If you want to have a guide to show you the sights and culture of the Rissani area - which was once the very important ancient sahara trading city of Sijillimassa and on the caravan routes down into the sub Sahara areas of Mauritania and Mali - then I would recommend a guide to take you around - this includes a highly recommended visit to one of the 3 weekly soukdays where the regular covered souk doubles or triples with people from all over the sahara and outlying villages coming to buy and sell fresh produce, livestock and all sorts of wares.
or take you into the desert by 4x4 to see the beauty of the dunes and the stoney desert ie the hamada - where there are oases, see nomad families living out in the desert, the old mine and the 'black people village' of Khamlia famed for its Gnawa music association. There are many fossils and dinosaur prints to be discovered if exploring the area around Taouz which is at the very end of the tar seal road from Rissani that runs to Merzouga on down to Taouz.
or the 4x4 desert and hamada drive from Merzouga down to Zagora even! this can even be done by multi day camel trek! all up to your sense of adventure and your wallet.
Or arrange a night out to stay in the desert - whether it is standard/budget level or luxury level bivouac camp - or to find a hotel to stay at situated close to the dunes.
Or guide you further afield to see other parts of Morocco.
Just be aware that he will try to see what else he can get - not only payment for his guiding services!
Beautiful circuit de touristique - a tar sealed route though narrow in places but very scenic and where many local people live and work so you not only see ruins of the ancient city of Sijillimassa that was here as an important trading centre for southern Morocco down through into the sub-sahara, but you also see the colours in the fields and of the people in them, the kasbahs and fortified villages where they live along the route, including Ksar Tinerhas which gives great views over the palmeraie and to the orange dunes of the nearby Merzouga sahara with Erg Chebbi.
The plateau below Ksar Tinerhas was also used to make several movies - as with many areas around here.
Stop along the way and generally will come running out from even nowhere to see you, say hello, see what you might have to give them - if you are lucky you will get some great photos.
There is a sign at the road that turns left after crossing the bridge out of Rissani towards Erfoud.
The Circuit Touristique is very scenic because of the palmgroves and the ksour. The Ksar Oulad Abdelhalim has an impressive gate and nice decorations.
The Ksar Oulad Abdelhalim is about 4 km south-est of the towncentre of Rissani and about 2 km from the mausoleum of Moulay Ali-ash-Sharif. To see the gate and decorations, you have first to enter the outer ramparts.
The Ksar is built by the Sultan Moulay Ismaïl as a residence for Sultan Moulay Rachid, gouverneur of the Tafilalet.
From Rissani we made an one day trip into the desert by 4wd. We arranged this trip at the Ennasra kasbah hotel in Rissani where we spent two nights before and after our bivouac in the Erg Chebbi .
From Erfoud we went into the black desert. We visited a tiny village (picture 1&3) close to the Algerian border. From the village we could see the Moroccan military buildings at the mountain ridge (picture 1&3).
There were no roads, only some sandy tracks (picture 4). Close to the village is a small palmgrove (picture 4&5), which give the villagers a mean of living by the production of dates. We were surprised about the white salty soil (picture 5).
About 50KM east of Rissani near the small village Merzouga is the Erg Chebbi, the highest sanddunes in Morocco. In 1975 I walked here for the first time in the Sahara sand.
Here I got the first idea how the Grand Ergs in Algeria and other parts of the Sahara could be.
Maybe I didn't realise it at this very moment, but here my love and addiction for the desert and the Sahara started. A historical moment in October 1975.
Afterwards I visited the Sahara many times: in Algeria, in Tunisia, in Libya, in Mauritania, in Morocco and Western Sahara. It took 33 years before I came back to the Erg Chebbi. For my visit in 2008 look at my other tips.
Most people will visit Rissani on their way to the sanddunes of Erg Chebbi just east of the villages Hassi Labied and Merzouga. When I visited the dunes in 1975 only shortly, I didnt see any other visitor. Nowadays the sanddunes are lined with several kasbah hotels, offering cameltrips and bivouacs in the dunes.
I think that Erg Chebbi is the most visited part of the Sahara. You can hardly call it 'off the beaten path' anymore. In 2008 we were lucky to be there off-season in January, so we could experienc it as 'a off the beaten path destination'.
We approached the dunes coming from Erfoud and the black desert. On this route we didnt see any other visitors around. Also when we arrived at the kasbah Moyahut, we were just the two of us. With our two camels and our guide we headed into the sanddunes late in the afternoon to be on time at our bivouac at sunset. Here we met a German couple.
The Erg Chebbi is a 40 km long drifting chain of sand dunes. It is the only real Saharan erg in Morocco. The tops can reach 180 meter. The dunes have the most fabulous colours from gold yellow to red, especially at sunset and sunrise.
For more pictures and information have a look at my Merzouga page.
During our drive of the 21 km long circuit touristique south of Rissani, we not only saw the palmeraie, but also several interesting ksour. Some are ruins, but many are still inhabited. So we got a glimpse of the daily life in the palmeraie at the edge of the desert. It looks like not much has changed for centuries. Those mud-brick walled ksour with their coloured gates looks very impressive and in harmony with the whole ambiance.
At the end of the afternoon we saw lots of schoolkids along the road walking home, but also men or women with their donkeys. Outside the gate of the ksar, we saw people fetching water at the communal watertap and lots of kids, curious when we passed or stopped for a while.
South of Rissani you can drive the 21 km long circuit touristique. It's very scenic route in the palmeraie of Rissani. We drove this route with our own hired car. The road is ok, some parts can be bumpy and some parts were unpaved. Coming from the direction of Erfoud you turn right instead of left just before you will reach Rissani (the road is signposted). You can also start the route from the other side, starting fromthe Zawiya Moulay Ali ash-Sharif.
During the trip you will get a glimpse of the daily life in the palmeraie and desert. The landscape and ambiance at the edge of the desert is fascinating. The palmtrees, the eroded wadis (picture !, 2 & 4) , the earth coloured dwellings in harmony with the same colours in their enviroment (picture 3 & 5).
Its probably not really an off the beaten path tip as all sensible people who get to Rissani will automatically of course go out to the desert!
but for those not already in the know this is a must - to go out and see and be in the sand dunes about half an hour from Rissani - this ancient town often called the gate to the Sahara, being the last town down this way before you are in the sahara.
If you have your own set of wheels you can drive from Rissani out to the auberge of your choice in the desert fairly easily. If you are pushed for time you could out for lunch - pop into your choice of auberge and most will be able to sort you out something nice to eat - eg the Khalia is a local dish well worth trying! You could pop in just for coffee or stay the night!
Of course theres also the camel trips which is a highlight of experiencing the sahara and you can choose from sunrise, sunset or overnight trips or even the long haul all the way down to Zagora!! at least thats not 52 days away by camel!
Prices will range from 150 dhm for shorter sunrise or sunset trips to appx 300 dirham for overnight bivouac with dinner and breakfast. 4x4 trips can also be provided for truly off the beaten track trips out to oases in the desert, visit a bedouin family or do the whole drive around the dunes and see the old mine thats there.
There will be plenty of locals at Rissani trying to grab you to let them guide you out to the desert but its generally to the auberges that they deal with and get commission from for doing so - not necessarily a bad thing but its tar seal road all the way to Merzouga town these - and actually even further past Khamlia and the Gnoua music asssociation, all the way to the end of the road at Taouz.
So if youve had a bit of read and an idea of what auberge you want to or are staying at then you can head off towards Merzouga and the auberges are signposted off the tar seal road. unless of course you are going to have a drive to merzouga for a look or your auberge is actually in Merzouga.