Morocco has one of the most significant fossil deposits in the world. Wayne and myself (Estela) decided to put our adventure shoes on and experience the Moroccan fossil safari tour. In our remarkable journey we discovered many incredible minerals, dinosaur bones and fossils. We travelled through the picturesque desert landscape of the Sahara in Eastern Morocco, explored Marrakesh, rode on desert camels and visited the local Berber families.
We decided to create a journal to help curious adventurers who are interested to go on a fossil hunting tour in Morocco.
We experienced a very cultural and thorough dinosaur and fossil hunting tour thanks to the company Epic Zagora Tour. They provided us with the best fossil adventure, great accommodation, delicious local food and an unforgettable adventure.
It is important to note that when travelling to Morocco for a fossil tour and visiting claimed lands, the tour companies need to ask for permission from families to fossick their property. This can take a bit of time to organise, as their telecommunication systems are not advanced. Make sure you book ahead of time. We also enjoyed providing good feedback to the families we visited, as they kindly allowed us on a special tour of their mines.
If you ever find yourself wondering what to expect on a fossil hunting trip in Morocco, have a read of our authentic Moroccan culture experience.
We arrived in Morocco at 10 pm on the 26th June. The weather was perfect 30 degrees celcuis (86 Fahrenheit) . The first impression was the friendly people, the streets are wide and well lit. The taxi driver showed us the division of the new and the old cities which was interesting. As we took the route to our hotel we noticed people were everywhere. It was amazingly crowded as thousands of people come out at night from the cooler temperature. We arrived at our hotel ‘Ksar Anika’ located in the old city of Medina, Marrakech. The place is amazing, it looked like a palace and design looks centuries old. The room and architecture must have been built for royalty.
Our 8 am breakfest consisted of crispy bread, condiments of orange marmalade, pure butter, black and green olives, tea and coffee, prepared next to the swimming pool. We visited a marketplace (souk) called Jamaa el Fna Square, it was deserted at 10:30 am due to the heat.
After the souk we travelled on a taxi to the famous Le Jardin Majorelle, the home the famous French fashion designer. He donated the place to the Moroccan government when he died in 2008. We cooled off with a unique drink combination of avocado, almond, honey, orange juice and lime at their coffee shop.
We met a local, Hichma who recommended us to visit his family’s spice shop called Herboristerie Lamlih. We bought soaps, argan oil, frankincense, alum stone and drank tea with him. The tea was a mixture of flowers, very unique but refreshing. Hichma gifted us with a clayish material which the lipstick native use and also pumice clay to smooth feet.
At night time we headed off to the souk again (the market). We saw many Ammonite fossils, however they were unfortunately fake. For the unsuspecting tourist, don’t be fooled by these fossil reproductions in the local markets.
Arriving back at our hotel, we eagerly prepared our bags for the big fossil safari hunting trip which starts the following day.
The fossil hunting adventure begins. At 8 am we were picked up by our driver and our first stop was Er-Rissani, a town in Eastern Morocco. We took many photos as we travelled to Al Haouz-Touama, the Zerkten mountains, the High Atlas mountains and the Tizi n-Tichka. We noticed iron ore deposits at the surface of the mountains. Interestingly we also found Hematite gemstones during our stop in Tizi n-Tichka. Morocco is full of minerals!
After Tizi n-Tichka, we went to Ourzazate and decided to head off to the salt mine at Pasha el Galoui. The mine is called de Sel. We pulled over on the side of the road to find some salt crystals forming beside the creek. Arriving at the mine we saw many interesting salt formations. It was amazing to see water inside the cave. The water had a very fresh light green color.
Along the way we passed the famous town of Kazbah, Ourzazate, they call it the Hollywood of Africa. This place was used as setting for movies such as The Mummy, Game of Thrones, Indiana Jones, King Tutt, Cleopatra and Alibaba and the 40 thieves. This place is Ksarof Ait-Ben-Haddou (Hollywood of Africa). Ourzazate, Tarmigt. Ourzazate is the largest producer of solar power energy in the world. This is still The High Atlas where you can’t find any mines or fossils.
We then headed off to Zagora (Tansifte) where the landscape is absolutely breathtaking. We stopped for lunch at small town of Agdz where the current temperature outside was 49 degrees (120 Fahrenheit).
We passed Oued in the Draa valley. Out of Ourzazate is the beginning of the Anti Atlas where you can find mines filled with gemstones, minerals and dinosaur fossils. This is also the place where they mine for high silver deposits. It is located in the middle of the Sahara Desert (Hamada is the end of Morocco, border of Algiers). In Merzouga, you can find minerals and gemstones such as Barite, Azurite and Malachite.
We passed by Imi-n-Wassif meaning ‘The Gate of the River’ where we found some amazing fossils such as Ammonites, which looks like spiral formed shell and Trilobites, which are marine creatures with a hard shell and a spine. The area we found these fossils was a flat ground. The location made it an easy place to dig for Trilobites. Even though the locals have worked over this area, Wayne was lucky to find a few. Wayne wore a head scarf called chach or zzif and we found that it works well protecting our heads from the sun and dust storms throughout the trip.
We stopped at Zagora to stay at our hotel called La Fibule. We were told that the camels in Morocco had only one hump, not two. The camels are called dromedaries. The hump contains fatty tissues and not water as we have been lead to believe.
We departed from Zagora very early in the morning. The first mine was Ait Boudaoud. We went to the Cambrian site which is famous for the Calymine Trilobite in Emi Nou Asif (mird). These Tribolites are large and yellow. We also visited the fossil site of the ordivician period. After digging for a while, we couldn’t find any Tribolite in this area.
Then we took off to another mine in the middle of the Sahara desert. Salah found a single acacia tree with no leaves in the middle of nowhere this time it was 9:30 in the morning and it was 38 degrees. Salah rolled out a rug under the acacia tree and started making us breakfast of fresh cucumber, bread, cheese and some fruit juice.
After breakfast we visited another mountain site. The owner of the site has a good spot for Wayne to dig for fossils. Wayne was happy to finally discover some trilobites and Ammonites. He was exhausted after climbing a steep mountain to the top. The last 10 meters was scary as the rock would tumble under his foot as he crawled to the top. The digging didn’t finish until 7 pm but it was still bright and hot.
There was a 200 kilometer stretch of date trees that looked like an oasis. It was a beautiful sight in town of Tazarine. We were told that thousands of family live off the dates and figs. The township of Arnif, famous for geological finds is where we are going to stay for the night. We we arrived at Hotel Meteorite. The entrance was lined with date trees full of fruits. We thoroughly enjoyed the tagines for our dinner.
Starting off at 8 am and headed from Alnif to the anti atlas – Achbarou, the oldest town of more than 4000 years old. We stopped at Issimour mountains which are full of Tribolite fossils. Living in the caves under the tall mountains were many Berber families. The tribe is called Aifa-tta. I stayed in the car whilst Wayne and our 2 guides continued digging by the mountain side.
We met a local nomad, whose father has a claim on this mine and allowed Wayne the permission to fossick for fossils. Wayne found Trilobites, rolled Phacops, red Ammonites and Devonian Trilobites from the mountain called Lalla Mimouna. Then in Jbel Mdawar they found Devonian Goniatites fossils.
We stopped by the water well where Nomads collect their water and Salah had cut some watermelons for us because it was such a hot soaring day. Nomads always have goats and dogs with them. The dogs serve to protect them from wolves when they retrieve water from the wells.
We stopped by Wihlane where we bought some fossils and dinosaur bones. The Anti Atlas used to be connected during the paleonic era. The rock in this mountains is called Azrou.
We were invited by the local Berber family to share tea with them. They showed us where they live. The Berbers have a special room to receive their guests which is opulently decorated in the finest Berber rugs and beautiful tiles. They have a yard inside the house which had a square enclosure full of date trees, palm trees and vegetables. There was another enclosure for their goats and other pets. Wayne bought some amazing fossils from the family and they were so happy.
We stopped by a mountain along Es Sfalat where we saw some more Orthoceras, Ammonites and other fossils. We could easily see uncovered fossils. We walked all over them as we climbed the mountain. We had to wash the dirt away with water to see clearly the fossils that are on the grounds. There were so many Ammonites and Orthoceras.
Wayne decided to get the pick and dig through the orthoceras. He quickly realised that the pick and shovel were not strong enough to break through the tough fossils. However Wayne continued to try but was not successful. The pick was just kept bouncing off and made a strange sound as if it was about to break. Now we know how hard it can be to get these Orthoceras from the ground.
Out of nowhere this old Nomad with his bike greeted us and showed us his collection of fossil necklaces. A huge credit for this guy, so I bought 2 fossil pendants from him. This Nomad lives inside a cave in the mountain. I give him 110% for his effort to ride his bike and sell to us miles away from civilization in the Sahara desert. He pointed to us where his cave was under the far away mountain, we could hardly see the opening of the cave where he lives.
40 kilometres from Merzouga is a town called Er Rissani, this is where our driver Salah lives. His family is preparing a typical Berber lunch for us, which consisted of bread, tagine, a special Berber pizza, fruits and of course some hot mint tea. He had a beautiful home and the hospitality was overflowing.
Later we headed off to Merzouga Erg Chebbi on the magic sand dunes of the Sahara Desert. The fossil tour took us to the sand dunes in Et Taous where Dromadiers, camels with only one hump were waiting for us.
While we encountered a small sandstorm uphill through the dunes, we noticed some Nomad tents built up within the dunes. We captured photos of the amazing Moroccan sunset on the camel trek. It was exhilarating, the ride was bouncy but the Dromadiers were well behaved. What an amazing experience riding the Dromadier in the Sahara Desert. The beautiful hotel we stayed at is called Riad Dar Hassan, located at Merzouga.
We departed from our hotel very early in the morning. It’s my 66th birthday – it better be my day! Mbarek our tour guide contacted a local Nomad Yidir. He had a claim on a mine called Ebagaa or as the locals call it ‘The Dinosaur Mountain’ due to the amount of dinosaur fossils found in the area. Our tour guide had previously asked for a permission to visit Ebagaa and the Nomad was kind enough to take us on a fossil tour of his mine.
Yidir’s family goes back a few generations as Nomads. The Nomads shelter through the mountains and dig caves for their dwelling. Yadir’s ancestors came across this mountain and found some dinosaur bones when they were digging. They claimed the mine, set up their equiptment to extract more fossils.
We met this Nomad waiting or us on his motorbike in the middle of the dessert. It was a steep climb to the top of his mountain. Yidir showed us exactly how he mined. The basic mining equipment were battery operated torch, shovel, pick, wheelbarrow and a wrap around head scarf as their helmet. Yidir helped Wayne to slowly dig through the small openings of the cave and after hours on being on his tummy he finally found a small dinosaur tooth, Wayne went crazy!!!!!!
So Yidir encouraged Wayne to slowly dig some more because if you find one tooth, there will be more around where Wayne’s digging. Wayne found several dinosaur teeth that morning.
It is best to note that the cave has a sandstone roof, the soil is not stable and is very unsafe. The cave was so small that you had to be crawling on all fours legs and dig gently to find some fossils. There was a thin band inside the cave which was about a few inches deep that contains dinosaur fossils. Wayne was very excited and in high spirits.
After Ebagaa, we were invited to Yidir’s home for tea. Yidir’s village is Lbigaa, south of Merzouga, the last village of Morocco which is in borderline of Morocco and Algiers. We were served hot mint tea, cakes, olives, bread, date syrup and freshly picked figs which was so sweet.
Yidir showed us his collection of dinosaur bones, teeth and other fossils he dug from the mountains . There were dinosaur fossils everywhere. Waynes eyes were so big and dilated when he saw the unbelievable collection. He offered these to Wayne and Wayne was happy to buy some of his collection. There was a firmly intact dinosaur raptor claw, which was this Nomads pride and joy. He found this raptor claw many years ago, but of course he will only part with it if you offered him a very good price. We left Yidir and headed towards Marrakech.
Whilst driving through the desert we came across a place where people have a sand spa. This spa is different from the pampering kind that we know of. They dig holes in the sand for people to put their bodies into, they then completely cover you with sand. This process is said to help detoxify your body. Wayne and I could not believe how intense this looked. With the combination of the soaring temperatures and the hot sand, we may not be able to survive this sand spa experience.
There was a little boy holding the smallest animal in the Sahara desert called the Fennec Fox. I was lucky to be able to pose for a photo with an elderly Nomad woman in her tent.
Heading towards Marrakech we stopped at Tinghir Restaurant, Ourzazate for my birthday lunch. It was 48 degrees (118 Fahrenheit) and we decided to have a quick nap in a travellers room.
We contiued on the road again. We went passed Imidir, largest mine in all of Africa which produces silver. We stopped at the Todgha Georges and found a magical oasis where the crystal clear water flowed through the rocks forming a river. It is a very popular place for the locals to cool off. The local also placed watermelons in the river to act as a natural refrigrerator. Amazingly this place is a real surprise, coming from the Sahara desert. We stopped at Hotel Ecobio Hotel in Boumalendadas. This the place where Wayne ordered a cake for my birthday, which was a wonderful suprise. The word cake in Berber is Maskouta.
On the final day of our fossil hunting tour, we woke up very early in the morning (5 am) to see a few more places before we headed back home. Our tour guides wanted to show us more gorges and also a mountain called Toes of the Monkeys/ Monkey Feet/ Monkey Toes.
We came back to our hotel at 7:30 for breakfast and afterwards we headed off to Marrakech. We stopped by the Valley of the roses at Kelaat M’ Gouna. The roses bloom in April and they would produce an amazing rose fragrance.
We stopped at a town along the way and we tasted the fruit of Sweet Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia ficus-indica). We were suprised to find it very sweet, fragrant and really refreshing.
We arrived back at Ksar Anika in Marrakech around 3 pm. We and packed and safely wrapped all the fossils, dinosaur teeth and dinosaur bones to be shipped back home. It was amazing to see all the things we collected from our fossil hunting tour. We woke up early to head back home to Australia. Our fossil safari in Morocco is a fun and unforgettable experience worth doing again.
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