This 11-day grand tour mixes culture and adventure, featuring Morocco's 4 Imperial Cities, several days exploring the Sahara and surrounding desert, and hiking in the High Atlas mountains outside of Marrakech.

Highlights

  • Visit the modern cities of Casablanca and Rabat on the Atlantic coast
  • Wander the quiet, blue-painted streets of Chefchaouen
  • Discover souks, tanneries, and artisan workshops in Fes and Marrakech
  • Explore sand dunes, oases, hidden valleys, and old kasbahs in the desert
  • Hike through villages in the Atlas foothills and spend a night with a local family

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive; Morning in Casablanca, afternoon in Rabat Rabat
Day 2 The Blue City of Chefchaouen Chefchaouen
Day 3 Roman ruins at Volubilis and imperial cities of Meknes and Fes Fes
Day 4 Exploring the medieval medina and the Imperial City of Fes Fes
Day 5 Middle Atlas: Erfoud, Merzouga and the Sahara Erg Chebbi
Day 6 Desert towns, lush oases, and film worthy landscapes Ouarzazate
Day 7 Aït Benhaddou Kasbah and Tizi n'Tichka Pass over the High Atlas Marrakech
Day 8 Marrakech: Exploring the Red City Marrakech
Day 9 Hiking around Amizmiz and the High Atlas mountains Amizmiz
Day 10 Amizmiz back to Marrakech Marrakech
Day 11 Depart Marrakech  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Morning in Casablanca, afternoon in Rabat

The morning sun peeks through the impressive Hassan II Mosque
The morning sun peeks through the impressive Hassan II Mosque

Welcome to Casablanca! If you only visit one place in Casablanca—the commercial capital of Morocco—make it the Hassan II Mosque. Sitting in a picturesque location on the ocean, its 690 feet (210 m) minaret is the tallest minaret in the world. While the exterior and surrounding area are impressive, what makes this mosque even more unique is it is one of the few mosques in the country where non-Muslims are permitted to enter. Join a morning tour of the mosque and marvel at the fine artisanship: hand-carved stone and wood, intricate marble floor detailing, and gilded ceilings.

Venture north to the imperial city, and present-day capital, of Rabat. Explore the medieval fortification of the Chellah Necropolis and wander the Roman and Islamic ruins. Enter through the grand door of the Kasbah des Oudaias into Rabat's old city center. 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 are the minaret and some 200 columns—support structures for the mosque.

Day 2: The Blue City of Chefchaouen

Chefchaouen, Morocco
Chefchaouen's blue-painted streets will leave you charmed

Head north to the striking blue city of Chefchaouen in the Rif Mountains. Before Chefchaouen, you can stop to hike (2 to 3 hours) through lush vegetation and small pools to enjoy the Cascades d'Akchour (Waterfalls of Akchour)—a hidden gem. In the afternoon, unwind in charming Chefchaouen. Mostly untouched since the 15th century, Chefchaouen offers a relaxed atmosphere with some of the friendliest people in the country and is known for its blue-hued buildings in its historic medina (old quarter). Explore its narrow streets and alleyways which cling to the northern hillside of the mountains. 

Discover Plaza Outa el-Hammam, the main square named for the number of hammams (public baths) which used to encircle it. Find a restaurant or café for a bite to eat, before browsing the many shops offering traditional wares. Visit the Grand Mosque and kasbah (old fortress or fortification) and tour the kasbah's garden, museum, and even some of its old prison cells. As the evening approaches, ascend the path leading to the abandoned white Spanish Mosque (20 to 30 minutes) to enjoy one last view over Chefchaouen as the sun sets behind the mountains.

Day 3: Roman ruins at Volubilis and imperial cities of Meknes and Fes

Merenid Tombs, Fes, Morocco
The Merenid Tombs looks over Fes

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 your second 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 east to your third imperial city, Fes. With its impressively large (and somewhat confusing) old medina, Fes is a city worth getting lost in.  Before venturing into the medina, drive up the hill to 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 find your way to your riad (a traditional Moroccan house with an interior garden) where you can enjoy a delicious meal and relax for the evening.

Day 4: Exploring the medieval medina and the Imperial City of Fes

Al Attarine Madrasa, Fes, Morocco
A look inside Fes' ornate Al Attarine Madrasa

Fes is the oldest of the four Imperial Cities in Morocco and perhaps the most interesting and exciting to explore. It has the most complete medina in the Arab world and is relatively untouched since it was founded over 1000 years ago. Often considered the country's cultural capital, it is made up of three parts, two medina quarters, Fes el Bali and Fes el Jdid, and the more modern, French colonial influenced, Ville Nouvelle. Meet your guide and spend a half day learning about the history and culture as you navigate the narrow streets of the medinas.

Start in Fes el Bali at the Bab Boujeloud gate and enter the main thoroughfare of Talâa Kebira. Notice the Spanish and Tunisian influenced architecture as you make your way past shops and souks (markets). Visit the Chouara Tannery and marvel at the many dye-filled stone pots and the men at work still using centuries-old techniques. Next, admire the intricate zellij tilework of the 14th-century Al Attarine Madrasa before heading over to the Mellah (old Jewish quarter and cemetery) in Fes el Jdid. If there's time, visit Ville Nouvelle to discover the dramatic change in architecture.

Day 5: Middle Atlas: Erfoud, Merzouga and the Sahara

Camel caravan at sunset in Erg Chebbi, Morocco
Meet your camel and trek through Erg Chebbi to your camp

Start your day bright and early and travel south toward Merzouga. Along the way, you will climb up and over the Col du Zad pass (7,146 feet or 2,178 m) and through the cedar forests of the Middle Atlas mountains. Enjoy sightings of the local Barbary Macaque monkeys before stopping for lunch in Midelt (the 'apple city'), relishing the nearby Moulouya River. Continue over the Tizi n'Talremt pass and into the Ziz Valley, known for its hidden oases and palm tree clusters. Along the road, you will see many fortified houses known as ksars—built to protect precious wares, including gold, salt, and spices. 

Continue on to Erfoud, known for its date festival and fossil mining. Here you can visit a local collective to learn more about the process and meet some local artisans. Next, carry on to Erg Chebbi, an extensive sea of sand dunes covering an area of 13.5 square miles (35 square km). Never stationary, the massive dunes shift and travel depending on the changing wind. Upon reaching Merzouga, climb atop your camel to ride through the dunes to your already-prepared-for-you camp. Trek up a nearby sand dune to watch the sunset before returning to camp for a delicious dinner, relaxing by the campfire. 

Day 6: Desert towns, lush oases, and film worthy landscapes

Boumalne Dades and the Dades Valley, Morocco
Drive through the desert town of Boumalne Dades 

Catch the sunrise before renting a sandboard to test your skills. Leave the dunes and head to Khemliya to experience a traditional Saharan village—its people originally from Mali. Continue west to pass through a dramatic gate into Rissani. A market town, Rissani holds a livestock auction and is home to a "donkey parking lot", a site worth (hearing) and experiencing! Make your way to the desert town of Tinerhir before reaching the 984 feet (300 m) deep Todra Gorge. You will have time to explore the gorge and relax in the cool water of the shallow Todra River

Travel west through Boumalne Dades and the Valley of a Thousand Kasbahs. Though many are now in disrepair, local families still live in some of them. You may even come across nomads herding their animals. Head west to Kela'a M'gouna. Known for its Festival des Roses, here you can see extensively cultivated farmland bordered with fragrant rose bushes. Continue west to Ouarzazate, a gateway to the Sahara Desert made popular by the film industry. Join a studio tour and discover how the nearby desert landscapes have been featured in many films. Movie buffs may wish to check out Musée du Cinema.

Day 7: Aït Benhaddou Kasbah and Tizi n'Tichka Pass over the High Atlas to Marrakech

Jemaa el-Fna, Marrakech, Morocco
Delight your senses in Marrakech's Jemaa el-Fna 

Travel to nearby Aït Benhaddou. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Aït Benhaddou is believed to date from the 11th century during a time when it held an important position along the trans-Saharan trade route between Marrakech, Ouarzazate, and the southern desert. Follow the narrow streets up to the Granary for a view of the surrounding landscapes. From there, ascend the High Atlas mountain range and look out for the highest peak, Mount Toubkal (13,671 feet or 4,167 m). Stop near the top of the Tizi n'Tichka pass (7,415 feet or 2,260 m) to enjoy the views over the mountain range.

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 the final imperial city, 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, 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

Souk, Marrakech, Morocco
Shop Marrakech's souks for gifts and souvenirs

Nicknamed the "Red City" for its red sandstone walls and buildings, Marrakech was once an important trading capital for Atlas mountain tribes, and remains an exciting former imperial city. Located north of the Atlas mountain foothills, Marrakech is home to Africa's busiest square, Jemaa el-Fna. Begin exploring Marrakech's ancient medina, starting with the Koutoubia Mosque and Gardens. Though the mosque cannot be entered by non-muslims, it's worth checking out its 12th-century foundations and 253 feet (77 m) minaret. Visit the fountains and pools in the adjoining garden.

Indulge your senses as you explore the complicated labyrinth of souks, tucked behind ordinary restaurants and shops. Check out Souk el AttarinSouk Chouari, and Souk Smata for a selection of spices, woodwork, and babouche (traditional Moroccan slippers). Visit Souk des Tenturier or the dyers’ souk to see how cloth and yarn are dyed using traditional methods. Next, admire the fine example of Moroccan Islamic architecture of the Ben Youssef Madrasa, a 16th-century Koranic school, and note the ornate detail of its interior: carved cedar ceilings, sculpted plaster, and zellij tiling.

Day 9: Hiking around Amizmiz and the High Atlas mountains

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

Today you will venture south of Marrakech to the small town of Amizmiz in the foothills of the High Atlas mountains (about one hour south). Spend time exploring the modest market in the old town before joining your mountain guide to trek the narrow roads and mule paths in the surrounding hills. Hike between small Berber villages and observe the local farmers and shepherds as they tend to their animals and the landscape. You may even see children on their way to or from school, which are typically shared between a few nearby villages.

Stop and enjoy lunch with a local family and gain insight into their daily lives as you learn how to make homemade bread. Continue your hike into the afternoon before returning to another local Berber home where you will be welcomed for dinner and provided with a room to retire for the evening. 

Day 10: Amizmiz back to Marrakech

Saadian Tombs, Marrakech, Morocco
Inside the 500-year old Saadian Tombs

Have breakfast with your hosts before saying goodbye and heading out on the trail. Continue to explore the local scenery and other nearby towns before returning to Marrakech.

Upon arriving in Marrakech, explore the kasbah area south of Jemaa el-Fna and check out the Saadian Tombs and discover the 500-year old craftsmanship that went into its construction. Visit the sunken gardens of the 17th-century El Badi Palace as you work your way through the mellah and to the 19th-century Bahia Palace. If there's time, you may wish to check out the Dar Di Said Museum (also known as the Museum of Moroccan Arts) to see exhibits of clothing, antiques, jewelry, and beautifully carved Hispano-Moorish decorations of carved cedar wood.

Day 11: Depart Marrakech

Almoravid Koubba, Marrakech, Morocco
The Almoravid Koubba

Depending on timing, complete any last minute gift and souvenir shopping before finding the 12th-century Almoravid Koubba. The only surviving Almoravid monument built during the Almoravid Dynasty, the Koubba was rediscovered in 1948. 

Map

Map of Imperial Cities, Desert Adventures & Atlas Hiking - 11 Days
Map of Imperial Cities, Desert Adventures & Atlas Hiking - 11 Days