This 10-day itinerary features a perfect mix of culture, history, adventure, and relaxation. Explore imperial cities, mountain villages, desert landscapes, and coastal ramparts. Begin in northern Morocco in Tangier and Chefchaouen before working your way south to Fes, through the Desert, over the Atlas Mountains to Marrakech and Essaouira.

Highlights

  • Wander the quiet, blue-washed streets of Chefchaouen
  • Discover the ancient Roman ruins of Volubilis
  • Navigate the maze-like medieval streets of Fes
  • Ride a camel into the shifting sands of the Sahara
  • Explore markets and souks near Jemaa el-Fna square in Marrakech

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive, Tangier and Chefchaouen Chefchaouen
Day 2 Roman Ruins of Volubilis and the imperial cities of Meknes and Fes Fes
Day 3 Fes: Exploring the Imperial City and medieval Medina Fes
Day 4 Middle Atlas: Erfoud, Merzouga and the Sahara Merzouga
Day 5 Adventures around Merzouga, Rissani market, and Todra Gorge Tinerhir
Day 6 Dades Valley, Ouarzazate, and Aït Benhaddou Kasbah Aït Benhaddou
Day 7 Tizi n'Tichka Pass over the High Atlas mountains to Marrakech Marrakech
Day 8 Marrakech: Exploring the Red City Marrakech
Day 9 Essaouira Essaouira
Day 10 Return to Marrakech; Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Tangier and the "Blue City" of Chefchaouen

Idyllic blue streets of Chefchaouen, Morocco
Explore the picture-perfect streets of the Blue City

Welcome to Tangier—the gateway between Europe and Africa! Located close to the south of Spain, visit the medina (old quarter), a café in the hip Zoco Chico square, or take a paseo to enjoy a stroll along the promenade. Or, travel straight on to the blue-washed city of Chefchaouen in the Rif Mountains. Enjoy the scenic route, stopping along the way to hike to the Cascades d'Akchou (Waterfalls of Akchour). Chefchaoen offers endless winding narrow streets and picturesque buildings. Find Plaza Outa el Hammam for a restaurant or café and enjoy a meal as you people watch.

Though non-muslims are not permitted to enter, the Grand Mosque is still worth a visit. From there, explore the nearby kasbah (old fortification) and tour the garden, museum, and some of the old prison cells. Follow a path outside of the city walls to Hotel Atlas and climb to the rooftop to enjoy a panoramic view of the Blue City. For the slightly more athletic, follow the street east to pass over the Ras el Ma Spring and ascend the path (20-30 minutes) until you reach the abandoned white Spanish Mosque. Enjoy one last view over Chefchaouen as the sun sets behind the mountains.

Hike duration: 2-3 hours

Day 2: Roman Ruins of Volubilis and the imperial cities of Meknes and Fes

Roman Ruins of Volubilis, outside Meknes, Morocco
Ancient Roman ruins hold their charm in Volubilis

Rise early to snap photos of the people-less streets before leaving for Fes. Stop along the way at the UNESCO protected Volubilis ruins—the Roman's farthest reach in Africa. Wander the complex, exploring merchant homes with still-intact heating systems, temples, and many mosaics in situ. Continue on to the smaller, less busy version of Fes, Meknes, for an introduction to a historic imperial city. The two main points of interest are the Ville Impériale (Imperial City) and the medina. Be sure to visit the Bab al-Mansour gate, the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, and the Royal Stables.

Continue on to Fes. With its impressively large (and somewhat confusing) old medina, Fes is a city worth getting lost in.  Before venturing into the medina, take the time to visit the Merenid Tombs located just north of the city and enjoy the all-encompassing view of historic Fes and the surrounding area. Descend the hill and return to your riad (a traditional Moroccan house with an interior garden) for the evening.

Day 3: Fes: Exploring the Imperial City and medieval Medina

Chouara Tannery, Fes, Morocco
11th-century stone pots filled with dye, Chouara Tannery

Fes is the oldest of the imperial cities in Morocco (Meknes, Marrakech, and Rabat are the others) and perhaps the most interesting to explore. A UNESCO protected site, the city hasn't undergone much colonial development, leaving you to experience its medieval charm. Fes consists of two old medina quarters, Fes el Bali (and where you will spend most of your time) and Fes el Jdid (a slightly newer part of the city), and the early 20th-century French designed Ville Nouvelle. Meet your guide to help you navigate the narrow and maze-like ancient streets of the medinas, starting in Fes el Bali (789 ACE).

Note the Spanish and Tunisian influenced architecture as you pass the variety of souks (markets) offering spices, leather goods, and pewter. Known for its tanneries and the acrid smell associated with them, visit the popular Chouara Tannery and climb to the roof of a nearby shop for a better view of the goings-on. Visit the 14th-century Al Attarine Madrasa and admire the zellij tile work before checking out one of the oldest, still operating universities in the world, Al-Qarawiyyin University (859 ACE). Find the mellah (old Jewish quarter) in Fes el Jdid for another encompassing view of the city.

Day 4: Over the Middle Atlas and into the desert: Erfoud, Merzouga and the Sahara

Tourists ride camels in the Sahara, Merzouga, Morocco
A camel caravan trek through the Moroccan Sahara

Continue your journey south, over the Col du Zad pass (7,146 feet or 2,178 m) and through the cedar forests of the Middle Atlas mountains. You will see families of Barbary macaque monkeys in the trees and by the side of the road as you head to Midelt (the 'apple city') to lunch. Appreciate the scenery: the Moulouya River and the apple orchards. Next, travel over the Tizi n'Talremt pass and into the Ziz Valley dotted with oases and palm tree clusters. Notice the many ksars, fortified houses merchants built to protect their wares (gold, salt, and spices).

Nearing Erfoud, you will start to see the early signs of the Sahara sand dunes. Never stationary, the dunes travel as the winds shift. If you're lucky, you may come across a nomadic Berber family and have the chance to drink tea together. Visit Erfoud and discover how the fossil-rich rock of its mines is transformed into decorative and practical objects. Continue on to the extensive sea of sand dunes of Erg Chebbi. Covering 13.5 square miles (35 square km), some dunes rise to over 656.2 feet (200 m), their color changing with the moving sun.

Outside of Merzouga, change the pace and prepare for a camel ride through the dunes, arriving at camp just before sunset. Climb up the nearest sand dune to watch the colorful display as the sun sets behind the colossal dunes. Return to camp for dinner in the open air and an evening by the campfire enjoying traditional Berber music from the locals under a blanket of stars. Spend the night in a Bedouin-style tent.

Day 5: Adventures around Merzouga, Rissani Market, and Todra Gorge

A view over the oases near Tinerhir

Wake early to catch a desert sunrise, before trying your skill at sand boarding. You will also have the option of joining either an Erg Chebbi (sand dune) tour or an ATV tour. Visit nearby Khemliya, a traditional Saharan village, and experience traditional drumming music and dancing before taking a short walk around the village. Leave the dunes behind and stop in the market town of Rissani, entering through its impressive gate. Known for its livestock auction it's worth your time finding the 'donkey parking lot' to delight your senses.

Continue on to Tinerhir. This desert town offers awesome views of neighboring towns hugging the length of the extensive river oasis (30 miles or 48 km of palm trees). Stop at today's final destination, the Todra Gorge. 984 feet (300 m) high and carved by the Todra River through red limestone, here you can enjoy a leisurely walk in and around the gorge and relax in the cool waters of the shallow river below. 

Day 6: Dades Valley, Ouarzazate, and Aït Benhaddou Kasbah

The mud-brick Aït Benhaddou Kasbah

Travel along the Valley of a Thousand Kasbahs to Morocco's most famous kasbah, Aït Benhaddou. Pass through the Dades Valley and Boumalne Dades. Stop in Kela'a M'gouna to admire the rose bushes bordering plots of farmland. Visit a rose collective to see the process of converting rose petals into rose water and oil. Continue west to stop in Ouarzazate and discover how its nearby regions have been featured in movies, including Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, and Black Hawk Down. Join a movie studio tour and visit the Musée du Cinema to learn more about the filmmaking process and history of the area.

Travel to nearby Aït Benhaddou. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the old ksar dates from the 11th century when it held an important position along the trans-Saharan trade route. Settle into your accommodation in the old town, before wandering the near-empty alleys and passageways in the late afternoon. Climb up to the old Granary—an excellent vantage point to see the kasbah and surrounding area. Game of Thrones fans may want to trek down to the river to see the gates featured in the popular HBO series. Long after the day crowds have left, enjoy a quiet dinner overlooking the valley.

Day 7: Tizi n'Tichka Pass over the High Atlas mountains to Marrakech

The snaking road down from Tizi n'Tichka Pass

Leave Aït Benhaddou behind to begin the ascent over the High Atlas mountains. Spot Mount Toubkal, the mountain range's highest peak, at 13,671 feet (4,167 m). Near the top, stretch your legs for a great panoramic view of the mountains. Stop in Taddert to visit an Argan Oil Cooperative and learn, as well as sample, how olives are processed for various uses. As you descend the High Atlas, you will notice a dramatic change in the climate and landscape. Soon you will be a part of the noise and clamor of Marrakech.

After a long day on the road, settle into your hotel and spend the rest of the afternoon as you like. In the early evening, the main square—and busiest square in all of Africa!—Jemaa el-Fna, comes alive with musicians, performers, snake charmers, games, and food stalls, a catch-all of entertainment! If you want to enjoy the spectacle from a distance, choose one of the many cafés surrounding the square and enjoy a cup of mint tea and a meal.

Day 8: Marrakech: Exploring the Red City

Sunset over Jemaa el-Fna Square, Marrakesh, Morocco
Sunset over Jemaa el-Fna Square 

Nicknamed the "Red City" for its 1000-year old red sandstone city walls and buildings, Marrakech has always been a thriving city dating back to the Berber Empire (1062 ACE). Meet your guide for a half-day tour, starting with browsing the stalls of Souk el Attarin (spices), Souk Haddadine (blacksmiths), and Souk Smata (slippers). Visit Souk des Teinturiers (the dyers' souk) and visit the Koutoubia Mosque, along the way note the open spaces that extend off of some alleys. These fondouks were once medieval inns that provided travelers and merchants with shelter for themselves and their animals.

The hard-to-miss Mosque's 253 feet (77 m) minaret is the tallest tower built in Marrakech. Relax in the adjoining gardens, before carrying on to Ben Youssef Madrasa. Built in the 16th century, this madrasa once housed students of the nearby mosque. Admire the Moroccan artisanship: carved cedar, stucco plaster, and zellij tiling. Visit the Marrakech Museum or the Museum of Moroccan Arts for more examples of traditional art and woodwork. South of Jemaa el-Fna is the Kasbah area with several worthwhile sights: the Saadian Tombs, El Badi Palace, Bahia Palace, and the Jewish Mellah and cemetery.

Day 9: Essaouira

Ramparts along the Atlantic in Essaouira

Say goodbye to the Red City, and travel to Morocco's west coast following a route that takes you over vast rolling plains. Along the way, pass through an argan tree forest, endemic to this part of the world. You may even see goats dining on the argan fruit, up in the tree branches. Visit an argan cooperative to learn how argan oil is extracted from the tree and what it's used for in the food and cosmetic industries. 

Arrive in the port city of laid-back Essaouira, a nice contrast to frenetic Marrakech, and spend the rest of the day as you choose. Walk the Skala de la Kasbah (the 18th-century seafront ramparts) along the coast. Designed by European engineers, old brass canons line the walls and offer viewing access over the Atlantic. Explore the UNESCO-protected medina before making your way to the windswept beach. Jimi Hendrix fans may want to take a short taxi ride to Diabat at the end of Essaouira's beach where he reportedly spent some time. Walk back to Essaouira and enjoy a meal of freshly caught seafood.

Day 10: Return to Marrakech

Majorelle Garden in Marrakech, Morocco
Majorelle Gardens

Stroll along the beach or pick up any last-minute curios before heading back to Marrakech. 

If time allows, visit the Majorelle Gardens. Not far from the bustle of the medina, wandering the gardens filled with sub-tropical plants, bamboo, lilies, and palms, is a perfect place to escape the afternoon heat and noise before you catch your return flight home.

Map

Map of Grand Morocco Tour: North to South - 10 Days
Map of Grand Morocco Tour: North to South - 10 Days