This 8-day trip mixes culture and adventure in Marrakech, the desert, and High Atlas mountains. Start and end in Marrakech and explore the historic medina's souks, timeworn tombs, old madrasas, and secret gardens. Pass over the High Atlas mountains into Morocco's desert and discover medieval kasbahs, caravan routes, and the Saharan dunes. Finish with a two-day hike through small villages in the Atlas foothills, enjoying a meal and overnight with a local family.

Highlights

  • Watch acrobats and snake charmers entertain in Marrakech's Jemaa el-Fna Square
  • Explore sand dunes, oases, hidden valleys and old kasbahs in the desert
  • Ride a camel into the Sahara and stay the night in a Bedouin-style tent
  • Hike through the foothills of the High Atlas mountains
  • Break bread with a Berber family and experience local traditions and hospitality

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
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 Desert towns and camping in the Sahara Erg Chebbi
Day 4 Date palms, Alnif, and Aït Benhaddou Kasbah Aït Benhaddou
Day 5 Return to Marrakech Marrakech
Day 6 Amizmiz and the High Atlas mountains Amizmiz
Day 7 Return from the Atlas mountains to Marrakech Marrakech
Day 8 Depart  

Detailed overview

Day 1: Marrakech: Exploring the Red City

Jemaa el-Fna square, Marrakech, Morocco
Sunset over Jemaa el-Fna Square and the Koutoubia Mosque

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 TombsBahia 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: Over the High Atlas mountains to Ouarzazate and Boumalne Dades

Kela'a M'gouna, Morocco
Snowy High Atlas mountains behind Kala'a M'gouna

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 3: Desert towns and camping in the Sahara

Camel caravan through Erg Chebbi, Morocco
Early morning trek through the dunes of Erg Chebbi

 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, hop on a camel and ride into the desert to enjoy the setting sun atop a large dune. Return to your Erg Chebbi camp for dinner. Relax around the campfire listening to traditional Berber music and admiring the vast star-lit night sky before retiring to your Bedouin-style tent. 

Day 4: Date palms, Alnif, and Aït Benhaddou Kasbah

Ait Benhaddou Kasbah in Ouarzazate Valley
Aït Benhaddou Kasbah in Ouarzazate Valley

Rise early to witness a Saharan sunrise, before exploring more of the Desert. There is the option to rent a sandboard, join a quad ATV tour, or relax by a pool. Afterwards, head to nearby Khemliya to wander the 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.

In the early afternoon, reach the UNESCO-protected Aït Benhaddou. Wander the winding lanes and climb up to the old Granary—a perfect spot to admire Aït Benhaddou and the surrounding area. Keep an eye out for the ancient camel caravan trade routes that once connected the Sahara and Marrakech. As you continue to explore Aït Benhaddou, movie and Game of Thrones enthusiasts will enjoy visiting sites featured in the epic HBO series as well as movies like Gladiator and Lawrence of Arabia. Stay the night in an old Kasbah. Eat dinner on a terrace overlooking the river and valley below.

Day 5: Return to Marrakech

Koutoubia Mosque in the evening, Marrakech, Morocco
Koutoubia Mosque glows at dusk 

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 a part of the hustle and bustle of Marrakech.

You may wish to spend the rest of the afternoon at a slower pace. Visit Jemaa el-Fna and grab a bite to eat at one of the many food stalls before taking an evening stroll to admire the floodlit Koutoubia Mosque. 

Day 6: Amizmiz and the High Atlas mountains

Small villages in the Atlas Mountains
Small villages in the 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 7: Return from the Atlas mountains to Marrakech

Almoravid Koubba, Marrakech, Morocco
The Almoravid Koubba

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. 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.

Day 8: Depart

Majorelle Gardens in Ville Nouvelle, Marrakech, Morocco
Majorelle Gardens in Ville Nouvelle

Depending on your flight time, you may wish to check out Majorelle Gardens. Not far from the medina, a visit to these lush and expansive gardens offers the perfect place to escape the heat and noise. Relax before transferring to the airport for your return flight home.

Map

Map of Moroccan Desert & Hiking in the Atlas Mountains - 8 Days
Map of Moroccan Desert & Hiking in the Atlas Mountains - 8 Days