- Wander Marrakech's old medina and maze-like souks
- Ride a camel into the sunset and enjoy traditional music beside a desert campfire
- Explore hidden oases, valleys and kasbahs along ancient caravan routes
|Day 1||Arrive; Marrakech: Exploring the Red City||Marrakech|
|Day 2||Over the High Atlas mountains to Ouarzazate and Boumalne Dades||Boumalne Dades|
|Day 3||Boumalne Dades, Tinerhir, Merzouga, and the Sahara||Merzouga|
|Day 4||Aït Benhaddou (via Alnif)||Aït Benhaddou|
|Day 5||Return to Marrakech||Marrakech|
Day 1: Arrival & Exploring the "red city" of Marrakech
Welcome to Marrakech (nicknamed the "Red City" for its red sandstone walls and buildings). Once an important trading capital for Atlas mountain tribes, Marrakech remains an exciting former imperial city. A major economic center, Marrakech is home to Africa's busiest square, Jemaa el-Fna. Begin exploring Marrakech's ancient medina (old quarter), 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 (markets), 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 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.
Return to Jemaa el-Fna as the sun begins to set and enjoy the show as the square comes alive with musicians, dancers, and snake charmers. Explore the many stalls and vendors to find something to eat.
Day 2: 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, 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. Pass many small towns and 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 3: Desert towns, oases, and camping in the Sahara below the stars
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 sand sea of Erg Chebbi, looming on the horizon. Upon reaching Merzouga, switch gears and transfer to your personal camel to begin your trek over the sands 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 4: Merzouga to Aït Benhaddou kasbah
Wake early to appreciate a desert sunrise and further explore the Sahara: rent a sand board, join the Erg Chebbi tour around the sand dunes or a quad ATV tour, or lounge by a pool in nearby Merzouga.
Head south to Khemliya, a traditional Saharan village. Here you can enjoy traditional music, drumming and dancing before taking a casual walk around the village and its farmed plots in the sand. You will have a second chance to stop in Rissani to visit Maison Tuareg, a storehouse selling traditional arts and crafts, including 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 an 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 5: 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. After exploring Morocco's quiet desert towns and various deserts, soon you will be back in the vibrant city of Marrakech.
Upon arriving in the Red City and depending on your energy level, you may wish to visit a few sites south of Jemaa el-Fna. Some options to consider are the 500-year old Saadian Tombs, the extensive courtyard and sunken gardens of the 17th-century El Badi Palace, or the intricate woodwork and painted ceilings of the 19th-century Bahia Palace. Return to Jemaa el-Fna and relax in one of the many cafés that sit above the square to enjoy a meal and people watch before retiring to your riad for the evening.
Day 6: Morning in Marrakech; Departure
Take the morning to complete any last minute gift and souvenir shopping. Or depending on your departure details, you may wish to check out the Majorelle Gardens in Ville Nouvelle. 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.