Night Sky & Caravan Trail
Astronomy - Talks from an astronomy expert and use of sophisticated telescopes
Transport - Minibus, 4WD, on foot, camel (or walk 1.5 hours each way)
Accommodation - Hotels (6 nights), Bedouin desert camp (1 night) with basic facilities
In Bedouin-style camp you will stay in large Bedouin-style tents.
Meals - 7 breakfasts, 2 lunches & 3 dinners
From the vibrant bazaars of Marrakech this journey takes you over the Atlas Mountains to the remote fringes of the Sahara desert. The lush palm oases of the Draa Valley are an ideal setting for our astronomical activities during our stay at a remotely located hotel equipped with an impressive range of telescopes. Enjoy Ait Benhaddou, the best preserved Kasbah in Morocco.
Fly to Marrakech
After your flight you transfer to your first night’s accommodation and check in. Hotel Meriem - 1 night
Marrakech City tour
Today you will explore the souks of Marrakech on a guided walking tour before finishing up in the bustling Djemaa el-Fna square. You will have time to shop in the bazaars and absorb the smells, tastes and sounds of this enchanting city.
In the afternoon we depart the city and drive through ever changing scenery towards the High Atlas Mountains. Crossing the Tizi'n'Tishka pass the greenery gives way to arid landscape as we approach Ouarzazate, standing on the threshold of the Sahara Desert. The town was originally a staging point for trans-Saharan caravans but was expanded during the colonial era as a garrison for the French Foreign Legion. The journey is long but the scenery is breathtaking. Hotel Les Jardins De Ouarzazate - 1 night (B)
Kasbahs and stargazing
This morning you will visit Kasbah Taourirt, set amongst a background of beautiful mountain scenery and the Sahara Desert, it is one of the most stunning Kasbahs in Morocco, once a strategic location for the Saharan Caravan Route to West Africa. The Kasbahs are best described as a labyrinth of alleyways and multi-level towers, a great place to explore!
This afternoon you will depart from Ouarzazate on a fascinating journey through the lush Draa Valley – a strip of intense cultivation along the Oued Draa, a river formed from the melt waters of the Atlas Mountains. The beauty and colour of the fields and villages is intensified by their stark contrast to the towering Atlas Mountains to the north and the desert to the south.
This evening you will be staying at Hotel Saharan Sky which has its number of large telescopes on the roof. Tonight you will have use of the observatory with our astronomy expert on hand to point out the wonders of the universe. Spring is a great time to look up in the night sky and in April 2015 Jupiter will be very bright in the evening sky and Saturn will rise later in the night. Many star clusters, double stars and galaxies will be well positioned for observing.. Hotel Saharan Sky - 1 night (BD)
Tidri Dunes - Camel ride
After breakfast you watch as the camel drivers load your beasts before finally setting off. You will set off by camel (walking is an option) across flat, open, stony plains are traversed by cracked riverbeds to Dunes de Tidri - a magical area of rolling dunes in the middle of nowhere which, though not high, stretch spectacularly off into the distance. As your camels wend their way across the rolling sand-scape you may find the ideal moment to photograph this classic desert caravan scene. Sunset is often the most magical time of day; as the fading light illuminates the golden sand and the soft browns and reds of the distant escarpments.
This evening you will camp in Bedouin tents and have an evening under the stars. The phenomenon of zodiacal light is usually visible in the early evening. Walk/ride for approx. 2 hours Camp – 1 night (BLD)
Camel ride and stargazing
After breakfast the camels are loaded up and you will travel back by camel across the desert to Tamegroute. The experience of riding through the peaceful desert in the cool morning air makes many people feel like they have travelled back in time. You will have the afternoon to relax and explore the local area.
As darkness falls you will have another opportunity for stargazing with the telescopes on the rooftop.
You travel to Ait Benhaddou, a small village made famous by the film Gladiator, it is one of the country's best preserved Kasbahs. With its slit windows and dramatic walls of red earth, this is a magnificent example of a stronghold. Dating from around the 15th century, its importance as a trading post gradually dwindled, and today’s inhabitants eke out a living from farming the meagre soil.
This evening there will be an opportunity to look up at the skies. There is limited light pollution in Ait Benhaddou and is a great location to view the wonders of the sky. Our astronomy expert will be on hand to answer any questions you may have. Hotel La Kasbah - (B)
This morning, after a breakfast, you board your vehicle for your return trip to Marrakech stopping off at fabulous former palace at Telouet, the seat of power of the infamous El Glaoui family. The route back over the High Atlas passes through dramatic valleys and past rural villages.
The afternoon is free to explore; there are plenty of sites to visit such as the Saadian tombs or the beautiful Jardin Majorelle. Later on in the afternoon the souks come alive and there are many bargains to be had. If you’d like to experience the relaxation of a hammam (traditional bathhouse), your Group Leader will advise you on which one to visit. For just a few dirhams, you’ll be steamed and scrubbed until you shine! Tonight you head to one of the city’s many restaurants for your last meal together (not included) to reflect on all you’ve seen and done in this fascinating country. Riad Alida - 1 night (B)
The trip ends for Land Only clients. Those on group flights transfer to airport and fly home. (B)
Sahara Sky Observatory
This privately owned hotel / observatory in the Draa Valley is far from light pollution and offers excellent dark skies with a full panoramic 360° view. From this southerly vantage you'll be able to explore deep sky objects near the centre of our galaxy that are so difficult to view from Northern Europe. This is the perfect place for sunset and sunrise.
Leaving the desert behind, you visit the fortified village of Ait Benhaddou which is reminiscent of biblical times. Perhaps take the option to visit the nearby film studios (additional charge) which have featured in films such as Gladiator and Jesus of Nazareth.
Camels and Camping
You’ll be part of a typical desert caravan. It’s one camel per person with additional animals to carry baggage, camping equipment and water. Your traditional nomad tents are made of dark woven material stretched over wooden props with sides that can hang down or be raised for ventilation. You sleep communally on mats and mattresses.