Accidentally ending up on one of the world’s most dangerous roads


road through the atlas mountains

I know.

 

I know.

 

This really doesn’t come as any surprise, does it?

It’s kind of become a theme for my travels now. Unwanted adventures, terrifying experiences, sensing I’m about to die – and this was all three.

road atlas mountains morocco

So, in typical Lauren fashion, I found myself in yet another near-death situation. This time it was in Morocco. This time it involved hours spent getting thrown around the back of a minivan in the middle of the Atlas Mountains, inches away from plummeting into the gorges below.

I spent five hours clinging onto the armrest for dear life, my eyes squeezed tightly shut as we raced around one of the most dangerous roads in the world.

The winding road through the Atlas mountains, and specifically Dades Gorge, is frequently included in lists of the top 5 most dangerous roads – and let’s just say that Moroccan drivers are not exactly the safest. In fact, I’d go as far as to say they are the most reckless drivers I’ve yet to experience on my journey. In 2011 alone there were over 4000 road-related deaths in the country!

So when I booked myself on a 3 day tour of the Sahara Desert I had absolutely no idea that we would be driving on said road. I didn’t even know that Morocco had a dangerous road!

atlas mountain road morocco

After waking up at a ridiculously early hour, I arrived at our minivan only to realise I would be spending the next few days with 11 Portuguese teenagers who were playing Barbie Girl extremely loudly on their phones and shrieking hysterically as I climbed inside. Yes, really.

So, already the trip was off to a slightly poor start, but I’d been dreaming of visiting the Sahara Desert for years, and I was finally doing it! I was finally in Morocco! Nothing could diminish my excitement and I wasn’t going to let a few obnoxious kids ruin my adventure.

I pulled on my headphones, turned my music right up and spent the next few hours watching the stunning scenery race past.

We soon left the chaos of Marrakech behind and started to ascend up into the mountains, quickly reaching an altitude of over 2500 metres. With the increase in height came the narrowing of roads and before long we were pelting along a dirt track that could barely fit  two lanes of traffic. With the incessant honking, swerving and near-crashes, I was starting to get slightly nervous…

And then the barriers at the edge of the road disappeared.

road through the atlas mountains

We were driving just 12 inches from the side of the mountain, there was a steep, steep drop below us and we now had no form of barrier to keep us on the road if anything were to go wrong…

Our driver was unfased by our obvious impending doom and started to speed up even more, egged on by the Portuguese kids screaming, laughing and urging him to go faster, leaning out the windows and screeching while filming the drive on their phones.

So this is how I am going to die.

A few seconds later, our driver sped out from behind a coach with the intention of overtaking, only to swerve out and be faced by another coach hurting towards us from the opposite direction.

We couldn’t overtake in time.

All three vehicles were racing along at least at 60 mph.

Our driver slammed on the brakes as we all flew forward into the seats in front, clutching at each other as we swerved back in behind the coach avoiding death by mere inches and seconds.

Did this affect our driver in any way? Did he begin to slow down and begin driving more sensibly?

Of course not.

The next hour was filled with just as much terror and recklessness and I was genuinely shocked when we pulled up in front of our hotel completely unharmed.

Thank god that was over.

 

All that was left now was the return journey back to Marrakech.

 

Fortunately, although the drive back was just as stressful, we all made it back in once piece. The minivan of tourists a few weeks later, however? They weren’t so lucky. After hearing about the crash, I researched a little online and came to realise just how dangerous the road really is… 

Previous Month 13: Travel Summary & Statistics
Next Chaotic Marrakech: My Introduction to Morocco

35 Comments

  1. George
    August 21, 2012
    Reply

    You really have no luck do you. At least it gives us interesting articles to read!

    • August 22, 2012
      Reply

      I definitely have lots of crazy things happen to me! :)

  2. Lindsey
    August 21, 2012
    Reply

    Ever since I read Jodi from Legal Nomads’ account of this road, I’ve wanted to drive it myself. Now I definitely do, though for slightly different reasons – I trust my own driving so much more than the crazy driving you’ve described! Glad you got back in one piece!!!

    • August 22, 2012
      Reply

      Ah, I just read the post! Crazy girl for driving it herself! :)

      But like you say, perhaps you’d feel safer if you were driving by yourself… My driving is terrible so I know there’s no way I’d survive!

  3. Amanda
    August 22, 2012
    Reply

    Haha. How is it that you always find yourself in these sorts of situations??

    Glad you survived!

    • August 22, 2012
      Reply

      I don’t know! It doesn’t seem to happen to anyone else….

  4. Juliann
    August 22, 2012
    Reply

    I would have been in tears. I would have suddenly become religious. I would have gotten out and walked.

    Yikes! This is a road I will NOT be on. Glad you made it.

    • August 22, 2012
      Reply

      Hahaha, it was tempting at times but then I’d be stuck in the middle of nowhere!

  5. Tom @ Waegook Tom
    August 22, 2012
    Reply

    No safety barriers?! I NEED safety barriers! Drivers in other countries never cease to terrify me. Why can’t they be calm and civilised like us Brits? Also, I’m hoping those Portuguese teens aren’t as obnoxious as I’m envisioning them in my head. Which is, to say, EXTREMELY.

    • August 25, 2012
      Reply

      I KNOW! I seriously hated Moroccan drivers. And, erm, well I dated a Portuguese guy and he was a maniac driver!

  6. Lauren
    August 25, 2012
    Reply

    Looks like I’m not the only Lauren with plenty of near-death experiences! I think your experience was probably scarier, but reading this made me think of the mountain roads in Panama-and the bus drivers who sped through them as if there WERE guard rails. Something about blasting Latino dance music makes a situation less tense, though.
    I really enjoyed your post! I look forward to exploring the rest of your site.

  7. Amjad
    August 28, 2012
    Reply

    morocco <3 <3 <3

  8. Andrea
    September 21, 2012
    Reply

    I haven’t been on this road, but now think I might need an alternate route if I ever want to get to The Sahara Desert!!! LOL.
    I had a similar experience with obnoxious teenagers when I was in Zagreb… I was sitting in the lounge enjoying some blogging and a beer when this soccer team of 20 13 and 14 year olds came in. They heckled me and tried to be as annoying as possible to try and get me to leave. I stood my ground and played old lady and stayed to annoy THEM! So funny the things that happen to you while traveling!

  9. Pretraveller
    December 31, 2012
    Reply

    Scary ride!! I would like to visit Morocco in the future so thanks for warning me about this road…

  10. Robin
    March 26, 2013
    Reply

    Excellent account of Moroccan driving!

    Um… but surely the Dades Gorge isn’t on the route between Marrakech and the Sahara? And isn’t the picture here of the Tizi n’Tichka pass – terrifying, perhaps, in its own right, but far less so than the Dades Gorge and the unmade roads beyond it past Msemrir and onwards to Agoudal?

    And, if I’m not mistaken, surely spending a few days with 11 teenagers is FAR more terrifying than any driving experience could ever be…

    • March 27, 2013
      Reply

      Thanks Robin! :-)

      My tour guide did tell us we were passing through Dades Gorge, so that’s all I have to go on. And the photos in this post were the only photos I took of the roads on our trip as that was where we had a rest stop!

      And, yes, so true. The teenagers drove me INSANE!

  11. Martha
    May 13, 2013
    Reply

    Lauren! I need your advise, I’m going to morocco in 2 weeks, reading up on this road scares the shit out of me!! Please do you have any tips for me – overall with going to morocco- I was told were going from el jadida to marakkesh and I’m taking this toad of hell! I’m super freaked!!

    • May 14, 2013
      Reply

      Hi Martha,

      The road from El Jadida to Marrakech is not this road. This road is on the way to the Sahara Desert so unless you’re going to the desert or visiting the Atlas Mountains you won’t be on it.

      In terms of tips for Morocco, cover up from your neck to your ankles to your wrists. Expect hassle and scams and be aware of them. The men will leer and shout at you, people will try and scam you out of money, it will be stressful! I adore Morocco but damn, it was stressful! Just prepare yourself for hassle so you won’t be surprised :-)

  12. Hannah
    September 15, 2013
    Reply

    I think I’ve been on this exact road, by ambulance! Haha it’s insane!! LOVE Morocco though :)

    • September 18, 2013
      Reply

      Oh no, were you ok?! Morocco is pretty awesome :-)

  13. Robin
    September 18, 2013
    Reply

    Ah, well, not that I want to muscle-in on your wonderful travel stories, but yes, I have to agree Morocco is awesome.

    My comment above was written while I was planning a self-drive trip there – before I had been to the country. Yes, the road from Marrakech to the Sahara goes over the Tizi ‘n Tichka pass across the High Atlas mountains, and yes it’s a little scary if you have a typical Moroccan driver. Self-drive, it’s not too bad, as long as you assume any vehicle behind, in front, or anywhere else is driven by a complete lunatic.
    And yes, the road goes past the end of the Dades Gorge, but not up it. There are very few paved roads going over the High Atlas – as we found out to our cost.

    For anyone interested, the road that goes up the Dades Gorge stops being tarmac a little way past the small town of M’semrir, and from there to Agoudal is no more than a track – and THIS has to be the scariest road in the world. We did it in April, and at its highest point of around 10,000 feet, there was still snow.

    I took some pictures of it, just to make you grateful your driver didn’t decide to go THAT route over the mountains:
    http://www.panoramio.com/photo/90064483
    http://www.panoramio.com/photo/90064648
    http://www.panoramio.com/photo/90064133
    http://www.panoramio.com/photo/89224817
    http://www.panoramio.com/photo/89222744
    http://www.panoramio.com/photo/90064372
    http://www.panoramio.com/photo/90064554

    • November 14, 2015
      Reply

      Thanks so much for sharing, Robin! You took some beautiful photos — I enjoyed looking at them! :-)

  14. Hannah
    September 18, 2013
    Reply

    I got thrown off a camel on the very outskirts of the desert in the Zagora region & needed surgery so I had to go all the way back to Marrakech! Great story now though lol, just as bad with those ‘incidents’!

    • November 14, 2015
      Reply

      Yikes! That’s definitely an incident.

  15. Marysia @ My Travel Affairs
    January 2, 2014
    Reply

    Luckily I had a great and very considerate driver on this road! Rally I must admit that I always thought I’m super lucky but after reading your blog Girl, I will start to think I’m the luckiest person on Earth, 6 years of crazy travels and not even one of such type of experiences! :)

    • January 3, 2014
      Reply

      Glad to hear your experience wasn’t as frightening as mine, Marysia :-)

  16. Mustapha
    February 12, 2016
    Reply

    If you don’t like adeventures and you are afraid with,then stay at your home jjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjj

    • February 12, 2016
      Reply

      Not all travel has to be adventurous — don’t be so judgmental. One form of travel isn’t superior to the other and shaming people for their passions and fears is a dickish thing to do.

  17. Amanda
    March 24, 2016
    Reply

    Christ, you’re fucking annoying. Get your shit together.

  18. Christopher
    February 19, 2017
    Reply

    I’m supposed to take that road in a few weeks and this terrifies me! How long are you actually on the narrow roads with no barriers? Is it basically the whole trip or only a part of it?

    • February 19, 2017
      Reply

      Hmmm… I did this trip almost five years ago, but from memory, you were on it for about six hours or so. It’s just for part of the first day of driving.

  19. May 17, 2017
    Reply

    Oh I have also memoris on this road. I ended up on this road twice in 24 hours because i dont read guides or look the maps! This January i went from Marrakech to Ait ben Haddou til Ouarzazate and the next day i was planning to go to Boumalne Dades from Marrakech again. Stupid me, didn’t look the maps, so in 24 hours i was travelling this road twice instead of going on antoher bus in Ouarzazate, but I was driving back to Marrakech…lesson learned….. I was so angry:)

    • May 17, 2017
      Reply

      Oh, man! It’s such a scary drive, especially if it’s unexpected!

  20. Chris
    April 19, 2019
    Reply

    I loved these roads!! The getting passed oncoming traffic – especially the cars with about 12 people in and on top is less fun but still manageable! But yes it is very scary especially if unexpected as along with the road, Moroccan drivers just overtake when and how they want.
    I think the most bewildering thing there is seeing people walking on these roads when you’re a million miles from any shop or town. Like what are they doing?! My GPS is saying I’m in the Sahara desert and not even on a road and you’re just having a casual 5000 mile walk! Haha

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.