Vacation in Morocco: After two years of Corona, we are looking forward to guests

Whe sea waves pile up on the hills of the Atlas Mountains. The rising sun bathes them in a pink light. Villages made of clay cling to the mountains. Palm gardens stretch across the wide plain. In the twilight of the dawning day, thoughts travel back in time. Is a caravan approaching out of the shimmering haze? Hundreds of camels and their leaders bringing gold, salt and slaves from unknown sub-Saharan worlds? Hardly likely.

The time of the caravans that traveled from Mauritania, Mali and Niger through the desert and over the High Atlas north to the Moroccan royal cities is over. The fascination for these large trade trains through the endless sand has remained.

Seeing the desert for once and feeling that caravan feeling: That is the dream of many tourists who decide to travel to Morocco south of the High Atlas. And it can be fulfilled after Morocco reopened its borders to foreign guests on February 7th.

In the pool before driving through the desert

With a rental car or minibus you drive through the provincial capital of Zagora in the picturesque Drâa Valley to the oasis town of Tamegroute. Here in the middle of nowhere there is a valuable library containing a good 4,000 old manuscripts and books on the subjects of medicine, astrology, mathematics, Koranic teaching and poetry from the 11th to 17th centuries. The oldest work is an Arabic copy of the Koran on gazelle parchment from 1036.

Source: Infographic WORLD

From Tamegroute we continue to the village of M’hamid El Ghizlane – Plains of the Gazelle. This is the end. If you want to cross the desert, you have to go on unpaved slopes that constantly change their course. In M’hamid you can enjoy a last cold cola or jump into the small pool of the desert hotel “Kasbah Sahara”.

Then you’re ready for crippling heat, endless horizons, swirling dust and lurching rides through spongy sand. A four-wheel drive vehicle is needed. Youssef Akhatar owns two of these desert-ready 4x4s. This makes him a rich man.

Morocco: The library in the oasis town of Tamegroute houses a good 4,000 old manuscripts and books

The library in the oasis town of Tamegroute houses over 4,000 old manuscripts and books

Credit: pa/imageBROKER/Fabian from Poser

Corona, however, brought the small company to its economic limits. No tourists have come since March 2020. “Sometimes I just drove my car into the desert and stayed there overnight. I couldn’t look my family in the eye anymore,” says Youssef Akhatar. Eventually he became a dealer.

“I went on a caravan tour – almost like before. I loaded henna and dates into the car, drove 14 hours through the desert to Western Sahara and sold everything there. Then it went back with perfume and clothes. I made my own tea and tajine in the desert, and slept in the car.” These actions helped the 35-year-old earn a small income, which he could use to buy the essentials for his family and keep his two cars.

The tourism crisis was followed by two years of drought

Instead of henna and dates, Youssef can finally load tourists into the car again after a long Corona break and take them to the desert. The goal is a tent camp in the Erg Chegaga, the largest dune landscape in Morocco. After a good two hours’ drive, Youssef’s all-wheel drive lurches to a halt between two mighty, ocher-colored sand hills.

The sun moves towards the horizon and hangs like a glowing ball in the hazy sky. Approaching in the distance two men on the crest of the dunes, followed by a dozen camels, rocking on their broad feet through the slipping sand. The whole world is bathed in orange. Only the indigo blue turbans of the camel drivers set a splash of color.

Erg Chegaga is the largest dune landscape in Morocco

Erg Chegaga is the largest dune landscape in Morocco

Credit: pa/imageBROKER/Stefan Kiefer

For the men in the desert camp, every guest since the outbreak of the corona pandemic has been a sign of hope. “We are so happy to see you,” says Mahamid Lahgzin, who works in service. “We didn’t have a job and tried to make ends meet by selling dates,” he says. But the tourism crisis was followed by two years of drought and so the dates remained tiny. “C’est l’Afrique – that’s Africa,” says Mahamid, laughing and shrugging his shoulders.

Corona has brought an advantage, he reports: the animal world in the desert has recovered. When the tourists stayed away and calm returned, the gazelles returned and had a good time in the shade of the tents. Wolves roamed the camp and even the rare sable antelope were sighted again.

Picturesque places in the Anti-Atlas

Then it’s time to say goodbye to the desert camp. Head west in Youssef’s 4×4 across the dusty clay plains of dry Lac Iriki. “In the 1980s, this was an oasis. The water was two meters high and the tourists went fishing,” says Youssef.

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Distributed in the expanse, clay castles protrude between sand hills. They were erected along the Paris-Dakar Rally, which was held until 2007, and served as a supply stop for travelers. “First came the drought. Now Corona has given them the rest,” reports Youssef. Only one station is open.

If you want to get from the sandy deserts of Morocco to the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean, you have to cross the Anti-Atlas. It’s a winding endeavor, but one that offers spectacular views. Sometimes the mountains appear bizarre, as if covered with crumpled tablecloths, sometimes they resemble giant stony waves.

Morocco: In the Anti-Atlas are picturesque villages where Berbers live

In the Anti-Atlas are pretty villages where Berbers live

Quelle: Getty Images/Franz Aberham

The small towns with their adobe houses, which are furnished like miniature castles with narrow windows and small battlements, blur in a color potpourri of orange, yellow and muddy gray. Further along the trail, giant spheres of rock artfully pile up, as if a giant had hurled marbles into the landscape.

Numerous wealthy Berber families have their homes in this wondrous environment. Many have made their fortunes in the wealthy cities of the north and are now enjoying a sabbatical or retirement here. So did 50-year-old Hamid Houssain.

He had a thriving restaurant in Casablanca. When the guests stayed away as a result of Corona, he had to close. “I don’t even open anymore,” he says in a good mood. “I renovated my parents’ house in Aguard Ouadad near Tafraoute, raise chickens on the roof terrace and enjoy the stress-free life. My costs are minimal today, especially since I now save the high taxes for my restaurant.”

Traveling through Morocco individually is no problem

Corona brought many upheavals in tourism, says Mostafa Benzouaa. He owns a guest house in Tamarout near Tiznit and runs the travel agency Tafoukt Travel. “Transport companies are particularly affected in Morocco,” he says. “Many bought the vehicles on credit and can no longer pay the installments. The banks are now putting pressure on them. The big transport companies are already in the starting blocks to take over the small ones.”

Morocco: The children in M'hamid El Ghizlane haven't seen any tourists for a long time

The children in M’hamid El Ghizlane haven’t seen any tourists for a long time

Which: pa/Jenny Pate/robertharding

The government paid tourism workers a small sum of corona aid for three months, but that was far from enough. The many people who work informally in tourism got nothing. Since they are not registered, they received no help. Many were the breadwinners of entire families.

Nevertheless, Mostafa is optimistic about the future. “Morocco has great riches in terms of culture and landscape. The security situation and the infrastructure are very good, so that the country is also easy to travel individually. In addition, we hardly have any mass tourism. A lot is in local hands, which is what the state wants and also supports with project funds.”

Tips and information:

Corona: Morocco has been allowing international flights again since February 7 and allowing tourists to enter the country. This provides up-to-date information on entry requirements Foreign Office on its website.

tour operator: Akwaba Africa, for example, offers round trips through Morocco ( An eleven-day self-drive trip to the highlights of Morocco costs excluding flights from 1150 euros per person. FTI Touristik has a seven-day small group tour through the desert including flight with half board and German tour guide per person on offer from 3895 euros ( Intrepid Travel offers a ten-day tour of southern Morocco from 547 euros per person excluding flight in a small group with transport and overnight stay with breakfast (

Literature: Detailed information is provided by the travel guides “Morocco”, 936 pages, 24.90 euros, and “South Morocco”, 684 pages, 22.90 euros, by Astrid and Erika Därr from Reise Know-How Verlag.

Participation in the trip was supported by Akwaba Africa. Our standards of transparency and journalistic independence can be found at

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