Instantly one of my favourite destinations, Morocco and its inimitable blend of intricate beauty and sweaty chaos will leave you hopelessly overwhelmed yet completely mesmerised. So much more than just the Sahara Desert and a maddening maze of colourful souks, stay a little longer to discover the glittering oases, colourful medinas, stunning landscapes, and beautiful people that have made this Northern African country a top bucket-list destination. Use this Morocco Itinerary to discover the very best, from the buzz of Marrakech to the beaches of Oued Laou, in 9-18 days.
Marrakech (1-3 days)
Marrakech is a great place to begin your Moroccan adventure, as flights into the large Marrakech Menara Airport are frequent and inexpensive from Europe, but don’t expect the city to go easy on you. Upon entering the Medina (Old City), you’ll be in for quite a culture shock as narrow, winding lanes give way to chaotic souks overflowing with people, sounds, and foreign smells. Wandering through the souks is total sensory overload, but these buzzing shops are the lifeblood of Morocco’s “Red City” and they are at once both exhausting and exhilarating.
As you explore Marrakech, be sure to venture into Jemaa al-Fnaa, a large square in the Medina that is home to more shops, snake tamers, and plenty of restaurants. Try your first chicken tajine at one of the restaurants overlooking the square, and then shop around to find a good deal on a Sahara Desert Tour departing from Marrakech. Read this post to learn more about how to choose a good tour and get the best possible deal: A GUIDE TO BOOKING THE BEST SAHARA DESERT TOUR
Highlights: Get lost in the maze of souks as you shop for scarves, jewellery, perfumes, spices, lanterns, and other Moroccan souvenirs; visit the bustling main square, Jemaa al-Fnaa; walk through the amazing Ben Youssef Madrasa.
Getting there & away: From Marrakech Menara Airport, take a taxi to the Medina for about 15€.
Where to stay: A large double room with aircon at Riad Dar Nael is 20€ per night, which includes the help of some incredibly attentive staff who prepared food for us at all hours and drew intricate maps of the Medina to help us get around.
Top tips: It’s totally safe for women to travel alone in Marrakech, as long as you keep your wits about you. Most importantly, make sure you always know where you’re going and how to get there when you’re out exploring— it’s a popular scam for men to stop you, tell you you’re going the wrong way, and then purposefully get you completely lost so you’ll have no choice but to pay them for help. Ask directions from your riad before you head out and only ask trustworthy shop-owners or women for help navigating.
Read more: MARRAKECH, MOROCCO: HOW TO GET INCREDIBLY LOST IN A SOUK AND SPEND ALL YOUR MONEY ON SCARVES
Desert Tour to Merzouga (3-4 days)
You’ll be retrieved from your riad in Marrakech early on the first morning of your Sahara Desert Tour, driving first through Tizi n’Tichka Pass and the Atlas Mountains that, in winter, receive a beautiful dusting of snow. You’ll stop to admire the view in a few spots before reaching the walled city of Aït Benhaddou, a picturesque terracotta-coloured fortress that often provides a backdrop to action films set in ancient Persia or other parts of Arabia. More movie scenery can be seen in Ouarzazate, the so-called “Moroccan Hollywood”, where there is an inexpensive studio tour on offer after lunch. The day finally concludes at a nice hotel in the Dadès Valley, where you’ll spend the night surrounded by stunning scenery, feasting on traditional Moroccan cuisine, and learning Berber songs in a spirited drum circle.
After a bit of driving the following day, you’ll spend the bulk of the morning exploring a Berber village with a local guide who will tell you all about the history of the area and the Berber way of life. Walking through the fields and the little village, you’ll finish with tea at a rug shop, where you’ll learn all about how the pieces are made using camel hair and natural dyes (and also be somewhat pressured into buying a rug, but don’t feel obligated). The afternoon brings more beautiful scenery in Tinghir and the impressive Todra Gorge, whose chilly waters are practically medicinal on a hot day, and then you’ll finally arrive in Merzouga to begin the much-anticipated Sahara Desert portion of the tour. Leaving the bulk of your things behind in the van, you’ll ride out into the desert on camels (dromedaries, actually) and spend nearly two hours moving slowly across the sand towards an extremely remote camp in the Erg Chebbi dunes where an enormous Moroccan feast awaits. The standard tours will provide shared accommodation in a large desert tent, but I’d recommend pulling your bedding out into the sand to sleep under the stars.
Waking up in the middle of the Sahara, scramble up the nearby dunes to enjoy the sunrise over a sea of golden sand before cruising back towards Merzouga either via camel or exhilarating 4×4 ride (a 4D/3N tour will stay an extra night in the desert before returning). A large breakfast is waiting in Merzouga, as well as hot showers, but this is where you’ll say goodbye to at least some of your group. Those who are returning to Marrakech will depart in the van for a long day on the road, while the guide will help organise onward transport for those continuing on to Fes.
Highlights: Admire breathtaking natural scenery in the Atlas Mountains, Dadès Valley, and Todra Gorge; learn more about the Berber way of life in Boumalne Dades and on a village tour; ride a camel over sand dunes in the Sahara and sleep under the stars in the middle of the desert.
Getting there & away: Your Sahara Desert Tour will include transport from your riad in Marrakech all the way to Merzouga (where the guide can help you organise transportation through to Fes).
Where to stay: Your accomodation is included in the price of your tour, and is usually a nice hotel in the Boumalne Dades area on the 1st night and a Sahara Desert camp on the 2nd.
Top tips: If you pre-book your tour online, expect to pay as much as 300€ for the exact same tour you’ll find locally in Marrakech for 75€. Read this post for more info on finding a good tour once you arrive in Marrakech: A GUIDE TO BOOKING THE BEST SAHARA DESERT TOUR
Read more: CAMELS & TAJINE: DESERT ADVENTURES FROM MARRAKECH TO MERZOUGA
Fes (1-3 days)
For about €20 each, you should be able to hire a driver to take you from the Sahara Desert all the way to Fes, stopping at several points of interest along the way. The drive takes the better part of the day, but the beautiful Ziz Valley and Cedar Forest, whose trees are full of friendly monkeys looking for a snack, break up the trip nicely.
When you do arrive in Morocco’s oldest city, you may find that the 9th century Medina lacks some of the colour and sparkle that makes Marrakech’s network of souks, with their overflow of filigree lanterns and rainbow of scarves, so enchanting. Yet, Fes feels somehow more authentic. Locals buzz around you with hardly a second glance in many parts of the walled city, the hassling and harassment from shop owners a mere fraction of what you likely experienced in Marrakech. In many ways, our time in Fes was much more pleasant, as we were finally able to relax enough to enjoy our surroundings (and, more importantly, the street food), but I still loved the (albeit stressful) experience of wandering through Marrakech’s narrow lanes and being entirely inundated with sights, smells, and sounds. These cities are so different, and it would be a shame to skip either one.
Highlights: Feed monkeys in the Cedar Forest en route to Fes; visit the colourful tanneries; try Msemen and some of the other delicious (and cheap) street food options on offer in the Medina; sip traditional mint tea on the rooftop of your riad.
Getting there & away: The guide from your Sahara Desert Tour will be able to help you organise transport from Merzouga to Fes. A private driver only costs about 20€ per person, and usually includes plenty of interesting stops.
Where to stay: Riad Rocco offers large double rooms and amazing Moroccan hospitality at 20€/night. The staff will happily help you plan your days and organise onward bus transport.
Top tips: When you’re approaching Fes, have your driver make a call to your riad and one of the staff will come to escort you through the maze of narrow streets— cars aren’t able to drive into the Medina and you’re sure to get painfully lost on your own, which is unlikely to be a pleasant introduction to the city.
Read more: MONKEYS & DATES: MERZOUGA TO FES THROUGH THE MIDDLE ATLAS MOUNTAINS
Chefchaouen (2-4 days)
From Fes, reach your next destination via bus (a modest 75Dh per person) or in a private taxi (60€ total), both of which depart from the large bus station in town and arrive approximately 3 hours later in The Blue City. Arguably Morocco’s most instagram-able destination, Chefchaouen and its small medina have become amazingly popular in the last few years, and for good reason. Strolling through the vibrantly blue streets, walking up countless blue steps, and gawking at the seemingly infinite number of decorative blue doors and fountains around the city, you’ll feel as if you’re in a never-ending postcard.
I asked my friend Hind, a Chefchaouen native, about the history of all this blue, and she told me that it is closely tied to Jewish settlement of the medina, beginning during the Middle Ages and continuing through WWII. These Jews painted many of their homes blue, a colour meant to represent the sky and, therefore, heaven, but the bright blue walls and doors also had the unfortunate side-effect of highlighting the residents who were non-Muslim. Hind told me that the rest of the community later chose to paint their homes blue to prevent the easy identification of Jewish families and limit religious persecution. A beautiful story that makes for a truly one-of-a-kind destination.
While you’re in town, be sure to walk up into the hills and look down on the sea of blue below from the Spanish Mosque or Hotel Atlas Chaouen, both of which are fabulous (and free) viewpoints. For even more blue photo-ops, check out the Outa el Hammam & Kasbah and Plaza Uta el-Hammam. Most importantly, though, just make time to wander through the medina streets and soak in this enchanting place and its friendly locals.
Highlights: Wander through Outa el Hammam & Kasbah; take in views of the city from the Spanish Mosque and Hotel Atlas Chaouen; soak in one of the local hammams; explore Chefchaouen’s beautiful blue streets.
Getting there & away: You can reach Chefchaouen in about 3 hours via the CTM bus, departing several times per day from the bus station in Fes (8am, 11am, 12pm, 4.15pm, 11.45pm) for 75Dh. If tickets are sold out, which is common in the busier months, you can still reach the Blue City via a taxi for 600Dh (departing from the bus station). It’s not a bad idea to have one of the staff from your riad in Fes accompany you to the station to help you organise either the bus or a taxi.
Where to stay: A short walk from the centre of town, Hotel Atlas Chaouen offers incredible rooftop views over Chefchaouen and its sea of blue buildings for about 35€/night.
Top tips: Have lunch in one of the many restaurants lining Plaza Uta el-Hammam, and enjoy a large plate of chicken couscous while enjoying a beautiful view of the city.
Read more: WHERE TO FIND THE BEST VIEWS & PHOTO SPOTS IN CHEFCHAOUEN, MOROCCO’S BLUE CITY
VISITING MY SISTER CITY, CHEFCHAOUEN, MOROCCO
Day trip from Chefchaouen: Cascades d’Akchour
While in Chefchaouen, take a break from all the blue and venture out to the incredible Cascades d’Akchour, a destination that was recommended to me again and again by locals (and that still exceeded my expectations). It’s only about a 45 minute drive to reach Akchour and its many waterfalls, swimming holes, and endless supply of natural scenery.
There are a number of different short hikes in the area, and all are reportedly amazing, but it’s usually a good idea to get advice from a local as to which ones will be best during your visit. One of the falls was dry in August, for example, so we were advised to do two separate walks to the Lower Falls and God’s Bridge, the latter of which is an impressive rock arch that was one of my absolute highlights. In asking for advice on the hikes, you might find that few people in Akchour speak English (although most speak some Spanish), but they are incredibly friendly and willing to help, even if it means spending several minutes trying to understand your question. A good thing, too, because you’ll also definitely need help with directions to the various trails, as they are not marked.
Highlights: Hike to a number of beautiful waterfalls; swim in the cool, clear water beneath the natural rock arch, God’s Bridge; enjoy chicken tajine and other local delicacies at the river.
Getting there & away: It may be possible to take a tour to Akchour, but I didn’t see any groups while we were there. Instead, have your riad organise a taxi for you, which should only cost around 250Dh total for the 45min drive from Chefchaouen. For a little extra, you’ll be able to have the driver wait for you to explore for a few hours orcome back to get you at a pre-arranged time.
Where to stay: Akchour is best enjoyed as a day trip from nearby Chefchaouen.
Top tips: Bring a camera, several bottles of water, a bit of cash, and a hat with you to Akchour, but don’t worry about hiking boots. I did all my walking in Tevas, and they were actually far better than boots or runners, because you’ll need to walk through the water to get all the way to God’s Bridge and no one likes wet shoes!
Read more: A VERY SWEATY HIKE TO AKCHOUR WATERFALL AND GOD’S BRIDGE
Oued Laou & Tetouan (2-3 days)
For a relaxing end to what has undoubtedly been a whirlwind trip through Morocco, travel from Chefchaouen to nearby Oued Laou via an inexpensive bus and enjoy a few days at the beach. This is a popular destination for local families on holiday, so you’ll likely be sharing the sand with masses of excited children, but that’s half of the fun anyway. Take time to check out the variety of open-late cafes and restaurants, serving up plenty of traditional cuisine alongside hot-weather favourites like smoothies and ice-cream. After your time in Oued Laou, you’ll be recharged and ready for your next adventure!
Highlights: Relax with local families on one of Morocco’s most beautiful beaches.
Getting there & away: A 1hr bus from Chefchaoeun should only cost around 20Dh. Onward transport to Tetouan is 2hrs and will also cost around 20Dh; this is the best place to catch a bus back to Fes for your flight home (or on to your next destination).
Where to stay: Try one of the Airbnb’s near the beach.
Top tips: In summer, head back out after dinner to watch the town come to life in the dark― children’s rides whirl noisily, market stalls sell all sorts of snacks, and cafes are open for midnight chats with friends.
Read more: ON THE BEACH IN OUED LAOU