Discover imperial cities and desert landscapes on this 11-day circuit starting in Casablanca. Experience culture and history in historic Rabat, Meknes, Fes, and Marrakech as you navigate their ancient medinas. You'll ride a camel over shifting sands in the Sahara, explore mud-brick cities, and cross the high rocky peaks of the Atlas mountains.

Highlights

  • Discover souks, tanneries, and artisan workshops in medieval Fes
  • Wander the quiet, blue-washed streets of Chefchaouen
  • Enjoy traditional Berber music beside a desert campfire under the stars
  • Follow old caravan routes passed hidden oases and old fortified kasbahs
  • Experience lively Jemaa el-Fna Square - the busiest square in Africa

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
Days 4-5 Fes: Exploring the Imperial City and medieval Medina Fes
Day 6 Middle Atlas, Erfoud Fossils, Merzouga and the Sahara Dunes Erg Chebbi
Day 7 Desert adventures, Rissani market, and Todra Gorge Todra Gorge
Day 8 Dades Valley, Ouarzazate, and Aït Benhaddou Kasbah Aït Benhaddou
Day 9 Tizi n'Tichka Pass over the High Atlas to Marrakech Marrakech
Day 10 Marrakech: Exploring the Red City Marrakech
Day 11 Return to Casablanca; Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Casablanca - Rabat

Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca, Morocco
The sun sets over the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca

Welcome to Casablanca! If you only visit one place in 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 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 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, leaving only the minaret and some 200 columns.

Day 2: Blue City of Chefchaouen

Chefchaouen, Morocco
Chefchaouen sits on the slopes of the Rif Mountains

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

Volubilis, Morocco
Visit the well-preserved Volubilis Roman ruins

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.

Days 4: Exploring Fes

Al-Qarawiyyin Library and Mosque, Fes, Morocco
A peek inside Al-Qarawiyyin Library and Mosque

The oldest of the imperial cities in Morocco, and perhaps the most interesting and exciting to explore, Fes has undergone little colonial development adding to its medieval appeal. The most complete medina in the Arab world and a UNESCO World Heritage site, Fes is made up of three main points of interest: Fes el Bali (old Fes, the medina, and where you will spend most of your time), Fes el Jdid ('new' Fes), and the French-influenced Ville Nouvelle. Meet your guide to learn more about the history and culture of Fes, and most importantly, to help you navigate the medina.

Begin your tour in Fes el Bali, starting at the Bab Boujeloud gate welcoming you onto Talâa Kebira. Discover the wares for sale in the souks (markets) and shops as you pass the Spanish and Tunisian influenced architecture. One of the most unique sights in the old Medina is the tanneries and Chouara Tannery is no exception. Next, climb to the rooftop of a nearby leather shop for a better view of the 11th-century stone pots filled with dye and men working. Follow your guide to Al-Qarawiyyin Library and Mosque (859 CE). If you're lucky, you may be able to sneak a peek inside.

Day 5:  Exploring Fes

Fes, Morocco
Explore the old medina in Fes

Today, visit the Batha Museum. Housed in a 19th-century palace, the Museum is home to a collection of traditional Moroccan arts and crafts, including carved wood, zellij (mosaic tilework), and local pottery (its highlight). Spend time in the Andalusian-style gardens before walking to the Mellah (old Jewish quarter and cemetery). Take advantage of its location for a stunning panoramic photo of the city. Continue south to Ville Nouvelle and discover the dramatic change in architecture. 

Tour a Ceramics and Tile Collective to learn how local artisans make wares, from shaping the clay to painting the designs. As well as watch the tile masters at work: fitting together small pieces of tile to form intricate mosaics. Return toward Fes el Bali, stopping along the way in Jnan Sbil (Bou Jeloud Gardens)—a halfway point between the Mellah and Bab Boujeloud. Spend some time relaxing in the gardens' grandeur and cool off in the central fountains or beside the lake.

Day 6: Middle Atlas, Erfoud Fossils, Merzouga and the Sahara Dunes

Camel caravan through Erg Chebbi, Morocco
Ride a camel in Erg Chebbi to your campsite

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) 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 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. Continue 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 7: Desert adventures, Rissani market, and Todra Gorge

Ride an ATV in Erg Chebbi, Morocco
Rent an ATV and explore the Saharan sand dunes

Wake early to catch a desert sunrise, then visit nearby desert villages or enjoy desert adventure sports such as sandboarding or an ATV tour. From there, visit nearby Khemliya, a typical 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. Almost 1000 feet (305 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 8: Dades Valley, Ouarzazate, and Aït Benhaddou Kasbah

Stay the night in the old Aït Benhaddou Kasbah
Stay the night in the old Aït Benhaddou Kasbah

Travel along the Valley of a Thousand Kasbahs to Morocco's most famous kasbah,AïtBenhaddou. Pass through the Dades Valley and stop in Kela'a M'gouna to admire the cultivated rose bushes. Visit a rose collective to see the process of converting rose petals into rose water and oil. As you continue west, you may want to stop in Ouarzazate, the movie capital of North Africa to 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.

Spend the afternoon exploring Aït Benhaddou, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The old ksour 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, and wander the alleys and passageways in the late afternoon after the day crowds have left. 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 9: Tizi n'Tichka Pass over the High Atlas to Marrakech

The winding descent from Tizi n'Tichka Pass
The winding descent 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). Stop in Taddert to visit an Argan Oil Cooperative and learn how the argan nut and fruit are processed for various uses (and try some samples). As you descend the High Atlas, you will notice a dramatic change in the climate and landscape as the rocks change to foothills and into flat plains. Soon you will be a part of the noise and bustle 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, Jemaa el-Fna Square 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 10: Marrakech

Sunset over Jemaa el-Fna and the Koutoubia Mosque in the background
Sunset over Jemaa el-Fna and the Koutoubia Mosque in the background

Nicknamed the "Red City" for its 1000-year old red sandstone city walls and buildings, Marrakech is a major economic center. Marrakech has Berber rather than Arab roots and was once an important trading capital for tribes of the Atlas mountains. Orient yourself around Marrakech's bustling Jemaa el-Fna: the souks are to the north, the Koutoubia Mosque and 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

For a unique way to tour the medina, board a calèche (French for horse-drawn carriage) and begin to adjust to your surroundings. Notice the fondouks—medieval inns that provided merchants and travelers with shelter and supplies. Today some have been converted into residences or large shopping areas and workshops that you can explore. Find your way to the Koutoubia Mosque and take a respite from the heat in its gardens amid fountains and palms. Though the mosque cannot be entered by non-muslims, it's worth checking out its 12th-century foundations and minaret. 

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 Teinturiers 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 11: Return to Casablanca

Saadian Tombs, Marrakech, Morocco
An inside look at the Saadian Tombs 

Rise early and find your way to the Saadian Tombs to marvel at the 500-year old craftsmanship. Then, transfer to Casablanca. Depending on your departure details, you may wish to stroll along the Boulevard de la Corniche to Rick's Café, a bar, restaurant, and café influenced by the movie classic Casablanca, and grab a bite to eat before your return flight home.

Map

Map of Imperial Cities & Desert Grand Tour - 11 Days
Map of Imperial Cities & Desert Grand Tour - 11 Days