Seven days • starts/ends Marrakech • £799 + bike + flight
2017 dates and availability status
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revised January 2017
What am I paying for exactly?
All food (including bottled water), fuel and accommodation in Morocco for seven days, plus guiding and support for whatever problems may occur.
What is not included?
Return flight to Marrakech. Cost of getting to and from Marrakech airport to our hotel (bus 30dh; taxi from 50dh). Cost of the rental bike of your choice for six days (currently from 3100dh). Costs of bike damage, should it occur (rare). Alcoholic beverages where available (rare). Souvenirs. Travel insurance. Suggested flight timings are given once you return the booking form.
So what will the tour cost me in total?
The tour price plus flights (from £50 return) and a bike (from £250) and travel insurance. So call that around £1200.
Do I need travel insurance?
Yes. And it needs to cover you for renting a motorcycle in Morocco. If you have trouble finding such insurance I can give you some suggestions.
I’m worried about attacks by Islamists. Is Morocco safe?
People mistakenly tend to regard all ‘Arabic’ countries as one, but when you factor in the huge volume of tourism, Morocco is exceedingly safe. And by avoiding the popular tourist spots, for us it’s safer still.
Is this tour for me?
It is if: you’re not looking for an off-roading challenge; you have a few years experience riding motorcycles, including abroad; you can manage six days without alcohol; your are interested in more than just bombing around on motorbikes.
What sort of motorcycles are available?
The rental agency I work with rent several machines from scooters up to GS1200s, but I’ve always recommended the Honda XR250 Tornado (left).
Tornados are no longer imported into Morocco and some of the agency’s half-dozen XRs are showing the years. For 2017 they are hoping to refresh their fleet with the new BMW G310 GS (right) but these probably won’t get to Morocco in time for my 2017 tours. If they are they will cost more to rent than the Tornados and will be a heavier, but will have lower seats. This will suit riders less than 5′ 8″ (173cm).
It’s hard to think any replacement will be as durable as the Tornado. Part of the reason is they’re unusually well maintained by African standards – now with special attention to tyres, chain sets and wheel/head bearings – and the typical low-speed spill will break no more than a mirror. A Tornado can sit on 100kph and be effortless to ride by off-road beginners on the sorts of trails we ride. These tracks may well be manageable on 650s or even 1200s, but lighter is just more fun and much less tiring. For first-time trail riders this matters.
What sort of tyres and other equipment do these bikes have?
The tyres are all-road (trail) and as long as conditions stay dry and you ride appropriately, they’re fine on the piste because the XRs don’t have to power to break away; knobblies just encourage you to go in harder which can end badly. Most rental bikes are have engine- and handlebar guards. Some have small racks and bar risers. This means your typical low-speed spill won’t cause any damage that would be chargeable. On the last eight tours the repair bill has come to three broken mirrors. Actual failures included a gearbox sprocket oil seal going.
How do I organise the bike rental?
I reserve six bikes for the dates given on a first come, first served basis. The best way to proceed is to ask me to ask the agency what’s left; once your choice of machine is confirmed your bike is reserved. Note that these bikes are legally insured for road riding but not for any damage that may occur. You fill out a blank credit card slip for 10,00dh which gets handed back for you to tear up if the bike is returned in good shape.
Is the tour suitable for pillions?
No. The added weight would make the 250s unmanageable and exhausting to ride on the pistes.
What is the riding like?
Getting clear of Marrakech (and getting back in) is the biggest stress so keep close or get left behind! (I always stop at junctions to wait for the group to catch up). After that we’re on backroads, including exposed switchback mountain roads and tracks where you must anticipate what may be round the next blind corner: loose gravel; mud; a ford; a taxi overtaking a bus, goats on roller-skates – it’s all happened! The stony pistes can get gnarly, but we rest often and it’s just an hour or two of effort at a time.
We aim to do no more than half a day of off-roading at a time. If that sounds lame, you may not think so by the end of the week. Some days there is no off-roading at all, but even normal roads are often being repaired, washed out, potholed, flooded and so on.
What are local driving standards like?
I find the deep south much more laid back than the rest of Morocco; traffic is light and drivers less aggressive. Nevertheless this is Africa so you must be ready for unpredictable manoeuvres, wandering pedestrians, no signalling and potholed roads. The best thing to do is ride at a speed that’s complementary with the local traffic, your bike’s abilities, road conditions and scant availability of medical support. When overtaking on busy roads be sure you have sufficient speed, space and visibility to do so safely.
Do I need to be experienced off-road?
No, but several years road biking will stand you in good stead. On this tour we don’t ride the dirt all day, we just use them to see- or get to nice places. All previous tours have included riders with negligible off-roading experience or who’ve barely ridden in years. They all managed fine and had a brilliant time because the trails, the pace and the bikes make it all achievable. But you do need a bike license and at least two years and 6000 miles of riding experience – primarily to be confident in traffic and on exposed mountains roads.
It will also stand you in good stead if you’ve done your own multi-day trips abroad on a bike, so you’re familiar with what- and how little you need to pack.
Do we ride every day?
From the morning we pick up the bikes, yes – so that’s six days.
What will a typical day be like?
We’ll get up, have breakfast, gear up, check water and ride off around 9.30am, stopping here or there for coffee, photos, repairs or rests. We pull in for a delicious lunch somewhere – eat as much or as little as you like – then carry on as before, getting to our lodgings with hopefully some daylight to spare. We will then repose or otherwise occupy ourselves until the evening meal, after which we are again free to do as we wish.
Note that the schedule can go to pieces for any number of reasons (usually punctures or bad weather), requiring longer unplanned days, basic lunches in roadside cafes, or unscheduled stopovers.
What will the weather be like?
November in Marrakech can be hot and sweaty or rainy, but once over the Atlas the desert climate and greater elevation means and the days are usually sunny and warm. This was what we got in 2015 and 2016 – barely a cloud for seven days. But in November 2014 one group spent three days flood-bound in a hotel. Bring a book.
Will we visit Erg Chebbi?
No. And there’s no sand or dune riding on this tour. Until you’ve tried it, it sounds fun, but in my experience – car or bike – all the bad accidents occur in the dunes.
I’m not from the UK, or even the EU – is that a problem?
No, as long as you hold a full motorcycle licence and fit the other criteria.
Is there a support vehicle?
Yes, it’s me on a bike, carrying tools, tubes and the most likely items needed to keep the tour moving. Our itinerary is configured so that we’re never more than a day from Marrakech if the rental agency needs to bring out a replacement bike. This has yet to happen. Combining an accessible itinerary with not using a 4WD support vehicle keeps the tour cost down and mobility up.
What gear do I need to bring?
You will need basic riding gear: helmet, gloves, boots, as well as a light daypack with a water bladder plus a small bag for the back of your bike (right). You will also need straps to attach this bag to the bike, and in it you can put a change of clothes, toiletries and the usual gadgets.
You don’t need bike tools, puncture repair kits and so on; I have these. A fuller list of gear is supplied as the tour fills up. Bring a big bag for the flight with all your moto gear and helmet and smaller bike bag inside. You can leave this big bag at the rental agency’s secure lock up or at the hotel, if coming back.
What should I wear?
Some young riders have turned up in jeans, a ‘fashion’ leather jacket, hiking boots and a full face helmet. Other rock up with full MX armour, MX boots, MX lids and MX goggles over a brightly-colour MX jersey. Whatever you feel comfortable in. For me the important things are foot-and-ankle protection, a functional jacket with vents and pockets, thin, comfy gloves and a helmet with good visibility (see the pic of me, above). Elbow, shoulder and knee armour is reassuring, but won’t stop broken bones. High Atlas mornings may be briefly chilly, desert afternoons may get warm. Rain will be wet.
What is the accommodation like?
A mixture of desert and mountain lodges, most with en-suite rooms which are shared by two or three people. The hot water may take time to arrive, the plumbing may be ropey and the pillows unfluffy. This is southern Morocco, not Palm Springs. If you prefer your own room that can be arranged if available (almost always) and will cost an additional £120.
I am a vegetarian or have other dietary requirements. Is that problem?
No, though you may get a bit tired of omelettes and vegetable tajines by Day 5.
How about alcohol?
Once out of Marrakech, at most of the lodgings it’s not available. It may be on our last night in Ouarzazate.
Or if I hurt myself and can’t ride?
Arrangements will be made for the recovery of you and your bike, as well as hospitalisation if necessary. This is where your travel insurance is essential. The pace and nature of this tour is such that this has not happened yet.
What happens to our tour in the event of such a delay?
It’s happened elsewhere and the entire group became involved in the recovery and accepted it as part of the experience.
Do I need any inoculations?
What is the water like?
Tap water will be fine but most welcome the bottled water which I supply free of charge.
What happens if I get the runs
In my experience this usually occurs in more touristy restaurants where food is not prepared freshly or is re-used. We don’t visit these places where possible, and even then it’s not usually bad enough to affect your riding, so just keep drinking, keep riding and keep a toilet roll handy. I carry pharmaceutical rehydration sachets as well as Imodium-like ‘blockers’, though no one’s needed them yet.
Will my mobile work?
In more places than you think.
Is there lightning-fast wi-fi at the lodgings?
In most places we stay there is wi-fi, but it tends to be hit and miss, especially if we all try and use it at once. Mobiles seems to hook up better than laptops and tables.
What routes from your Morocco Overland guidebook do we follow?
I tend to mix it up in the MA and MS regions.
What is our route?
I don’t have fixed itineraries and like to make it up as the tour proceeds, depending on the ability and preferences of the group as well as the weather. We head south out of Marrakech follow an anti-clockwise loop and return over the Atlas from Ouarzazate six days later.
Do I need a GPS and a map
Also not needed, but some like to keep track of their location.
Is ‘sahara-overland.com’ a registered tour company?
No, it’s just the name of my website. The booking form includes a disclaimer that you’re undertaking this tour at your own risk.
What guarantee do I have that you will not just run off with my money?
None, but with my prominence on the Internet and in travel publishing this would be a short-sighted move.
When will I know if the tour is confirmed?
When there are at least four confirmed bookings. Booking status here.
If I have to cancel late in the day can I get my deposit back?
Yes, as long as it’s before the balance has been paid. See the booking form for levels of refund once the balance has been paid.
My question is not addressed here?
All the info that I can think of is on these web pages which get updated from time to time. Please email me with other questions.
I’m up for it. What do I do next?
Email me and I’ll send you a booking form. Send me your completed form and make arrangements to pay the £199 deposit. If all is in order you’ll get a confirmation email, telling you when the balance of £600 is due. Please note, I reserve the right to decline your booking and return your deposit without reason. If the tour is cancelled by me (most likely due to security issues) your deposit will be refunded in full.
Why is the deposit so high?
The internet makes it easy for people to buy things on a whim, thinking there’s little to lose if they change their mind. For tours this has resulted in a false impression of interest and late cancellations at a time when it’s too late to fill places. Although there are always cancellations, I set high deposits on all my tours to discourage this. A high deposit is an attempt to separate out those who are genuinely interested and have a real commitment to the tour – something which always improves the quality of the group, especially when things go wrong.