The Atlas Mountains – Tichka Pass from Marrakech to Ouarzazate
Tichka pass, the road from Marrakech to Ouarzazate through the Atlas Mountains in Morocco is one of the most breathtaking and scenic road journeys of the whole world. A visit to Ouarzazate will take you to the real Morocco where you will experience Berber hospitality and desert oases.
Safety in the Atlas Mountains on the Tichka Pass
The last time I took this journey was in 1998. It seems like a lot has changed since then. There has definitely been more tarmac and barriers in place, making this winding mountainous journey safer to take. This is probably a government reaction to the many deaths on this road from cars and buses going over the edge!
‘Tichka’ comes from the Berber meaning difficult, so it translates as difficult road. And boy is it difficult But don’t worry too much, there are fewer accidents with the recent health and safety precautions. Most accidents on these roads over the last few years have been do to inadequate vehicles that have had axel problems or failed breaks. If you book a good driver with a new and air conditioned car, you will be fine.
The length and Altitude of Tichka Pass
Tichka pass takes you over the peak of the High Atlas, and down the other side towards a landscape of desert, dunes and Kasbahs. When you take this road, you will cover around 200km and reach an altitude of 2260m at the highest point.
Hiring a Driver for the Atlas Mountains – Tichka Pass
We hired our driver, Abdul and his air conditioned vehicle to collect us from Riad Dar Zaman at 10am. Abdul was prompt and looked after us extremely well. He told us that we could stop whenever we needed to – he knew the best cafes and toilets to stop at along the way. Another benefit of hiring a private driver is that he will know the best places to stop for a photo opportunity.
How much is a Taxi from Marrakech to Ouarzazate?
For Abdul to take you across the Tichka Pass, the price is 1200Dh. We managed to get a discount of 200Dh in return for some online promotion for Abdul’s business. That’s still only around £70! Between two people it was around £35 each for a 200km journey. Abdul was such a good driver that we ended up giving him the discount back in tips!
Tichka pass is not for the feint hearted. There are hair-pin bends, high altitude and sheer drops in places. If you suffer from Vertigo or travel sickness, be warned. Even the most sturdy of travellers gets sick on this road. People prone to ear infections or those who suffer from Eustachian tube dysfunction will have popping ears.
However, if you can manage to face it, the views are breathtaking. Also, the fresh mountain air can be good for asthmatic lungs.
Buses from Marrakech to Ouarzazate
You can take a bus from Marrakech to Ouarzazate along the Tichka pass. However, buses are more dangerous and only stop once – not great if you are travel sick or need the loo! We also heard awful stories of people throwing up on buses and drivers refusing to stop.
I highly recommend that you pay the extra and get your own driver – it is well worth the money. I honestly don’t think I would have survived this journey without Abdul!
How long does it take on the Tichka Pass?
Moroccans will tell you that it takes about 3 1/2 – 4 hours. It is actually it is more like 5, sometimes 6 hours with at least 2 or 3 stops if it is the heat of the day or if you are ill.
Travelling from Marrakech to Ouarzazate, we set out at 10am and arrived in Ouarzazate at almost 4pm. However, on the way back from Ouarzazate we set out at 7am and arrived in Marrakech before midday.
The return journey was a much more comfortable journey. You will also find the journey back more pleasant than on the way there, because you are leaving the desert climate, not entering it.
Day trips from Marrakech to Atlas Mountains
Moroccans will tell you that you can do Marrakech to Ouarzazate and back in a day. Only do this if you have a restricted amount of time in Morocco and you can face the lengthy winding roads on a strict timetable without getting sick! The best day trip from Marrakech to Atlas Mountains is this Day Tour from Marrakech to Ait ben Haddou & Ouarzazate with GetYourGuide. You will see Ait Benhaddou, the fantastic example of a Saharian Ksar (city of Kasbahs).
Where to stop on the Tichka Pass
You will need to make at least one stop off on the way on Tichka, and make sure that you stop off at a good place where there are clean toilets! On the way there and on the way back, we stopped at Cafe Restaurant Argan Tichka. There were nice clean toilets and you can get an omelette, tagine or salad for a good price.
Tips for Tichka pass
1. Hire a driver with air conditioned vehicle. Tell him to stop every hour at least, or more so if needs be. It’s very hot and roads are winding. (I used Abdellah Hamouch on +212668215861)
2. Take plenty of water to avoid dehydration – you are travelling towards the Sahara desert and temperatures and altitudes will be extreme.
3. Take travel sickness tablets before travelling. We found Rennie to be helpful.
4. Contact your guest house in Ouarzazate the day before to give them your estimated time of arrival.
5. Take a good camera and make sure you have memory available.
6. Avoid eating too much – it may not stay down!!!
7. Moroccan hosts at your new hotel, Riad or hostel will immediately want to shower you with mint tea and directions to attractions when you arrive. Don’t be scared to tell them that Tickhar was difficult and you will look at directions tomorrow.
8. Set out as early as possible to avoid the heat of the day.
Don’t Forget Your Travel Insurance
Travel insurance is so important as it will help you with emergencies and unexpected costs on your trip. Make sure that you declare any pre-existing health conditions so that you are covered for those. Check your cover for accidents and medical care and also lost baggage or getting things stolen. Remember to report as soon as something goes wrong on your trip because some travel insurance companies require you to report something that you want to claim for within 24 hours. Read the fine print carefully when you sign up. I always recommend World Nomads. You can get a free quote here:
What to Pack for Morocco
A scarf that can cover up your shoulders and double up as a head scarf is a good idea for Morocco, especially for visiting religious places and preventing too much male attention!
As for clothes, light trousers, linen tops and maxi-dresses work well. You don’t need to pack more than one pair of jeans. Also avoid anything that shows too much skin – maybe not too many short skirts or spaghetti straps!
Further Reading on Morocco
Also, here are a few more articles to help you to prepare for your Morocco itinerary – have a wonderful trip!