Grand Moroccan Tour - 13 Days
- Visit Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, the only mosque open to non-Muslims
- Stroll the preserved medina, souks, and shops of Fes and get to know the artisans
- Ride a camel through the Erg Shibi dunes and camp under the desert stars
- Discover the iconic square, gardens, tombs, palaces, and mosques in Marrakech
|Day 1||Arrive in Casablanca and Travel to Rabat||Rabat|
|Day 2||Travel to Tanger||Tangier|
|Day 3||Travel to Chefchaouen||Chefchaouen|
|Day 4||Visit Volubilis and Meknes and travel to Fes||Fes|
|Days 5-6||Tour Fes||Fes|
|Day 7||Visit Erfoud and Merzouga and travel to the Sahara||Merzouga|
|Day 8||Erg Shibi Tour, Khamliya Village, Todra Gorge||Todra Gorge|
|Day 9||Visit Dades Valley and travel to Ouarzazate||Aït Benhaddou|
|Day 10||Travel to Marrakech||Marrakech|
|Days 11-12||Tour Marrakech||Marrakech|
|Day 13||Depart from Casablanca|
Day 1: Arrive in Casablanca and travel to Rabat
Welcome to Morocco! Casablanca is a modern, commercial capital of Morocco, with relatively few sights for tourists compared to the imperial cities of Fes and Marrakech. One morning may be all you need for a quick tour of the highlights.
If you only visit one place in Casablanca, make it the Hassan II Mosque, sitting in a picturesque location on the sea. Inaugurated in 1993, its 656-foot minaret is the tallest structure in Morocco and one of the tallest minarets in the world. It is estimated that the courtyard can hold 80,000 worshipers, with room for 25,000 inside. While the exterior and surrounding area are impressive, what makes this mosque even more unique is that it is of the few mosques in the country that non-Muslims can enter. Guided, hourlong tours run mornings, from 9 am to 2 pm and include a tour of the hammam in the basement. The interior is lavish with wood, marble, and carved stone and with guided ceilings.
With a bit more time in Casablanca, additional sites to bookmark include:
- The “Old Medina,” which is only around 200 years old (new compared to those of Fes and Marrakech).
- The Habous, Casablanca’s “New Medina.” Built in the 1930s by the French, here you can get a taste of some art deco architecture. It is a pleasant place to seek out crafts, including an olive, vegetable, and spice market.
- A leisurely stroll along the Boulevard de la Corniche, the Beach Promenade area, often called Morocco’s “Miami.” Here, there are several other sites of interest to visit.
- Rick’s Café, if your main reason to visit Casablanca is to follow in the footsteps of Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart, which recreates the famous scene in the legendary film.
Next, venture north to the imperial city and present-day capital of Rabat, a bustling city with several sights and a rich history. Explore the medieval fortification of the Chellah Necropolis in the heart of Rabat and wander the Roman and Islamic ruins. Step back in time to Rabat's original city center and enter through the grand door of the Kasbah des Oudaias. Mostly a residential area today, quietly wander the peaceful streets. From there, visit the 20th-century Andalusian Gardens and enjoy the serene space away from the crowds. Discover the Hassan Tower, a minaret of the incomplete mosque and Mausoleum of Mohamed V. A 12th-century project that was abandoned, where all that remains today is the red sandstone tower standing at 145 feet and about 200 columns.
Get some rest after an eventful first day.
Day 2: Travel to Tanger
Today, travel to Tanger, which is a major entry point from Europe to Morocco, with many recent additions to improve the city as a tourist destination, including a new marina area (a nice place for a quick walk), and the Medina area.
Zoco Chico is a trendy square surrounded by several cafés offering a nice place to relax and people watch. Tangerians also enjoy a "paseo," a gentle stroll along the promenade in late afternoon as the sun is lowering.
The Tanger Kasbah (fortified castle) is small and compact enough to allow for a self-guided and easy walk by following the various signs. Enter through Bab Haha and enter Place du Mechouar. If you’d like, you can pay for a guide to tour with you.
About 15-20 minutes away from the city, you can also visit Cap Spartel and the Cave of Hercules, which takes about 1 hour to fully enjoy. The cave's outline, when seen against the Atlantic skyline, is thought to resemble that of the African continent.
Enjoy dinner and the evening at your leisure.
Day 3: Travel to Chefchaouen
Spend the morning exploring the port town of Tanger. Or, if you prefer more time in your next destination of Chefchaouen, you can skip the sights on Tanger. Enjoy the scenic drive to Chefchaouen and watch the landscape transform as you approach the Rif Mountains.
Plan a visit to the Cascades d'Akchou waterfall, which sits about 17 miles from Chefchaouen. The "hidden gem" is lush with dense, verdant vegetation and contains many cascades and water pools. To reach the falls involves hiking a couple of hours, and can be a nice activity for the day before arriving in Chefchaouen in the late afternoon.
Chefchaouen, or simply “Chaoeun” by the locals translates to “two horns” named for the two peaks rising above the hillside town. By travelers, it’s most known as “The Blue City,” offering an endless winding maze of picturesque homes and streets. At the medina, you’ll notice a much more relaxed atmosphere and some of the friendliest people you will find in the country. In the late 15th century, the population was boosted by a number of Jews and Muslims fleeing southern Spain and remained mostly untouched and isolated until the last century.
You will spend most (if not all) of your time in the compact Medina area, which clings to the northern hillside. Lose yourself and wander the small alleys and roads; be respectful, as many of the local residents still live in these homes.
At the bottom, you will find the Plaza Outa el Hammam, the main square named for the number of hammams which used to circle it. Here, you will find many restaurants and cafes for people watching, and several shops. You may wish to spend more time in these shops than in Fes or Marrakech, as the prices are generally a bit better and shopkeepers may not be as pushy.
Visit the Grand Mosque and Kasbah. The Mosque was built by Moulay Mohamed in 1560 and cannot be entered by non-Muslims (but the view from the outside is still nice). A visit to the Kasbah (old fortification) can be done in 30-60 minutes, where you can visit a garden, a museum, and some of the old prison cells. Head up to the roof for a better viewpoint on the town.
Keep walking up and you will eventually reach the city walls, which have a few gates. Continue up the paths toward the Hotel Atlas, and you will be rewarded with a vast view (often all to yourself). For more of a hike, there are some switchbacks leading up the mountainside.
As the day ends, follow the streets east, and you will pass over the Ras el Ma spring, where the Oued el Kebir river flows below the town. A couple cafes are nearby and can be a nice place for a late-day mint tea. Follow the path up the hill for 20-30 minutes, and you will arrive at the white Spanish Mosque. From here, you can enjoy one last view of the town as the sun sets behind the mountains.
Day 4: Visit Volubilis and Meknes and travel to Fes
Rise early, and you may be treated with an hour of quiet as you wander the streets in the morning. Many travelers leave in the morning, and others don't arrive until the afternoon. Use this time to snap your unobstructed photos. If you're looking to do some last-minute shopping, note that many shops don't open until 10 am or so.
As you drive toward Fes, you can take a short detour to explore the Roman ruins at Volubilis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that contains Morocco’s best-preserved Roman ruins, and makes for a nice detour from the hustle and bustle of Meknes. Today, you can wander the massive complex, exploring large merchant homes. This town was once one of the most remote parts of the Roman Empire, with the Romans ruling about 200 years and leaving in 285 CE when the empire grew too large to control and they left to focus on other parts of the empire. They grew and exported much wheat for the rest of the empire, and sent many wild animals to the capital for feasts, celebrations, and sacrifices, soon wiping out much of the population.
On the drive, you can also opt to stop in Meknes, the imperial city of Moulay Ismail. While most travelers simply pass straight through, those with a bit more time may find several places of interest in this historical Imperial city. While the city is quite large, the 2 main areas of interest are the Ville Impériale (Imperial City) and the Medina.
Next, continue to Fes, with its impressively large, old medina stretching down the hill. Before venturing in, stop above the city at the ruins of the Merenid tombs, where you can enjoy a lovely panorama of the old city. On the hillside below, you may see leather drying in the sun.
Enjoy your evening in a beautiful riad. You can dine here, as well, if you’d like.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
Days 5-6: Tour Fes
Fes is the oldest of the imperial cities in Morocco, and perhaps the most interesting and exciting to explore. Fes has the most complete Medina in the Arab world and it is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city never experienced much colonial development when the French were in power, and much of it feels like not much has changed in hundreds of years.
The three main areas are Fes el Bali (old Fes, the Medina, and where you will spend most of your time), Fes el Jedid (“New Fes,” but not too new), and the Ville Nouvelle (designed by the French during the protectorate from 1912-1956).
For those interested in history and culture, you could spend a couple of days wandering the Medina, visiting Medersas, and spending time exploring outside of the Medina walls. On a shorter trip, a full day exploring the medina and a few highlights outside may be enough
A half-day guided tour is standard to learn more about history and culture and to help you navigate the Medina.
You will likely want to focus most of your time in Fes in the Medina area. The roads are much narrower, windier, and steeper than those of Marrakech, making it almost impossible not to get lost at least a few times. There are souks (markets) of every variety: spices, vegetables, leather goods, ceramics, metal, shoes, scarves, medicines, and more. Many are concentrated in different areas, and you will see artisans at work in small shops. Fes is often associated with its tanneries, which still uses many of the same techniques as they have for hundreds of years. Find a nearby leather shop for a view from above. Just outside of the Medina, you can tour a ceramics collective, where you will also see tile masters at work chipping away small pieces and fitting together the intricate puzzles forming impressive mosaics.
Next, make a stop at the Karaouine Mosque, which was built in 859 and can hold up to 20,000 worshipers inside. It is only open to Muslims, although there are a few places where you can glimpse inside and admire the beautifully decorated interior. Adjacent, you will find the Islamic University, regarded as the scientific capital of Morocco and one of the oldest universities in the world.
A visit to the Madrasas will show you student houses for those who attended the university and were very intricately decorated and detailed. The two most popular to visit are the Medersa Bou Inania (currently under renovation as of 2018), and the Al Attarine Madrasa (built in 1325). Inside the main courtyard, you will notice the common design pattern: detailed tile work, dark cedar woodwork, and intricately carved stucco patterns. Upstairs, you can visit old student dorm rooms and get a nice view from the windows.
Bab Boujeloud is the large gate that welcomes you into Fes el Bali from the west side, and it perhaps the most famous of all the gates. The outside is blue (the traditional color for Fes), and inside is green, the color for Islam. Heading through the gate, you will stay on the main thoroughfare of Talâa Kebira, packed with shops on either side.
Southwest of the old city, and up the hill is the Fes el Jedid, the “new city” of Fes, built in the 13th century when the Merenid Dynasty came to power and conquered the city in 1248. The main sights of the area are the Royal Palace (no visitors, but you can view the impressively decorated gates) and the Mellah, the old Jewish quarter with a cemetery.
After both long days of touring Fes, dinner and the evening is at your leisure.
Day 7: Visit Erfoud and Merzouga and travel to the Sahara
Get an early start today. You'll be covering a lot of ground as you head over the Middle Atlas Mountains, through a cedar forest and head into the desert region. There are several towns to stop along the way before arriving at the land sand dunes of the Sahara Desert near Merzouga.
Your first stop is Azrou, where you’ll climb up and over the Col du Zad Pass (7,146 feet), and through the cedar forests of the Middle Atlas Mountains. Here, you can see families of Barbary macaque monkeys in the trees and by the side of the road.
Next, enjoy a short stop in Midelt, the "Apple City,” where you can enjoy lunch. Notice the nearby River Moulouya, which allows for the orchard fruits to grow in the desert.
Continue over the Tizi-n-Talremt Pass and into the Ziz Valley, known for its hidden oases and clusters of palm trees. Along the road, you will see many fortified houses known as “ksars.” Merchants built them to protect precious products and items such as gold, salt, and spices.
Just before reaching Erfoud, you will begin to see early signs of the Sahara sand dunes. The dunes are never still, and travel depending upon the wind’s speed and direction. You can also see an ancient method of water mining here, an ingenious way to transfer water to farmland before modern pumps. Along the way, you'll notice nomadic shepherds and some tents in this area. Sometimes, it is possible for a visit to enjoy tea and meet one of the local nomadic Berber families.
Erfoud is a bustling market town, known for its date festival and famous for its fossil mining and artisan factories (you may have already seen some fossils in the markets). En route, you can see hillside mines where large rocks are taken from the earth. While in town, stop at a local artisan collective where you can to learn about the types of fossils found in the area and to see the full process of how the fossil-rich rock is transformed into beautiful objects, large and small.
Soon, you will see the sand waves of the Erg Chebbi in the distance. The Erg Chebbi is an extensive sand sea of dunes, and colors change depending on the time of day and are especially enriching just before sunset.
Near Merzouga you can take a short break as you prepare for a camel ride through the dunes, arriving at your camp just before sunset. Climb up the nearest sand dune to watch the colorful display on the sand sea as the sun sets to the west, then head back to camp for dinner and a night by the campfire enjoying traditional Berber music from the locals. Before you head to bed, take a look at the unhindered night sky.
If you prefer not to spend the night in a Bedouin tent, you can also stay in a hotel/auberge in Merzouga.
Day 8: Erg Shibi tour, visit Khamliya Village and travel to Todra Gorge
If you are an early riser, you'll be rewarded with a sunrise over the sand dunes. Spend the morning exploring more of the Sahara–you can rent a sand board and test your skills on the dunes, take the Erg Shibi tour (around the sand dunes), join a quad ATV tour, or simply relax for a bit by a pool.
Nearby Khamleya is a traditional Saharan village (with its people originally from Mali). Here, you can enjoy traditional music, drumming and dancing before taking an easy walk around the village and its farmed plots in the sand.
As you leave the Merzouga region, stop in Rissani, another market town with an impressive gate at the entrance into town. It is a good place to take a walk around a traditional market, especially on market days when many animals are bought and sold. Be sure to stop by the "donkey parking lot" while you're here.
Continue through the desert to the town of Tinerhir, with a great view of the nearby towns that cling to the side of the green river oasis, filled with green palm trees. The surrounding desert landscape reveals impressive buttes, mesas, and plateaus.
Next, you will visit the Todra Gorge, which is 984 feet high and was made by the Todra River, cutting down through red stained limestones. Here, you can enjoy an easy walk through the gorge, or relax in the cool water of the shallow river. The rest of the evening is yours to explore or unwind.
Day 9: Visit Dades Valley and travel to Ouarzazate
Your journey today travels along the Valley of a Thousand Kasbahs, a Kasbah being a fortified “fort” where chiefs and landowners once lived. Many kasbahs are now in disrepair. Between the small towns of this area, you can see various farming activities, many still using traditional methods. You are likely to encounter nomads here, herding their sheep, goats, and camels.
Then, you’ll pass through Boumalne Dades, a major town and bridging point over the Dades River, until you reach El Kelaa Mcgouna. Here, the intensely cultivated plots of farmland are bordered by rose bushes, which are used in the cosmetic industry to make rose water and rose oil. In May, a Rose Festival takes place, celebrating the year’s production. You can make a quick stop at a rose collective to see the process of converting the petals into the water and oil, and sample some of the products. Along the side of the road, you may see boys selling various crafts made from the roses.
Next, you’ll enter the growing town of Ouarzazate, which is a common stopping point along the desert routes, as it offers a bit more accessibility than some of the nearby smaller towns, such as Ait Benhaddou. The town was made popular by the growing movie industry, and you have an option to tour one of two movie studios if you’d like–Atlas Corporation Studios or CLA Studios–including an up-close look at some props and sets.
The nearby regions have been featured in many movies, portraying landscapes all over the desert, Africa, and the Middle East. Some popular film credits include Lawrence of Arabia, The Last Temptation of Christ, Alexander, Gladiator, Black Hawk Down, Prometheus, American Sniper, and Game of Thrones. To learn more about the history and filmmaking process in the area, stop at the Musée du Cinema.
Aït Benhaddou is the most famous Kasbah in Morocco and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. People believe that the old ksar dates from the 11th century, when it held an important position along the trans-Saharan trade route between Marrakech, Ouarzazate, and the southern desert. You’ll spend a night in the area and wander the empty alleys late in the day and early before the day crowds arrive. Climb to the old Granary at the top of the hill for great views of the area and the over the old camel train routes that once passed here. There are a couple of old kasbahs you can pay a nominal fee to enter and climb up.
Once your exploration is over for the day, enjoy dinner and get some rest.
Day 10: Travel to Marrakech
As you head up and over the High Atlas Mountains today, look out for the highest peak, Mount Toubkal, which clocks in at 13,671 feet. Near the top, you can enjoy great panoramic views over the mountain range, as well as the road ahead, which snakes down the mountainside.
The first town after the pass is Taddert, where you can stop at an Argan Oil Cooperative to learn how the crop is processed for a variety of uses. Descending the north-facing slopes of the High Atlas Mountains, you will notice a dramatic change in climate and landscape, with river valleys carved into the hillsides. After all the tranquility of the mountains and the desert, soon you will be in the midst of the hustle and bustle of vibrant Marrakech.
Once in Marrakech, you may want to spend the rest of the afternoon at a slower pace. In the early evening, the main square, Jemaa el Fna Square, comes alive, with musicians, performers, snake charmers, games, footstalls, and more. If you want to enjoy from a distance, there are many cafés surrounding the square, where you can sit and enjoy the show (and a meal).
Days 11-12: Tour Marrakech
Marrakech has always been a bustling city, filled with foreign sights, sounds, and smells. For some, it can be a bit of a shock to the senses. “The Red City” is named for the natural reddish pigment in the walls, and is Morocco’s second-largest city.
You can request a guide for a half-day tour to show you the history, culture, and hidden gems of the Medina. For many, the main draw to Marrakech is the 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 begin to appear, serving everything from full meals to fruit drinks, dried dates, and small snacks.
On the southwest corner, you will find lines of Caliche Horse Carriages, which you can use to tour the nearby area. During the day, the square is not nearly as active. There are a few other ways to spend your time, which are outlined below.
West of Jemaa el Fna, you’ll see the striking minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque in the distance, across Avenue Mohammed V. The minaret is the oldest of the towers built under the Almohad Dynasty, and the mosque cannot be entered by non-Muslims. On the northside 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 a perfect place for a late afternoon stroll when the late-day sun glows on the minaret.
There are enough small alleys and markets in the Medina to occupy you for a couple of 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 you may want to explore include:
- Souk el Attarin (spices).
- Souk Haddadine (blacksmiths).
- Souk Smata (slippers).
- Souk des Teinturiers (the dyers’ souk).
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.
Built in the 16th century, the beautifully renovated Medersa Ben Youssef (Koranic School) 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), the Marrakech Museum, housed in the Dar Mnebbi Palace (19th century) with a collection of sculptures and various other Moroccan artwork and the Museum of Moroccan Arts and Crafts, most know for the woodwork including traditional wedding palanquins used to carry the bridge.
South of Jemaa el Fna is the Kasbah area with several worthwhile sights, including:
- Saadian Tombs: Secret and 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 and you will find a small garden, graves and three main pavilions. As you peer inside, you will notice the detailed craftsmanship and beauty.
- El Badi Palace (under renovation as of 2018): Built in the early 17th century, it fell into dereliction after the death of El Badi, "The Incomparable.” Here, you can appreciate the 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, gardens, and appreciate the intricate woodwork and painted ceilings.
- Majorelle Gardens: About a 30-minute walk from the medina, you can wander these lush, expansive gardens filled with sub-tropical plants, bamboo, lilies, and palms. It’s a perfect place to escape the afternoon heat and noise for a more relaxing experience.
After both days of exploration, dinner and the evenings are at your leisure.
Day 13: Depart from Casablanca
Today, you will prepare to say goodbye to Morocco. You will depart from Marrakech and travel 3.5 hours to Casablanca for your flight home. Take with you all the memories, trinkets, and connections you made in the Kingdom.