- Wander Marrakech's old medina and maze-like souks
- Explore sand dunes, oases, hidden valleys, and old kasbahs in the desert
- Ride a camel into the sunset and enjoy traditional music beside a desert campfire
- Hike amid wildflowers and hillside towns in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains
- Climb seaside ramparts and enjoy fresh seafood in coastal Essaouira
|Day 1-2||Arrive; Marrakech: Exploring the Red City||Marrakech|
|Day 3||Over the High Atlas mountains to Ouarzazate and Boumalne Dades||Boumalne Dades|
|Day 4||Desert towns and camping in the Sahara||Erg Chebbi|
|Day 5||Date palms, Alnif, and Aït Benhaddou Kasbah||Aït Benhaddou|
|Day 6||Return to Marrakech||Marrakech|
|Day 7||Amizmiz and the High Atlas mountains; Overnight in Berber Home||Amizmiz|
|Day 8||Return from the Atlas mountains to Marrakech||Marrakech|
|Day 9||Seaside ramparts, kitesurfing, and fresh seafood in Essaouira||Essaouira|
|Day 10||Return to Marrakech; Depart|
Day 1: Marrakech: Exploring the Red City
Welcome to Marrakech! Nicknamed the "Red City" for its 1000-year old red sandstone city walls and buildings, Marrakech is a major economic center. Unlike Fes, 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 Square: the souks (markets) are to the north, the Koutoubia Mosque and Gardens to the west and the kasbah (fort or fortification) 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 (old quarter), 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.
As the evening progresses, Jemaa el-Fna comes alive with musicians and storytellers, acrobats and dancers, and even snake charmers. Wander the many rows of food stalls serving anything from full meals to fruit drinks, dried dates, and small snacks. Grab a bite, or for a more relaxed experience, look for one of the many cafés that sit above the square to enjoy a meal while you watch the show below.
Day 2: Marrakech
Meet your guide for a half-day tour and discover the exquisite detail of the Ben Youssef Madrasa school of Islam for a taste of 16th-century architecture. Admire the traditional Moroccan artisanship: carved cedar, sculpted plaster, arabesques, Islamic calligraphy, and colorful zellij (mosaic tilework). Wander the old dorms where up to 800 students once lived and visit the prayer hall.
Spend time exploring 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. Afterwards, indulge your senses as you explore the complicated labyrinth of souks, tucked behind ordinary restaurants and shops. Check out Souk el Attarin, Souk Chouari, and Souk Smata for a selection of spices, woodwork, and babouche (traditional Moroccan slippers). Visit Souk des Teinturiers (the dyers’ souk) to see firsthand how leather hides and cloth are dyed.
Day 3: Over the High Atlas mountains to Ouarzazate and Boumalne Dades
Leave the busy city behind and head east toward the desert, ascending the High Atlas mountains. See if you can spot Mount Toubkal, the highest peak at 13,671 feet (4,167 m). Along the way, you will pass many Berber villages—made up of traditional mud-brick buildings. Lunch in Taddert and tour the local Argan Oil Cooperative and discover how the local women extract the precious oil from the argan nut to make oil used in the health, food, and cosmetic industries. Follow the winding road to the Tizi n'Tichka pass and stop to appreciate the panoramic view.
Continue east to the desert hub and filming location of Ouarzazate. Join a movie studio tour and discover which of your favorite movies were filmed in the nearby desert regions. Movie buffs may appreciate a visit to the Musée du Cinema. Travel along the Valley of a Thousand Kasbahs towards Boumalne Dades, passing many small towns where you will see traditional farming methods in use. Be on the lookout for nomads tending to their animals as you make your way through fragrant Kela'a M'gouna, the "Valley of the Roses". You'll eventually arrive in Boumalne Dades, a major town bridging the Dades River.
Day 4: Desert towns and camping in the Sahara
Today you will drive further east to your final destination: the sand sea of Erg Chebbi outside of Merzouga. Along the way, stop in Tinerhir to admire the river oasis that extends on either side of the town. The surrounding desert landscape reveals impressive buttes, mesas, and plateaus. Nearby, you will have the opportunity to explore the Todra Gorge, a 984 feet (300 m) deep ravine, cut by the Todra River. Continue to the desert town of Erfoud. Known for its figs and fossils, visit a craft workshop and discover how the fossil-rich rocks are skilfully transformed into practical and decorative objects.
As you near Merzouga—the town closest to the Sahara—stop in the market town of Rissani and be sure to visit the livestock auction as well as the "donkey parking lot". Leaving Rissani behind, you will start to see the beginnings of the massive dunes of Erg Chebbi, looming on the horizon. Upon reaching Merzouga, switch gears and transfer to your personal camel to begin your trek over the sand dunes and to your Bedouin-style camp. Hike to the top of a nearby dune to watch the setting sun, before enjoying a warm meal by the fire, listening to traditional music.
Day 5: Date palms, Alnif, and Aït Benhaddou Kasbah
Rise early to witness a Saharan sunrise, before exploring more of the Desert: rent a sandboard, join the Erg Shibi tour (around the sand dunes) or a quad ATV tour. Head south to Khemliya to explore this traditional Saharan village. You will have a second chance to stop in Rissani to visit Maison Tuareg, a storehouse selling traditional carpets, jewelry, and leather goods. From there, pass through umbrella-shaped trees of the acacia forests before reaching Alnif for lunch. Continue on through the Draa Valley, dense with date palmeries and the opportunity to pick up a box of dates for the drive.
Continue west to medieval Aït Benhaddou. A protected UNESCO site, Aït Benhaddou is the most famous kasbah in Morocco and once upon a time, held an important position along the trans-Saharan trade route between Marrakech, Ouarzazate, and the southern desert. Spend the night in the old town and wander the empty alleys after the day-crowds have left. Pay a nominal fee to enter a few of the kasbahs and climb up to the rooftop for pretty views of the surrounding ksours (individual kasbahs) and Ouarzazate Valley.
Day 6: Return to Marrakech
Before the crowds filter into the old kasbah, explore the narrow passageways and alleys to get a real feel for this 11th-century fortified city. Leave Aït Benhaddou behind, and return to Marrakech, traveling one more time up and over the High Atlas mountains and through the Tizi n'Tichka Pass. As you descend the north facing slopes of the High Atlas you will notice a dramatic change in climate and landscape. After all the tranquillity of the mountains and the desert, soon you will be back in lively Marrakech.
Visit the only surviving Almoravid monument, the 12th-century Almoravid Koubba, before spending some time in the Marrakech Museum. Housed in the 19th-century Dar Mnebbi Palace, the museum is home to a large exhibit of both modern and traditional art and includes artifacts of Berber and Moroccan Jewish and Islamic cultures. Make your way back to Jemaa el-Fna and grab a bite to eat at one of the many food stalls.
Day 7: Amizmiz and the High Atlas mountains
A short distance south of Marrakech lies the small town of Amizmiz at the foothills of the High Atlas. Explore the humble market in the old town before meeting your mountain guide to begin your hike along quiet narrow roads and mule paths. As the area is remote, you are unlikely to come across other tourists. As such, you will be treated to trekking in between traditional Berber villages that hug the hillsides, with local farmers and shepherds going about their daily routines. Discover the terraced plots of farmland, which local farmers have built to turn the mountainside into suitable land for farming,
Visit with a local family and see how they live and enjoy a traditional lunch with them, before carrying on with your hike. Meet another local Berber family and relax as guests in their home, enjoying a warm meal and their company.
Day 8: Return from the Atlas mountains to Marrakech
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 (Jewish quarter) and to the 19th-century Bahia Palace. Return to the medina and take an evening stroll and walk the short distance to admire the floodlit Koutoubia Mosque, before retiring to your accommodation.
Day 9: Marrakech to Essaouira
After breakfast, make your way west to the Atlantic coast and to the charming beach town of Essaouira. The route along the way takes you over extensive rolling plains and through endemic argan forests. If you're lucky, you may see goats in the trees grazing on the argan fruit, a sight seen when grass pasture is limited or unavailable. Along the way, there is an option to stop at an Argan Oil Cooperative to see how the precious and expensive oil is extracted from the nut.
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
Known as the "Windy City" for its strong Alizée trade winds that hit its crescent beach, Essaouira is a popular kiteboarding destination. Take the morning to watch the windsurfers and kiteboarders or for the more adventurous, take a lesson, before saying goodbye and returning to Marrakech.
Upon arriving in Marrakech, complete any last minute gift and souvenir shopping. Or depending on your departure details, you may wish to check out Majorelle Gardens. Not far from the commotion of the medina, a visit to these lush and expansive gardens offers the perfect place to escape the afternoon heat and noise. Leave the quiet behind and bring with you your memories as you make your way home.