Agafay Desert: Less than an hour from Marrakech is the small rocky desert of Agafay. Unlike the dunes that typify the Sahara, Agafay Desert offers rocky, lunar-like landscapes that epitomize the southern desert of Morocco. Here activities include excursions into the desert by 4×4 vehicles, mountain bike, quad bike, hike, or opt for mule, horse or camel rides and village visits.
Asni: Asni is a small town in the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains near Marrakesh. Shops line up on either side of the main road and a few dozen houses are scattered on the landscape. This is also home to a luxurious riad perched at the top of a valley with views up to Mount Toubkal. Traditional Berber villages dot the region. Opportunities for exploring include trekking in the spectacular Atlas Mountains by foot or, if preferred, by mule. Hikes explore eucalyptus and olive groves and a nearby village with traditional Berber homes. Two- and three-hour treks into the Toubkal National Park allow travelers to savor breathtaking views of the High Atlas and a visit to a traditional Berber house for tea.
Casablanca: Modern Casablanca has evolved through generations of outsiders. Settled by Berbers in the seventh century BCE, it was used as a port by the Phoenicians and later the Romans. It has also seen the likes of the Merenids, Portuguese, Spanish and French before gaining independence in 1956. Once a Carthaginian stronghold, it is the second largest city in Africa after Cairo, and the most liberal and progressive of the country’s cities. It serves as Morocco’s chief port and one of the largest financial centers on the continent. Surrounded by walls, the old city’s atmosphere unrolls along its shady alleys around the Great Mosque. The immense Mosque of Hassan II was inaugurated in the early 1990s. Morocco’s eclectic personality is equal parts modern tech and very ancient history as seen in its historic blend of Arabian and Berber cultures with European influences.
Essaouira: Protected by the trade winds, and awash with flowers, Essaouira is a charming town with a very special character due to its blue-shuttered houses. A trading post was established here in the fifth century BCE. The fortress dates from 1506, and some of the fortress walls still enclose part of the city. Jewish population once comprised 40% of the residents, and the Jewish quarter, the mellah, has many old synagogues as well as a large Jewish cemetery. The city flourished due to its location on the caravan trade route. But that died out when direct European shipping trade with sub-Saharan Africa gained prominence. The present city of Essaouira dates to the mid-18th century. It enjoys a micro-climate that attracts summer visitors from the inland towns such as Marrakech. In addition, artists, painters and musicians have settled here. It hosts renowned music festivals in April and June.
Fes, Rabat, Meknes & Volubilis: Three of Morocco’s four “imperial cities” (along with Marrakech), are quintessential Morocco. Fes is divided into three sections: the old walled city, new Fes, and the newest section, Ville Nouvelle, created by the French. Within new Fes is a mellah, a Jewish quarter, where the Jewish population was confined beginning in the 15th century, and especially in the early 19th century. The Medina of Fes el Bali is believed to be the largest contiguous car-free urban area in the world. The University of Al-Karaouine was founded in 859, making it the world’s oldest continuously operating university. A center of religious learning, Fes has many Islamic schools. The souks, tanneries and Merinid Tombs have a mood evocative of Jerusalem 1,000 years ago. Rabat began with a settlement on the banks of the Oued Bou Regreg in the third century BCE. Its history as a capital city dates from the 12th century. The medina is small but nonetheless interesting. The imposing royal palace is in the heart of the city and across from the king’s personal mosque. The elegant Hassan Tower was begun in the late 1300s. Other sites include the mausoleum of King Mohammed V, Kasbah of the Oudaias and Chellah Necropolis. In northern Morocco, Meknes was the capital of Morocco from 1672 to 1727. It was first settled by a Berber tribe called the Miknasa from the Tunisian south in the ninth century. Moulay Ismail made Meknes Morocco’s hub at the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th centuries. His mausoleum is one of the city’s main attractions. The Museum of Moroccan Art and Bab Mansour, the largest and most stunning of the city’s gates, are worth exploring. Volubilis is an ancient partly excavated Roman city near Meknes between Fes and Rabat. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was developed from the third century BCE onwards as a Phoenician, and later, Carthaginian settlement.
Marrakech: Marrakech is the third largest city in Morocco, and rests near the foothills of the snow-topped Atlas Mountains. An entire day can be dedicated just to wandering the markets, seeking the best bargains on almost anything from spices to kaftans. Long a crossroads of cultures, it is home to medieval craft guilds that continue to operate by the old ways. Djmaâ El Fnaâ Square is jammed with the fascinating street theater of acrobats, fire eaters and snake charmers. The palaces of El Badii and El Bahia are also of interest. The new European district of Gueliz plays host to fine restaurants and shops. The city also has many museums and interesting historic architecture, including the 14th-century Ben Youssef Meders, one of the most beautiful buildings in Marrakech. The royal Saadian Tombs of the Saadi Dynasty (1578-1603) were rediscovered in 1917. The ornate Bahia Palace offers a glimpse of life for a 19th-century nobleman in Morocco.
Merzougana & Sahara Desert: Merzouga is a village in the stunning red Sahara Desert. It rests on the edge of Erg Chebbi, one of Morocco’s two Saharan ergs – large seas of dunes formed by wind-blown sand. Merzouga serves as a gateway into this area of dunes, some of which reach 350 m/1,148 ft. high. Desert-adapted wildlife in that area includes such unusual reptiles as the Berber skink and the fringe-toed lizard as well as the fennec fox. Bird watchers will find the nearby saltwater lake Dayet Sriji provides an oasis for greater flamingos, egrets, storks and ducks. The dunes support native desert birds including sandgrouse and bustards. One of the more fascinating sights is to see a camel train that seems to suddenly appear out of nowhere and pass by on their trek through the desert as they have done for millennia. The Sahara is the world’s largest desert, and only a small part of it is fertile, fed by underground rivers and oases. The desert can be a magical experience. At night, the air is so clear that the stars seem close enough to reach out and touch. Among the desert’s tapestry of small settlements and villages, Erfoud is a French Foreign Legion outpost that retains its roots as a trade center. The main souk sells olives, henna, mint and other produce. But the jewels of the oases are the date palm trees that stretch far into the haze of the desert. Skoura is a fertile oasis lined with immense palm groves and one of the few groves in Morocco still inhabited and cultivated by local people. Here, the Kasbah of Amerhidil dates from the 17th century. Kasbah Taourirt is a captivating preserved old-world market.
Middle & High Atlas Mountains: The Atlas Mountain Range stretches across northwestern Africa, extending about 2,500 km/1,600 mi. through Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia, and includes Jebel Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa. The area is well known to hikers, skiers and those interested in culture. The Berbers have played a role on the north coast of Africa for at least 5,000 years. The Arab invasion in the seventh century forced them to assimilate or take refuge in the nearby mountains. Thus, the villages today are strongholds of Berber culture, preserving their music, lifestyle, spirituality and art. Ait-Benhaddou is a traditional mud brick ksar, a fortified village. The ruins of this UNESCO World Heritage Site have a unique geometric arrangement of bricks.
Ouarzazate: This small city in the middle of a bare plateau in southern Morocco is populated primarily by Imazighen (Amazigh people), who are responsible for constructing fortified dwellings like Kasbahs and Ksours for which the region is famous. It was built in the 1920s as a French garrison. In the heart of the city, the Taourirt Kasbah was a former residence of the Atlas lords, the powerful Pacha Glaoui family. It is remarkable for its 300 clay rooms, a true maze of passageways and lavish decoration with geometrical patterns within an immense structure that only connects to the outside world through a narrow entrance doorway. It became a stopping point for African traders en route to the cities of Morocco and Europe. Ait Benhaddou, a UNESCO World Heritage Site just outside the city, is the best-preserved Kasbah in the Atlas region. The markets are part of the regional trade center known for its pottery and carpets. Ouarzazate boasts two movie studios, a film school and even a museum of cinema. The area has served as a backdrop for movies such as Gladiator and Game of Thrones. The city is completing a solar power station, which, along with hydro and wind plants, will provide nearly half the country’s energy by 2020.
Rif Mountains & Mediterranean: Surrounded by the jagged escarpments of the Rif Mountains, Tetouan was founded in the third century BCE. Artifacts from both the Roman and the Phoenician era have been discovered. The medina is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The city is home to many craftsmen such as weavers, jewelers, carpet makers and leather workers. Shopping, sailing, fishing, swimming and golf are favorite activities. Tetuan is one of the two major ports of Morocco on the Mediterranean. The charming Chefchaouen with its blue-washed houses is nestled on winding roads through the mountains just inland from Tetouan. The city was founded in 1471 as a small fortress, which still exists to this day. The Mediterranean coast of Morocco is famous for natural harbors, ancient villages and pristine beaches.
Skoura: In Ouarzazate Province, Skoura is a lovely oasis that was a welcome sight to caravans of old. It has the grand 17th-century Amerhidl Kasbah that is immortalized on the back of the country’s 50 dirham note. The Dar Ait Sidi el-Mati Kasbah is also a treat. Two other Kasbahs in the area are the Ben Amar and Ait Ben Abou, which means there are plenty of chances here to practice the art of bargaining. The Valley of Roses at the foot of the High Atlas Mountains is irrigated by the Asif M’Goun River and its main village is Kelaat M’Gouna. Palmeraie is a palm oasis with thousands of trees on the northern edge of Marrakech. Favored activities in the area include trekking into the Valley of Roses on foot or by camel, exploring fascinating bazaars, and discovering hilltop vestiges of a 12th-century Berber village.
South Morocco: Taroudannt, “Grandmother of Marrakech,” features a medina, souks and the culture of the Chleuh, also called Shilha, a major Berber ethnic group primarily settling in the southwestern High Atlas Mountains and southern coastal regions of Morocco. The region is important for producing of argan oil. Tafraout is laid out on a dramatic jagged landscape of parched pink granite, pale earth, red canyons and lush green oases. Fortified villages alternate with almond groves and fields edged by prickly pear. Goats climb trees here. Souss-Massa National Park on the Atlantic Coast is important for its conservation of three of the four Moroccan colonies of the northern bald ibis. Combined with the fourth site at nearby Tamri, this region protects 95% of the world’s wild breeding birds of this endangered species. The ibis colonies and roosting sites are on coastal cliffs within the park, and the coastal steppes and fields are used as feeding areas. The park has a nature trail at Oued Souss.
Best Time to Go
March to June and September to November are probably the best times to visit. During winter, November through February/March, days are generally mild although temperatures at night can drop into the 4sºC/40sºF; and much lower in the Atlas Mountains, which also get snow. Peak tourist season is July to August, but that is also the hottest season, especially in Marrakech, Fes and the southwest Morocco desert where temperatures routinely reach 38ºC/100ºF. Rabat and Casablanca are somewhat better due to cooler ocean breezes. It rains quite a bit on the north cost. The south is drier but colder, especially at night. Rabat is hot and humid during the summer, making it uncomfortable between July and September. Weather is unpredictable in the Atlas Mountains and depends on elevation. Rain is frequent in the Middle Atlas Mountains, especially November to February. Summers average around 22-25ºC/72-78ºF with winter temperatures as low as -20ºC/-4ºF.
Day 1: Casa Blanca / Rabat
The Imperial city of Rabat began as a settlement on the banks of the Oued Bou Regreg in the third century BCE. It possesses a small but interesting medina.
Day 2: Rabat / Meknes / Volubilis / Fes
Fes, one of four Imperial cities, is divided into three sections: the old walled city, new Fes, and the newest section, Ville Nouvelle, offering a world of territory to discover.
Day 3: Fes
The city features the Medina of Fes el Bali, likely the largest contiguous car-free urban area in the world, as well as the oldest continuously operating university, which was founded in 859.
Day 4: Fes / Erfoud / Merzouga
Merzouga is a village in the simply stunning red Sahara Desert. It rests on the edge of Erg Chebbi
Day 5: Merzouga / Skoura
In Ouarzazate Province, Skoura’s fertile oasis is lined with immense palm groves.
Days 6/7: Skoura
The area has a menu of activities including treks to the Valley of Roses, explorations of fascinating bazaars, and visits to the site of a 12th century Berber village.
Day 8: Skoura / Marrakech
Marrakech has long been a crossroads of cultures; and home to medieval craft guilds that continue to operate by the old ways.
Days 9/10: Marrakech
The city features acrobats, fire-eaters and snake charmers, fine restaurants and shops, museums and historic architecture, and open bazaars proffering everything from spices to kaftans to electronics.
Day 11: Marrakech / Depart
Custom Tour Options
Agafay Desert (2 days)
Unlike the sandy dunes of the Sahara, the small Agafay Desert is a rocky, lunar-like landscape that epitomizes the southern desert of Morocco.
Asni (3 days)
Asni is a small town in the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains and home to an award-winning riad.
Essouira (3 days)
Essaouira is a charming town with a very special appeal with its blue-shuttered houses.
High Atlas Mountains (1-7 days)
Amateur trekkers and experienced climbers are drawn to off-the-beaten-path Berber villages and North Africa’s highest mountain, Jebel Toubkal, 4,167 m/13,671 ft.
Ouarzazate (3 days)
A small town on a bare plateau in southern Morocco was built in the 1920s as a French garrison. At its heart is the incredible Taourirt Kasbah, former residence of the Atlas lords, with 300 clay rooms, a true maze of passageways and lavish decoration.
Rif Mountains & Mediterranean (2-3 days)
This region features Morocco’s “White Dove of Culture,” the blue-washed houses of Chefchaouen; and the Andalusian-style village of Assila with its outstanding beaches and wealth of history.
Southern Morocco (5 days)
The region is home to independent Berber tribes as well as Souss-Massa National Park, known for premier birding opportunities and unspoiled beaches.
$600-$800 per person, per day. Land only, double occupancy.