small and old villages and all the friendly people. It was impressive how diverse the mountains could be in such a small area.

Then, after crossing the Atlas once again, we ended up in Marrakech on the last day of the year and spent New Year's Eve with my aunt who happened to be there on holiday. We thought it would be a bit too crazy in the city, but we luckily found a nice, quiet place where we could stay for a couple of days. More on that in the next post!

New Year's Eve with my aunt (and Belgian chocolate!) New Year's Eve with my aunt (and Belgian chocolate!)


These are already too many words, since the pictures of Morocco say almost everything. Enjoy!

10 000 km since Athens! In the Ziz Valley. 10 000 km since Athens! In the Ziz Valley.
Schools are always colourful in Morocco Schools are always colourful in Morocco
Watch out for the camels Watch out for the camels
A view on the empty Lake Izoughar A view on the empty Lake Izoughar
Stony landscape Stony landscape
Taza National Park Taza National Park
A self-made tajine A self-made tajine
There's always a carpet to sleep on There's always a carpet to sleep on
Monkeys! Monkeys!
Driving through an oasis Driving through an oasis
Colourful Atlas Colourful Atlas
Enjoying the view after climbing Enjoying the view after climbing
An old kasbah An old kasbah
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