Strategically located Ouarzazate (war-zazat) has gotten by largely on its wits instead of its looks. For centuries, people from the Atlas, Draa and Dadès Valleys converged to do business at Ouarzazate’s sprawling Taourirt Kasbah, and a modern garrison town was established here in the 1920s to oversee France’s colonial interests. The movie business gradually took off in Ouarzazate after the French protectorate left in the 1950s, and ‘Ouallywood’ movie studios have built quite a resume providing convincingly exotic backdrops for movies supposedly set in Tibet, ancient Rome, Somalia and Egypt.
Since King Mohammed VI started visiting here and fixing up the roads, Ouarzazate has been developing quickly with vast new residential areas marked out to the south of town along with new condo-hotel complexes, a spacious pedestrian plaza and well-stocked supermarkets. With scores of agencies offering bikes, motorbikes and camels, this is an ideal launching pad for mountains, desert and gorges.