On this 13-day trip plan, explore all aspects of Morocco–the coastal city of Essaouria, the imperial city of Few, and the Merzouga area of the Sahara Desert. Beginning and ending in Marrakech, stroll the bustling square of Jemma El Fna, then visit Hassan Mosque II in Casablanca, with one of the tallest towers in the world. Hike in the scenic Rif Mountains and get lost in the blue-hued city of Chefchaouen. Enjoy delicious Moroccan cuisine and culture along the way.

Highlights

  • Visit the Jemaa El Fna in Marrakech with its lively performance culture  
  • Ride a camel into the Sahara Desert and go stargazing in the dunes at night
  • Tour old movie sets in Ouarzazate, known as “Moroccan Hollywood”
  • Explore the spiritual capital of Fes, famous for its dye-based tanneries

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrival in Marrakech Marrakech
Day 2 Travel to Essaouira Essaouira
Day 3 Travel to Casablanca Casablanca
Day 4 Tour Casablanca and Travel to Rabat Rabat
Day 5 Travel to Tangier Tangier
Day 6 Travel to Chefchaouen Chefchaouen
Day 7 Tour Chefchaouen - Hiking in the Rif Mountains Chefchaouen
Day 8 Travel to Fes Fes
Day 9 Guided Tour of Fes Fes
Day 10 Travel to Merzouga in the Sahara Desert Merzouga
Day 11 Travel to Ouarzazate Ouarzazate
Day 12 Travel to Marrakech Marrakech
Day 13 Departure From Marrakech  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrival in Marrakech

Bahia Palace
Bahia Palace

Today, you will arrive at the Menara International Airport and will be greeted by your private driver. You will be taken to your accommodations in Marrakech and, depending on your arrival time, have the day free to recover from your trip.

Some places to explore include:

  • Bahia Palace: This 19th-century palace also boasts beautiful gardens.
  • Saadian Tombs: This stunning site is built of Italian Carrara marble and honeycomb plasterwork, and accented with pure gold.
  • Koutoubia Mosque (from outside): This is the largest mosque in the town, and was built in the 12th century.

At night, make your way to Jemaa El Fna, where performers, musicians, and the local culture comes alive in the evening. This is the perfect place for dinner and some welcome entertainment.

Day 2: Travel to Essaouira

Essaouira
Essaouira

Today, you will travel to Essaouira, a town made popular for its excellent surfing beaches. The 3-hour route takes you over extensive, rolling plains. On approaching the western seaboard of Morocco, you will enter a unique forest. This is the only ecosystem where argan trees grow, and their fruits are very useful. You will make a slight diversion to visit an association of local women that make argan oil, famed for its excellent health and beauty properties. You may see goats grazing on the fruits of the argan trees, high in the tree branches. It is quite a sight!

When you arrive in Essaouira, stroll the impressive seawalls, discover delights in the Old Medina area, or enjoy some time down by the very active fishing harbor. Jewish heritage is very present in Essaouira, where one of the best-preserved Jewish quarters in Morocco is located. It is a perfect example of a community of coexistence and a very interesting place to explore.

Lunch and dinner will be on your own, with recommendations from your driver. Make sure to ask about great seafood options! Tonight, you will stay in a hotel or a riad.

Day 3: Travel to Casablanca

Safi
Safi

Today, you will leave early and head to Casablanca via the coastal route with brief stops in some other seaside cities along the way. The first city you will encounter is Safi, known for its excellent surfing beaches and views of the Atlantic Ocean.

The second city is El Jadida. There, you can tour the hauntingly beautiful Portuguese cistern. You can also spend your time walking the ramparts and can visit the Church of the Assumption, followed by lunch.

Next is Azemour, which has inspired many Moroccan artists over the decades, some of whom have chosen to live here. Life there is still traditional despite its close proximity to the cosmopolitan art market of Casablanca. A crumbling 16th-century medina squeezed between the Oud Er-Rbia (Mother of Spring River) and the ocean provide plenty of artistic inspiration.

Once in Casablanca, you will check into your hotel. The evening and dinner will be at your leisure.

Day 4: Tour Casablanca and travel to Rabat

Hassan II Mosque
Hassan II Mosque

You will begin today with a tour of the Hassan II Mosque. This exquisite mosque has one of the tallest minarets in the world and is a breathtaking building representative of the best of Moroccan architecture. The interior is lavish with wood, marble, and carved stone and with guided ceilings. It is also the only mosque that is open for the public to tour and a real experience. Afterward, lunch is on your own.

In the afternoon you will travel to Rabat, the capital of Morocco and home to the Royal Family. Here, you will visit the Hassan Tower monument, which is one of the most magnificent buildings of the Almohad Dynasty. Hassan Tower is a minaret of the incomplete mosque and Mausoleum of Mohamed V. It is home to a 12th-century project that was abandoned, where all that remains today is the red sandstone tower standing at 145 feet, and about 200 columns. Tonight, you will have dinner on your own with recommendations from your driver.

Day 5: Travel to Tangier

Tangier
An aerial view of Tangier

After breakfast today, you will travel to Tangier via the Atlantic Coast. On the way, you will stop for a bit in Asilah, a beautiful coastal town. This old Portuguese colony town is a popular destination that attracts many Moroccans in the summertime for their holidays, due to the clean and attractive beaches. Here, you will get the chance to see the Spanish-influenced architecture.

Next, you will visit the Hercules Caves. This unique spot is said to have been partially constructed by the Phoenicians and a place where Hercules, himself, slept. If you’d like, you can pay for a guide to give you some additional information about the site.

Lastly, you’ll arrive in Tangier. This northernmost city is the gateway to Europe via a ferry to Spain, and it has quite a diverse culture, due to the high amount of travelers passing through. You will have the night on your own to do some exploring, and dinner will be on your own with your driver’s recommendations.

Day 6: Travel to Chefchaouen

Chefchaouen
Chefchaouen

In the morning, have breakfast and then make your way toward Chefchaouen. On the way, you’ll pass through Tetouan, which is a jewel of a town in a striking location at the foot of the Rif Mountains, just a few kilometers from the sea. The ancient medina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, looks like it has not changed in several centuries. You will be able to tour this town on your own with recommendations from your driver. Lunch will be at your leisure.

Continuing on, you will arrive in Chefchaouen, a visual delight clad in blue walls, doors, windows, stairways, alleyways, and archways–everything is a combination of soft, pastel sky blue and deeper, more powerful hues. After your check-in at your riad, you are free to explore the town at your own pace or simply relax. Outa el Hammam is the main square, and the place to watch the world go by. Walk up the tiny higgledy-piggledy alleys, away from the more tourist-orientated areas, and you will find the everyday life of the town coming alive.

Ask your driver if you want any recommendations. Dinner will be on your own.

Day 7: Tour Chefchaouen and hiking in the Rif Mountains

Cascades d'Akchour
Cascades d'Akchour

Good Morning! Take note of Chefchaouen's blue buildings, which glow in the morning light. Make sure to wake up early to watch the sunrise over the mountains from the nearby Spanish mosque. Since many shops don't open until 10 am, you can take this time to wander the serene town. 

Then, you’ll depart for a guided hike in the Rif Mountains. Here, you’ll get the chance to explore the wilderness among the cedar trees and can hike to the Cascades d’Akchour, a stunning waterfall that will warrant plenty of photos. You’ll also encounter smaller waterfalls along the way, and depending on the weather, you can take a refreshing dip. On the other side of the river, you can take the steep path to God’s Bridge, a natural rock formation. Or, you can follow the canyon to view the bridge from below.

Once back in Chefchaouen, visit the medina and surround yourself in the beauty of the town. Take a walk to the market, where you can buy some fresh fruit to enjoy, and then people watch the local passersby dressed in bright-colored traditional garb. Dinner is at your leisure, and you will have the rest of the evening to relax before you move on to your next tour tomorrow.

Day 8: Travel to Fes

Volubilis
Roman ruins in Volubilis

Today, you will say goodbye to Chefchaouen and travel south to Fes. Before you leave, you have time for a bit more exploration in the medina. You can watch the sunrise from the Spanish mosque if you wake up early enough, or you can spend a relaxing morning watching the city come to life from a café in Place Outa el-Hammam. 

On the way to Fes, you’ll visit Volubilis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that contains Morocco's best-preserved Roman ruins. You can take a nice break from driving to wander the massive complex, exploring large merchant homes with visible heating systems, temples, and many well-preserved mosaics. There are usually guides available here to hire on your own if you would like, and your driver can assist you with this. 

Then, it is over to Moulay Idriss, which from a distance, looks like a sitting camel. Moulay Idriss was founded in 789 CE by Moulay Idriss after he had fled religious and tribal conflicts in Mecca. It was here that he founded the Idrisid dynasty, making Moulay Idriss Morocco's first Islamic capital and a site of ongoing cultural significance. The city also contains the only round minaret in Morocco. You can eat lunch here, or wait to eat at the next stop. 

The last stop before Fes is the prosperous city of Meknes. It has a smaller medina than Fes and you can explore at a leisurely pace, without worrying about aggressive shopkeepers. Your driver will lead through the Ville Impériale area, where you can see gardens, palaces, the impressive gate of Bab al-Mansour, the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, and the Royal Stables. Many of these palaces were constructed with materials taken from Volubilis, so be on the lookout for Roman columns hidden in unexpected places!

You’ll end the day in Fes, one of Morocco's four imperial cities. Fes was founded by Moulay Idriss I and was made the capital of the Idrisid dynasty by his successor, Moulay Idriss II. You will be taken to your riad in the Fes medina, and the late afternoon into the evening will be yours.

The ancient and unforgettable Fes Medina is a maze of winding alleys that climb up both sides of a steep river valley and is the largest car-free urban area in the world. You are likely to get lost while exploring the Fes medina on your own, but this can also be liberating! The secret to finding your way out of the medina is to pay attention to whether you are going uphill or downhill as you walk. Walking uphill will generally take you to the edge of the medina, where you can catch a taxi or more easily see where you want to go. 

Day 9: Fes: Guided tour of Fes

A view over the Tanneries Chouara, Fes
A view over the Tanneries Chouara in Fes

Your tour guide will meet you after breakfast to start your day of exploration in the Fes medina. This UNESCO-protected medina is full of arms-width alleyways and donkey-width roads. Your Fes born-and-bred guide will share hidden stories and show you secluded corners of the medina, and you will observe daily life and the magnificence of Fes's madrasas and palaces. Your guide will help you learn the fabulousness that is Fes as only a true local can. Be sure to ask your guide for lunch suggestions. 

Fes is a hub of the Moroccan crafts and arts, and you’ll meet artisans to learn about the history and importance of their trades. You’ll visit tanneries and mosaic workshops to observe traditional crafting methods still in use today. 

In the afternoon, return to your riad and relax for a bit. Afterward, take a guided visit to the local hammam (traditional public bath). This is one of the most relaxing things you can do after a long day of walking. After your soak, you can have the evening to yourself for more downtime.

Day 10: Travel to Merzouga in the Sahara Desert

Sahara Desert
Travel by camel into the Sahara Desert

Get an early start today, because you'll be covering a lot of ground to reach the Sahara Desert!

You will start by crossing the Middle Atlas Mountains through the town of Azrou and its majestic cedar forests. Here, you can take a brief detour to the scenic Cèdre Gouraud Forest, where troops of Barbary Macaque monkeys lounge in ancient cedar trees near the road.

You’ll stop for lunch in Midelt, which sits on a cold, high desert plateau. Despite the harsh landscape, Midelt is known as Morocco's "Apple City" for its productive orchards. This is only possible because the Moulouya River (the third-longest river in Morocco) provides year-round water as it runs to the Mediterranean Sea.

Continuing on, you’ll cross a landscape of steep mountain ranges, wide valleys, and narrow canyon passes. You will follow the Ziz Valley, an important branch of the ancient Saharan Trade Route. You will start to see many fortified houses (known as ksars) that were built by merchants to protect the gold, salt, and spices that passed this way.

After crossing through the incredible Ziz Gorge, you will begin to see early signs of Saharan sand dunes. These wind-blown dunes are in constant motion, often leading them to encroach upon farms, roads, and buildings. You can also see an ancient method of water "mining” here, an ingenious way to transfer water from the mountains to farmland, which was employed before modern pumps were invented. Along the way, you'll notice nomadic shepherds and some tents in this area. 

Erfoud is a bustling market town known for date fruits and fossils. En route, you will see hillside mines where large fossil rocks are taken from the earth. You can stop at a local artisan collective to learn about the types of fossils found in the area and to see the full process of how the fossil-rich rock is transformed into beautiful products, large and small. You will see the massive dunes of Erg Chebbi in the distance. This extensive sea of sand covers nearly 22 miles, with some dunes rising to over 650 feet high.

Near Merzouga, you can take a short break as you prepare for the trip to your desert camp. If you ride a camel, you will arrive at camp just before sunset. You can climb up to watch the colorful sunset reflecting on the sand dunes.

Head back to camp for dinner and a night of traditional Berber music by the fire. There is almost no light pollution in this region, so be sure to look at the starry night sky before you head to bed. 

Day 11: Travel to Ouarzazate

Ouarzazate
Ouarzazate

If you are an early riser, you'll be rewarded with a sunrise over the sand dunes. Eat breakfast at your camp, and then travel back across the desert to Merzouga. Meet your driver and begin your long drive to Ouarzazate. You should consider stopping in Rissani before setting out across the desert plains. This is a good place to take a walk around a traditional market, especially on market days when many animals are bought and sold. Be sure to stop by the "donkey parking lot" while you're there. 

Today's journey is truly spectacular. You will travel through a remote, empty land that borders the Sahara. The views are vast and extensive, with desert plains, high mountains, and plateaus all around. This journey gives a real feeling of wilderness; it is awesome in its grandeur. Along the drive, you will see forests of umbrella-shaped Acacias that are specially adapted to this harsh environment. On your way, you can stop in the town of Alnif and see the local fossil workshops. 

You will continue to the Dadès Gorge, which cuts through a dramatic landscape of rusty red and mauve-striped mountains. The valley below is an irrigated oasis filled with fig, almond, and olive orchards and dotted with crumbling kasbahs and Berber villages. Ask your driver for lunch options in the nearby town of Boumalne Dadès

You will end the day in Ouarzazate, a town made popular by its involvement in the important Moroccan film industry. There is more to Ouarzazate than movies though, and you can take a guided tour at Aït Benhaddou, the most famous Kasbah in Morocco and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. People believe that the old ksar dates from the 11th century when it held an important position along the trans-Saharan trade route between Marrakech, Ouarzazate, and the southern desert. If you arrive in Ouarzazate late in the day, you can proceed directly to your accommodations in Ouarzazate and visit Aït Benhaddou in the morning. 

Day 12: Travel to Marrakech

Ait Ben Haddou
Ait Ben Haddou

Today, you will cross the High Atlas Mountains that separate Ouarzazate from Marrakech. If you weren't able to visit Aït Benhaddou yesterday (or if you want to revisit the town to see it in the morning light), you can explore the ksar after you leave Ouarzazate.

You’ll wind your way up the dry desert slopes of the High Atlas Mountains through the Tizi-n-Tichka Pass. Near the top of the Tizi-n-Tichka, enjoy incredible panoramic views of the mountain range and the plains of Marrakech below. Be on the lookout for Mount ToubkalNorth Africa's highest mountain, which is to your west. As you descend the north-facing slopes of the High Atlas Mountains, you will notice a dramatic change in climate and landscape, and you will cross deep river valleys, and abundant almond and walnut orchards. Soon, you will leave the tranquility of the desert and the mountains behind as you enter the hustle and bustle of vibrant Marrakech. 

Once in Marrakech, you can spend the rest of the afternoon at a slower pace. If you did not make it the medina's main square, the Jemaa el Fna, make the time to visit on your last night. The media comes alive with musicians, performers, snake charmers, games, food stalls and more. There are many cafés surrounding the square where you can sit and enjoy the entertainment over a farewell meal.

Day 13: Departure from Marrakech

Farewell, Morocco!
Goodbye, Morocco!

Today, you will depart Morocco from Marrakech Menara International Airport. Depending on your flight time, you may need to travel to the airport immediately after breakfast, or you may have time to explore the city a bit more. Prepare your goodbyes, and bid Morocco adieu, as you take lifelong memories of the lively culture, the desert, and the artisans home with you.