A perfect balance of culture, adventure, and relaxation, this 8-day itinerary features highlights of the imperial city of Marrakech, hiking in the foothills of the High Atlas mountains, and relaxing in the coastal town of Essaouira. You'll roam exotic souks in ancient medinas, learn about traditional cuisine and share a meal with a local Berber family, and explore centuries-old seafront fortifications.

Highlights

  • Watch dancers, henna artists, and acrobats in lively Jemaa el-Fna Square
  • Hike the High Atlas foothills in the stunning Amizmiz Valley
  • Break bread with a Berber family and experience local traditions and hospitality
  • Climb ramparts overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and taste fresh seafood in laid-back Essaouira

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Days 1-2 Marrakech: Explore the Red City Marrakech
Day 3 High Atlas Hike & Overnight in a Berber home Amizmiz
Day 4 Hike from Amizmiz to Imi N'Tala & Traditional cooking workshop Imi N'Tala
Day 5 Amizmiz to Marrakech Marrakech
Day 6 Marrakech to Essaouira Essaouira
Day 7 Essaouira to Marrakech Marrakech
Day 8 Marrakech and Departure  

Detailed Itinerary

Days 1-2: Marrakech: Explore the Red City

Sunset over Jemaa el Fna Square
Sunset over Jemaa el Fna Square

Welcome to Morocco! Your trip begins with two days in Marrakech, Morocco's second-largest metropolis is also known as the "Red City" (due to the natural red ochre pigment in its walls). Prepare to be met with a shock of vibrant sights, sounds, and smells as you explore today and tomorrow.

To understand the layout here, orient yourself around Jemaa el Fna Square: the souks are to the north, the Koutoubia Mosque & Gardens to the west and the Kasbah area with the Saadian Tombs, Bahia Palace, and El Badi Palace are to the south. In the Ville Nouvelle, you will find the Majorelle Gardens. You may also want a guide for a half-day tour of local history, culture, and the medina's hidden gems.

For many, the main draw to Marrakech is Jemaa el Fna Square, which begins to fill in the late afternoon with musicians, storytellers, acrobats, dancers, henna artists, and snake charmers. As it gets dark, many rows of food stalls will appear, serving anything from full meals to fruit drinks, dried dates, and small snacks. For a more relaxed experience, look for one of the many cafés that sit above the square to enjoy a meal or tea while you watch the show below. You can also tour the nearby area in style on a Caliche Horse Carriage.

Until the square comes to life later in the day, you can choose from a variety of sights to explore Marrakech:

The Koutoubia Mosque & Gardens
West of Jemaa el Fna, you’ll see the striking minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque in the distance across Avenue Mohammed V. Although non-Muslims are not permitted inside, you can admire the minaret, the oldest tower built under the Almohad Dynasty. On the north side of the mosque, you will see the foundations of the original mosque, which had to be rebuilt to properly align with Mecca. Walk around the back of the mosque to the beautiful Koutoubia Gardens, filled with fountains, pools, palm trees, and flowers. It’s the perfect place for a late afternoon stroll when the late-day sun glows on the minaret.

The Medina, Souks, and Fondouks
There are enough small alleys and markets in the Medina to occupy you for a couple days. Take in the various sights, sounds, and smells as you wander. Many areas are covered, which can be a nice respite from the heat. A few souks worth exploring include Souk el Attarin (Spices), Souk Haddadine (blacksmiths), Souk Smata (slippers), as well as shops with rugs and leather goods. Keep your eyes peeled for Souk des Teinturiers, the dyers’ souk, where you can watch people dying cloth and yarn, then hanging them above the streets in the afternoon to dry.

Fondouks
Along many of the alleys, you’ll notice large open spaces and courtyards. These Fondouks were once inns used by visiting traders and merchants who slept on the upper floors while their animals stayed on the ground floor. Today some have been converted into residential places, while others are large shopping areas and workshops that you can explore.

Medersa Ben Youssef (Koranic School)
Built in the 16th century, the beautifully renovated medersa once housed students of the nearby mosque of Ben Youssef. Inside you can appreciate the carved cedar, stucco plaster and zellij tiling of the central courtyard, wander the old dorms where up to 800 students once lived, and visit the prayer hall.

Other sites in the area include:

  • The Almoravid Koubba, the only intact Almoravid building
  • Marrakech Museum, housed in the 19th century Dar Mnebbi Palace, offers a collection of sculptures and various other Moroccan artwork
  • Museum of Moroccan Arts and Crafts showcases woodwork including traditional wedding palanquins 

On the east of the medina, you’ll find the fascinating tanneries of Marrakech, where you can watch local artisans at work. Be sure to grab some of the locally grown mint leaves to have with you (the plant grows everywhere), just in case you find the scent here a bit pungent.  

South of Jemaa el Fna is the Kasbah area with several worthwhile sights: the Saadian Tombs, El Badi Palace, Bahia Palace, and Jewish Mellah.

Saadian Tombs
Hidden for many years and only "discovered" by the inquisitive French Authorities in the 1930s, the oldest tomb here dates back to 1557. Enter through a very narrow passage to discover a small garden, graves and three main pavilions. As you peer inside you'll notice exquisite craftsmanship and beauty.

El Badi Palace
Although this 17th-century palace this fell into dereliction after the death of El Badi ("the Incomparable"), the grounds offer an extensive courtyard and sunken gardens.

Bahia Palace
Built in the 19th century, this was the largest and most luxurious palace in its day. Today you can explore the courtyard and gardens, and take in the intricate woodwork and painted ceilings.

Majorelle Gardens (30-minute walk or quick taxi ride)
Not far from the hustle and bustle of the medina, you can wander these lush, expansive gardens filled with sub-tropical plants, bamboo, lilies, and palms. It’s a great place to relax and beat the afternoon heat.

Day 3: High Atlas Hike & Overnight in a Berber home

Beautiful wildflowers in the Amizmiz valley
Beautiful wildflowers in the Amizmiz valley

This morning you'll head one hour south of the clamor of Marrakech to the small town of Amizmiz and the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains. Here you can explore the small market in the old town before heading off-the-beaten-path for a stunning hike of this gem of a region.

On your path, you'll be guided by a local mountain expert, who will take you through the small roads and mule paths in the surrounding hills. You'll choose how far, long, or difficult of a route you'd like to tackle, but be aware that the further up you go, the better the vistas that reward your journey.

Regardless of what route you take, you're unlikely to see any other tourists as you hike between Berber villages and traverse the gorgeous mountainside. Along the way, take note of local farmers, shepherds, mules, goats, and some dogs sharing the landscape with you. Notice how the community here has adapted to the terrain: you'll see terraced farming plots and small irrigation canals dug along the mountainside, all built by farmers to make this area suitable for agriculture. 

You'll stop for lunch, which you'll enjoy with a local family, who will show you how they bake their delicious bread in their tiny traditional ovens. After, continue hiking for as long as you like before you make your way to a local Berber home, where you can relax and take in the stunning scenery, then join your hosts for dinner and a fun evening of connection and community. Once you've gotten your fill of mint tea and conversation, retire to your guest room here for the night.  

Day 4: Hike from Amizmiz to Imi N'Tala & Traditional cooking workshop

A traditional Moroccan Tagine
A traditional Moroccan Tagine

This morning, enjoy breakfast with your hosts, then head back on the serene, well-marked trail. You'll pass through charming villages as you hike the mule tracks of the Amnougal valley; as you gain a sense of understanding about this region, soak up the splendor of rural mountain life, punctuated by the cycle of seasons. On your path, you'll see beautiful pastoral landscapes, herds of sheep and goats in pastures, terraced agricultural fields, examples of traditional irrigation, and lovely fruit trees.

You'll stop to picnic amid the idyllic setting, then you'll continue to the village of Imi N'Tala. Here, your warm host Fatima will welcome you with a smile and a fresh cup of mint tea at her house, before taking you on a tour of her village so you can learn more about daily life here.  

In the late afternoon, you'll return to Fatima's home for a hands-on cooking workshop. You'll learn how to make traditional bread and Tagine. After dinner, you'll be greeted by a local family, who will host you for the night in their guesthouse. 

Total walking time: 5-6 hours

Day 5: Amizmiz to Marrakech

Small villages in the Atlas Mountains
Small villages in the Atlas Mountains

Enjoy breakfast at your village guesthouse, then say goodbye to your host family before setting back out on the trail. Today you can choose to hike for as long as you want, exploring more villages and taking in the beautiful scenery; you can also head out early to Marrakech if you'd like to spend more time in the city.

After you check in to your accommodations for the night, stay and relax or venture out into the city for more sightseeing and shopping. One of the highlights of Marrakech is its food, as the city is renown for having the best cuisine in all of Morocco. Your specialist is happy to provide some great recommendations for their favorite spots to grab a bite; whether you dine at a café, venture to a more glamorous restaurant for a full-blown foodie extravaganza, or sample your way through the delights of street food vendors in the square, you're bound to give your tastebuds an unforgettable experience!  

Total driving time: 1-1.5 hours

Day 6: Marrakech to Essaouira

Ramparts along the water in Essaouira
Ramparts along the water in Essaouira

Today's route to the seaside town of Essaouira takes you over extensive, rolling plains. En route to Morocco's western coast, you'll see a unique forest filled with Argan trees, which only grow in this specific geographic location. The oil inside the Argan nut, held inside the tree's fruit, is prized for a variety of uses, particularly in the culinary and cosmetic world. You may have the opportunity to stop at an Argan cooperative to learn more about the product, its applications, and even see the oil extraction process in action. 

If you visit the trees, you may not be alone, though! High in the tree branches, you may see local goats grazing on the argan fruit. It's quite a sight!

Once you arrive in Essaouira, relax and enjoy some free time in this laid-back town: you can walk the impressive seawalls, discover delights in the Old Medina area, or even enjoy some time down by the very active fishing harbor. If you're feeling peckish, linger at the harbor for lunch in one of its great seafood restaurants! 

You'll have the rest of the day to relax and explore this charming town; your specialists are happy to give some recommendations for wonderful spots here for dinner. You can even buy fresh seafood from a local fisherman at the harbor, then bring it to a restaurant to have it prepared. At night, unwind to the sounds of the sea as you drift off to sleep.

Total driving time: 2.5-3 hours

Day 7: Essaouira to Marrakech

Goats high in the branches of Argan trees!
Goats high in the branches of Argan trees!

This morning, take your time to enjoy breakfast in Essaouira and wandering the quaint town or relax as you gaze out on the coast. The bustling medina here is more laid back and easier to navigate than the one back in Marrakech, so consider doing some shopping here before you leave. There are some fantastic finds in stores and souks, where you might not feel as pressured as you would in a bigger city. 

Later this morning, you'll head back to Marrakech, accompanied by gorgeous scenery as you travel across the land. Keep your eyes out for goats in the nearby Argan trees as you journey back through the rolling plains!

When you arrive in Marrakech, you'll have the rest of the day and the evening to spend however you like. If you're inspired to explore local museums, head to the Dar Menebhi Palace, which houses the wonderful Marrakech Museum; you'll see contemporary art alongside traditional crafts and a weapon collection. Marrakech also boasts a thriving art scene, with a smattering of galleries featuring works by local artists. 

Once you're ready for dinner, tuck into a delicious meal; your specialist can help you select a restaurant in this culinary capital. After, roam the streets, taking in the buzz of the city, or head back to your hotel to relax for the evening. 

Total driving time: 3 hours

Day 8: Marrakech and Departure

Koutoubia Mosque
Koutoubia Mosque

It's time to say goodbye to Morocco! Enjoy one last delicious breakfast and take in the bustle of the city; depending on your travel schedule, you may have time for some last-minute sightseeing or shopping before you head to the Marrakech Menara airport for your flight home.