Enjoy this 10-day loop that begins and ends in Casablanca. Explore imperial cities and wander medieval medinas, follow old desert caravan routes and relax along the Atlantic coast. Learn to cook tagine, spend a night listening to traditional music by campfire, and go kitesurfing in the Atlantic.

Highlights

  • Discover souks, tanneries, and artisan workshops in medieval Fes
  • Explore sand dunes, oases, hidden valleys and old kasbahs in the desert
  • Take a cooking class and visit local artisan workshops
  • Climb ramparts overlooking the Atlantic and taste fresh seafood in Essaouira

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Casablanca Casablanca
Day 2 Roman ruins at Volubilis and imperial cities of Meknes and Fes Fes
Day 3 Fes: Exploring the Imperial City and medieval Medina Fes
Day 4 Into the desert: Erfoud, Merzouga and the Sahara Erg Chebbi
Day 5 Desert towns, Todra Gorge, and film worthy landscapes Ouarzazate
Day 6 Aït Benhaddou Kasbah and Tizi n'Tichka Pass over the High Atlas to Marrakech Marrakech
Day 7 Marrakech: Exploring the Red City Marrakech
Day 8 Essaouira: seaside ramparts and fresh seafood Essaouira
Day 9 Casablanca via the coast Casablanca
Day 10 Depart  

Detailed Itinerary

Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca
The rising sun peeks through the Hassan II Mosque

Welcome to Morocco's west coast! Welcome to Casablanca. The largest city in Morocco, Casablanca is a modern city with major French influence. An architectural treat, visit the popular Hassan II Mosque and admire its exquisite craftsmanship. Sitting pretty on an outcrop over the Atlantic Ocean, the Hassan II Mosque is estimated to house 25,000 worshippers inside with additional room for 80,000 in its courtyard. Unique to Morocco, Hassan II is one of few mosques where non-Muslims are permitted to enter. Feast your eyes on the intricate marble work, wood and stone carving, and gilded cedar ceilings.

Explore Parc de la Ligue Arabe and check out the Casablanca Cathedral (no longer in use) for a fine example of mid-19th-century Mauresque architecture (a mix of European art deco and Moorish style). Visit the Old Medina (old quarter), the only part of the city pre-dating the French protectorate, before touring the Hobous, or new medina. Built in the 1930s by the French, Hobous is a great place to seek out olive, vegetable, and spice markets, as well as admire more examples of Mauresque buildings. Take a stroll along the Boulevard de la Corniche, often referred to as the "Miami of Morocco."

Day 2: Roman ruins at Volubilis and imperial cities of Meknes and Fes

Roman ruins of Volubilis, Morocco
Jump back in time as you walk through Roman ruins at Volubilis

Meet your driver and head northeast toward Fes. Along the way, stop and stretch your legs to explore Meknes. 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. Be sure to check out the grand Bab al-Mansour gate and the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail. Next, visit the Roman ruins of Volubilis. A UNESCO protected site, founded in the 3rd century BCE, it remains incredibly well-preserved. 

Carry on eastward to Fes. Before venturing into the medina, take the time to complete a short trek up a hill 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.

Day 3: Fes: Exploring the Imperial City and medieval Medina

Al Attarine Madrasa, Fes, Morocco
Detailed interior of Al Attarine Madrasa

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 the Library.

Day 4: Into the desert: Erfoud, Merzouga and the Sahara

Sunny trek on camels through Erg Chebbi, near Merzouga, Morocco
Early morning trek on camels through Erg Chebbi, near Merzouga

You'll be covering a lot of ground today as you work your way south toward your final destination outside the desert town of Merzouga. Ascend the Middle Atlas mountains through fragrant cedar forests, and over the Col du Zad pass. Stop and stretch your legs in the "Apple City" of Midelt—known for its fruit orchards—and lunch near the Moulouya River. Continue to the palm forests of the Ziz Valley by way of the Tizi n'Talremt pass, noting the many fortified ksars merchants built to protect and stock their precious goods (gold, salt, and spices).

Reach Erfoud, known for dates and fossils, and stop at a local artisan collective to learn everything there is to know about the types of fossils found in the area. Head toward the sea of sand of Erg Chebbi, where some dunes are more than 600 feet tall. In Merzouga, meet your camel and hop aboard to trek to your evening's accommodation: a Bedouin-style tent. Race to the top of a nearby sand dune to watch the desert sunset over the dunes before returning to your site for dinner and a campfire under the starry night sky.

Day 5: Desert towns, Todra Gorge, and film worthy landscapes

Todra Gorge, Morocco
Cool down in the river that flows between the sheer cliffs of the Todra Gorge

Catch the sunrise before renting a sandboard to test your skills. Leave the dunes and head to 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 (old fortress or fortification) 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 6: Aït Benhaddou Kasbah and Tizi n'Tichka Pass over the High Atlas to Marrakech

Ait Benhaddou Kasbah, Morocco
The many ksars of Aït Benhaddou

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 7: Marrakech: Exploring the Red City

Jemaa el-Fna Square, Marrakech, Morocco
Jemaa el-Fna comes alive in the early evening

Nicknamed the "Red City" for its 1000-year old red sandstone city walls and buildings, Marrakech is a major economic center. Begin your day exploring the 12th-century Koutoubia Mosque and take a respite from the heat in its gardens amid fountains and palms. Indulge your senses and explore the spice market, Souk el-Attarin, or Souk Smata for your choice of slippers, rugs, and leather goods. Next, visit the Islamic school, Ben Youssef Madrasa, for a taste of 16th-century architecture and marvel at the exquisite details: arabesques, Islamic calligraphy, and colorful geometric tilework.

As you walk Marrakech's alleys, notice the Fondouks or Caravanserai—medieval inns along ancient trade routes that provided travelers and traders with shelter and supplies. Depending on timing and 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 Jemma el-Fna for a bite to eat before retiring to your accommodation for the evening. 

Day 8: Essaouira: seaside ramparts and fresh seafood

Essaouira fort, Morocco
Fortifications along Essaouira's coast

After breakfast, make your way west to the Atlantic coast and to the laid-back beach town of Essaouira. The route along the way takes you over extensive rolling plains and through endemic argan forests. If you're lucky, you may see goats in the trees grazing on the argan fruit, a sight seen when grass pasture is limited or unavailable. Along the way, there is an option to stop at an Argan Oil Cooperative to see how the precious and expensive oil is extracted from the nut.

Arrive in the port city of charming Essaouira, a nice contrast to frenetic Marrakech, and spend the rest of the day as you choose. Walk the Skala de la Kasbah (the 18th-century seafront ramparts) along the coast. Designed by European engineers, old brass canons line the walls and offer viewing access over the Atlantic. Explore the UNESCO-protected medina before making your way to the windswept beach. Jimi Hendrix fans may want to take a short taxi ride to Diabat at the end of Essaouira's beach where he reportedly spent some time. Walk back to Essaouira and enjoy a meal of freshly caught seafood.

Day 9: Return to Casablanca

windsurfing and kite boarding in Essaouira, Morocco
Essaouira is a popular destination for windsurfing and kiteboarding

Known as the "Windy City" for its strong Alizée trade winds that hit its crescent beach, Essaouira is a popular kiteboarding destination. Take the morning to watch the windsurfers and kiteboarders or for the more adventurous, take a lesson, before saying goodbye and returning to Casablanca. There will be the option to break up the four to five-hour coastal drive with stops in seaside towns, along the way.

Upon arriving in Casablanca, explore more of the Old Medina, bargaining with local vendors in the bazaar and pick up any last-minute souvenirs and gifts.

Day 10: Casablanca

Close up of the Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca
Marvel at the intricate craftsmanship of the Hassan II Mosque

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 Morocco Grand Tour: Cities, Desert, & the Coast - 10 Days
Map of Morocco Grand Tour: Cities, Desert, & the Coast - 10 Days