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Draa Valley

A legendary route that fascinates all travelers

The Draa Valley is, as its name suggests, a large space traced by the Draa River. For this reason, there are many villages and places of interest along the route, but they can be conceived as a whole, since the most common way to travel through this area is in an unforgettable roadtrip by road or track. Here is everything you need to know if you also want to discover this pure and genuine region of Morocco, with Chic Morocco.

Table of Contents

Where is the Draa Valley?

The Draa Valley is part of what is often referred to as the ‘pre-Saharan area’, i.e. a vast territory extending south of the Atlas Mountains and anticipating the purer Sahara desert, located even further south. Administratively, it occupies the region of Draa-Tafilalet. It is also part of the so-called ‘Route of the Thousand’ Kasbahs, which includes the Dades Valley and the Valley of the Roses, among others.

The backbone of the Draa Valley is the Draa River, which is seasonal: during most of the year its bed does not carry water, but at least it makes possible the emergence of oases and has favored the existence of some populations. In any case, we are talking about small towns, affected by depopulation in recent decades, although tourism is helping to reverse this trend to some extent.

The source of the Draa river is in the surroundings of Ouarzazate, in the lake where the Dades and Imini rivers meet. Its mouth, in the Atlantic Ocean, is located a few kilometers north of Tan Tan. The Draa Valley has a northwest-southeast configuration at the beginning, to change to northeast-southwest later, serving as a reference to a large extent to trace the border between Morocco and Algeria.

However, when we talk about the Draa Valley, we only refer to the first NW-SE stretch, and more specifically to the first 100 km of the route, where the N9 road runs. The most characteristic stretch is perhaps the one that starts from the town of Agdz, where the Draa River becomes truly visible.

The landscape you will see here is marked by extreme aridity, with mountains and steep hills, without vegetation. In the plains, the terrain is that of the hammada (stony desert). But what is most striking are the important green patches of its oases, mainly palm groves (date palms), which are omnipresent especially from Agdz onwards and provide pleasant shade when it is most needed. There are also sown fields (cereals, legumes, henna), fruit trees and other native plants or plants cultivated by man.

How to get to the Draa Valley?

The populations of the Draa Valley are, for the most part, small villages between which there is a very poor communications network. One exception is Ouarzazate, at the northern end of the valley, which can serve as a gateway for those who want to travel directly here from distant places, as it has an airport that receives some international flights from Europe and some domestic connections (Casablanca).

At the southern end of the valley is Zagora, a city of over 50,000 inhabitants that also has its own airport. In this case, its aircraft and passenger traffic is somewhat more limited and, although it can accommodate scheduled airlines, its most common use is for private and charter flights.

Beyond that, the only travel solution is by road, as there are no other commercial airports in the Draa Valley and the area lacks railway lines. In addition, bus lines are also very limited (practically only one connecting Marrakech and Ouarzazate directly, and others leading from Ouarzazate to other locations such as Mhamid or Zagora), so that the private vehicle is the best solution. But a solution that, in addition to being a means of access to the valley, will be a fundamental element to move around its different points of interest.

This is a list of distances that separate Ouarzazate from other cities in Morocco, including Zagora, which we can consider the other end of the Draa Valley:

  • Zagora: 160 km
  • Tizi n’Tichka port: 90 km
  • Marrakech: 190 km
  • Essaouira: 400 km
  • Merzouga: 370 km
  • Casablanca: 430 km
  • Agadir: 360 km
  • Rabat: 510 km
  • Asilah: 720 km
  • Fez: 720 km
  • Tangier: 760 km
  • Chaouen: 770 km
  • Al Hoceima: 870 km

These are the distances that separate Zagora, in the extreme south, from these same cities:

  • Tizi n’Tichka port: 240 km
  • Marrakech: 350 km
  • Merzouga: 280 km
  • Essaouira: 540 km
  • Casablanca: 590 km
  • Agadir: 450 km
  • Rabat: 670 km
  • Asilah: 880 km
  • Fez: 630 km
  • Tangier: 920 m
  • Chaouen: 820 km
  • Al Hoceima: 870 km

And we also collect the distances from Foum Zguid, a town that is often part of our circuits and from where the road crossing becomes a 4×4 route through the desert:

  • Ouarzazate: 180 km
  • Zagora: 130 km
  • Port of Tizi n’Tichka:210 km
  • Marrakech: 310 km
  • Essaouira: 510 km
  • Merzouga: 400 km
  • Casablanca: 560 km
  • Agadir: 360 km
  • Rabat: 630 km
  • Asilah: 850 km
  • Fez: 840 km
  • Tangier: 890 km
  • Chaouen: 890 km
  • Al Hoceima: 1,000 km

Draa Valley: history and context

The humble life of its people and the slow pace at which their days seem to pass have been a constant throughout the history of the Draa Valley, which is not always easy to trace due to the scarcity of documentary sources. But this region must have already been of some interest to ancient authors, since the Greek historian Polybius traveled to the Draa River, who spoke of the abundant presence of crocodiles, when the sheet of water was permanent here.

But as we said, the Draa Valley is usually framed in the so-called ‘Route of the Thousand Kasbahs’, and that gives us clues to its history: this was one of the most common paths for those who made the caravan route between Marrakech and Timbuktu, one of the most important between the two ‘shores’ of the Sahara, centuries ago.

For this reason, small settlements arose for the stable population, but also to provide shelter and service to the merchants who passed through here. And the fortified character of some of its constructions indicate that it was also an area of local disputes and at different times of Moroccan history: Almoravids, Almohads, Marinids or Saadids also expanded here to control the territory, not without conflicts to achieve it.

Of all of them, perhaps the most important was the Saadian, whose place of origin was precisely the Draa Valley (Tafilalet). This dynasty enjoyed great wealth in the 16th century thanks to the income it obtained from the gold trade, and with this it managed to finance its political project, with which it ended up facing the Portuguese conquerors and dominating a good part of present-day Morocco, with its capital in Marrakech.

In any case, the walls of most of the kasbahs that are still standing today are not so old, although the construction methods are the same: adobe bricks, square crenellated towers, decorative elements also made of adobe in the form of meshes, arches, etc., creating a most interesting play of light and shadow.

Numerous traditions are also kept almost intact, with clear Berber roots, although with Arab influences and, above all, haratin, that is, an ethnic group descended from slaves brought from Sudan, Ethiopia and other sub-Saharan regions and therefore have a darker complexion, as well as a musical folklore with a strong percussion base.

Why travel to the Draa Valley

The Draa Valley is not a well-worn destination for the masses of tourists. To some extent, it remains largely unknown. But you will not lack reasons to visit it, at least if you are seduced by some of the following reasons:

  1. A landscape full of contrasts: the undeniable aridity present in its mountains and bare hills, with stony soils of hammadas and dry riverbeds, are joined by huge oases populated with palm trees, fruit trees, rose bushes, etc.. Undoubtedly, a mixture that is difficult to find in other places and that will not leave anyone indifferent.
  2. It is not only a trip to a beautiful region, but also a trip to deep Morocco, to the people where life remains almost the same as decades or even centuries ago, with ancestral habits of life, typical of the Berber and Haratin culture.
  3. Lovers of architecture and art will also be attracted to the Draa Valley, as it preserves wonderful examples of traditional desert constructions: the kasbahs (castles), made of adobe and with a humble decorative program that is repeated in many of them.
  4. Riads full of charm: many of these buildings, or other traditional dwellings in the area, have recently been converted into riads, that is to say, traditional lodgings with a genuine and relaxing atmosphere, with the refreshing presence of a fountain or swimming pool.

When transportation is an attraction in itself: to cover so many kilometers of distance, it is necessary to move by road by car. And in this case, it is not a problem, but an incentive. Traveling through the Draa Valley is a road trip where the landscapes are crowded on the other side of the window and where we can stop to take pictures of the most beautiful places in the valley. instagramameables

What you can't miss in the Draa Valley

Being so long and extensive, the stops you can make during the trip to the Draa Valley are numerous. These are some of the most important and interesting ones, which will always be very close to the road:

  • Ouarzazate
    • Kasbah of Taourirt
    • Atlas Studios Film Studios
  • Agdz
  • Tinzouline
  • Timiderte
  • Zagora

The Draa Valley for a premium traveler

Although the Draa Valley is a region where humility and simple life prevail, the traveler seeking comfort and high quality services can also choose it as a travel destination. These are some of the favorite ideas for tourists of this profile that are having a lot of success:

Hotels / Lodging in the area:

  • Dar Ahlam: This is perhaps one of the most prestigious accommodations in the region. It is located in a renovated traditional kasbah and offers an exclusive experience with all modern comforts while maintaining an authentic Moroccan feel.

  • Riad Lamane: Located in Zagora, it is an oasis of tranquility with gardens, swimming pools and well-equipped rooms.

  • Le Temps de Pause: This hotel combines traditional charm with modern comforts and is located in a stunning natural setting.

  • Kasbah Azul: A charming hotel that combines tradition and comfort, with a beautiful swimming pool and gardens.

However, the Draa Valley is a place so far away from the big centers and so unique in its day to day life that we recommend you to put yourself in the hands of an expert agency in the area. And Chic Morocco is, so we can organize your trip with tailor-made services and personalized experiences, always of the highest quality.

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