Follow this two-week moderately-paced circuit around Morocco for unique cultural experiences, desert adventures, and coastal relaxation. Tour the north starting in modern Casablanca and Rabat before heading to the Chefchaouen in the Rif Mountains. Get lost in the culture capital of Fes and its medieval medina, follow caravan routes through desert oases, wind through souks and secret gardens in Marrakech and relax along the Atlantic coast enjoying fresh seafood in Essaouira.

Highlights

  • Visit the Hassan II Mosque and the world's tallest minaret in Casablanca
  • Discover souks, tanneries and artisan workshops in medieval Fes
  • Follow caravan routes and enjoy traditional music beside a desert campfire
  • Explore Jemaa el-Fna Square - the busiest square in Africa
  • Climb Portuguese ramparts and taste fresh seafood in coastal Essaouira.

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Morning in Casablanca, Afternoon in Rabat Rabat
Day 2 Rif mountains and 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 to the Desert: Erfoud, Merzouga & the Sahara Merzouga
Day 7 Desert Adventures, Rissani Market, Todra Gorge Todra Gorge
Day 8 Todra Gorge, Dades Valley, Ouarzazate, Ait Benhaddou Aït Benhaddou
Day 9 Ait Benhaddou, Tizi-n-Tichka Pass over the High Atlas Marrakech
Days 10-11 Marrakech: Exploring the Red City Marrakech
Day 12 Marrakech to Essaouira Essaouira
Day 13 Essaouira to Casablanca via the coast Casablanca
Day 14 Departure from Casablanca  

Detailed overview

Day 1: Morning in Casablanca, Afternoon in Rabat

Walk around the impressive Hassan II Mosque
Walk around the impressive Hassan II Mosque

Welcome to Morocco! 

Arrive in the commercial Capital of Morocco and focus your morning on the Hassan II Mosque, with the tallest minaret in the world. The expansive courtyard can hold 80,000 worshipers, with room for 25,000 inside. Unique to most mosques, non-muslims can enter on a guided tour and appreciate the intricate wood, marble, and stone craftsmanship and the basement Hammam. Fans of Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart can enjoy lunch at Rick's cafe before continuing north.

Venture north to the imperial city and present-day capital of Rabat, a bustling city with several sights and a rich history. 

Explore the medieval fortification of the Chellah Necropolis in the heart of Rabat and wander the Roman and Islamic ruins. Step back in time to Rabat's original city center and enter through the grand door of the Kasbah des Oudaias. Visit the 20th-century Andalusian Gardens and enjoy the break 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 red sandstone tower standing at 145 feet (44 m) and about 200 columns.

Day 2: North to the Rif mountains and the "Blue City" of Chefchaouen

The blue streets of Chefchaouen
Spend the day wandering the blue streets of Chefchaouen

Enjoy the scenic drive into the Rif mountains as the plains transform into mountains.  You can stretch your legs for a few hours with a hike to the Cascades d'Akchour (Waterfalls of Akchour)—a hidden gem not far from Chefchaoun; plan half a day for the hike, or go partway and enjoy the natural pools and river cafes.

Mostly untouched since the 15th century, Chefchaouen offers a relaxed atmosphere with some of the friendliest people in the country. Today the town is famous for its blue-washed buildings in its historic medina (old quarter). Explore its narrow streets and alleyways nestled on the hillside below 2 peaks (chaouen means "horns")

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 old kasbah fort to tour the garden, museum, and old prison cells. As the evening approaches, ascend the trail up to the white Spanish Mosque to enjoy one last view over Chefchaouen as the sun sets behind the mountains (20 to 30-minute walk).

Day 3: Chefchaouen, Roman Ruins of Volubilis, Fes

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

Rise early and you may be treated with an hour of quiet as you wander the streets in the morning. Many travelers leave in the morning, and others don't arrive until the afternoon. Use this time to snap your unobstructed photos. If you're looking to do some last minute shopping, many shops don't open until mid-morning, around 10 am or so.

Along you drive to Fes, Volubilis (a UNESCO world heritage site) contains Morocco’s best preserved Roman ruins and once stood at the far reaches of the Roman empire as a critical source of agriculture and wild animals for feasts, celebration, and sacrifices (lions, bears, and elephants). Today you can wander the massive complex exploring large merchant homes with visible heating systems underneath, temples, and many colorful mosaics still in quite good condition.

A short distance south lies Meknes, the imperial city of Moulay Ismail where you can enjoy lunch. While the city is quite large, the 2 main areas of interest are the Ville Impériale (Imperial City) and the Medina, which is a nice warm-up for Fes: it's smaller, less busy, and shopkeepers are not quite as pushy. In the Ville Impériale area, you can explore gardens, palaces, the impressive gate of Bab al-Mansour, The Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, and the Royal Stables. The main sights of the medina are the scattered souks, the Medersa Bou Inania (built in 1358), and the Dar Jamaï, a beautiful palace built in 1882.

As you approach Fes, stop above the city at the ruins of the Merenid tombs, to enjoy a lovely panorama of the old city, and perhaps the evening call to prayer. Settle into your beautiful riad in the medina to enjoy dinner.

Days 4-5: Culture and history in Fes's medieval medina

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

UNESCO-protected Fes appears much like it did centuries ago with the most complete medina in the Arab world, experiencing limited impact under French rule.  The city consists of  3 main areas: Fes el Bali (old Fes, where you will spend most of your time), Fes el Jedid (“New Fes”), and the Ville Nouvelle (designed by the French during the protectorate from 1912-1956).  

Begin your 2-day exploration with a 1/2 day guided tour of the Medina where you will learn about the history and mixed cultures.  Moulay Idriss II made the city his capital and welcomed refugees from Cordoba in southern Spain and Kairouan in Tunisia (both capitals of western Islam at the time). Their skill in architecture and craftsmanship played a large role as the city grew over the next hundred years as the city grew organically producing the labyrinth you see today.

Start at Bab Boujeloud and follow the main thoroughfare of Talâa Kebira, packed with shops on either side. The outside is blue (the traditional color for Fes), and inside is green, the color for Islam. The roads are much narrower, windier, and steeper than those of Marrakech, making it almost impossible not to get lost at least a few times (part of the experience). Visit souks of every variety, spices, vegetables, leather goods, ceramics, metal, shoes, scarves, medicines, and more. 

In the heart of the medina you can view the Tanneries Chouara from a balcony of a nearby leather shop. The process of soaking in pigeon droppings and limestone, then in dye vats, and drying on the hillside has been barely changed for centuries.

The Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque and University (built in 859) can hold up to 20,000 worshipers inside. It is only open to Muslims, although there are a few places where you can glimpse inside and admire the beautifully decorated interior. Equally impressive are the old student madrasas (dormitories) of Medersa Bou Inania and Al Attarine Madrasa to admire the detailed tile work, dark cedar woodwork, and intricately carved stucco pattern. 

On your second day visit Musée Batha, home to Moroccan arts and spend some time in Fes el Jedid (“new Fes”), to see the Royal Palace (no visitors inside) and the Jewish Mellah.  Spend the afternoon taking a cooking class, or visit a local artisan workshop collective to learn more about leather work or ceramics that are famous in Fes.

Day 6: Cedar Forests, Erfoud, Merzouga & the Sahara Desert

Spend the night in a tent in the Sahara
Spend the night in a tent in the Sahara

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. 

If you prefer not to spend the night in a Bedouin tent, you can also stay in a hotel nearby.

Day 7: Desert Adventures Around Merzouga, Rissani Market, Todra Gorge

A view over the oases near Tinerhir
A view over the oases near Tinerhir

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, Ait Benhaddou

Ait Benhaddou Kasbah
Ait 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, Marrakech

Switchbacks below Tizi-n-Tichka Pass, over the High Atlas
Switchbacks below Tizi-n-Tichka Pass, over the High Atlas

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 calm 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.

Days 10-11: Marrakech: Exploring the Red City

Sunset over Jemaa el Fna Square
Sunset over Jemaa el Fna Square

Nicknamed the "Red City" for its 1000-year old red sandstone city walls and buildings, Marrakech is a major economic center. 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. 

On your second day, meet your city guide for a half-day tour and discover the exquisite detail of the Ben Youssef Madrasa school of Islam for a taste of 16th-century architecture. Admire the traditional Moroccan artisanship: carved cedar, sculpted plaster, arabesques, Islamic calligraphy, and colorful zellij (mosaic tilework). Wander the old dorms where up to 800 students once lived and visit the prayer hall.

Spend time exploring 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. Afterward, 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 (the dyers’ souk) to see firsthand how leather hides and cloth are dyed.

Day 12: Marrakech to Essaouira

Ramparts along the water in Essaouira
Ramparts along the water in Essaouira

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 and a sunset over the ramparts.

Day 13: Essaouira to Casablanca via the coast

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.

Day 14: Departure from Casablanca

Private transport and driver from your accommodation to Casablanca Airport for check-in.

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: Casablanca to the Atlantic Coast - 14 Days
Map of Morocco Grand Tour: Casablanca to the Atlantic Coast - 14 Days