If you’re like most Covid-blocked travelers, you’ve probably been streaming travel movies instead of traveling: old classics like Casablanca or Lawrence of Arabia, or newer classics like the Mummy series (Brendan Fraser’s comeback has put these old gems back on the Netflix’s must watch column) or Gladiator. Amazon’s Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan’s first season was almost totally filmed in Morocco as were some scenes from Games of Thrones.
The reason so many films and TV shows are filmed in The Kingdom of Morocco is the same reason Los Angeles and Hollywood became the center of the film industry: location, location, location.
Like the Los Angeles area, Morocco is surrounded by a variety of microclimates. The Sahara desert edges into Morocco at the region of Erg Chebbi. The High Atlas Mountains that fringe the country offer verdant orchards and snow capped peaks.
So many films have used the country that the world’s largest film studio, Atlas Studios, opened in 1983 in Ouarzazate. If you’ve seen a film recently with hoards of warriors riding over the desert sands, you can bet it was filmed at Atlas.
While many tours to Morocco touch on one or two of the sites that you may find familiar from film, Sahara Magic is a Moroccan family-owned custom tour company that offers a 13-day trip throughout the Kingdom that will put streaming fans face-to-face with scenes from their favorite films, but this time up close and personal.
The company’s top-rated by Trip Advisor’s 13 day, 12 night Morocco tour offers five-star hotels or riads and deluxe tented camps. Transportation is in private 4 x 4s or mini vans with air conditioning.
The trip begins with, yes, you guessed it, a negative PCR test to enter the country and an international flight to the city of Casablanca where you can overnight if you wish and explore while watching the classic 1942 Warner Brothers film on your IPad or IPhone. If you’re staying overnight, have dinner at Rick’s Cafe Casablanca, a restaurant, bar and cafe opened in 2004 to recreate the bar from the film. The bar even has an authentic 1930s piano with an in-house pianist who will play As Time Goes By on demand.
From Casablanca, the tour moves to Morocco’s most famed city, Marrakesh, where you can explore the city with a private guide. Explore the marketplace at Jemaa El Fna, known for its legacy snake charmers and for being the site of Hitchcock’s chase scene in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) with James Stewart and Doris Day. You can also see the marketplace in the 1999 Kate Winslett film, Hideous Kinky. Other sites to tour in the city include the 19th century Bahia Palace, the 16th century Saadian tombs and the lush Majorelle Garden, originally planted by Marrakesh’s famed resident, Yves Saint Laurent, who moved to the city in its 1960s hippy heyday.
From Marrakesh, the tour moves to Essaouira, a coastal city also called “The City of the Wind,” for the Atlantic breezes that lure surfers to ride the waves here (and at one point, Jimi Hendrix, who wrote the song, Castles Made of Sand in Essaouira).
Film lovers will note the statue of Orson Welles in the city square. It’s there because the master movie director filmed his version of Shakespeare’s Othello (1952) in the city.
Day five takes travelers to Ouarzazte where the tour visits the UNESCO World Heritage site of Ait Ben Haddou, a fortified village and a living museum used as a backdrop to many films made at nearby Atlas Studios. A tour of the studios can also be arranged. Since so many movies have been made at Atlas, many of the backdrops and props for films, like Gladiator and series like Game of Thrones, are still intact, and can be seen and “Grammed.”
Day 6 treks through the Todra Gorges to a deluxe Sahara overnight camp which you have the option of reaching by camel caravan. Some scenes of Lawrence of Arabia were filmed in Morocco with stars Peter O’Toole and Egyptian actor, Omar Shariff learning to ride camels expressly for the desert scenes in this Academy Award winning film.
Camel riding is, for most, much easier than horseback riding. The gait is slow and steady, and unlike horses, the camels even kneel down for you to get on.
Sahara Magic’s Morocco trip concludes with a journey to the “white” city of Fez whose medieval winding streets and alleys will make travelers feel like they are in the middle of a city in Westeros from Game of Thrones. It also visits the Roman ruins of Volibulis, used by director Ridley Scott as a backdrop to Gladiator.
If some of these sites excite your imagination but you’d rather deep dive and leave the movie scripts at home, Sahara Magic can organize custom tours and desert camping on your own schedule so you can have as much time as you’d like in this magic region that has lured filmmakers around the world for its medieval architecture, Berber culture and ancient cities.
Morocco’s flagship airline Royal Air Maroc (RAM) has announced a flash sale of flights from over a dozen cities across the US. The sale, which began Tuesday, will last just a week and will consist of flights flying to Mohammed V international airport in Casablanca. Among the US cities included in the program are New York, Washington, Boston, Orlando, Chicago, Miami, Tampa, Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Dallas, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles.