Ouarzazate, Morocco – is it really worth visiting?

Ouarzazate, Morocco. One of the many gateway towns to the Merzouga desert. However, I want to answer the question of is Ouarzazate worth visiting?

Let me start by clarifying something. I recently spent 1 night in Ouarzazate during my trip to Morocco. If I hadn’t then this blog post wouldn’t have any legs to stand on. 

I visited Ouarzazate for two main reasons. 

Firstly, to check out one of the many ‘famous’ film studios in the desert town.

Secondly, as mentioned, it’s a gateway or stop-off on the way to other desert towns like Tinghir and Merzouga. 

However, most travellers visiting Morocco will wonder is Ouarzazate worth visiting?

This blog post will explore the answer to that question.

is Ouarzazate worth visiting?

is Ourazazate worth visiting
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My experience

Getting to Ouarzazate

Having just spent 4 days (probably 1 too many) in Marrakech, it was time to head east towards the desert. Still undecided if I wanted to reach Merzouga. I decided to make two stops along the way giving me plenty of time to think about the rest of my route. 

First stop – Ouarzazate.

We jumped on an early bus from Marrakech, leaving at 8 am, to Ouarzazate, with Supratours bus company. 

The journey itself was 4 hours 30 minutes. Literally along one desert road the entire way. It was quite the ride. Mountains, desert sand, bumpy roads, goats climbing trees… all kinds. If you get travel sickness and you’re visiting Morocco, then all I will say is good luck. 

The long journey worked out nicely though as we had already discovered a couple of problems. 

Firstly, the film studio we wanted to see was 6.5km outside the centre of Ouarzazate. 

Secondly, any decent accommodation options were 5km outside the centre of Ouarzazate… In the opposite direction. 

That’s a lot of taxis. A lot of Moroccan Dirham too.

Thankfully we figured out a solution. More on that later.

Arriving in Ouarzazate

If you want one piece of advice for travelling Morocco. Don’t get off the bus first. We made the mistake of getting off the bus first. 

“Taxi”, “where you go”, “Atlas”, “Riad”, “Taxi to hotel”, “Ait Benhaddou”, “good price”. All of them and more.

We did need a taxi but didn’t want to make it obvious. 

I didn’t particularly fancy a 5km walk in 28-degree desert heat.

We eventually got a taxi to our hotel.

As we got out of the taxi we noticed a local green bus going past. Heading in the direction of the town centre. 

Usually, I’d say that’s poor researching. However, there is little to no information on a lot of Morocco tourists destinations that aren’t Marrakech, Fez, Essaouira or Chefchaouen. 

Anyway, we dumped our bags and went for some food. 

We noticed yet another green bus going in the same direction as before however it was a different number bus, number 4. The last one was number 2. There were about 30 minutes between that bus and the last one. So we put two and two together and figured they alternate every half an hour. 

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Getting to the Atlas Film Studios

So after the long wait for food, if you have watched any of my videos or read any of my other Morocco blog posts you will know that this is normal. Don’t expect fast service anywhere in Morocco. They are very laid back.

We crossed the road and waited at what could only be described as a bus stop that had seen better days.

A bus came, we got on, paid 3dh each. Yeah, 3dh. Roughly £0.25. Amazing, I know. 

Now came the fun part. Where the f*** does this bus take us? – we were about to find out.

We opened maps on our phone and hoped that once it reached the town centre the bus headed west (towards the Atlas Film Studios). It did. Whilst taking not so much a scenic route, more a boring long route. The bus broke down. Someone got on to sell food. We carried on. 

In the distance, we spotted the Atlas Film Studios. How did we know what it looked like? Our Supratours bus drove right past it on the way in from Marrakech. Also, it has a huge clapperboard outside. That was the giveaway.

Oh, by the way, we were the only tourists on the bus. I always find that to be a very cool experience.

Visiting the Atlas Film Studios

We jumped off the bus, quite literally. It didn’t fully stop. Must have been running late due to it breaking down. 

We had read online that the entry fee was 40dh each. Also, online it stated that if there was filming taking place then studios would be shut. Quite obvious. However, that thought didn’t cross our mind until we started walking up towards the entrance and couldn’t see anyone else apart from a lot of campervans. 

Thankfully they belonged to tourists who must have already been inside the film studio complex.

We went to the entry and got told it was 80dh entry. Double the price of the official site online. Strange. We made the journey to get there so we paid it. £6.70 is very steep in terms of prices in Morocco. 

Now, in terms of the tour itself. I could spend a while writing about it. However, I will sum it up for you guys instead.

In my honest opinion, not worth it. I don’t like saying that about anywhere but its the truth. If we paid 40dh then I would probably have a different opinion. 

Which sounds strange because why does an extra 40dh make that much of a difference? That extra 40dh could have been spent on a different experience, a meal, a few drinks, nights accommodation, transport to Tinghir. 

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Is it worth it?

Anyway, enough about the price. Why don’t I personally think it was worth it?

The film sets were old, rundown and clearly not used anyone despite claims they are used regularly. I personally think the land might be used as it is in the middle of nowhere. Making for a perfect desert/sci-film setting. However, the sets themselves were either closed ‘for maintenance’ or run down. 

The biggest downfall was that there was no information until the very end of the tour about what you had seen. 

We basically visited 10 film sets without a clue of what films had used them. One was clearly used to film Gladiator. Which was confirmed at the end of the tour. 

The others were entirely up to your imagination. 

So much so I started to make up what films used them. 

In my opinion, if you are paying for a tour of a film studio, you should at least have a map, a tour guide or a sign with a photo showing you what the set was used for.

Also, the most famous film set that they reportedly used to film a part of Game of Thrones in is a separate option costing a further 60dh. 

Tourist trap, unfortunately. 

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Final thoughts on Ouarzazate

Ouarzazate, itself, was actually quite nice. It was a pleasant change from the hecticness that is Marrakech. 

There are some really good accommodation options and local cafes/restaurants to choose from. 

If you’re planning a trip to the Zagora desert then Ouarzazate is in a perfect location to start your trip to the desert.

To answer the question this blog post was set out to explore – is it really worth visiting? 

If you only intend on visiting the film studios or to get a Morocco desert town experience then the answer is no. Stay on the bus to a place called Tinghir. It is a lot easier to get around and a lot more activities to do. 

If you intend on using it as a stop either on the way to Merzouga or on the way back then the answer is yes. Make two stops on your way to/from Merzouga. One at Ouarzazate on the way back, one at Tinghir on the way. 

The reason I say to use Ouarzazate on the way back is that the journey from Merzouga to Ouarzazate is quite long. You can use the stop off to sleep and then get an early bus from Merzouga to your next destination. We actually took a 6-hour 30-minute bus from Ouarzazate to Agadir on the coast.

Unless you’re a huge film fan and happen to know every scene from every desert-based film ever made, then you’re best skipping any of the film studios on offer in Ouarzazate.

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Alternatives?

Maybe as an alternative, check out Ait Benhaddou. 

Whilst it is 30km outside of Ouarzazate it is quite the experience from what I’ve been told. Whilst I can’t personally recommend a visit to the UNESCO world heritage site, I can confirm a number of people told me I should have missed the film studios and checked that out instead. 

So there you go, learn from my mistake. 

is Ouarzazate worth visiting?

In short, Ouarzazate is worth visiting as it acts as a gateway to the Sahara Desert. The majority of Sahara Desert tours will pass through Ouarzazate either on the way or way back from Merzouga, the famous desert town. If you are visiting the Sahara Desert on your own, not part of a tour, then Ouarzazate is definitely worth visiting to break up the 12 hour bus journey from Marrakech.

What is Ouarzazate known for?

Ouarzazate is most known for its desert film studios including the ATLAS Film Studios and CLA Ouarzazate studios. Ouarzazate also acts as a gateway to the Sahara Desert, including popular desert towns of Merzouga and Zagora.

Is Ouarzazate safe?

Like everywhere in Morocco, Ouarzazate is considered safe for tourists. There is a very minimal threat to tourists in Ouarzazate. Providing you remain aware of your surroundings and use common sense you will likely find Ouarzazate to be very safe.

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ABOUT ME

Hey! I’m Aaron Jarvis. I’m a budget backpacker and online content creator. 

For the past 3 years, I have slowly been backpacking around the world and sharing my adventures on YouTube and more recently on my blog.

I’ve created a number of well-received travel guide videos on YouTube and have now converted them into popular PDF Travel Guides right here on my website!

If you’re considering purchasing a travel guide why not check out this video that takes a look at the contents in detail!

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