This 13-day grand tour is the perfect blend of culture and adventure. Start in the coastal city of Casablanca and wander the medieval medinas of Fes and Marrakech. Spend a few days exploring desert towns, oases, and old kasbahs, finish with two days of hiking in the foothills of the Atlas mountains, spending an evening with a local Berber family.

Highlights

  • Wander medieval medinas in Fes and Casablanca
  • Explore desert markets, hidden oases, and kasbahs along old caravan routes
  • Hike through the foothills of the High Atlas mountains
  • Enjoy a meal and overnight with a local Berber family
  • Experience lively Jemaa el-Fna Square - the busiest square in Africa

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 Chefchaouen, Roman Ruins of Volubilis, Fes Fes
Days 4-5 Fes: Exploring the Imperial City & Medieval Medina Fes
Day 6 Middle Atlas, Erfoud Fossils, Merzouga and the Sahara Dunes Merzouga
Day 7 Desert Adventures around Merzouga: Rissani Market and Todra Gorge Tinerhir
Day 8 Todra Gorge, Dades Valley, Ouarzazate, Ait Benhaddou Aït Benhaddou
Day 9 Tizi n'Tichka Pass over the High Atlas to Marrakech Marrakech
Day 10 Marrakech: Exploring the Red City Marrakech
Day 11 Hiking around Amizmiz and the High Atlas; Overnight in a Berber home Amizmiz
Day 12 Amizmiz back to Marrakech Marrakech
Day 13 Return to Casablanca; Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Morning in Casablanca, afternoon in Rabat

Discover the fine details of the modern Hassan II Mosque
Discover the fine details of the modern Hassan II Mosque

Welcome to Casablanca! 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 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. 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 are the minaret and some 200 columns—support structures for the mosque.

Day 2: The Blue City of Chefchaouen

Chefchaouen, Morocco
Wander Chefchaouen's blue-hued streets 

This morning head north to the striking blue city of Chefchaouen in the Rif Mountains. Just before you reach Chefchaouen, stop to hike (2-3 hours) through lush vegetation and small pools to enjoy the Cascade d'Akchour (Waterfalls of Akchour)—a hidden gem. From there, arrive 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 abandoned 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

Merenid Tombs, Fes
View of Fes from the Merenid Tombs

Meet your driver and head south toward Fes. Along the way, stop to explore Volubilis, a sprawling complex of well-preserved Roman ruins and mosaics and the Roman's farthest reach in Africa. Next, stop and explore your second imperial city, Meknes. A smaller version of Fes, Meknes offers a calmer medina and shopkeepers are not as pushy to make a sale. Discover the impressive Bab al-Mansour gate and the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail in the Ville Impériale (Imperial City). Visit the Madrasa Bou Inania, a beautiful example of Islamic architecture before checking out Dar Jamaï, a palace turned museum.  

Carry on eastward to Fes and your third imperial city. Before venturing into the medina on foot (the largest urban car-free zone in the world), drive uphill to the ruins of the Merenid Tombs for an all-encompassing view of the medieval city. The best time to visit the tombs is around dusk. The muezzin's calls to worship can be heard through the valley as the city lights begin to glow on, adding to the atmosphere. Return to your traditional riad for a warm meal and settle in for the evening.

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

Old Medina, Fes, Morocco
Wander Fes' old Medina 

The oldest of the imperial cities in Morocco, and perhaps the most interesting and exciting to explore, Fes has undergone little colonial development adding to its medieval appeal. The most complete medina in the Arab world and a UNESCO World Heritage site, Fes is made up of three main points of interest: Fes el Bali (old Fes, the medina, and where you will spend most of your time), Fes el Jdid ('new' Fes), and the French-influenced Ville Nouvelle. Meet your guide to learn more about the history and culture of Fes, and most importantly, to help you navigate the medina.

Begin your tour in Fes el Bali, starting at the Bab Boujeloud gate welcoming you onto Talâa Kebira. Discover the wares for sale in the souks (markets) and shops as you pass the Spanish and Tunisian influenced architecture. One of the most unique sights in the old Medina is the tanneries and Chouara Tannery is no exception. Next, climb to the rooftop of a nearby leather shop for a better view of the 11th-century stone pots filled with dye and men working. Follow your guide to Al-Qarawiyyin Library and Mosque (859 CE). If you're lucky, you may be able to sneak a peek inside.

Day 5: Fes: Museums, Ceramics and Tile Collective, and gardens

Al-Qarawiyyin Library, Fes, Morocco
Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque

Today, visit the Batha Museum. Housed in a 19th-century palace, the Museum is home to a collection of traditional Moroccan arts and crafts, including carved wood, zellij (mosaic tilework), and local pottery (its highlight). Spend time in the Andalusian-style gardens before walking to the mellah (old Jewish quarter and cemetery). Take advantage of its location for a stunning panoramic photo of the city. Continue south to Ville Nouvelle and discover the dramatic change in architecture. 

Tour a Ceramics and Tile Collective to learn how local artisans make wares, from shaping the clay to painting the designs. As well as watch the tile masters at work: fitting together small pieces of tile to form intricate mosaics. Return toward Fes el Bali, stopping along the way in Jnan Sbil (Bou Jeloud Gardens)—a halfway point between the mellah and Bab Boujeloud. Spend some time relaxing in the gardens' grandeur and cool off in the central fountains or beside the lake.

Day 6: Middle Atlas, Erfoud Fossils, Merzouga and the Sahara Dunes

Camels near Merzouga, Erg Chebbi, Morocco
Meet your camel and trek together through the Sahara to your camp

Start your day bright and early and travel south toward Merzouga. Along the way, you will climb up and over the Col du Zad pass (7,146 feet or 2,178 m) 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 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. Continue to 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, climb atop your camel to ride through the dunes to your already-prepared-for-you camp. Trek up a nearby sand dune to watch the sunset before returning to camp for a delicious dinner, relaxing by the campfire. 

Day 7: Desert Adventures around Merzouga: Rissani Market and Todra Gorge

Tinerhir and its sprawling oasis
Tinerhir and its sprawling oasis

Wake early to catch a desert sunrise, then visit nearby desert villages or enjoying some desert adventure sports such as sandboarding or an ATV tour.  Visit nearby Khemliya, a typical Saharan village, and experience traditional drumming music and dancing before taking a short walk around the village. Leave the dunes behind and stop in the market town of Rissani, entering through its impressive gate. Known for its livestock auction it's worth your time finding the 'donkey parking lot' to delight your senses.

Continue on to Tinerhir. This desert town offers awesome views of neighboring towns hugging the length of the extensive river oasis (30 miles or 48 km of palm trees). Stop at today's final destination, the Todra Gorge. Almost 1000 feet (305 m) high and carved by the Todra River through red limestone, here you can enjoy a leisurely walk in and around the gorge and relax in the cool waters of the shallow river below.

Day 8: Dades Valley, Ouarzazate, and Aït Benhaddou Kasbah

Ait Benhaddou, Morocco
The mud-brick ksour of Aït Benhaddou Kasbah

Travel along the Valley of a Thousand Kasbahs to Morocco's most famous, Aït Benhaddou. Pass through the Dades Valley and stop in Kela'a M'gouna to admire the cultivated rose bushes. Visit a rose collective to see the process of converting rose petals into rose water and oil. As you continue west, you may want to stop in Ouarzazate, the movie capital of North Africa to discover how its nearby regions have been featured in movies, including Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, and Black Hawk Down. Join a movie studio tour and visit the Musée du Cinema to learn more about the filmmaking process and history of the area.

Spend the afternoon exploring Aït Benhaddou, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The old ksour dates from the 11th century when it held an important position along the trans-Saharan trade route. Settle into your accommodation in the old town, and wander the alleys and passageways in the late afternoon after the day crowds have left. Climb up to the old Granary—an excellent vantage point to see the kasbah and surrounding area. Game of Thrones fans may want to trek down to the river to see the gates featured in the popular HBO series. Long after the day crowds have left, enjoy a quiet dinner overlooking the valley.

Day 9: Tizi n'Tichka Pass over the High Atlas to Marrakech

The road down from the Tizi n'Tichka pass
The road down from the Tizi n'Tichka pass

Leave Aït Benhaddou behind to begin the ascent over the High Atlas mountains. Spot Mount Toubkal, the mountain range's highest peak, at 13,671 feet (4,167 m). Stop in Taddert to visit an Argan Oil Cooperative and learn how the argan nut and fruit are processed for various uses (and try some samples!). As you descend the High Atlas, you will notice a dramatic change in the climate and landscape as the rocks change to foothills and into flat plains. Soon you will be a part of the noise and bustle of Marrakech.

After a long day on the road, settle into your hotel and spend the rest of the afternoon as you like, perhaps enjoying a gentle walk through the gardens behind the Koutoubia mosque. In the early evening, Jemaa el-Fna square 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 10: Marrakech: Exploring the Red City

Jemaa el-Fna square, Marrakech, Morocco
Early evening view of Jemaa el-Fna

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—the inspiration for the Hassan II minaret in Rabat. Visit the fountains and pools in the adjoining garden to relax from the morning heat.

Indulge your senses as you explore the complicated labyrinth of souks, 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 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 11: Hiking around Amizmiz and the High Atlas mountains

Hike through the Atlas foothills amid wildflowers and local Berber villages
Hike through the Atlas foothills amid wildflowers and local Berber villages

Today you will venture south of Marrakech to the small town of Amizmiz in the foothills of the High Atlas mountains (about one hour south). Spend time exploring the modest market in the old town before joining your mountain guide to trek the narrow roads and mule paths in the surrounding hills. Hike between small Berber villages and observe the local farmers and shepherds as they tend to their animals and the landscape. You may even see children on their way to or from school, which are typically shared between a few nearby villages.

Stop and enjoy lunch with a local family and gain insight into their daily lives as you learn how to make homemade bread. Continue your hike into the afternoon before returning to another local Berber home where you will be welcomed for dinner and provided with a room to retire for the evening. 

Day 12: Amizmiz back to Marrakech

Saadian Tombs, Marrakech, Morocco
Inside the Saadian Tombs

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 and to the 19th-century Bahia Palace. If there's time, you may wish to check out 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 of carved cedar wood.

Day 13: Return to Casablanca

Almoravid Koubba, Marrakech, Morocco
The Almoravid dynasty's sole remaining monument, the Almoravid Koubba

Rise early and complete any last minute gift and souvenir shopping before finding the 12th-century Almoravid Koubba. The only surviving Almoravid monument, the Koubba was rediscovered in 1948. Transfer to Casablanca for your return flight. Depending on your departure details, you may wish to stroll along the Boulevard de la Corniche to Rick's Café, a bar, restaurant, and café influenced by the movie classic, Casablanca, and grab a bite to eat.

Map

Map of Imperial Cities, Desert Grand Tour & Hiking in the Atlas - 13 Days
Map of Imperial Cities, Desert Grand Tour & Hiking in the Atlas - 13 Days