Pre-2005, you wouldn’t have been able to spend a night in holy Moulay Idriss if you weren’t a Muslim. These days you can stay with an awesome local family and eat their delicious home-cooked fare no matter your beliefs. It’s easy to get lost in a labyrinth (think less David Bowie film, more medieval maze), especially when there are enticing distractions at every turn. Never fear, your local guide knows the city of Fes like a lifelong friend. Don’t get in a hoof when you’re offered a camel burger in Meknes. Like all good food in the medina, this exotic lunch is cooked before your eyes at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant. Sleep under the stars in the Sahara, watch the sun rise over the dunes, ride a camel through the desert and explore the spectacular Todra Gorge. Is this all a dream?
Hang in Casablanca before a homestay in Moulay Idriss, see lots of cool old stuff in Fes, head on to Midelt, Mergouza and Erg Chebbi for walking, ruins and a sunset camel ride. Ride on through the dunes to Todra Gorge, before visiting Dades Valley, Ait Benhaddou and sexy Marrakech, but don’t get too caught up on the thought that Morocco is all about big markets and bigger deserts. The country’s beaches are pretty excellent too. Taghazout is a magnet for Moroccan chillers thanks to some A-grade Atlantic surf and other seaside towns like Essaouria are made for kicking back and soaking up some cultural vibes. Country living out by the Atlas Mountains can’t be beat either – the people are nice, the views are pretty and you ain’t gonna find food this good in a restaurant. Take the time to check out some of Morocco’s best secrets – from the mountains to the beaches.
Salaam Alaikum! Welcome to Morocco. There are no planned activities until your important welcome meeting at 6 pm, if you have time, why not check out Casablanca, the largest city in Morocco. Modelled after Marseille in France, this bustling port city has an eclectic architectural style, a fusion of Art Deco French colonial buildings and Mauresque (Moorish) government institutions, all mixed in with an old medina and the city's modern-day landmark - the Hassan II Mosque. A great way to spend the day exploring Casablanca is to wander around the Old Medina and city walls, then jump in a taxi and visit the Quartier Habous – the new medina full of shaded squares, narrow streets and lined with arcades that lead from one souk to another. This is a great place to enjoy a Moroccan coffee and maybe start working on your bargaining skills. Finish the day with a walk along the Corniche and watch the locals enjoy games of football on the beach during sunset.
Meknes - Moulay Idriss
After breakfast, opt to take a guided tour of the Hassan II Mosque (entrance fee payable locally), more than 6000 craftsmen joined forces to build this beauty in 1993 and it's one of the few mosques in Morocco that foreigners can enter. Later, head to the station and take a local train to Meknes (approximately 2.5 hours). Upon arrival, jump into a taxi and head to the whitewashed village of Moulay Idriss – one of Morocco's most important pilgrimage sites – then go for a stroll and indulge in a rather unusual lunch, a camel burger! However if you’re a vegetarian, don’t get the hump, there’ll be an option for you too! You’ll also witness a demonstration on the art of mint tea making, this sweet treat is a Moroccan speciality. Tonight, you'll get to hang out with a local family, an experience that’s only been allowed for foreigners since 2005 – lucky you!
Take a drive through the beautiful rolling hills to Volubilis and enjoy a guided tour of these epic Roman ruins, then head back to Meknes where you'll meet your local guide for a tour of the city. Continue your adventure on a 40-minute train ride to the spiritual and cultural heart of Morocco – Fes. Vibrant, noisy, fascinating and overwhelming, Fes is a visual and pungent feast for the senses, with a huge, well-preserved medieval old city that’s the mother of all medinas. Later this afternoon, enjoy some free time and perhaps check out the exquisite carvings and magnificent tile work at the Medersa el Attarine, near the spice and perfume market. Alternatively, Fes is a shopping heaven for those who want to pick up a souvenir or two.
Getting lost in Fes is half the fun, but you'll have an orientation walk this morning to help you get the lay of the land first. Join your leader on an orientation walk through this vibrant labyrinth of a city – alive with the many craftsmen, markets, ceramics and beautiful mosques – navigate the narrow alleyways and visit the famous tannery and stop for that iconic view, overlooking the dye pits. Look out for the Medersa Bou Inania, one of the city's coolest buildings, which has recently been restored and is now open to visitors. You'll also visit the famous tannery and its dye pits (which are also famously stinky, but well worth it), and a ceramic factory where you can see potters working in the traditional way. Today is going to be a big day so remember to keep hydrated and pack some snacks.
Travelling south across a bunch of different terrain, you will reach Ifrane, a mountain resort established by the French in 1929. After a short stop for coffee and an opportunity to stretch your legs, continue further south. Then, at Midelt, the landscape opens up, giving way to awesome views to the west. This smallish market town, surrounded by farmland and orchards, is a great spot to break up the journey to the Sahara and watch Berber people and nomadic shepherds tending to their flocks. You'll stay the night in Midelt, but first it's time for a nice walk (approximately 2 hours). The walk itself is easy, but the terrain is rocky in some places, so wear your best walking shoes. Bring your camera too, or your smartphone or whatever, because the scenes along the way might just make your Instagram account explode.
On your way to the desert, stop at the spectacular narrow defile known as the Gorges du Ziz, then head to the large town of Errachidia. Pass the 500-year-old ruins of the Ksar of Meski then descend into the Ziz Valley, a particularly fertile region that produces figs, olives, dates and tamarisk – a fruit grown for its tannin and used in the curing of leather skins. Arrive in Merzouga, drop your main bags off at your overnight camp set next to a simple Auberge (that's French for ‘inn'), and get ready for a once in a lifetime experience – a desert full of awesome. The mode of transport? Camel, of course! Brace yourself for one heck of a sunset, this ride takes about an hour, going through the vast expanse of sand, and loops back to your private camp for an overnight stay. In the camp, you'll have a thin mattress, blankets and sheets (and auberge not so far away, just in case). Make sure you bring a sleeping sheet if it's winter (you'd be surprised how cold it can get). Sleep under the stars and have a mind-blowing 'I am so far from home' kinda moment.
Todra Gorge - Dades Valley
Hope you remembered to set your alarm this morning, because you'll be getting up well before the crack of dawn. Climb to a nearby sand dune to catch the sunrise and experience the amazing interplay of light as the Sahara slowly comes alive all around you. Head back for brekkie, collect the rest of your gear together and then travel west to Todra. Come across a bright tablecloth of green that might seem so out of place you'll think you are dreaming! This valley is pretty impressive, with all its palm trees and mud-brick villages. Arrive at your hotel at the top of the valley, then take a hike into the gorge where sheer cliffs rise more than 1000 feet above you.
From Todra Gorge, travel along the ‘Road of 1,000 Kasbahs’ and enjoy views of the Dades Gorge. You'll also travel past the town of Skoura, home to the beautiful little houses rising like a mirage beyond a dry riverbed. Quench your thirst with a mouthful of mint tea (the best in the world!) at Tawesna teahouse, whose profits are devoted to the projects of the women association in the village. This experience is more than just a cuppa – it’s about discovering a culture, sharing a true moment, contributing to women economic inclusion and sustainable tourism – be part of it! Continue to the medieval mud-brick town of Ait Benhaddou, which is at its best in the late afternoon sun. If you wonder why Ait Benhaddou looks familiar to you, it’s probably because you’ve seen it before! Perhaps not live, but certainly on the silver screen, Gladiator, Game of Thrones and loads of other movies and shows were filmed in this kasbah. Explore the many old streets and climb up to the fortress for a superb view over the old town, you can also (for a small fee) enter one of the most interesting of the old houses and climb up to the turrets for a view over the river. You'll spend the night just outside the walls.
High Atlas - Marrakech
Continue west, passing a few Berber villages before stopping for a delicious BBQ lunch in one of the many townships along the way – enjoy mouth-watering kefta (Moroccan minced meat) and veggies served with fresh bread, then perhaps wash it all down with a local drink. Continue to take in those epic views of the countryside as you wind your way up towards Tizi ‘n Tichka. This is a whopping 2260 metres above sea level, the highest pass on the road to Marrakech and often gets covered with snow during the winter months. Leaving the Atlas behind, you'll descend into the plains that surround Marrakech and arrive late afternoon. With no planned activities after your arrival, this is a good chance to get lost in the fun of Jemaa el Fna, where there are so many fire eaters, fortune tellers, actors, musicians and hawkers vying for your attention.
Marrakech is a feast for the senses, and this morning you’ll get to venture out for some street food tasting in the maze of Marrakech streets with a local expert. Set off on a tour of the old medina, through the bustling souks that are the lifeblood flowing through the city and sample some sweet and savoury specialities. Explore tranquil courtyards filled with the scent of orange blossom, and the many salons and chambers that make up Bahia Palace. This splendid mansion was built in 1866 for a former slave who rose to power within the
government. The rest of a day is free so where to do you start? Why not head out on a cycling trip, go quad-biking or indulge in a Luxury Hammam and Spa, the options are endless. You might also like to visit Le Jardin Secret, a traditional medina garden revived for the 21st century. Once owned by a powerful local chief U-Bihi – who was poisoned by Mohammed IV – this historic riad has one of the most beautiful courtyards in Marrakech, combining exotic and traditional Islamic gardens that are fed by original khettara, an underground irrigation system. In the evening you will no doubt be drawn back to Jemaa el Fna for a final night out.
Today is another free day in Marrakech. As this magical city has so much to offer, it would be impossible to get bored. Also, take a chance to meet new members of the group, who maybe joining for the coming part of the trip. There will be a welcome meeting at 6pm today, feel free to join, you’ll surely learn what to expect in next few days.
Wake up in the morning and catch a private bus towards Imlil, high in the Atlas Mountains. Calling dibs on a window seat would be a smart move – the 2-hour drive has got some great scenery to keep you occupied on the way. Arrive at Imlil, a little village that sits at the foot of North Africa’s highest peak, and then lace-up for a scenic 1-hour trek to the mountain village of Aroumd. Tonight’s stay is in a family-run gite (mountain home) in the village. The Berbers are famous for their hospitality, so make the most of this opportunity to sit down, break bread with the family and learn about their culture. Facilities at the homestay are shared (both the bathroom and sleeping arrangements) but they’re cosy, comfortable and offer an experience that is so much more memorable than a hotel.