Morocco 2008 Atlas Crossing

LengthStarts inEnds in
551 Km (342 miles)Marrakech, MoroccoErrachidia, Morocco

This is a trip I did with my girlfriend in December 2008. The initial plan was to go from Marrakech to Fez in about 8 days, crossing the Atlas mountains. However it soon became clear that this would not be feasible because of the little amount of daylight at that time of the year (cycling at night in Morocco is NOT an option). So we decided to shorten the route and do Marrakech to Errachidia, taking there a bus to Fez (an experience on its own) and spending a day as regular tourists in Fez. In retrospective this was a very good idea as the most interesting sights are in the Marrakech - Errachidia part. We crossed the Atlas mountains through the highest mountain pass in Morocco, Tiz n Tichka and we then proceeded to the Kashbah route from Ouarzazarte to Errachidia. While on this route we also took some time to cycle through the famous Dades and Todra gorges.

This was also the first self-supported trip. We carried a 3-people tent we used to camp in several places, although we also rented a room in a couple of occassions. Other camping equipment we carried was two sleeping mats and bags, several kitchen utensils and a multi-fuel stove for cooking. All these added considerable weight to our bikes, something we probably underestimated a little bit!

Some notes about cycling in Morocco

The traffic

Morocco is known for having a significant rate of traffic accidents. In general Moroccan drivers do not completely adhere to the road rules (to put it succinctly). Also, less travelled roads outside main cities are usually poorly maintained, sometimes unmarked and full of potholes.

That being said, we didn't find any major problems in our trip. Most of the time drivers were sympathetic with us, leaving a reasonable distance between the car and us when overtaking. From our experience we can say that as long as there is enough space on the road (be it either a wide road or a free lane in the opposite direction) there shouldn't be any problems. The problems come when the road is narrow or the opposite lane is full of cars: drivers will not stop and expect you to get out of the way so they can pass. Bear this in mind as it will save you a couple of heart attacks while on the road. Also, trucks can be a problem as they usually make less effort to safely overtake you, and some of them are so huge and go so fast that even the air turbulence they leave behind can de-stabilize you.

In general most of the drivers were very supportive, cheering us and beeping (in a nice way) as they pass. This was particularly encouraging while climbing the Atlas, where a lot of people (including a couple of police cars) rolled down the window and yelled to us Bon courage! as they passed by.

Do NOT cycle during night time. It doesn't matter how many lights or reflective material you wear, it is simply not safe!


Violent crime is rare in Morocco, and even more so against foreigners. The main problem for a foreigner travelling to Morocco is going to be petty crimes such as opportunity thefts and so. Being relatively vigilant will make your trip much more enjoyable.

During our trip we camped on three ocasions. In this trip we decided to play it safe and not camp completely in the wild, as we didn't know how safe this might be or if it would create problems with the authorities. However only once we stayed in a proper camping site, the other two times we paid a small "fee" to camp in private property. This is common practice in Morocco and arrangements to camp in private backyards or similar can always be made. On the other hand, from what be have seen in our trip, free camping in the wild is definitely doable as long as you get away from the main roads and the villages.

The people

Although increasingly more common, most moroccans are not used to touring cylists (at least in the area we cycled). This is not to say that they are not used to tourists, but most of them travel by bus or in big 4WD convoys. Thus you should expect a lot of curiosity and weird looks from the locals. We also had children cycle with us for some time, and the ones that don't cycle will wave at you restlessly until you wave back!

In general, you can expect two types of people. There are some that will approach you with genuine curiosity and ask you about your trip, your bikes and where are you from. Others will either nag you from the start to sell you something or appear friendly at first to inmediatly afterwards try to pitch their sale. We tried to be polite with everybody, but the moment someone started nagging us we went our way! We felt that the more off the tourist route the village was, the better the people.

The weather

We had good luck with the weather, mostly sunny days with the odd overcast sky. Temperatures during daytime were in the 15-20 degree celsius range (remember this was in December). Nights were really cold, not only high up in the Atlas but also during the rest of the trip. Pack appropriately!

We didn't have much wind, but with our bulky luggage event the smallest breeze can be a pain as a headwind. In one ocasion we had a wonderful strong tailwind that allowed us to clock 30+ Km/h speeds without much effort!

Trip details