This 15-day itinerary takes you on an exciting adventure through the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara Desert. Fly into Marrakech and explore its gardens and spice markets before heading to the High Atlas for hiking and great views. Then cross into the desert to wander through kasbahs and oases. Loop back toward the coast to check out the artsy, breezy town of Essaouira before finishing off with a hammam experience and food tour back in Marrakech.

Highlights

  • Hike through the Atlas Mountains and meet local Berber villagers
  • Explore Sahara Desert kasbahs at Aït Benhaddou and Ouarzazate
  • Taste traditional Moroccan food at a private cooking class in Essaouira
  • Enjoy a relaxing hammam and spa experience in Marrakech

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Marrakech Marrakech
Day 2 Explore Marrakech, the "Red City" Marrakech
Day 3 Mountain Hike in Imlil & Lunch with a Local Family Imlil
Day 4 Guided Hike in Imlil Valley Imlil
Day 5 Transfer to Aït Benhaddou, Free Time in Aït Benhaddou Kasbah Aït Benhaddou
Day 6 Hike & Lunch with a Local Family in Dadès Valley Boumalne Dades
Day 7 Travel to Merzouga via Tinghir & Rissani, Enjoy a Sunset Camel Ride  Merzouga
Day 8 Desert Adventures around Erg Chebbi Merzouga
Day 9 Drive to Zagora via the Saghru Mountains & Draa Valley Zagora
Day 10 Explore Ouarzazate on a Self-Guided Tour Ouarzazate
Day 11 Explore Taroudant on a Self-Guided Tour Taroudant
Day 12 Transfer to Essaouira Essaouira
Day 13 Private Morning Cooking Class in Essaouira Essaouira
Day 14 Traditional Hammam Experience & Private Food Tour in Marrakech Marrakech
Day 15 Depart Marrakech  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Marrakech

An airplane lands at Marrakech airport
An airplane lands at Marrakech airport
Welcome to Morocco! Upon your arrival, you'll enjoy a comfortable private transfer from Menara Airport (RAK) to your accommodation, about 30 minutes. Your driver will meet you at the airport and is happy to recommend how to spend your time in Marrakech.

Day 2: Explore Marrakech, the "Red City"

Marrakesh, Koutoubia Mosque
Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech

Marrakech is Morocco's second-largest metropolis and is known as the "Red City" thanks to the natural red pigment of its walls. As you wander through its bustling center on a self-guided tour, you'll experience the city's vibrant sights, smells, and sounds. First, get your bearings at Jemaa el-Fna Square, the city's landmark plaza filled with markets, street food, and performers. You can explore the souks (markets) to the north, the Koutoubia Mosque & Gardens to the west, and the Kasbah area with the Saadian Tombs, Bahia Palace, and El Badi Palace to the south.

Once you've seen the center's main sites, head to Majorelle Gardens to stroll among its sub-tropical plants, bamboo, lilies, and palms. If you have time, you could also visit the Almoravid Koubba, the Marrakech Museum (housed in the 19th-century Dar Mnebhi Palace), or the Museum of Moroccan Arts. 

Day 3: Mountain Hike in Imlil & Lunch with a Local Family

A horse rider in Imlil, Atlas Mountains
A horse rider in Imlil, Atlas Mountains
The next day, you'll transfer from Marrakech to your accommodation in Imlil in the High Atlas. After an early departure, you'll drive through a picturesque valley known for its lush meadows and beautiful green gardens. Even in the winter months, you can catch glimpses of several varieties of plants, shrubs, and trees. Then, make a stop in the city of Asni. Although it's home to only 20,000 inhabitants, Asni plays an essential role for the regional residents. Every Saturday, the city holds a weekly souk for those who need to exchange goods and stock up on food.

Next, you'll drive between the hills of the Atlas Mountains and the Moulay Brahim Gorge. Enjoy the impeccable scenery on this stretch. Your next stop is the village of Imlil in the heart of Toubkal National Park. Once you arrive, sip a glass of mint tea with your guide before starting your easy hike to Armed, the highest and the biggest village in Imlil Valley. Armed is a traditional Berber village with authentic farming techniques and building structures. Spend some time with a Berber family as you hike down through the village of Aït Souka

Day 4: Guided Hike in Imlil Valley

Route to Mount Toubkal from Imlil Valley
Route to Mount Toubkal from Imlil Valley
Discover the incredible scenery of the Atlas Mountains and Mount Toubkal, which stands at 13,671 feet (4,167 m). With the help of a private hiking guide, you'll walk for about 3-4 hours within the Imlil Valley, meeting locals and learning about the area's history. Enjoy the scenery as you pass by forests, streams, and panoramic vistas. This easy hike will take you through a couple of traditional Berber villages, where you can sit with the locals and hear their stories.

Day 5: Transfer to Aït Benhaddou, Free Time in Aït Benhaddou Kasbah

The  Aït Benhaddou Kasbah
The Aït Benhaddou Kasbah

Head up and over the High Atlas Mountains and enjoy plenty of views of Mount Toubkal. Near the top of the Tizi n'Tichka Pass, panoramic vistas over the mountain range and the road twists down the mountainside. 

After crossing into the desert, you'll reach the medieval Aït Benhaddou Kasbah, Morocco's most famous kasbah and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Once you've settled into your accommodation, explore the old town's empty alleys and passageways. Stop into shops, grab a bite to eat, or sip a cup of mint tea. Then, hike up to the old granary to view the kasbah, surrounding areas, and historical caravan routes. The Aït Benhaddou Kasbah has been used as the backdrop in nearly two dozen Hollywood movies, and most recently, the old town hosted the "Game of Thrones" TV series.

Day 6: Hike & Lunch with a Local Family in Dadès Valley

Lush Dades Valley and Kasbahs
Lush Dades Valley and Kasbahs

Enjoy a comfortable private transfer from Aït Benhaddou to Boumalne Dades. Along the way, you'll see some beautiful desert scenery. You'll pass through the Valley of a Thousand Kasbahs and near Kalaat M'Gouna, which is named after the nearby Mount M'Goun and located in an area known as the Valley of the Roses. The traditional mud kasbahs and red-orange rocks contrast perfectly with the verdant stretch following the Dades River.

Once you've arrived, head off on a leisurely walking tour, where you'll get the chance to interact with some local Berber families. Admire the unique architecture, listen to stories about regional history, partake in fun activities, observe traditional farming techniques, enjoy live entertainment, and more. In the afternoon, join a family in their traditional house for a lunch of Berber and Moroccan cuisine. End your meal with an authentic tea ceremony, then drive back to your accommodation in Boumalne Dades.

Day 7: Travel to Merzouga via Tinerhir & Rissani, Enjoy a Sunset Camel Ride

Desert and Oasis in Boumalne Dades
Desert and oasis in Boumalne Dades
You'll now head to your Bedouin-style tent accommodation in Merzouga, stopping to see some of the desert communities in the Sahara. Your first stop is the desert town of Tinghir (Tinerhir). You'll find fantastic views of neighboring villages along an extensive river oasis that features 30 miles (48 km) of palm trees. Next, continue to the Todra Gorge, which features stunning red-stained limestone. Enjoy an easy walk through the gorge, or relax in the cool shallow water. Before reaching Erfoud, a bustling market town known for its annual Date Festival, you'll visit a local artisan collective to learn about the area's fossils. 

Next, you'll make your way to Rissani, entering its impressive gate. Spend some time observing the donkey "parking lot" and walking around the town's popular market. Upon arrival near Merzouga, take a short break to prepare for a camel ride through the dunes, reaching your camp just before sunset. After settling into your tent, climb up the nearest dune to watch the sunset display its color show across the sands. Head back to camp for dinner and a night by the campfire, enjoying traditional Berber music from the locals. Alternatively, you can opt for a comfortable hotel or auberge in Merzouga. 

Day 8: Desert Adventures around Erg Chebbi

Sand dunes in the desert
Sand dunes in the desert
Ride in a Jeep through the dunes of Erg Chebbi to discover the hidden secrets of this magical land. You'll meet with the local nomads, enjoy a cup of tea with a local family, and visit the Gnawa House in Khemliya village to explore traditional music. Afterward, if you'd like, you can rent a sandboard and test your skills on the dunes or join a quad ATV tour. Climb up the nearest dune to watch the sunset in the early evening, then head back to camp for another night under the stars.

Day 9: Drive to Zagora via the Saghru Mountains & Draa Valley

The Tinerhir Oases in the Draa Valley
The Tinerhir oases in the Draa Valley
Your driver will steer you through the scenic Anti-Atlas mountain range to the town of Zagora. You'll see dramatic river gorges and villages that cling to the mountains. This region is the homeland of the Aït Atta Berber nomads, the oldest nomadic tribe in the Atlas Mountains. Today, this community still practices nomadism and lives in tents. Each spring, two hundred Berber families leave Aït Atta with their camels. Braving the heat of southern Morocco, they reach the alpine pastures of the High Atlas mountains. But when the first snowfall arrives, their caravans descend to the south, and the community spends the winter in Saghro.

You'll follow a similar route, passing through Saghro and the mountain town of N'kob. Then, continue toward the verdant Draa Valley, known for its "million palm trees" that stretch the length of the Draa River. The surrounding landscape will turn lush and green as you pass palmeries, fruit trees, and farms. After settling into your accommodation in Zagora, enjoy an evening among the palms.

Day 10: Explore Ouarzazate on a Self-Guided Tour

The Picturesque Town of Ouarzazate
The picturesque town of Ouarzazate
Leave the Draa Valley behind and cross the Tizi N'Tinififft Pass, enjoying the sweeping views of the palm-filled valley and surrounding mountains. Your next stop is the picturesque town of Ouarzazate, known as the "Gateway to the Sahara." After settling into your accommodation, head out to explore the town's 19th-century Taourirt Kasbah. From the top of the kasbah, you'll see panoramic views of the surrounding landscape. On a clear day, your eye can stretch as far as the red-mud city of Aït Benhaddou, the green Draa Valley, and the rust-colored Todra Gorge.

Ouarzazate has gained its fame thanks to the film industry, so you can opt to tour a movie studio (Atlas Corporation Studios or CLA Studios) or visit the Musée du Cinema. Learn about the films produced in the region by getting an up-close look at props and sets from blockbusters like "Black Hawk Down," "Prometheus," "American Sniper," and "Game of Thrones." Ouarzazate also has an important mellah (Jewish quarter) with an old synagogue and plenty of lively souks to peruse.

Day 11: Explore Taroudant on a Self-Guided Tour

City walls and palm trees in Taroudant
City walls and palm trees in Taroudant
The next day, head west to the town of Taroudant, known as the "Grandmother of Marrakech." Its surrounding ramparts and historic medina (old town) make it look like a miniature version of bustling Marrakech. Start by admiring the old town's walls and gates, such as Bab Selsla, Bab Targont, and Bab Ouled Bounouna. You can walk or rent a bike to take you around the perimeter of the walled town. Then head into the souks, where you'll find a variety of crafts to explore and tanneries similar to those in Fes and Marrakech. 

Stop for a bite to eat at one of the restaurants or cafés, or sip on a glass of mint tea in one of the hotel gardens. If you'd like to explore a bit outside of Taroudant, you can visit Agadir Tasguent. An easy hike takes you to an old fortress with exceptional views. Or visit the Palais Claudio Bravo. Now a hotel and restaurant, it was once the home of Claudio Bravo, a Chilean artist. There, you'll have the chance to see artifacts, interesting interiors, serene gardens, and some of the artist's paintings.

Day 12: Transfer to Essaouira

Anti-Atlas Mountains on the way to Taznakht
Anti-Atlas Mountains on the way to Taznakht
Say goodbye to the Anti-Atlas Mountains and make your way to the Atlantic coast. You'll pass through the city of Agadir so you can enjoy a more scenic coastal route. Enjoy the views of the bright blue ocean, then head north to Essaouira, known as the "white pearl." You can spend the rest of the day as you choose in this quaint coastal city, which provides a peaceful contrast to frenetic Marrakech. Essaouira is a prime location for surfing but has managed to escape mass tourism. A mecca for hippies during the 1970s, it's still an artists' town and is very fashionable with independent travelers.
 
Start by perusing the medina, which covers 75 acres (30 hectares) and twists through wide and bright streets. Stop into various traditional souks to chat with local artisans of ceramics, spices, art, leather goods, shoes, jewelry, rugs, wood crafts, and more. Then, relax in Mulay El-Hassan Square, the city's central square lined with restaurants, cafés, and hotels. Later, you can hang out near the port, visit the market to watch the fishmongers in action, or walk to the 16th-century Portuguese Castelo Real of Mogador. You could also stop at the Synagogue Haïm Pinto, wander through the mellah, or soak up the sun at Essaouira Beach.

Day 13: Private Morning Cooking Class in Essaouira

A Traditional Tajine
A traditional Moroccan tajine

Discover Morocco's flavorful cuisine with a cooking class at a traditional riad (house with a garden/courtyard) in Essaouira. Together with a local chef and culinary enthusiast, you'll learn how to prepare one of Morocco's most popular and authentic dishes: tagine. This dish is named after the signature ceramic pot used to cook it. Typically, tagine features meats, vegetables, and/or fruit, such as dates or apricots, to add sweetness to its savory flavors. This hands-on experience ends with a delicious lunch and conversation with your host and a cup of traditional mint tea. 

You'll have the rest of the afternoon free to explore the charming and historic city of Essaouira on your own. If you'd like to include an additional activity, you can spend this time on an ATV/quad bike adventure, horseback ride, or windsurfing/kitesurfing lesson.

Day 14: Traditional Hammam Experience & Private Food Tour in Marrakech

Jemaa el Fna Square in Marrakech
Jemaa el-Fna Square in Marrakech
As you transfer from Essaouira to your accommodation in Marrakech, keep your eyes peeled for goats in the nearby argan trees. Goats climb the trees naturally to eat their fruit and leaves! However, many farmers now "encourage" the goats to eat from the trees, as the passing travelers have become an additional income source.

In Marrakech, you'll enjoy a relaxing and refreshing spa experience at a Moroccan hammam (public bath). Traditionally, visitors partake in a steam session followed by a scrub based on historical Roman bath practices. After your bathing experience, you'll enjoy a relaxing massage using argan and essential oils to soothe and soften the skin. Hydrate by sipping on mint tea or herb-infused water, before returning to the bustle of Marrakech for a private food tour through the city's medina. You'll taste 10 traditional delicacies, ranging from Morocco's unique sweets to an authentic and savory tagine. Learn about the country's essential ingredients, cooking techniques, and culinary culture. 

Day 15: Depart Marrakech

Moulay el Yazid Mosque in Marrakech
Moulay el Yazid Mosque in Marrakech
Say goodbye to Morocco as you transfer from your accommodation (or a pre-determined location) in Marrakech to Menara Airport (RAK). The ride typically takes about 30 minutes. Your driver will ensure that you arrive at the airport with plenty of time before your flight. Have a safe and comfortable journey home, or to your next destination!

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Map

Map of South Morocco Adventure: Marrakech to Essaouira - 15 Days
Map of South Morocco Adventure: Marrakech to Essaouira - 15 Days