The Trilobite's Sahara Kingdom
Marrakech to Marrakech
Exclusive small group tour. Number of participants : 4-15
7 - 17 November 2022 *FULL*
11 days/10 nights
* * * * *
6 - 16 November 2023 *9 spaces*
11 days/10 nights
Prices are per person, based on 2 people sharing a room. Single supplement applies please make contact for details.
Includes all meals, accommodation, guiding and transportation
Includes 2 World Heritage Sites
Journey by 4x4 across the Atlas Mountains to the Sahara desert in eastern Morocco, where the rocks are full of minerals and fossils. Morocco is one of the most geo-diverse nations on earth with enormous areas of exposed rock stretching, full of fossils and minerals, which stretch from the pre-Cambrian to the Recent. The country is dominated by the Atlas Mountains which drop down to a coastal plain on the western side and the Sahara Desert on the eastern side. Due to the arid conditions, much of surface is not vegetated making it very easy to observe the rocks and understand the geology. Travel with GeoWorld Travel on desert routes that once hosted the Paris - Dakar Rally, to see incredible wonders: including the Fezouata Ordovician Lagerstätte, trilobite quarries, dinosaur fossil beds, a mineral mine, a salt mine, towering sand dunes, and World Heritage site kasbahs.
Salt mine in Triassic sediments in the Atlas Mountains (Day 2)
Precambrian (Edicarian) stromatolites (Day 3)
Discussing a Orodovician anomalocaridid fossil in the exceptionally preserved Fezouata Lagerstatten (Day 3)
A fossil Dicranurus monstrous trilobite for sale in an Alnif fossil shop (Day 4)
Flexicalymene trilobites in-situ in the Lower Ktaoua Formation of the Ordovician (Katian), on Jbel Tiskaouine mountain (Day 4)
Our accomodation at Mharch oasis with the mud mound of Guelb el Mharch in the background, in the Maider Basin (Day 5)
The desert dunes of the Erg Chebbi as viewed from our hotel in Merzouga (Days 6-9)
The famous Cretaceous (Cenomanian) Kem kem fossil beds, deposited by rivers and rich in dinosaur (including Spinosaurus and Carcharodontosaurus), crocodile and fish fossils. This is an in situ Spinosaurus tooth (Day 7)
Hamar Laghdad, the Kes Kes, Devonian (middle Emsian) carbonate mounds (Day 8)
The Todra Gorge cuts through Jurassic Limestone in the High Atlas Mountains (Day 9)
Kasbah Ait-Ben-Haddou World Heritage Site (Day 10)
Crossing the High Atlas Mountains, which often have a dusting of snow in November (Day 10)
Day 1 - Arrival in Marrakech with transfer from the airport to our hotel. This historic city is a World Heritage Site and has excellent low-cost airline links to Europe.
Day 2 - Crossing the Atlas Mountains, and Kasbah Ait-Ben-Haddou World Heritage Site. Today is mostly a travel day. We have to cross the Atlas Mountains to reach the fossil rich areas of the Anti-Atlas. However we have several interesting stops along our way. Our first stop near the village of Sidi Rahal is an agate mine in Triassic lava. Here we can find our own agates with a pink outer layer of opal, as well as having the opportunity of buying prize specimens from the local miners. We then continue on our way up to the Col du Tichka which is 2260m above sea level. Along the way the road passes over rocks of many different ages – Cambrian, Ordovician, Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous – which have all been folded as the Atlas thrusted up. After a pause at the summit of the Col, we deviate off the main road following layers of Triassic sediments and lava flows to reach a salt mine. We stop at the salt mine and go inside it for a good look. Our road then swings due south passing through Jurassic, Cretaceous and Eocene layers before reaching the city of Ouarzazate where we spend the night. Our accommodation here is a three-star hotel, with en-suite bathrooms.
Day 3 - Precambrian Stromatolites, giant Ordovician Trilobites in the Draa Valley and the Fezouata Shale Lagerstätte. This morning we start our day by visiting a site which contains 600 million year old (Edicarian) stromatolites. We then continue to a site in the Draa Valley that is famous for its giant cold water trilobites; these were alive when Morocco was near to the South Pole. These trilobites are Ordovician (Tremadocian) in age and are in the lower part of the famous Fezouta Shale. The trilobites that were mined, and continue to be mined, from this site can be up to 20-30 cm long! Later in the trip we will have the opportunity to see some of them in the Erfoud museum. Our final stop of the day is the Lagerstätte section of the Fezouata Shale. Here, exceptional preservation has revealed soft-bodied “Burgess Shale” type fauna such as Anomalocaridids and marrellomorphs. The Lagerstätte was discovered by Mohamed Oussaid Ben Moula (known as Ben Said) during the winter of 1999-2000, and featured on the front cover of Nature in 2010. We spend the night in the nearby town of Zagora.
Day 4 – Saredrar Orthoceras quarry and Ordovician trilobites in the Alnif area. Our first stop today is the Saredrar Orthoceras quarry which is not far from Tazzarine. Rocks and fossils from this quarry are fashioned into all sorts of beautiful objects such as basins, table tops, bowls and plates, and can be found for sale in fossil shops around the world. Orthoceras are cephalopods with straight shells, that are thought to be the ancestors of ammonites, from the Ordovician until the Triassic. The Orthoceras at Saredar are Silurian (Ludlow) in age. This is followed by a mid-Ordovician site near Battou where trilobites and echinoderms are mined from nodules. Our next stop near the town of Alnif is the fossil gallery and shop of Mohamed Oussaid Ben Moula, here we can examine many more Fezouata Shale Lagerstätte fossils. We then visit the well-known Jebel Tiskaouine mountain from which huge numbers of ‘calymene’ trilobites have been mined and can be found in fossil shops all over the world. These trilobites are in fact not calymenes but are from generas Neseuretus, Colpocorypte and Flexicalymens. The trilobites are found in the Ktaoua formation and are of Ordovician (Sandbian/Katian) age. The night is spent in a hotel just outside Alnif.
Day 5 – The Maider Basin, the ‘Lost World’ of trilobites. Our first stop of the day is known as Bou Dib and is on the north escarpment of the famous trilobite mountain Jbel Isoumour. The rocks here are calcareous marls and limestones and are Devonian (late Emsian – early Eifelian) in age. We still spend our time examining the Psychopyge horizon in the Tazoulait Formation that has been quarried for many kilometres, as well as the area below it where loose fossils can be seen lying on the surface. We then continue to the village of Fezzou where we stop for a rest at a café and have an opportunity to meet local people. After Fezzou, we move on to Atchana. Here we can spend time with fossil miners who are working the Ihandar Formation which is also Devonian but slightly younger (Pragian) in age. From this location many wonderful trilobites have been found including Dicranurus monstrosus, and Paralejurus spatuliformis. After this site we journey further south off road all the way to spend the night in a remote desert oasis called Mharch. The accommodation here is the most basic of the trip, in a hotel made of mud, but the rooms are still en-suite.
Day 6 – A second day in the Maider Basin, and relocating to the Erg Chebbi Dunes. Our first stop is the mud-mound of Guelb el Mharch. This is a 45m rocky peak that was once a submarine mud volcano formed by hydrothermal vents. Tabulate corals are very abundant as are trilobite and crinoid remains. Additionally, very rare placoderm fish have been found here. We then journey along the southern rim of the Maider basin visiting two different sites on Jbel El Mrakib were brachiopods, trilobites such as phacops and goniatites can be seen. The rocks are lower- to mid-Devonian in age. We then leave the Maider basin and return to the asphalt/tarmac roads. Near the city of Rissani we stop at a site of upper Devonian (Framennian) age where orthoceras and ammonoids can be seen in huge slabs of red limestone. From this site it is also possible to gain distant views of the Eifelian-Givetian global stratotype GSSP (golden spike). We then head to Merzouga and the famous sand dunes of Erg Chebbi. Here we really feel that we are in the Sahara Desert - because we are! The next two nights are spent in a 4-Star hotel in Merzouga.
Day 7 - Kem Kem Dinosaur site and Filon Mineral mine. Today we drive south through the sand dunes to the frontier town of Taouz. We then head to the famous Kem Kem site which is rich in fish, crocodiles and dinosaurs. The rocks are Cretaceous (Cenomanian) in age and were formed by rivers flowing into lakes. This site has also yielded many teeth and bones of the dinosaurs Spinosaurus and Carcharodonosaurus. We spend the whole morning at this site before moving on to a site on the other side of Taouz were Ordovician, Silurian and Devonian layers can all be seen very close to each other because they are folded. In rocks that lie on the Silurian and Devonian boundary, we can see the remains of pelagic crinoids and their floats called labolith. In this area local miners have dug several pits to collect the fossils, and we can observe wonderful specimens in the museum in Erfoud. Our next stop is the nearby by Filon 12 mine. This mine used to be a lead mine, but is now exclusively mined to collect beautiful mineral specimens which are sold to museums and mineral collectors. One of the most beautiful minerals to be mined here is vanadinite. At the mine we can take an underground tour and examine the specimens for sale which include haematite, goethite and quartz. The night is spent at the same hotel in Merzouga - an excellent place to observe the stars, and it is possible to take an optional sunset camel ride into the Erg Chebbi dunes.
Day 8 - Kess Kess and Erfoud. Today we visit Hamar Laghdad also know as the Kes Kes which are Devonian cold seep mud volcano mounds on which rich coral reefs once grew. We then visit a site where crinoids are mined in bell pits, before reaching Erfoud quarry where orthoceras slabs with goniatites are quarried. The rocks here are mid-Devonian in age. After a picnic we head to the town of Erfoud where we visit the museum, getting to see specimens collected at many of the sites we visited, and the Orthoceras factory. The Orthoceras factory is a marvel and we can see how the quarried Orthoceras slabs are made into many beautiful objects. The night is spent back in the same Alnif hotel we stayed at earlier in the trip.
Day 9 – Alnif, Cambrian Trilobites & the Tohdra Gorge. The first thing we do today is spend some time browsing the fossil shops in Alnif, a town that claims to be the 'Trilobite Capital of the World'. We then visit a site where large yellow Cambrian trilobites are mined. These trilobites are Paradoxides and Cambropellas and complete specimens of these can be seen in the Alnif shops. This is followed by a walk through the stunning Tohdra Gorge. Here we see impressive folding and faulting, caused by the collision of Africa and Europe thrusting Jurassic sediments over Eocene and Cretaceous sediments. This thrust fault forms a sudden increase in relief and is the start of the High Atlas Mountains. We also eat our lunch here in a local restaurant before returning to Ouarzazate.
Day 10 – The World Heritage Sites of Kasbah Ait-Ben-Hoddou and the Medina and Souk of Marrakesh. Our first stop near to Ouarzazate is the World Heritage Site of Kasbah Ait-Ben-Hoddou. This kasbah (a fortified settlement) was founded in the seventeenth century and lies on the old trading route from Sudan to Marrakesh. The kasbah has been used as a film set for several movies. We then re-cross the Atlas Mountains stopping for lunch in a restaurant before arriving in Marrakech, in the mid-afternoon leaving free time for shopping in the World Heritage Site souk. The night is spent at the same riad in the Old Town of Marrakech.
Day 11 – Departure Day. This is the end of the tour and departure from the riad to the airport is by taxi. However is highly recommended that you stay an additional day and night to join a cultural city tour of Marrakech. We are be able to book this for you.
Geological guiding from James Cresswell
Local guide and driver
Dinner and breakfast in the hotels
Bottled water on day excursions
Transportation in Landcruiser
Airport transfer (flight time dependent)
Alcohol and soft drinks
Bottled water in hotels
Marrakech City Tour on departure day
Taxi to the airport (on departure)
Extend your tour
Our driver Youssef
Our driver Youssef runs his own tour company offering general interest tours all over Morocco. If you would like to see additional areas of the country before or after our tour we can put you in direct contact with him.
CARBON GENERATED BY THIS TOUR
= 1.38 TONNES OF CO2
(calculated at https://www.carbonfootprint.com/calculator.aspx and using a rate of 0.12 kg/km for ferry/boat travel)
At no additional cost to you, GeoWorld Travel will offset the Carbon created by this tour using carbon offsetting company Carbon Footprint. A certificate for this offset will be supplied to you after the tour is completed.
It is your responsibility to book your travel to and from the start and finish of the tour, so if you would like to also carbon offset this cost please use our carbon offset calculator here.
Trip diaries, photo galleries and reviews of previous trips
"We had a wonderful time, with a pleasant and compatible group, several of whom were very knowledgeable in various areas of geology and paleontology. The weather was absolutely perfect the entire time. I would recommend the trip to anyone with an interest in the fossils of Morocco."
Tom B, Georgia, USA
Review was posted to TripAdvisor, January 2020
"With a small group and 3 4x4s, James Cresswell took us on an intense trip exploring the varied geology and paleontology of Morocco, from the flood basalt of the Central Atlantic Magmatic Province to the famed Paleozoic fossil beds. I especially was at home rummaging around the Ordovician and Devonian exposures having grown up collecting from the Silica Shale and the Thedford/Arkona strata. I enjoyed seeing forms that I am familiar with, but especially enjoyed seeing a preserved, spiral, brachidium in a specimen of a spirifer cast that another trip member found.
But then, a big plus was being familiar with the trilobites from Black Cat Mountain, Oklahoma, and seeing the similar Devonian strata in Morocco and how similar many of the trilobites are between the localities. But, knowing the trilobite prices here in the US I was amazed at the affordability of decently prepped pieces when we stopped at Brahim Trilobite in Alnif. That was the icing on the cake for me.
James was an energetic and knowledgeable leader and this trip seemed chock full of interesting, inquisitive, and intelligent participants."
Gerald W., Michigan, USA
Review was posted to TripAdvisor, December 2019
"With 10 other participants, I joined GWT's trip to southern Morocco. It was intellectually stimulating beyond belief -- and a huge amount of fun! I really appreciated James' insightful guidance and teaching about each of our destinations. He was always extremely patient in answering my "advanced-beginner" level of questions. An unexpected bonus was that the other members of the group also shared their own knowledge and skills, very generously! This collaboration and support helped me identify the fossils I happened to find and also gain a deeper understanding of the geological formations around us. The three local guides/drivers were an important part of the team, sharing their personal experiences and knowledge of their beautiful country. Honestly, it was the trip of a lifetime. It will take me months for me to properly process what I learned and saw. I plan to travel with GWT again!"
Peggy W., New York, USA
Review was posted to TripAdvisor, December 2019
"We have taken two trips with James now -- Morocco and Germany, both trips focusing on fossils. First, let me say that James is a wonderful trip leader. He is a knowledgeable, enthusiastic, patient, capable and adaptable guide, and genuinely loves his work. Morocco was the first trip we took with him, and one of the best trips we've ever taken -- what a thrill to see the fossil sites we'd only heard of from our buying trips to Tucson! We had such a great time with the many, many opportunities for fossil hunting, where we collected far too many fossils. The lodgings and meals were satisfying and just exotic enough to be another interesting part of the trip. The Germany trip was the first run, and we had another amazing experience, one I'm still thinking about daily! We started with volcanoes and meteors and the impact they had on the landscape of Germany -- who knew? We visited the most famous fossil sites in Germany and saw the original fossils in museums. We had some fossil digs where everyone came back with something, so much fun! We saw caves where some of the most ancient known artifacts were found, then saw the artifacts. We ended at the Munich gem, mineral and fossil show, the biggest in Europe.
I cannot recommend James or his trips highly enough! I hope we can join him for more adventures in the future!"
Sue C., Maine, USA
Review was posted to TripAdvisor, November 2019
"This tour is a thrilling ride through the expanse of geologic time. The cataclysmic processes of Earth are exposed in the rocks of the Anti-Atlas region of Morocco in dramatic form. The area is rich in fossils and minerals, and James Cresswell's knowledge of that geology and the local mines made the experience wholly satisfying for the perpetual student within me. The cost of the trip is an excellent value, and the friendships forged with the newly met travel companions, a small group of 12, will extend beyond the desert."
Marcia M., Virginia, USA
Review was posted to TripAdvisor, December 2018
"This was an outstanding tour. 2 months later I still keep thinking of the trip into the Sahara with fossils at every stop. The value for money, accommodation and food were all excellent. The other guests ranging from top academics to the village idiot (me) were all most sympathetic and supportive.Everything was explained to me in the simplest terms. Now I just love Stromatolites, Trilobites and Ammonites. Little touches like the drivers choice of wonderful West African music and the comfort of the 2 Land Cruisers really helped make the trip memorable. The Moroccan landscape is superb and the Berber people most welcoming. If you see the latest Mission impossible and/or James Bond movies you will get a taste of the brilliant Moroccan Sahara.
Richard G., Isle of Lewis, Scotland
Review was posted to Freeindex, December 2015
"A brilliant trip with fascinating fossil sites amid stunning Moroccan scenery. Transport organised with two impressive local drivers who also loved the off-road aspects; comfortable hotels at each stop with real treats at the furthest flung; meals all included from hotel breakfasts and dinners to tree-shaded picnics in the fantastic middle of nowhere; geological knowledge and guidance from our tour leader, and most other group members too; and a lovely group of fellow enthusiasts, all finding fossils galore. An excellent trip James! "
Hilary S., Sussex, England
Review was posted to Freeindex, November 2015
"A superb trip - the sort I would have designed for myself except I'd not have had the local knowledge or contacts to make it a reality. Comfortable accommodation, a great guide (James) and a friendly and expert driver (Yusef) who both put themselves out for us. We visited some wonderful locations, from an Atlas salt mine to pre-cambrian stromatolites, trilobite beds and desert dune fields. The only let down, and the only thing I wouldn't want to do again was eat the chicken in our last hotel in Marrakech, which made me very ill for 2 days after getting home. Not GeoWorld's fault at all, but the lesson is, stick to the local food, which they know how to cook!"
Colin W., Oxfordshire, England
Review was posted to Freeindex, January 2014
Our comment: We no longer stay at that Marrakech hotel, and have found a better one.
"Having an 8-day trip through Morocco is basically impossible. However, GeoWorld managed it anyway! In a fast run we've seen 14 fossil rich sites, with a knowledgeable guide and a perfect driver. Enough room for sightseeing, especially the very impressive landscapes. If you have the opportunity, take the 10-day tour. It will make your trip a bit more relaxing. I would. The four of us have enjoyed this trip a lot. Absolutely worth every penny!!"