This whirlwind 5-day itinerary highlights the best of Morocco, including Fes, the Desert, and Marrakech. Start in the imperial city of Fes and make your way south, traversing the Middle Atlas mountain range into the Sahara Desert. Cross up and over the High Atlas mountains before ending your trip in bustling Marrakech.
Explore Fes’s narrow streets the medieval medina
Sleep under the stars in a desert camp among the Sahara’s dunes
Explore rural markets, hidden oases, old caravan routes, and fortified kasbahs
Visit souks and markets, or take a cooking class in Marrakech
Day 1: Fes: Exploring the Imperial City and medieval medina
Welcome to Fes, the oldest imperial city of Morocco, it has the most complete medina in the Arab world and is home to one of the world's largest pedestrian zones (no cars!). Much of the city hasn't been touched in hundreds of years, taking visitors back to medieval times. Divided into three major points of interest, you will explore the two medina quarters, Fes el Bali and Fes el Jdid, and the modern French-influenced Ville Nouvelle. Spend a half-day with your guide, delving into the frenzy of the maze-like alleyways. Start in Fes el Bali at the impressive Bab Boujeloud gate and work your in.
Browse leather goods in a shop next to the Chouara Tannery, before heading upstairs for a view of the 11th-century dye pots. A technique and process that is little changed over the centuries! Visit the oldest operating university in the world, Al-Qarawiyyin University (859 ACE) and catch a glimpse of the decorated interior of the Mosque (non-muslims cannot enter). Explore the Al Attarine Madrasa and marvel at the intricate zellij (mosaic tilework). Visit Fes el Jdid to check out the Mellah (Jewish quarter and cemetery) and if there's time, catch the sunset from the vantage point of the Merenid Tombs.
Day 2: Over the mountains and into the desert
Start your day bright and early and travel south toward Merzouga. Along the way, you will climb up and over the Col du Zad pass (7,146 feet or 2,178 m) through the cedar forests of the Middle Atlas mountains. Enjoy sightings of the local Barbary macaque monkeys before stopping for lunch in Midelt (the 'apple city'), relishing the nearby MoulouyaRiver. Continue over the Tizi n'Talremt pass and into the Ziz Valley, known for its hidden oases and palm tree clusters. Along the road, you will see many fortified houses known as ksars—built to protect precious wares, including gold, salt, and spices.
Continue on to Erfoud, known for its date festival and fossil mining. Here you can visit a local collective to learn more about the process and meet some local artisans. Continue to Erg Chebbi, an extensive sea of sand dunes covering an area of 13.5 square miles (35 square km). Never stationary, the massive dunes shift and travel depending on the changing wind! Upon reaching Merzouga, climb atop your camel to ride through the dunes to your already-prepared-for-you camp. Climb a nearby sand dune to watch the sunset before returning to camp for a delicious dinner, relaxing by the campfire.
Day 3: Desert towns, lush oases & film-worthy landscapes
Catch the sunrise before renting a sandboard to test your skills. Leave the dunes and head to Khemliya to experience a traditional Saharan village—its people are originally from Mali. Continue west to pass through a dramatic gate into Rissani. A market town, Rissani holds a livestock auction and is home to a "donkey parking lot", a site worth (hearing) and experiencing! Make your way to the desert town of Tinerhir before reaching the 984 feet (300 m) deep Todra Gorge. You will have time to explore the gorge and relax in the cool water of the shallow Todra River.
Travel through the Valley of a Thousand Kasbahs (an old fortress or fortification). Though many kasbahs are now in disrepair, local families still live in some of them. You may even come across nomads herding their animals. Head west to Kelâat M'Gouna. Known for its Festival des Roses, here you can see extensively cultivated farmland bordered with fragrant rose bushes. Continue west to Ouarzazate, a gateway to the Sahara Desert made popular by the film industry. Join a studio tour and discover how the nearby desert landscapes have been featured in many films.
Day 4: Aït Benhaddou kasbah, Tizi n'Tichka Pass over the High Atlas to Marrakech
Rise early and continue on to Morocco's most famous kasbah and a UNESCO World Heritage site, Aït Benhaddou. It is estimated the old ksar (a walled town) dates from the 11th century when it held an important position along the trans-Saharan trade route. Stop and explore the narrow streets and passageways of this traditional mud-brick city. From there, travel the winding road over the High Atlas mountains, noting the highest peak, Mount Toubkal (13,671 feet or 4,167 m). Stop near the top of the Tizi n'Tichka Pass (7,415 feet or 2,260 m) to admire the view over the mountain range.
Stop at an Argan Oil Cooperative in Taddert to learn how olives are processed, before making your descent down the High Atlas and into the changing scenery. Upon arriving in the Red City of Marrakech, settle into your hotel and spend the rest of the afternoon as you like. Orient yourself around Marrakech's main square, Jemaa el-Fna and visit the 12th-century Koutoubia Mosque to its west. At 253 feet (77 m) the minaret is hard to miss. Wander the attached gardens, dotted with fountains, pools, flowers, and palm trees, perfect for a late afternoon stroll when the late-day sun glows on the minaret.
Return to Jemaa el-Fna Square and discover the lively activity: musicians, performers, snake charmers, and bustling stalls. Grab something to eat or choose a nearby café and enjoy the show!
Day 5: Marrakech: Exploring the Red City & Depart
As Morocco's second-largest city, Marrakech can be a shock to the senses and unlike Fes, Marrakech has Berber roots rather than Arab. Meet your guide and start your tour browsing the stalls in the spice market, Souk el-Attarin, or Souk Smata for your choice of slippers, rugs, and leather goods. Visit the Ben Youssef Madrasa school of Islam and admire the fine example of Moroccan architecture and intricate craftsmanship. As you walk Marrakech's alleys, notice the Fondouks—medieval inns that provided merchants with shelter and supplies—that have been converted into homes and shopping areas.
Depending on your flight details, you may wish to visit a few sites south of Jemaa el-Fna. Consider the 500-year-old Saadian Tombs, the extensive courtyard and sunken gardens of the 17th-century El BadiPalace, or the intricate woodwork and painted ceilings of the 19th-century Bahia Palace. Or, stick closer to Jemaa el-Fna and visit the Almoravid Kouba, the Marrakech Museum, housed in the 19th-century Dar Mnebbi Palace and home to a collection of sculptures and Moroccan artwork, or the Museum of Moroccan Arts, known for its extensive woodwork collection.
If time allows, take a respite in the Majorelle Gardens before transferring to the airport for your return flight home.