Day 1: Arrive in Tangier
Welcome to Tangier, the stepping stone between Africa and Europe. Tangier, located on the Maghreb coast at the western entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar, offers a distinctive fusion of cultures and influences that have shaped the city for centuries, drawing artists, spies, and eccentric foreigners. The port city of Tangier has undergone a makeover and now gleams with pride, whereas it was once dismissed as a not-so-hot place to visit.
After checking your hotel, you’ll want to leave and explore the area. Depending on when you arrive, go to the Medina (old quarter) to explore the maze-like network of streets leading to shops and homes while observing the Portuguese fortress from the 15th century. To end the day, go for a late-afternoon paseo along the bustling corniche’s seafront promenade to take in the sunset. Find a café in the trendy Zoco Chico square for food and people-watching.
Day 2: Explore Tangier & Caves of Hercules, Onward to Chefchaouen
Get up early to explore Tangier more and decide to hire a guide to show you around the kasbah (old fortification). You can enter the Dar Baroud neighbourhood of the Medina through the Bab Haha gate, located at the northeastern corner of Place du Mechouar. Meanwhile, the extraordinary Caves of Hercules—so named for its legendary association with Hercules himself—are located just 20 minutes outside the city along the most northwesterly point of continental Africa. You can enter the cave system through the opening that faces the sea and has the shape of Africa close to the Cape Spartel lighthouse from the middle of the 19th century.
When ready, continue to the Rif Mountains’ blue-hued city of Chefchaouen. Enjoy the beautiful scenery and, if time permits, stop to hike (2–3 hours) to the Cascades d’Akchour (Akchour Waterfalls). Chefchaouen is home to countless winding, narrow streets and charming structures. Discover a restaurant or café in Plaza Outa el Hammam and eat while people-watching.
The Grand Mosque is still worthwhile a visit even though non-Muslims are not allowed inside. Visit the nearby kasbah’s garden, museum, and some former prison cells after that. A path outside the city walls will lead you to Hotel Atlas, where you can climb to the rooftop for a sweeping view of the Blue City. For those who are a little fitter, follow the road east, cross the Ras el Ma Spring, and then climb the path for 20 to 30 minutes until you reach the deserted white Spanish Mosque. Observe Chefchaouen one last time as the sun sets behind the mountains.
Day 3: Transfer to Fes via the Roman Ruins of Volubilis & Meknes
Get up early and take a quiet stroll through the city, using this time to take your best, unhindered pictures. Driving from Chefchaouen to Fes, you can visit the best-preserved Roman ruins in Morocco, Volubilis, under UNESCO protection. Wander the expansive complex and discover the many colourful mosaics still in place and the large merchant homes with working heating systems. A large portion of the local population was quickly wiped out as exotic animals (lions, bears, and elephants) were captured and sent to the capital for feasts, celebrations, and sacrifices. At the same time, wheat was grown and exported to the other provinces of the empire.
Continue to Meknes, a less crowded and smaller version of Fes, for an optional side trip and an introduction to your first historic imperial city. The main attractions are the Ville Impériale (Imperial City) and the Medina. The Royal Stables, the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, and the Bab al-Mansour gate are all located in Ville Impériale. You might want to explore the Medina, which is close to the imperial city and is smaller and more straightforward to navigate than those in Fes and Marrakesh. In addition to the dispersed souks, you might enjoy visiting the Dar Jama Museum, a stunning 19th-century palace turned museum, and the Bou Inania Madrasa, a 14th-century mosque.
Travel east until you reach Fes, your second imperial city. Fes is a city worth getting lost in because of its imposingly sizable (and occasionally perplexing) old Medina. Drive up the hill to visit the Merenid Tombs, which are just north of the city, and take in the panoramic views of old Fes and the surrounding area before going into the Medina. As you make your way down the hill to your riad—a traditional Moroccan home with a garden inside—you can enjoy a sumptuous meal and unwind for the evening.
Days 4-5: Explore the Imperial City & Medieval Medina
The oldest Moroccan imperial city, Fes, is today’s subject of your exploration. The Medina is the most complete in the Arab world and is protected by UNESCO. A knowledgeable guide is advised for a half-day tour to learn more about this city and get assistance navigating the Medina. It began in Fes el Bali (“Old Fes”). Since it was established in the eighth century, the city’s roads have been much more winding, narrow, and steep than those of other imperial cities, making it nearly impossible to avoid getting lost at least once. Shop the famous souks (markets) for a wide selection of goods (spices, leather, ceramics, pewter, etc.).
After that, go to Chouara Tannery, which still uses age-old methods. Locate a nearby leather shop with a rooftop view to observe the masters at work. Make your way to Al-Qarawiyyin University (859 CE), one of the world’s oldest still-open universities. It is located next to the Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque. There are a few locations where you can get a glimpse inside the Mosque’s elaborate interior, even though it is only accessible to Muslims. From there, proceed to the Al Attarine Madrasa or the Bou Inania Madrasa, two magnificent examples of Moroccan architecture and craftsmanship that feature intricate zellij tilework from the 14th century.
Enter through the renowned Bab Boujeloud from here. The exterior is painted blue (Fes’s traditional colour), and the interior is painted green (the colour for Islam). Leaving the gate and proceeding down Talâa Kebira’s main street, lined with stores. Treat yourself to some retail therapy or visit the Musée Batha, which has a stunning central garden and many Moroccan arts, including carved wood and traditional pottery (its highlight). The Batha Museum, located in a 19th-century palace, can be found in Fes el Jedid (“New Fes”), a 13th-century city. Visit the gardens in the style of Andalusia before proceeding to the Mellah (old Jewish quarter and cemetery).
Discover the striking difference in architecture by travelling further south to Ville Nouvelle. Visit a ceramics and tile collective to discover the entire manufacturing process, from sculpting clay to painting product designs. Additionally, observe the tile masters at work. Consider watching the sunset from either Borj Sud in the south or the Merenid Tombs in the north for stunning views of this modern city with ancient roots.
Prepare for a trip to Morocco.
Talk to a local expert who can assist with planning your trip.
Day 6: Over the Middle Atlas to Erfoud, Merzouga & the Sahara
To get to the Sahara dunes for a sunset camel ride, you’ll depart from Fes and head south toward Merzouga. As you travel, you’ll pass through the town of Azrou, ascent 7,146 feet (2,178 m) in elevation over the Col du Zad pass, and traverse Middle Atlas mountain cedar forests. Before stopping for lunch in Midelt (the “apple city”), where you can savour the nearby Moulouya River and its surrounding fruit orchards, you can enjoy sightings of the neighbourhood Barbary monkeys.
Enter the Ziz Valley, renowned for its hidden oases and palm tree clusters, after crossing the Tizi n’Talremt pass. Ksars, or fortified houses, are common along the road. Traders constructed them to safeguard valuable goods like gold, salt, and spices. You’ll spot the first indications of the constantly shifting Saharan dunes just before arriving in Erfoud. Along with nomadic shepherds’ settlements, you’ll also see an old-fashioned technique for extracting water from the ground and an inventive way of getting water to farmland before the invention of the modern pump. If time permits, you can have tea with a local Berber family who lives as nomads.
Continue to Erfoud, a thriving market town renowned for its date festival, fossil mining, and artisan factories. Large rocks are extracted from the ground in hillside mines along the route. While in town, visit a local artisan collective to learn about the different kinds of fossils found there and to observe the entire process of turning the fossil-rich rock into lovely items. You’ll soon see the vast sea of dunes known as Erg Chebbi, which is 13.5 square miles in size (35 sq km). The enormous dunes are never still; they constantly move and shift in response to the shifting wind.
You can take a quick break close to Merzouga and change your route to ride a camel through the sand to your already-setup camp, arriving just before dusk. Before heading back to camp for a delicious dinner and some downtime by the campfire, climb a nearby dune to watch the sun go down. After an evening of Berber music, spend the night in a tent modelled after a bedouin camp under a vast night sky filled with unobstructed twinkling stars. Spend the night in a cosy hotel or auberge in Merzouga if four walls and contemporary comfort are more your style.
Day 7: Desert Adventures Around Merzouga, Rissani Market & Todra Gorge
get up early to witness a magnificent desert sunrise and spend the morning discovering more of the Sahara. You can hire a sandboard and test your skills on the dunes, go on the Erg Chebbi tour, take an ATV tour with a quad, or unwind by the pool. Visit nearby Khemliya, a typical Saharan village (its inhabitants are initially from Mali), from there and take a quick stroll through the community after enjoying traditional drumming music and dancing.
Please stop in the market town of Rissani after leaving the Merzouga region and its dune system. Enter through its grand gate. Finding the “donkey parking lot” and exploring the town’s traditional market are worthwhile endeavours in this livestock auction town.
Proceed to Tinghir. This arid town offers breathtaking views of the surrounding communities hugging the length of the vast river oasis, which is covered in palm trees for 30 miles (48 km). Impressive buttes, mesas, and plateaus can be seen in the desert landscape. You’ll then arrive at the Todra Gorge, your final stop for the day. You can stroll through and around the gorge, carved through red limestone and almost 1,000 feet (305 meters) high, and unwind in the calm waters of the shallow river below. You can explore or develop for the remainder of the evening.
Day 8: Transfer to Aït Benhaddou, Stopping at Dades Valley & Ouarzazate
Today’s journey takes you along the Valley of a Thousand Kasbahs in the west, many of which are in disrepair because they were built of pisé mud (rammed earth). You’ll pass through small towns on your way to At Benhaddou, where you can observe traditional farming practices. As you travel through Boumalne Dades, a significant city and a point of crossing the Dades River, and on to Kelâat M’Gouna, the “Valley of the Roses,” keep an eye out for nomads taking care of their animals. You can admire the raised rose bushes here and go to a rose collective to see how rose petals are transformed into rose water and rose oil, both of which are used in the cosmetics industry.
The expanding town of Ouarzazate, a frequent resting place along the desert routes because it is a little more accessible than some of the nearby smaller towns like At Benhaddou, comes next. You can tour one of two movie studios and get a close-up look at some sets and props. The city became well-known thanks to the expanding film industry. Black Hawk Down, Prometheus, American Sniper, and “Game of Thrones” are a few notable movie credits. Visit the Musée du Cinema to learn more about the area’s history and the filmmaking process.
You will arrive at the historic At Benhaddou, the most well-known Kasbah in Morocco and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The old ksour was a crucial stop on the trans-Saharan trade route between Marrakesh, Ouarzazate, and the southern desert in the 11th century. Set up your lodging in the old town, then leave late after the day’s crowds have dispersed to explore the deserted alleys and passageways. Climb to the top of the old Granary for a great view of the kasbah and surroundings, including the ancient camel caravan routes.
Enjoy a peaceful dinner while gazing out over the valley after your exploration.
Day 9: Transfer to Marrakesh, Tizi n'Tichka Pass over the High Atlas
The Tizi n’Tichka pass is reached via winding desert roads.
Leave At Benhaddou behind and start the winding ascent through the Tizi n’Tichka pass over the High Atlas mountains. The mountain range’s highest peak, Mount Toubkal, stands at 13,671 feet (4,167 m), and you can see the road ahead winding down the mountainside as you get closer to the top. Visit the Argan Oil Cooperative in Taddert, the first town after the pass, to learn how the local women extract the priceless oil from the argan nut to produce an oil used in the health, food, and cosmetic industries. Ladders are the first town after the pass.
The climate and landscape dramatically change as you travel down the High Atlas, from the rocks to the foothills and back to flat plains. You’ll soon be a part of Marrakesh’s vibrant commotion.
After a long day of travelling, check into your hotel and spend the remaining time however you want. Jemaa el-Fna Square comes alive in the early evening with musicians, performers, snake charmers, games, and food stalls, providing various entertainment. Choose one of the many cafés encircling the square and savour a cup of mint tea and a hearty meal to take in the spectacle from a distance.
Day 10: Explore the Red City
Marrakesh, the second-largest city in Morocco, is called the “Red City.” You can hire a Caliche horse carriage from the stand at the southwest corner of the square or ask a guide to give you a half-day tour of Medina’s history, culture, and secret attractions. The Koutoubia Mosque can be found to the west of Jemaa el-Fna. You can admire the 253-foot (77-m) minaret, the oldest tower constructed during the Almohad Dynasty, even though non-Muslims are not allowed inside. To access the stunning Koutoubia Gardens, which feature fountains, pools, palm trees, and flowers, turn around and walk around the Mosque.
As you stroll through the souks and alleys, take in the sights, sounds, and smells. Souk el-Attarin (spices), Souk Haddadine (blacksmith wares), and Souk Smata are a few markets to check out (babouches or slippers). Watch people dyeing cloth and yarn and hanging it above the streets in the afternoon to dry by keeping an eye out for the Souk des Teinturiers or the dyers’ souk. You’ll also see expansive open areas and courtyards that branch off some alleys. These fondouks were once medieval inns that offered lodging for travellers and merchants, as well as for their pets.
Visit the 16th-century Ben Youssef Madrasa (Koranic school) while you’re nearby to admire the central courtyard’s carved cedar, stucco plaster, and zellij tiling, wander the former dorms where up to 800 students once resided, and check out the prayer hall. If you have time, explore the Saadian Tombs further away to see the 500-year-old craftsmanship that went into the intricate construction of the mausoleum. The largest and most opulent palace of its time, the Bahia Palace, was built in the nineteenth century. You can also stroll Majroelle’s lush, vast gardens, which are covered in subtropical plants, bamboo, lilies, and palms, for a change of scenery.
The only remaining Almoravid monument, the Almoravid Koubba, was rediscovered in 1948. You can also visit the El Badi Palace, which has a sunken garden and an ornamental orange orchard. The Marrakesh Museum is another option. Located in the Moorish Dar Mnebbi Palace from the 19th century, the museum has a collection of contemporary and traditional works of art and items from Berber, Moroccan Jewish, and Islamic cultures. Additionally, you can view displays of clothing, antiques, jewellery, and exquisitely carved Hispano-Moorish decorations of carved cedarwood at the Dar Di Said Museum, also known as the Museum of Moroccan Arts.
Day 11: Transfer to Essaouira
Bid farewell to the Red City and make your way to Morocco’s west coast by crossing a sizable expanse of rolling plains. You’ll pass through an argan tree forest along the way, which is unique to this region. Even goats have been known to eat argan fruit from branches of trees. Learn about the uses of argan oil in the food and cosmetic industries by visiting an argan cooperative. Argan oil is obtained from the argan tree.
Arrive in calm Essaouira, a pleasant change from chaotic Marrakesh, and spend the rest of the day as you, please. Stroll along the coast along the Skala de la Kasbah, the seafront ramparts built in the 18th century. European engineers installed old brass cannons that lined the interior walls and provided access to the Atlantic Ocean. Before heading to the deserted beach, explore the UNESCO-protected Medina. Fans of Jimi Hendrix might want to take a brief taxi ride to Diabat, which is at the end of Essaouira’s beach and is where he reportedly spent some time. After returning to Essaouira, eat some freshly caught seafood.
Day 12: Return to Marrakesh, Depart
En route to Marrakesh, goats can be seen in the branches of argan trees.
Essaouira is a well-liked kiteboarding destination referred to as the “Windy City” due to the strong Alizée trade winds that hit its crescent beach. Watch the windsurfers and kiteboarders in the morning, or for the more daring, sign up for a lesson before bidding them farewell and making your way back to Marrakesh.
Make any last-minute purchases for gifts and souvenirs once you arrive in Marrakesh. However, depending on the specifics of your departure, you should visit Majorelle Gardens or another attraction you haven’t been to yet. A visit to these luxuriant and vast gardens, which are not far from the hubbub of the Medina, provides the ideal place to escape the afternoon heat and clamour. As you travel home, leave the peace behind and take your memories with you.