Riding into battle in Ouarzazate

Quad Biking past Ait en Haddou, Ouarzazate

We sat astride our trusty steeds, praying our nerve would hold and the day be victorious. I subconsciously adjusted my helmet for the fourth time, and felt the rather skittish power beneath my thighs with some apprehension. The dawn call to prayer that had so poignantly resonated around the north African valley only a few hours earlier seemed a lifetime away, and I fervently hoped perhaps a few of those prayers would be winging their way towards us that morning.

It had been an ominous start to the day, with fiery lightning forks striking the rocky desert floor long after the lingering overnight storm had passed. A formidable spread was laid out for us to break our fast, but at that ungodly hour I couldn’t face it. Yet hubbie forced a pancake down me, ostensibly to keep up my strength as he reasoned a warrior shouldn’t go into battle on an empty stomach, but in reality he just didn’t want to look bad as he ploughed through the pile of buttery buns with practised ease.

Our comrades lined up beside us, ready for a three-pronged assault on the fortress, and before we knew it we were charging hell for leather across the open ground, rocks flying in all directions. We yelled our battle cries and zoomed towards the gates that were looming ever closer through the dust. Adrenaline kicked in with the feeling of not always being exactly in control of our mounts, and the very real threat of significant personal damage should we be unseated.

Welcome to the Kingdom of Heaven - Ouarzazate
Welcome to the Kingdom of Heaven

I’ve always wanted to experience the adrenaline of a battle cavalry charge, but as knights of olde and valiant cavaliers are a thing of the past, I reasoned that quad biking could be a decent 21st century alternative.

We absolutely adore quad biking, and the thrill that comes from a lack of red tape when doing it abroad. Back home in England we’d be restricted to a tame field, perhaps with a few mole hill bumps, all in an orderly line with 30 others, and no deviating from protocol. Yawn. Yet in Peru we’ve had races and perfected the art of dust donuts, in Lesotho we’ve skidded across the snow on lofty mountain ridges, and in Morocco we’ve gone back in time and battled in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Quad Biking past Ait en Haddou, Ouarzazate
Quad Biking past Ait en Haddou, Ouarzazate

Film sets and Fint Oasis

Each time we visit the Ouarzazate region in Morocco (and it’s been a few!) we make time for our favourite half day quad biking tour with Dunes and Desert to the Fint Oasis. For €75 per person (each with our own quad), we spend the morning speeding about the lunar landscape, kicking up rocks and leaving clouds of dust in our wake.

Quad biking in Ouarzazate
Wondering if I’m doing to launch into space at the top…

Deserted film set relics stood incongruously in the barren landscape, reminiscent of long-forgotten wars won and lost.

Desert warfare Ouarzazate style
Desert warfare Ouarzazate style

Big budget epics such as Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven and my personal favourite, Lawrence of Arabia have all been filmed here, and many movie greats once walked where now tumbleweed wouldn’t be out of place.

The obligatory tourist photo!
The obligatory tourist photo!

Once dubbed the ‘Mecca’ of the film industry for it’s stunning location and studios, Ouarzazate now rests in hibernation with the effects of the Arab Spring and global economic crisis putting many international movie projects on hold. The blacksmiths, mechanics and farmers have all returned to their day jobs, no doubt secretly hoping for a filming revival in the not too distant future.

Quad biking past downed assault towers
Quad biking past downed assault towers

For now though, the abandoned sets and props were ours and we didn’t have to share them with another soul. You can also see all these on foot, for free, if you don’t fancy biking…just walk up from the road!

One of the ballistas used in the Kingdom of Heaven
One of the ballistas used in the Kingdom of Heaven

When we’d seen enough ancient ballistas and battle relics we headed over towards the Fint Oasis, passing through Berber villages, waving to children on their way to school, seeing the famous Ait Ben Haddou, negotiating roads, rivers and ridges, all the while gaining in confidence and momentum. On our last trip I perfected the art of skidding around corners, although hubbie insists this was due to my back tyres being a little bald and my vehicle consequently having no traction. I prefer to believe it was down to skill.

Resting in the tranquil Fint Oasis
Resting in the tranquil Fint Oasis

In the oasis we stopped for some refreshing mint tea, bread and dates, either at a hospitable berber home of talented musicians, or at a charming auberge – La Terrasse des Delices – which is a wonderful place to stay with the glorious oasis backdrop and even an inviting pool.

Salon in La Terrasse des Delices, Fint Oasis
Salon in La Terrasse des Delices, Fint Oasis

I wished we could jump in but didn’t think they’d appreciate the dust we were covered in.

Wishing I wasn't so ticklish
Wishing I wasn’t so ticklish
Hubbie being hosed down
Hubbie being hosed down

A few hours later back at Ouarzazate, we emerged filthy yet triumphant warriors, blending into our surroundings as well as any camouflaged soldier in his desert fatigues.

Luckily back at the garage, with the magic of a powerful air hose and a lot of giggling we were returned to our former selves once more.

Exhausted but delighted, we staggered back to the tranquil Kasbah Ellouse in Tamdaght where we always stay, feeling victoriously satisfied after our desert conquest.

Safety First

Ok, so quad biking is a dangerous sport, and it’s understandable that some people are nervous before having a go. Yet I say don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. I’m not exactly the stereotypical ATV guru, but can’t get enough of it! You don’t have to be any good, just have some guts.

Quad Biking, Ouarzazate, Morocco
Quad Biking, Ouarzazate, Morocco

The quad biking company used by Dunes and Desert in Ouarzazate have never been anything less than professional, whilst retaining the essential elements of fun and freedom that are so lacking in the UK.

We have always been properly kitted up with helmets, goggles, hood and gloves, and before setting off into the wilderness with a guide, all groups do practise circuits to make sure everyone is comfortable and can control their vehicles. Our groups have always been just us, and the guide! Perfect.

The guide would often stop and help on the more technical bits, and had the patience of an angel on occasions where perhaps there was a little more wading in mud and pulling out vehicles than he would have liked (don’t forget some dirham for tips afterwards!).

The only times I ever felt a bit unsafe were entirely of my own doing, simply because I wanted to see what I was capable of, and experience something akin to charging into battle. Mission accomplished.

Ready for a bath!
Ready for a bath!
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  1. says: Patricia

    Hi Heather,
    I love your blog! We are going to Morocco in October and your posts have been so helpful 🙂

    Do you have any recommendations of places to stay in Ouarzazate?

      1. says: Patricia

        Heather,
        You are the best! 🙂
        I am definitely staying at Kasbah Ellouze after reading your post.
        THANK YOU!

        1. says: Heather Cole

          Say hello to them all for us, and definitely recommend room 2 (“Brahim”), it has lovely views over the oasis. Have a wonderful time 🙂

  2. says: Ouarzazate Morocco

    Certainly Ouarzazate is a perfect place for Quad Biking tour. explore Fint Oasis, ait benhaddou and desert of ouarzazate. Great experience waiting for you.

  3. says: Rita B

    Wow, this looks so fun! We’re heading out there this summer so will definitely have to give it a go. Do you need to book in advance or can you just turn up?

    1. says: Heather Cole

      We pre-booked (and they came to collect us from the guest house), but I’m sure if you just rocked up they’d be able to do something for you, they have lots of vehicles!

  4. says: Milosz Zak

    These locations keep on making reappearances in Hollywood films. I’m convinced the controversial film Exodus had a lot of filming done in Morocco as well.

  5. says: Sand In My Suitcase

    Sounds like you had fun riding into battle there! But we don’t know about quad biking ?? Probably very dusty ?? We’ve had the chance to do this in Los Cabos, which we visit often, but have always nixed the idea. But Morocco calls out to us :-). Hopefully one day…

    1. says: Heather Cole

      It was dusty, but only for those behind! And we had headscarves on underneath to protect us from breathing it in. Would be awesome to do it in Los Cabos! You should give it a go, so much fun 🙂

  6. says: Bente Vold Klausen

    Looks like a lot of fun. I have been to Ouarzazate a couple of times, but never gone on a quad biking ride. I will certainly try that next time. I notice you have a lot of post about Morocco on your blog. I love Morocco as well, so my be we meet in this great country some time!

    1. says: Heather Cole

      You should give it a go, certainly a different way to experience Ouarzazate. I’m totally in love with Morocco, so who knows, maybe see you out there one day! 🙂