Why book this trip?
Enter the world of ancient Morocco on this journey through the country’s imperial cities; Rabat, Meknes, Fes and Marrakech. Travel through the mountainous land of Berbers and to the edge of Africa where we relax in the tranquil port town of Essaouira.
Atmospheric medinas– Get lost in the colourful alleyways of the cities’ old towns
Todra Gorge– Walk in Morocco’s Grand Canyon through spectacular rock formations
Essaouira– Relax in the traditional and charming port town on the Atlantic coast.
- DAY 1– Join trip in Casablanca
Arrive in Casablanca on the Atlantic coast where French colonial building blend with traditional Moroccan architecture. Casablanca has a atmosphere of prosperity and is where young Moroccans come to begin their careers.
There are no activities planned today, so you are free to arrive in Casablanca at any time. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you’ll need to arrive into Casablanca Mohammed V International Airport (CMN), which is around 45 minutes from the hotel depending on traffic. For those arriving on time our Leader plans to meet you in the hotel reception at 7pm for the welcome meeting and for those that wish, there is the chance to go out for dinner. Should you miss the meeting, your Leader will inform you of any essential information as soon as you catch up.
If your flight arrives earlier in the day, perhaps you might choose to visit Marche Central to get a feel for local life and to taste fresh seafood at one of the streetfood stalls or stroll to Place Mohamed V, Casablanca’s central plaza.
- DAY 2– Visit to Casablanca’s Hassan II Mosque, take a guided tour of Rabat and continue to the imperial city of Meknes
This morning we visit the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca before we travel along the coast heading north, towards the country’s capital city, Rabat.
The Hassan II Mosque is the largest on the African continent and this spectacular structure can hold up to 105,000 worshippers. Built in honour of the King’s 60th birthday, the mosque is a feat of engineering as well as a controversial use of public money. We’ll have a tour of the mosque’s interior which is intentionally perched above the water of the Atlantic to honour the Quran which states “the throne of Allah was over the water”.
Later this morning we’ll continue to Rabat, the city that was established as the capital of their protectorate by the French in 1912 and since independence has served as the capital of a modern Morocco. Rabat’s history stretches back as far as 8BC, when settlers arrived in what is now the Chellah area, a district that went on to become a prosperous Roman town, before being transformed by the Merinids into a cemetery. On arrival we will have an opportunity to explore something of the city’s historic heart, with a guided walking tour of the area around the Hassan Tower and the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, before wandering through the engaging Kasbah des Oudaias, originally a fortified town that is now infused with a distinctly Andalusian flavour.
After taking in the grandeur of the Royal Palace we will continue our journey to Meknes, once the heart of the Moroccan Sultanate, lying amidst the landscapes of the Oued Boufekrane River valley. The Sultan loved Meknes, and he would have liked never to leave it according to the chronicler to the tyrannical Sultan Moulay Ismail. Ismail (1672- 1727) was a tireless builder, and his greatest efforts were reserved for his capital at Meknes, which at its peak, with over 20 grand gateways and 50 palaces, must have been a sight to inspire any who looked upon it.
- DAY 3– Sightseeing in Meknes; drive to Fes via the ancient, Roman site of Volubilis
This morning we’ll have a guided tour of the major highlights of Meknes, including the old granaries of the Heri es-Souni and the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail himself. In spite of Ismail’s seemingly unquenchable blood lust and far from benevolent treatment of his subjects, the sultan still seems to be held in high regard and his tomb is something of a place of reverence even today amongst a people who still see his rule as Morocco’s Golden Age. We’ll also take in the Bab el Khamis Gate and walk through the city’s spectacular centrepiece, the Bab Mansour, en route to the Place el Hedim and the city’s Medina.
From here we travel for 45 mins to the nearby ancient site of Volubilis – the capital of the Roman province of Mauritania Tingitana. A local guide will educate us about the the well-preserved mosaics and the layout of provincial settlement.
This afternoon we’ll travel for a further 2 hours, via Nzala des Beni Ammar, to the country’s cultural capital, Fes. Probably the oldest of the imperial cities, its fascinating history is rich with wars, murders and political intrigue. It has played an important part in Moroccan trade, culture, religion and politics. The old and new towns are adjacent but totally separate entities. We’ll arrive in at our hotel in the early evening, in time to explore the many great food places that Fes has to offer.
- DAY 4– A full day exploring Fes
We’ll have a full day today to take in the artisan capital of Morocco with a local guide. After breakfast we begin sightseeing in Fes el Jadid, known as ‘new Fes’ despite dating back to the 13th century. The area’s predominate feature is the Royal Palace, and although it’s not open to visitors, we’ll visit from the outside to see the intricately designed gates. We’ll later drive out to North Borj viewpoint for some great views back across the city before taking a well deserved lunch break.
After lunch our exploration of the city takes us into Fes el Bali (Old Fes). Within the bustling souks of the Fes el Bali, the craftwork is considered to be the finest in Morocco. We’ll wander through its artisan districts, where small doorways and narrow pathways reveal weavers and brass workshops, coppersmiths and tanners, all producing beautiful pieces as they have for many generations. We’ll also take in the opulent majesty of the 14th century Attarin Medersa, whose Moroccan decoration and elegant design makes it one of the city’s most captivating medieval colleges.
- DAY 5– Drive over the Middle Atlas to Erfoud
We’ll have an early start this morning to begin travelling south into the dramatic landscapes of the Middle Atlas, heading first towards to Immouzer and Ifrane and passing near the small mountain village of Azrou, which in the Berber tongue translates as ‘the rock’. This is the land of the fiercely independent Berbers, the Lords of the Atlas, whose traditions and ways still hold sway up here in their mountain strongholds far away from the cities below. The Berbers present us with a unique view of a way of life lost to the rest of North Africa, where music and dance, even language and religion, are far removed from their Arab neighbours. Continuing into Berber sheep raising country we head to Timadite and over the Col du Zad, before crossing the Tizi Talghemt Camel Pass and continuing via the Gorge du Ziz to Er Rachidia. Finally we traverse a broad plateau past Meski Oasis, the so-called ‘Blue Spring’ bordering the arid desert plains, from where our journey brings us at last on to the desert settlement of Erfoud.
- DAY 6– Drive to Merzouga, and take 4WD vehicles into the desert for a night in a traditional Berber Camp
Our day starts by following the meandering Ziz River towards Rissani, the last sizeable community and the end of the vegetation belt before the dunes of the Sand Sea begin. The settlement is the homeland of the Alaouite dynasty, which reigned in this region for 300 years, and this morning we’ll have an opportunity to visit the founder’s Mausoleum and explore something of the local ksour (fortified villages).
After a lunch break, we continue to the small settlement of Merzouga on the outskirts of the desert. Here we’ll leave our bus and meet 4WD vehicles for an exhilarating journey into the spectacular high dunes of Erg Chebbi. We’ll explore the desert landscape on the way to our Berber camp, home for the night. The crew will prepare us a traditional tagine dinner and there will be the opportunity to relax in the peaceful setting around a campfire. The tents accommodate up to four people each and mattresses, blankets and pillows are provided. There are simple shower facilities available, however due to the nature of the accommodation, hot water and water pressure cannot be guaranteed.
- DAY 7– Full day journey to Todra Gorge
This morning we’ll wake before dawn to make our way up to the tip of a sand dune for our chance to watch the sunrise over the Sahara. Returning to camp for a well-deserved breakfast, we will leave the southern desert by camel; a true Moroccan experience.
Our bus will be waiting for us in Merzouga ready to head for the mountains once more. Following an ancient route along the southern slopes of the Atlas, we reach the town of Tinerhir, our base from which to explore the towering vistas of the Todra Gorge. Arriving in the afternoon there is usually time for an initial exploration of the area and perhaps a walk in the famous lush palmeries that line the banks of the nearby Todra River. Extending some way along the river’s course, the gardens are a lush oasis of produce, with date palms and olive groves, fruit orchards and almonds, all littered amongst a fertile landscape of grain and vegetables.
- DAY 8– Optional walk in Todra Gorge
The dramatic ochre-coloured cliffs of the Todra Gorge rise vertically to leave just a narrow pass through which our track and the river struggle for right of way. In the morning Berber women drive their goats through the narrow gorge to the better grazing land higher up. Today there will be an opportunity to join your Leader on an optional walk to Abdelali viewpoint to see the excellent panoramas across to the Jebel Sahro and down into the gorge.
The trek begins in the middle of the narrow gorge following the main road before joining a small mule path going up gradually along a ravine. The path climbs about 500m to a small pass with views looking down the gorge and the Jebel Sahro range. The descent is 550m and is again on a rocky, narrow path that can be steep in some sections. The total distance is about 6 km and is considered as a moderate trek, but be aware that in high temperatures it can be more demanding (walking boots with ankle support essential).
Alternatively you may opt to explore the gorge valley floor following the path of the river and take in the local scenery from one of the nearby cafs.
- DAY 9– Drive to Ait Ben Haddou via El Kelaa des MGouna and the Valley of 1000 Kasbahs
This morning we driving westwards, where we make a short stop in El Kelaa des M’Gouna positioned at the foot of a rocky outcrop that separates the Dades and Mgoun Valleys. Famed for its roses, the town lies blanketed under a landscape of scented blooms each spring, which are then harvested in May during the famous Festival of the Roses and processed into rosewater to be sold throughout the Islamic world. Driving on through the Dades Valley with its fertile oases, we enter the Valley of a Thousand Kasbahs, where each of the oasis towns can boast their own distinctive character, the mud and straw structures becoming more plentiful and more ornate as you progress along the valley. Later this afternoon we make our way towards the small, fortified Berber settlement of Ait Ben Haddou, which has been classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and is considered by many to be one of Morocco’s most picturesque settings. Studded with crenelated towers and richly decorated, the town’s Kasbah is quite spectacular and provided an ideal location for filming scenes from Jesus of Nazareth and Lawrence of Arabia.
- DAY 10– Drive through the Tizi n’Tichka mountain pass to Ouirgane
Heading north, the parched desert sand and stone gives way to the hills and deep gorges of the High Atlas Mountains as we wind our way up and over the Tizi n’ Tichka, the highest vehicular pass in Morocco and often snow covered during the winter months. We will then head to the small village of Ouirgane. En route we may have the opportunity of visiting the local market at Tahanoute and the village of Aguersioual, where we will enjoy a mint tea with a Berber family and experience the everyday life of the people of this region. Depending on our arrival time there may be the opportunity for a short hike around Ouirgane.
- DAY 11– Travel to the Atlantic Coast town of Essaouira
We’ll have an early start this morning to travel via Marrakech where we join the road west to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Our destination is the historic port of Essaouira; a historic and charming Moroccan town inside 15th century Portuguese fortifications. Hopefully we’ll arrive in the mid-afternoon and the rest of the day will be free to enjoy this charming seaside town.
- DAY 12– A free day to explore Essaouira
Our leader will offer a short but helpful orientation this morning before a full free day for independent explorations in this colourful coastal fishing town. The town has a relaxed but lively feel and an experience not to be missed is a visit to the old walled Medina. After passing through the narrow, highly decorated arched entrance, it may be hard to resist snapping up last minute gifts such as locally made rustic leather belts, gleaming gold and silver jewellery, or wooden boxes exquisitely inlaid with ebony and mother of pearl by local craftsmen. The lively throng of the Medina, with its local women carrying out their daily routines, veiled in their traditional dress, forms a sharp contrast to the open golden sands of the harbour area where hopeful seabirds can be seen circling above the fisherman as they return from the blue waters with their daily catches. We suggest a stroll around the old town, perhaps taking in the Mellah (the old Jewish Quarter) or maybe a wander along the fine sandy beach and through the harbour.
- DAY 13– Drive to Marrakech; Afternoon guided sightseeing to explore the medina, Koutoubia Mosque and Djemaa El-Fnaa
This morning we leave the coast and return to Marrakech. It’s a few hours’ drive and after we have checked in to the hotel we will take a walking tour of the ‘red city’.
Like many North African cities, Marrakech is divided into two distinct parts, the Gueliz (the modern French-built city) and the Medina (the Old City), a place where trade and barter amongst the colourful souks still renders its ancient heart a glittering cacophony of noise and colour. The city’s beating heart is the spectacular Djemma-el-Fna, a site not to be missed and a scene straight out of the pages of the Arabian Nights. Here we will find the streets and alleys alive with storytellers and musicians, jugglers and acrobats, snake charmers and clowns. Marrakech is a city like no other; with a staggering array of spectacular architecture and wonderful facades and not to be missed are the Koutoubia mosque and tower, Saadian tombs, Ben Youssef medersa, the Dar Si Said Palace (now the Museum of Moroccan Art) and the Menara gardens. This evening there is also an opportunity to visit a traditional Hammam.
- DAY 14– Explore Marrakech at your own pace
Today has been left free to continue exploring this amazing city at your leisure. You can wander past vendors selling doughnuts and colourful fabrics, meander through native markets where Muslim women, their hands and feet dyed with henna, call out to sell their wares, and enjoy the sounds and the smells of the exotic. Perhaps you will prefer to take time to enjoy more of the remarkable Medina, haggling for a bargain or two, or simply sitting at one of the local cafs and watching the street tableaux unfold before you.
Please do remember that many of the mosques will be forbidden to non-Muslims and be careful of photographing women. If you are unsure, it is always best to ask.
- DAY 15– Trip ends in Marrakech
The trip ends after breakfast at our hotel in Marrakech.
There are no activities planned today, so you are free to depart from Marrakech at any time. If your flight is departing later in the day, luggage storage facilities are available at our hotel. If you would like to receive a complimentary airport transfer today, you need to depart from Marrakesh Menara Airport (RAK).
Depending on the schedule of your flights, you may have some additional time to wander in the souks of Marrakech or buy your last souvenirs before departure.