Explore Morocco's desert and cities with this well-rounded 9-day loop from Casablanca. Wander medieval medinas in Fes and Marrakech, explore modern cities of Casablanca and Rabat, and adventure along old caravan routes and oases in the desert.

Highlights

  • Wander old medinas and souks in Marrakech and Fes
  • Enjoy the sunset overlooking the "blue city" of Chefchaouen
  • Explore sand dunes, oases, hidden valleys and old kasbahs in the desert
  • Visit local artisan workshops and collectives for leather, ceramics, and fossils

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
Day 4 Fes: Exploring the Imperial City and medieval Medina Fes
Day 5 Middle Atlas: Erfoud, Merzouga and the Sahara Erg Chebbi
Day 6 Desert towns, lush oases, and film worthy landscapes Ouarzazate
Day 7 Aït Benhaddou Kasbah and Tizi n'Tichka Pass over the High Atlas Marrakech
Day 8 Marrakech: Exploring the Red City Marrakech
Day 9 Return to Casablanca; Departure  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Morning in Casablanca, afternoon in Rabat

Explore the impressive Hassan II Mosque
Explore the impressive Hassan II Mosque

Welcome to Morcocco!

If you only visit one place in Casablanca—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 structure in Morocco and the tallest minaret 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 of the mosque 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 (the other imperial cities are MeknesFes, and Marrakech). 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, where all that remains today is the tower and about 200 columns.

Day 2: The Blue City of Chefchaouen

Explore the picturesque streets of Chefchaouen
Explore the picturesque streets of Chefchaouen

Head north to the striking blue city of Chefchaouen in the Rif Mountains. Before Chefchaouen, you can stop to hike (2-3 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-washed 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 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

Impressive Roman Ruins still stand at Volubilis
Impressive Roman Ruins still stand at Volubilis

Rise early to wander the quiet streets for your best chance to snap unobstructed photos, before joining your driver and continuing on towards Fes. Along the way stop and stretch your legs to explore the UNESCO protected Roman ruins of Volubilis. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Volubilis is a sprawling complex worth wandering. Founded in the 3rd century BCE it was abandoned in the 11th century and remains incredibly well-preserved.  Marvel at the merchant homes and their visible heating systems underneath, the temples, and the nearly intact colorful mosaics in situ, including the Labors of Hercules

Stop in Meknes on your way to Fes. A smaller version of Fes, Meknes offers a calmer medina and shopkeepers are not as pushy to make a sale. While Meknes is quite large, the two main areas of interest are the Ville Impériale (Imperial City) and the manageable medina.

Continue on to Fes and navigate its impressively large and complicated medina that stretches down the hill. Before venturing in, take a moment and visit the ruins of the Merenid Tombs and enjoy a panoramic view of the old city. Stay overnight in a beautiful riad in the medina (with an interior courtyard garden).

Day 4: Fes: Exploring the Imperial City and medieval Medina

Al Attarine Madrasa, Fes, Morocco
The exquisite detailing of Al Attarine Madrasa

Fes is the oldest of the imperial cities in Morocco and perhaps the most interesting to explore. Its medina is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and as one of the world's largest urban car-free areas, it remains relatively untouched since it was founded over 1000 years ago. Often considered the country's cultural capital, it is made up of two old medina quarters, Fes el Bali and Fes el Jdid, and the modern Ville Nouvelle, constructed during the French colonial era (1912-1956). Meet your guide and spend a half day learning about the history and culture as you navigate the maze-like streets of the medinas.

Start in Fes el Bali (789 CE) at the well-known Bab Boujeloud gate, and enter the main thoroughfare of Talâa Kebira. Discover how Spanish and Tunisian refugees influenced the medina's architecture as you make your way past shops and souks (markets) scanning local goods for gifts and souvenirs, watching the artisans at work. Visit the Chouara Tannery and find a nearby leather shop for an encompassing view of the many stone wells filled with dye and men at work (a technique and process that is little changed over the centuries).

Next, make your way to the 14th-century Al Attarine Madrasa, a beautiful example of Moroccan architecture and artisanship showcasing intricate zellij tilework. From there, find your way to one of the oldest still-operating universities in the world, Al-Qarawiyyin University (859 CE) next to the Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque. Though the mosque is only open to Muslims, there are a few places where you can glimpse inside to its decorated interior. Cooking enthusiasts may wish to join a cooking class and learn how to prepare a typical Moroccan meal before retiring for the evening.

Day 5: Middle Atlas: Erfoud, Merzouga and the Sahara

Spend the night in a Bedouin-style tent in the Sahara
Spend the night in a Bedouin-style tent in the Sahara

Start your day early and travel south toward Merzouga to arrive at the Sahara dunes by for a sunset camel ride. Along the way, you will climb up an elevation of 7,146 feet (2,178 m) over the Col du Zad pass and 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 and 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. End your day at 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, switch gears and ride your camel through the dunes to your already-prepared-for-you camp. Climb a nearby sand dune to watch the sunset before returning to camp for a delicious dinner, relaxing by the campfire. 

Day 6: Desert towns, lush oases, and film worthy landscapes

Kela'a M'gouna, Morocco
Kela'a M'gouna and the High Atlas mountains in the distance

Catch the sunrise before heading to nearby  Khemliya to experience a traditional Saharan village—its people originally from Mali. Continue west to pass through a dramatic gate into Rissani. A market town, Rissani holds a livestock auction and is home to a "donkey parking lot", a site worth (hearing) and experiencing! Make your way to the desert town of Tinerhir before reaching the 984 feet (300 m) deep Todra Gorge. You will have time to explore the gorge and relax in the cool water of the shallow Todra River

Travel through the Valley of a Thousand Kasbahs. Though many kasbahs are now in disrepair, local families still live in some of them. You may even come across nomads herding their animals. Head west to Kela'a M'gouna. Known for its Festival des Roses, here you can see extensively cultivated farmland bordered with fragrant rose bushes. Continue west to Ouarzazate, a gateway to the Sahara Desert made popular by the film industry. Join a studio tour and discover how the nearby desert landscapes have been featured in many films.

Day 7: Aït Benhaddou Kasbah and Tizi n'Tichka Pass over the High Atlas to Marrakech

The road down from Tizi n'Tichka Pass
The road down from Tizi n'Tichka Pass

Travel to nearby Aït Benhaddou. A UNESCO World Heritage site, Aït Benhaddou is believed to date from the 11th century during a time when it held an important position along the trans-Saharan trade route between Marrakech, Ouarzazate, and the southern desert. Follow the narrow streets up to the Granary for a view of the surrounding landscapes. From there, ascend the High Atlas mountain range and look out for the highest peak, Mount Toubkal (13,671 feet or 4,167 m). Stop near the top of the Tizi n'Tichka pass (7,415 feet or 2,260 m) to enjoy the views over the mountain range.

As you descend the High Atlas, you will notice a dramatic change in the climate and landscape. Soon you will be a part of the noise and clamor 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, the main square—and busiest square in all of Africa—Jemaa el-Fna, 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 8: Marrakech: Exploring the Red City

Jemaa el-Fna Square at night, Marrakech, Morocco
Dusk over Jemaa el-Fna Square

Nicknamed the "Red City" for its red sandstone walls and buildings, Marrakech was once an important trading capital for Atlas mountain tribes, and remains an exciting former imperial city. Begin exploring Marrakech's ancient medina, 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, 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 9: Return to Casablanca 

Close up of Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca, Morocco
An up-close look at the craftsmanship of the Hassan II Mosque

If time allows, complete any last minute shopping or 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 heat and noise, before you transfer back to Casablanca for your return flight (3 hour transport).

Map

Map of Imperial Cities & the Desert - 9 Days
Map of Imperial Cities & the Desert - 9 Days