Marrakech, Morocco is an exotic destination known for its narrow maze of streets running through the Medina (the old fortified city) and busy souks near the crowded square of Jemaa El fna. Getting lost while exploring the area is a right of passage, bartering with vendors in the Souks (a maze of covered markets) is an adventure unto itself and visiting a Hammam (Turkish Bath) is something everyone should try at least once. Dining on Moroccan Cuisine or taking a cooking course is a must too. But there is another adventure to be had just outside Marrakech in the surrounding Desert.
We were picked up near the Saadian Tombs at 9:00 am sharp to be whisked out to the rock desert to begin our Quad Bike Tour. It was exciting to drive through the new city of Marrakech and see a different side of life as we made our way to the outskirts of town. People in suits were rushing to work, men and women were sitting at coffee shops reading books and looking at their smart phones and McDonalds and KFC’s signs stood out among the modern buildings. We had been in Marrakech for 2 days and hadn’t left the Medina; a place where time stands sill and life continues as it has for hundreds of years and this was a stark contrast to the every day life that we had been witnessing.
Our Four-Wheeling Adventure
The owners and guides of Dunes Desert Exploration greeted us with smiles. The company is a joint French, Canadian venture and you can book their Quad Biking Tour with Get Your Guide. They employ local guides who all speak fluent French, English and Arabic (probably more!) We were a small group of 6 and after signing our lives away in our waivers, when asked if we wanted to drive solo or together, Dave and I surprised everyone when we said together. We’re always thinking about the photographs, and it’s difficult to drive a quad bike and take photos. So into a dune buggy we went.
Adventure in Marrakech Morocco
It ended up being an amazing decision as we were placed in a Dune buggy. Dune buggy’s offer more safety and stability than a quad. When on a tour, you can drive faster and play harder than you can on a quad bike, so we ended up being separated from everyone and were taken on our own trip through the desert. When we asked if we messed them up by asking to ride together, they said no problem at all. Quad bikes are a little more dangerous than dune buggy's so they have to take it easier. Since we were in a Dune Buggy that had roll bars and seat belts, we could let loose a little more and have more fun. Therefore, we went in a separate direction than our four other companions. Shh, don't tell them but We were taking a more adventurous route.
After a quick briefing of all the controls, Dave started at the wheel. Driving a dune buggy is easy and within seconds, he felt right at home. We followed our guide through a quick obstacle course to get used to how the buggy handled and then it was time to set out for our desert tour.
The tour was not only a blast, it was a beautiful tour through the landscape. We went through palm groves and rock gardens and visited villages. It was a nice change of pace to the frenzied energy of the Medina. Out here, locals walked casually through the empty paths, waved as we passed and smiled when we approached. People were out tending their sheep and farming and didn’t seem to mind that we were stopping by for a visit.
The tour company, Dunes Desert Exploration helps the community by donating a portion of their profits to help with the schools and community projects. When we arrived at the high lookout, children were waiting for us and remained completely polite. They didn’t run up to ask for money or candy, they simply stopped by to say hello. Our guides know them well.
Tea Time and House Visit
After a couple of hours of driving through the countryside, we stopped at a house for some tea and bread. On our way in, our guide showed us the house Hammam. A hammam is a steam bath where Moroccans go to be bathed and scrubbed and then have a massage after relaxing in a very hot steam room. Traditional houses in the country also have Hammams. They are cone shaped rooms attached outside the house heated with coal. The fire is stoked and it heats the water that is captured in the room creating an amazing steam bath suitable for a good 20-minute shower. It was ingenious. Our hands were cold from riding and I wanted to crawl right on in to warm up for a few minutes.
But instead it was time to eat. We entered the house (known as a riad in Morocco) and greeted our hosts with some figs that we bought at the market. It’s tradition in Morocco to bring a gift to a house when invited for tea, so even though we were on an organized tour, we thought we'd follow the tradition. They women seemed surprised, but grateful. We then washed our hands with the aid of our guide pouring warm water over a basin, took off our shoes, and relaxed on the floor on their inviting carpets. We love the way Moroccans eat. Lounging on the floor by short tables is the most relaxing way to consume a meal.
The visit was too short as we could have stayed there for hours, but it was time to move on and finish up the tour. It was a quick ride back to the office and it was here that we had the chance to put the pedal to the medal on the flat roads. We arrived covered in desert dust, but they were prepared and before they let us go, they hosed us off with an air gun to get all the sand out of our clothes.
We had so much fun and completely enjoyed the hospitality of both the owners and our guides. It’s not often when on a tour that the owners are so hands on with the guests. They were right in there signing people in, hosing them down and handing out helmets right along with the guides and staff. That’s my kind of place and if you go to Marrakech, we highly recommend you get out of the city for a day or so and give the desert a try. There’s so much more to Morocco than carpets and markets. There’s adventure to be had too!
Note: the photo on their website is not the type of terrain you drive through. There are no sweeping dunes. The desert near Morocco is more like Palm Groves and shrub desert. If you are expecting rolling sand dunes, you will be disappointed.