Morocco is a country full of contrasts and you really need to travel around a bit to understand the many facets of Morocco. As you move from city to countryside, you’ll see things change from Marjan (similar to Wal-Mart) to local markets where everything is transported by donkey. As you move from coastline to mountains to desert, you’ll see the lifestyle change to adapt to the surroundings. You’ll see parts of the country where grand villas and BMWs are the norm while in other areas, poverty is a way of life. Regardless of where you are, though, one thing’s for sure: Morocco is magical.
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While there’s no way you can see all of Morocco in two weeks, it’s long enough to get a feel for the many different regions. Each area has its own set of customs, foods, architecture, and clothing and it’s worth packing up and moving around to see a wide example. Before you go, I’d recommend taking some time to read about the history of Morocco. Though a guidebook will tell you what to see and where to eat in each town, the background will give you a greater appreciation for why things are the way they are today.
This itinerary is clearly biased toward the things I enjoy and the places I had firsthand knowledge of. However, I know that everyone has different interests and this is not meant to be a one-size-fits-all plan. Use this as an inspirational guide, and change the timing of each stay to best fit in the activities that sound most appealing to you. On the off-chance that you have the exact same interests and travel style that I do (not even my family does!), squeak out every possible moment you can for two weeks off of work by flying on a Friday transatlantic red-eye and coming home on a Sunday night.
Saturday – Arrival in Marrakech
Flying to Morocco isn’t any farther than flying to Europe, so you should be able to arrive in Marrakech by mid-afternoon, even if you land in Casablanca and connect from there. Take thirty minutes at your riad to re-energize with a glass of mint tea before starting to explore; you’ll want to be alert as you get your bearings. When you’re ready, dive into the maze-like souks.
The stalls and shops you see in the souks directly surrounding the main square are incredibly touristic. A large portion of the merchandise has been mass-produced and no matter how visually appealing they may be, the piles of spices, nuts, and dried fruits are most likely of mediocre quality…but who cares? People-watching, both shopkeepers and tourists, is a fun way to spend the afternoon. The farther away from the square that you walk, the more likely you are to stumble upon more authentic shops and markets. You’ll know you’re in the right place when the tourist numbers dwindle and prices plummet.
When the souks begin closing up, head into Djemaa el Fna, which becomes vibrant in the evening. If you’re up for an adventure, eat your dinner at one of the tented restaurants. Find the one where the benches are lined by locals, where the menu is simple, and the pots of food are being turned over quickly rather than sitting there all night. Otherwise, have a quieter dinner at one of the restaurant terraces overlooking the square. The food might be more expensive, but consider it an admission to a birds-eye view of the organized chaos below.
End your evening with the Moroccan equivalent of a bar crawl. Start at one of the fresh-squeezed orange juice stands and watch the street performers with your beverage. Continue to someone selling sweet cakes and enjoy while locals try to win a bottle of soda by “fishing” for it. Lastly, find a stall offering a spicy ginseng infusion to drink while musicians nearby complete your night.
Suggestions for your hotel stay: Choose a traditional Moroccan riad within the walls of the Marrakech medina for maximum ambiance and a location within easy walking distance of the Djemaa el Fna. We stayed at the adequate but overpriced Riad Abaka and have no complaints, but there are literally hundreds of riads to choose from. You’ll stay here 3 nights.
Sunday – More of Marrakech
As much as I loved the Djemaa el Fna, there is much more to Marrakech than a bustling square. Spend today getting a little further from the medina.
A touristic sightseeing bus provides narration as it follows two routes through the city and is a convenient way to see more of the area, even if it is a bit removed from the local way of life. I recommend taking the palmerie/oasis route first, as it provides more commentary. There aren’t a lot of places along this route that will likely intrigue you enough to hop off, though it is an option. Along the historic route, I enjoyed getting off at the Jardin de la Menara for a stroll before walking back toward the medina. If your feet get tired, it’s simple enough to sit at one of the many cafes while nursing a cup of coffee for an hour the way Moroccan men do. You’ll also find historic sites of interest, including the Saadian tombs and El Bahia Palace.
Because the Djemaa El Fna is so intoxicating, I’d highly recommend spending a second evening there, even if you venture to the new town for dinner. I guarantee you’ll experience something new on a second visit.
Monday – Day Trip to Essaouira
Essaouira is a well-known town on the coast, and a good escape from Marrakech if you need a more relaxing atmosphere. Hop on a Supratours or CTM bus for an easy, direct ride to Essaouira. From there, you can choose how you’d like to spend your day. If the weather’s nice, you’ll find a large beach perfect for sunning and strolling, which is exactly how many visitors spend their time. If you’re seeking more adventure, join other windsurfers and kitesurfers to bring your adrenaline level up. One last option is to delve into a half day walk to experience argan woods, waterfalls, or birdwatching before joining a Moroccan family for tea. Regardless, make sure to visit the harbor and enjoy a fresh seafood meal at Essaouira’s famous fish market before returning to Marrakech for the night.
Tuesday – Visit Telouet, Ait ben Haddou, Ouarzazate, and Skoura Oasis
An early start will help you fit quite a bit into this day, though you’ll likely still have to do some prioritizing. Hire a car and/or driver for the next five days (highly recommended: Jalil of Morocco Unplugged) and head from Marrakech into the High Atlas Mountains via the Tiz n Tichka Pass. The scenery is fantastic, making the drive a better option than heading to the skies. Stop at Telouet, my favorite kasbah in Morocco due to beautiful views and an incredible interior. From there head to Ait ben Haddou. While an overrated structure (in my opinion), it does have a beautiful natural setting and you’ll recognize it from Gladiator, The Mummy, Kingdom of Heaven, and more. From there, head onwards to Ouarzazate, the biggest city for miles. It’s a great place for a late lunch and is also home to Atlas Studios, if you’re a movie junkie. End your day by heading down the Route of 1000 Kasbahs to the palm grove of Skoura.
Suggestions for your hotel stay: It’s worth the forty-five minute drive to stay in Skoura rather than Ouarzazate. You’ll find many kasbahs which have opened their doors to overnight guests, but the hosts at Kasbah Amridil are incredibly welcoming, making it my first choice.
Wednesday – Continue Eastbound from Skoura to the Dades Valley and Todra Gorge
Today’s journey brings you past fertile fields and river banks. History buffs may find the continued drive past kasbahs as a perfect way to spend their morning. Shoppers will love the storefronts offering rosewater and other rose-scented products. You can stop in any of the Berber villages within the Dades Valley, meeting smiling workers in the farms and watching kids run around, truly proving that we are all alike. Nature-lovers, like me, will instead prefer hiking through this fantastic setting. A standard route includes a four-hour hike down one gorge with a three-hour return through a different gorge; however, those with less time and create a shorter hike by simply retracing their steps the way they came to fit any amount of time whatsoever. No matter how you decide to spend your day, everyone will enjoy the spectacular pink-gray walls of the Dades Gorge and the windy road featured in national Cadillac advertisements. Drive just a bit farther to spend the night in the Todra Gorge.
Suggestions for your hotel stay: In the Todra Gorge, it’s impossible to do better than Auberge Le Festival. Splurge on a cave room, settle in, and enjoy great food and hospitality in the main building before a comfortable night’s sleep.
Thursday – Todra Gorge
You have no idea how good it will feel to spend the day exploring without having to spend hours in the car! Today is a quiet day to decompress and re-charge. The cave rooms are wonderful for reflection time and it can be incredibly relaxing to sit in the outdoor hot tub, play with the resident dog, read a book, or stargaze long into the night. However, you don’t have to take it easy if you don’t want to. This is an outdoor paradise, with great scenery in the gorge itself, and a photographer’s dream if you can spot nomadic tribes in the mountains. You can easily spend an entire day hiking, biking, or rock-climbing and guides are readily available if you’re not comfortable setting off alone. Still not your thing? Ask your host about visiting local Berber villages or the nearby salt mines. Cozy up for another night in the Todra Gorge.
Friday – Into the Desert
Fridays are a quiet time of the week for Moroccans, making this a good day for travel. From the Todra Gorge, you can head toward Alnif, the “trilobite capital of the world”. While the landscape looks quite barren today, it’s not difficult to stumble upon literally hundreds of fossils simply by stopping the car and taking a brief walk, proving that this was once a much more hospitable environment. From here, continue toward Merzouga, a town that has built itself on the tourism opportunities of the Saharan dunes of Erg Chebbi. If you arrive early in the afternoon, you might have time for birdwatching at Dayet Srji, riding an ATV in the sand dunes, or burying yourself in the sand which supposedly helps with joint pain. I’d absolutely recommend a camel trek into the desert for sunset: a quiet way to experience just how vastthese sand dunes are.
Suggestions for your night stay: Spending the night in a Bedouin-style tent for dining alfresco, a campfire and music, and incredible stargazing was a highlight of my week, though I know that’s not for everyone. You’ll find basic hotels in Merzouga if you prefer to return for the night.
Saturday – Drive to Fes
Assuming you spent the night in the desert, your day will start with an incredible sunrise over the sand dunes. Climbing up these dunes can be quite a feat, so come prepared for the challenge!
Another hour or two by camel will bring you back to Merzouga, where breakfast will be waiting and you can freshen up with a hot shower. Unfortunately, your day from this point forward includes quite a bit of time in the car. Start by driving past the town of Rissani and into Erfoud of the Ziz Valley. As of this writing, market day in Erfoud was on Saturdays, making the souks a perfect first stop for the day. These are far different from the touristy souks in Marrakech, and you’ll see butchers, livestock markets, and flea market type sales crowded with locals. Consider a snack of mejoul dates, spicy olives, and an avocado milkshake before heading north into the Middle Atlas. You’ll continue through cedar pine forests and the home to Barbary apes, before driving through Ifrane, the “Switzerland of Morocco”, due to it’s alpine scenery and eventually arriving in Fes.
Suggestions for your hotel stay: By all means, drop everything and stay at Dar Seffarine. It’s gorgeous, comfortable, welcoming, centrally located, and affordable. You’ll stay here for four nights, so choose wisely!
Sunday – Relaxation in Fes
Do you remember riding a camel and sleeping in a tent only 36 hours ago? It’s time for some relaxation! You’ll find hammams, or bathhouses, scattered throughout Fes and you can choose your level of authenticity when it comes to scrubbing the sand off your body or staying for a massage. You’ll find lots of other ways to relax for the day as well, including playing a round of golf, enjoying a day pass at the Sofitel’s (or other hotel’s) pool, or partaking in any interest of yours. In my case, that absolutely means a cooking class. There’s nothing like being in a kitchen to take away all my stress. Enjoy the day and then another relaxing night in Fes.
Monday – Fes
While relaxing in Fes may be enjoyable, the locals will tell you that in reality, the city is a fast-paced and vibrant place. The city is a well-preserved Medieval capital and a sprawling labyrinth that is amazing to get lost in. In fact, I’d suggest specifically not getting a guide because simply wandering is so enjoyable. At some point, you’ll likely stumble upon the tanneries, a great place to learn about one of the city’s major industries as well as do some shopping. Also worth finding – at some point – are the lovely architectural wonders of Bou Inania madersa (a fourteenth century college) and the exteriors of the Moulay Idriss II shrine, Qaraouyine library and the al-Tijani mosque. Should you still have time, head into the Jewish quarter for an entirely different feel of the city (and architecture similar to New Orleans, of all places) or to the Merenid Tombs for panoramic views of the city. Spend your evening in the new city for a more modern dinner and night out.
Tuesday - Day Trip to Meknes
I have conflicting opinions on this, since heading to Meknes as a day trip retraces some of the distance you’ll cover the next day to Chefchaouen, but it’s so much easier and more relaxing to visit as a day trip rather than pack up and move. Trains ply the route from Fes to Meknes frequently, though hiring a car may be more convenient. Another imperial city, Meknes has a slower pace than Fes and can be a great place for shopping or simply exploring. However, make your first goal of the day a trip to the Roman ruins of Volubilis before it gets to hot in the afternoon. You can find a guide there to explain some of the history or you can simply imagine how things were or enjoy the beautiful mosaics on site. On your way back to Meknes, stop in Moulay Idriss (a 45-minute walk or short taxi ride from Volubilis), one of the country’s most important places of pilgrimage due to the tomb of Moulay Idriss, a prominent Moroccan saint in the late 8th century and a great grandson of the prophet Mohammed. Enjoy lunch in Meknes and spend a few hours to stop in historical sites, the central pedestrian square, or in the souks before returning by train to Fes.
Wednesday – Northbound to Chefchaouen
Today, head north to the Rif mountains. A bus is a comfortable and sensible option from Fes, providing an affordable journey on a route you likely won’t stop along the way anyway. The drive is a decent distance, and even a morning departure means you’ll likely not arrive until lunch (though if you are enjoying Fes, you can certainly choose an afternoon departure instead). Stop by your hotel to check in and drop off your bags before enjoying a meal in the lively Plaza Uta el Hammam and watching merchants offer toys, candies, or henna tattoos. The food – and culture – here feels more European than anywhere else in Morocco, and it’s a refreshing change of pace if only for variety. Chefchaouen’s gorgeous blue-washed alleys are calming, and it’s easy to just spend the entire afternoon walking through the medina and enjoying the ambiance. Consider a stop at the Hotel Atlas for mint tea at sunset.
Suggestions for your hotel stay: Stay within the quiet walls of Chefchaouen for a peaceful stay. We stayed at Casa Perleta and have no complaints, though I can’t say it was particularly special. Plan on spending two nights here.
Thursday – Chefchaouen
Another day in Chefchaouen provides the opportunity to really explore the surrounding area. My choice is, unsurprisingly, a hike through Talassemetane National Park for waterfalls and other hillside scenery on the outskirts of town. Another popular option is to travel by car about 30 minutes to God’s Bridge, a rock arc that looks beautiful. You’ll also find opportunities to learn more about the local culture, including tours of authentic markets or seeing potters at work in small villages. Take tonight for more quiet, including fireside or candlelit dinners.
Friday – to Asilah
Heading to Asilah is easiest done by car, but can be done by bus or train with a transfer if you prefer to save some money. As a contrast to Chefchaouen, Asilah is a white-washed village on the sea rather than a blue-washed town in the mountains. Take advantage of the Iberian feel and paella-style meals – this is the last “European” feel town you’ll stay in. Since it’s again a day of prayer for Muslims, enjoy your day along the shore and take it easy. The main attraction of town, unless you’re visiting during their art festival, is Paradise beach, reachable by donkey cart. After an afternoon of soaking up the sunshine, walk along the ramparts for a stunning sunset.
Saturday – Ride the Rails to Casablanca
After the sea breeze in Asilah, take the train south for your final night in Morocco. It’s about a four-hour journey to Casablanca, and ideally you’ll arrive in time for the final tour of King Hassan II Mosque at 2:00pm. This mosque is the largest in Morocco, the third largest in the world, and the tallest minaret in the world. More interestingly, though, is that it is one of the few mosques in Morocco open to non-Muslims. Enjoy the beautiful interior as a way to return to Morocco’s architecture and culture and then stroll the corniche in the late afternoon for a final glass of mint tea, some people-watching, and an insight into the busy imperial city of the country. (If you have an afternoon flight on Sunday, you can instead consider a stopover in Rabat for the afternoon and a visit to Casablanca’s mosque first thing Sunday morning).
Suggestions for your hotel stay: By the end of vacation, I’m yearning for familiar, and luckily the Hyatt Regency has an excellent location, making it a suitable choice for one last night in Morocco.
Sunday – Fly home
Returning home is a breeze, with a train connecting the city center to the airport for your flight home. There aren’t many nonstop options to the United States, but there are plenty of connecting itineraries via Europe. By this point, hopefully you’ve enjoyed the many different sides of Morocco, with plenty of stories to share with family and friends.