Marrakech has long had a clichéd image of chic nomadism that was not really in line with reality. But for fifteen years this offer has been amplified by the discovery of Agafay, a unique place about thirty miles southwest of the ocher town, where dry and rocky hills stretch over several hundred acres.
Nicknamed the “Marrakchi Desert”, this natural jewel, located on the road to Aït Imour offers idyllic surroundings at the foot of the Atlas and a feeling of being alone in the world. Here, as evidenced by the situation of the nearby Oued N’Fis, the waterways are dry and the locals are already using storage of drinking water in cisterns to cope with the acute water stress that the region is currently undergoing.
And unlike the image conveyed by certain advertising brochures, there is no truth in Agafay. It’s a stone desert. A dry climate, rocky soil suitable for quad or camel rides, and breathtaking views. And as the brands die hard, Agafay ends up establishing itself as one of the star expeditions on online travel platforms, but also as a polling place for local brands, even though it is also sold by street vendors.
Highly coveted since the recovery after Covid, where some operators elsewhere, after prolonged forced shutdowns, quickly noticed that it was the only tourist area that attracted tourists, both locals before the resumption of flights, and international as soon as the planes were operational. to resume their ballet, Marrakech’s desert is experiencing a record-breaking crowd, according to travel agencies.
But this huge attraction for the destination is accompanied by a proliferation of camps and activities, sometimes wild, that hurt operators who have already been well-established for years. “The area has had the approval of many tourists. But since the takeover, several people have settled there in total disregard of local distinctiveness, and operators doing so have been investing for years to satisfy customers in search of tranquility, says Pierre Yves Marais, operator tourist based at Agafay.
In fact, two types of tourism collide on site: a smart nomadism, sometimes embodied by nomadic camps, sometimes by the very fashionable Anglo-Saxon concept ecolodge, which promotes tranquility and the experience of the desert through hiking, hiking, mountain biking and exploring surrounding villages. And an informal offer that definitely offers camel rides, but also rental of four-wheeled engines and other four-wheeled cars along the track or the paved road that crosses the hills of Agafay.
Hard to admire the sunset without hearing the hum of quads with circuits passing next to the bivouacs. Another controversial object: holding music evenings and festivals, sources of night noise for customers in the camps and other eco-lodges. “On the eve of the Lost Nomad festival, I have customers who have not fallen asleep until 6 in the morning. Enough to make the place lose all its authenticity … ”, regrets Pierre-Yves Marais.
Faced with new entrants, operators established for years are speculating about Agafay’s actual calling. But according to other operators, these events remain sporadic and there is nothing to worry about. “These festivals require local labor and therefore can only be beneficial to Agafay,” maintains Noureddine Bounagui, tour operator.
However, in the face of the recent rise in informal activities, the authorities are not responding with sufficient care, according to some. What doubts about the tourist area of this locality is likely to consolidate the tourist attraction in Marrakech.