Featuring a combination of culture, adventure, and relaxation, this 10-day itinerary will have you discover the Imperial City of Marrakesh, explore the Sahara and surrounding desert towns, hike the Atlas mountains, and relax along the coast. Enjoy traditional music around a desert campfire, spend a night with a local Berber family, and hike between small villages in the Atlas foothills. Finish the trip by eating fresh seafood by the Atlantic in charming Essaouira.


  • Wander Marrakesh'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

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Marrakesh, Explore the "Red City" Marrakesh
Day 2 Half-Day Tour of Marrakesh Marrakesh
Day 3 Cross the High Atlas Mountains to Ouarzazate & Boumalne Dades Boumalne Dades
Day 4 Transfer to Erg Chebbi, Camels & Camping in the Sahara Erg Chebbi
Day 5 Transfer to Aït Benhaddou, Explore the Kasbah Aït Benhaddou
Day 6 Return to Marrakesh, Free Afternoon Marrakesh
Day 7 Transfer to Amizmiz, Overnight in a Berber Home Amizmiz
Day 8 Return to Marrakesh, Self-Guided Exploration of the City Marrakesh
Day 9 Transfer to the Seaside in Essaouira Essaouira
Day 10 Return to Marrakesh & Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Marrakesh, Explore the "Red City"

Jemaa el-Fna, Marakech, Morocco
Watch Marrakesh's central square of Jemaa el-Fna come alive at dusk

Welcome to Marrakesh! Nicknamed the "Red City" for its 1,000-year-old red sandstone city walls and buildings, Marrakesh is a major economic center. Unlike Fes, Marrakesh has Berber rather than Arab roots and was once an important trading capital for tribes of the Atlas mountains. Orient yourself around the city's bustling central square of Jemaa el-Fna: the souks (markets) are to the north, the Koutoubia Mosque and Gardens to the west, and the kasbah (fortress) area with the Saadian TombsBahia Palace, and El Badi Palace are to the south. 

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: Half-Day Tour of Marrakesh

Ben Youssef Madrasa, Marrakech
The beautiful Ben Youssef Madrasa

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 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. Afterward, 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 (the dyers' souk) to see firsthand how leather hides and cloth are dyed.

Day 3: Cross the High Atlas Mountains to Ouarzazate & Boumalne Dades

Taddert, Morocco
The village of Taddert in the High Atlas near Tizi n'Tichka

Join your driver this morning and leave the busy city behind as you 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'll pass many Berber villages made up of traditional mud-brick buildings. Stop for lunch in Taddert and tour the local Argan Oil Cooperative to discover how the local women extract this precious oil, then 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 toward Boumalne Dades, passing many small towns where you'll see traditional farming methods in use. Be on the lookout for nomads tending to their animals as you make your way through fragrant Kelâat M'Gouna, the "Valley of the Roses." You'll eventually arrive in Boumalne Dades, a major town bridging the Dades River.

Day 4: Transfer to Erg Chebbi, Camels & Camping in the Sahara 

Camel caravan through Erg Chebbi, Sahara, Morocco
Ride a camel to your elegant Bedouin-style camp

Today you'll continue farther east to your final destination: the sand sea of Erg Chebbi outside of Merzouga. Along the way, stop in Tinghir 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'll have the opportunity to explore the Todra Gorge, a 984-foot (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 Desert—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'll 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 and listening to traditional music.

Plan your trip to Morocco
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.

Day 5: Transfer to Aït Benhaddou, Explore the Kasbah

The kasbah at Aït Benhaddou
Step back in time in the kasbah at Aït Benhaddou

Rise early to witness a Saharan sunrise, then spend the morning exploring more of the desert: rent a sandboard, tour the sand dunes), or set out on an ATV adventure. When it's time to hit the road, your driver will be waiting to take you south to Khemliya to explore this traditional Saharan village. 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 (fortress) in Morocco and, once upon a time, held an important position along the trans-Saharan trade route between Marrakesh, 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 Marrakesh, Free Afternoon

Almoravid Koubba
See the last traces of the Almoravid dynasty at the Almoravid Koubba 

Before the crowds filter into the old kasbah, explore the narrow passageways and alleys to get a real feel for the 11th-century fortified city of Aït Benhaddou. Then it's time to return to Marrakesh, 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'll notice a dramatic change in climate and landscape. After all the tranquillity of the mountains and the desert, soon you'll be back in lively Marrakesh.

Visit the only surviving Almoravid (a Berber dynasty from the Middle Ages) monument, the 12th-century Almoravid Koubba, before spending some time in the Marrakesh 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. As evening falls, make your way back to Jemaa el-Fna and grab a bite to eat at one of the many food stalls.

Day 7: Transfer to Amizmiz, Overnight in a Berber Home

Small villages hug the Atlas Mountains
Experience local hospitality in a small village in the Atlas mountains

Leave the city behind this morning and transfer a short distance south of Marrakesh to the small town of Amizmiz, nestled in the foothills of the High Atlas. Explore the humble market in the Old Town before meeting your mountain guide to begin a hike along quiet narrow roads and mule paths. As the area is remote, you're unlikely to come across other tourists. Trek between traditional Berber villages that hug the hillsides, with local farmers and shepherds going about their daily routines. Discover the terraced plots of farmland that 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. At the end of the day, you'll meet with another local Berber family and relax as guests in their home, enjoying a warm meal and their company as you settle in for the night.

Day 8: Return to Marrakesh, Self-Guided Exploration of the City

Koutoubia Mosque at night, Marrakech, Morocco
Koutoubia Mosque and its minaret glow in the early evening

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

Upon arriving in Marrakesh, 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: Transfer to the Seaside in Essaouira

Seafront ramparts of Essaouira, Morocco
The seafront fortifications of Essaouira

After breakfast, your driver will take you 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's the 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 Marrakesh, 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 cannons line the walls and offer sweeping views 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 Marrakesh & Depart

Majorelle Gardens, Marrakech, Morocco
Marrakesh's Majorelle Gardens

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 Marrakesh. 

Upon arriving in Marrakesh, complete any last-minute gift and souvenir shopping. Or, depending on your departure details, you may wish to check out the 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. 

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