The journey from Marrakech to the Sahara Desert is arguably one of the most beautiful in all of Morocco. You'll pass through the Atlas Mountains across the country's highest mountain pass, the Tizi n’Tichka, and past kasbahs and gorges of legend, like Ait Benhaddou, the Todra Gorge, and the Dades Valley. Learn more about Morocco's four desert regions you'll pass along the way.
There are two gateway towns to the Moroccan Sahara: Zagora and Merzouga. Zagora, in the pre-Saharan Steppes, is about a seven-hour drive from Marrakech (223 miles/360 km). The desert here is quite rocky and has much smaller dunes, but is probably the better option if you are short on time.
Merzouga, on the other hand, has the shifting orange sands and rolling dunes that you’d expect from the Sahara but is 350 miles (560 km) from Marrakech. It takes around 10-13 hours to get from Marrakech to Merzouga, but some people choose to break up the journey with overnight stops in Ouarzazate and/or Dades/Tinghir along the way.
The easiest way to get from Marrakech to the Sahara is to join a private or a group tour, but if you would prefer to make your own way there then there are several options including private transfer, rental car, tourist bus, and even via helicopter/chartered flight in a single-engine propeller aircraft like a Cirrus 22 SR.
By Private or Group Tour
Duration: 2 days or more
The majority of people visiting the Sahara from Marrakech choose to join a tour, which includes your transport, stops to see interesting places along the way, your accommodation, a camel trip through the desert, and a night under the stars.
By Private Car
Duration: 6+ hours to Zagora, 10+ hours to Merzouga (excluding stops)
Although we recommend visiting the breathtaking Erg Chebbi dunes in Merzouga, if you are short on time then Zagora can be the better option for spending a night in the Sahara.
You can organize a private car with a driver to take you from your accommodation in Marrakech to both Zagora and Merzouga. The drive out through the Atlas Mountains is gorgeous and the road is in good condition, but, it’s quite winding, with plenty of switchbacks and steep drops on either side. If you are prone to motion sickness then it’s worth taking the usual precautions.
If time allows, ask your driver if you can make a stop at Ait Benhaddou on the way.
Duration: 1 hour flying time
If time is of the essence, or if you want to splurge and enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime aerial view of the Atlas Mountains, the oases and valleys, and the Sahara, then you can take a private plane or a helicopter from Marrakech out to either Zagora or Errachidia.
Flying time is usually around an hour, and your English-speaking pilot can point out points of interest along the route.
From Zagora airport, you can take a 4x4 straight into the dunes, or from Errachidia airport you can take a 4x4 to Merzouga before heading out to the dunes of Erg Chebbi by camel or 4x4. It is possible to go for a day trip, but we’d definitely recommend staying at least one night in the desert.
By Rental Car
Duration: 6+ hrs to Zagora, 10+ hrs to Merzouga (excluding stops)
Recommended travel time: min. 2 days with an overnight in Ouarzazate, Dades Valley or Tinghir
One of the best ways to explore Morocco is by renting a car and driving yourself. Although the traffic in Marrakech can be a little crazy and the road through the Atlas Mountains out to the Sahara can be a little scary, it’s a beautiful way to see the country, and you can stop for photo opportunities as often as you like!
You will first drive from Marrakech out to Ouarzazate—Morrocco’s ‘Hollywood’ and the home of Ait Benhaddou. From here, you will then go one way to Zagora and another to Merzouga.
If you are heading to Merzouga then you will take the Road of 1000 Kasbahs via Draa Valley and Todra Gorge. We recommend breaking up the journey with a night in Ouarzazate, Dades Gorge, and/or Tinghir if time allows.
By Public Bus
Duration: 7+ hrs to Zagora, 12.5+ hours to Merzouga (direct)
The other way to get from Marrakech to the Sahara is via bus. There are several daily departures out to Zagora, but just one straight-shot bus from Marrakech all the way to Merzouga, which takes 12.5 hours and arrives in the evening.
Although it gets you to Merzouga as fast as possible (by bus, at least!), the tourist bus only stops for a lunch break and to stretch your legs en-route, so you won’t get to see any of the interesting spots along the route.
If you have time, you can stop for a night or two along the way and pick up the next bus the following day. We recommend stopping in Ouarzazate to see Ait Benhaddou and tour the movie studios, and maybe stopping at Dades Gorge or Tinghir (Todra Gorge) for a night to see the gorges, lush green oases, and abandoned Berber villages.
The bus to Merzouga arrives late, so most people stay a night there before heading out to the Sahara the following afternoon. Some hotels and auberges offer complimentary pickup from the bus station if you have booked your accommodation in advance.