In the first part of our trip, we’ve visited the northwest part of Morocco and explored some of its beautiful cities and magnificent coasts. In this second part, we’ll venture into the drier southeast regions and visit the mountains, the deserts and the jewel of Morocco – Marrakesh.
Days 9 – 10: Marrakesh
The Jewel of Africa, the gates of Sahara, the red city that lies at the foot of the Atlas mountains will charm you like a djinn. Spend your first day here exploring the Old City (madina) during the day and in the evening. The most impressive location in the whole center is, of course, Djemaa El-Fna. It’s a huge square filled with eateries and souvenir shops during the day and empty and glorious at night. Did I say “empty”? No-no-no, it is only empty of merchant stands, but it is full of drum players, dancers, and conjurers. People gather in circles or sit on the pavement and sing or listen to music and stories under the endless Moroccan sky.
The tall minaret you can see from Djemaa El-Fna is Koutoubia Mosque. Unfortunately, you won’t be allowed in unless you’re Muslim, but the outside is impressive enough. Another highlight that you shouldn’t miss in the center is Ben Youssef Madrasa. It’s one of the biggest madrasas in the whole North Africa. If you’re curious how the nobles lived in the 19th century, pay a visit to El Bahia Palace. In its spacious inner gardens, you can imagine how beautiful garem inhabitants used to stroll along these paths plotting against the favorite wife.
It won’t be surprising if you want some quietness on your second day in Marrakech – it is indeed tiring! If so, head to Majorelle Gardens, an Art Deco green respite close to the city center. Other great possibilities are Menara Gardens and Palmeraie.
Days 11-13 (or more!): Desert and Mountains Tour
So far this article has shown you how to travel Morocco on your own, but here we suggest a change. Although it’s totally possible to visit all the following places by public transport, it’s too much of a hassle. Instead, a well-organised car tour will take you to all the awesome places mentioned here in a timely manner and for a decent price. Whatever tour operator you choose, you will most probably be pooled together with tourist on similar tours, so look only at the price. We used www.igomorocco.com, but feel free to find whatever suits you best. I suggest taking a tour that includes a night in the desert and ends in Fez. This will allow you to finish your circle route. The following is a description of an exemplary route.
Day 11: Ait Ben Haddou – Ouarzazate – Dades Gorge
On the first day of the tour, you’ll cross the high Atlas mountains, bathing in the refreshing cold air for the first time since the coast. On the other side of the ridge, make sure your tour stops at Ait Ben Haddou – a traditional mud brick city that you probably know from the movies like Gladiator or Lawrence of Arabia. Recently it’s starred in the Game of Thrones as Yunkai! Don’t be lazy to climb to the top, the view is breathtaking! Besides, if you are a movie junkie, look for a tour that stops at Atlas Studios to see decorations to more Hollywood movies set in Africa.
In the afternoon, you’ll drive east along the beautiful valley of Oued Dades, which is famous for producing rose water, and by the evening you’ll arrive at the Dades Gorge slicing through the Atlas mountains for 28 km. The unusual stone formations in the light of the setting sun will be the perfect end of the day. The night accommodation is usually provided in one of the hotels in the valley.
Day 12: Todra Gorge and Merzouga dunes
Todra Gorge is another river canyon in the Atlas, and if you’re into climbing, you should definitely come here for a longer time. If not, you’ll still be impressed by the imposing overhanging rocks more than 300 meters tall.
After several more hours of driving, you’ll arrive at one of the most exciting destinations of the whole trip: the Merzouga dunes. They are so high that you’ll see them from your car window half an hour before arrival! There are hundreds of different desert trips offered at Merzouga, most of them involving spending a night in the sands. You’ve taken some warm clothes, right? If they offer you to go to the camp on a roof of a jeep instead of on a camel, take it! You’ll ride a camel back in the morning with much more enthusiasm if you don’t already have a sore ass. Besides, the jeep drive gives you more adrenaline than a ride on a rollercoaster!
Once you’re at the camp and if you have time, climb one of the huge dunes to see the sunset – you won’t ever forget it! At night you’re served dinner and the guides play drums by the fire. The sky will impress you with trillions of bright stars and unfamiliar constellations. It’s nearly cathartic, especially for a city dweller.
Day 13: Out of the Desert and back to Fez
You’ll be woken up before the sunset and packed on top of a camel. It’s better to start before the heat of the day is unbearable both for animals and the people. Half-asleep, you’ll tread the pre-dawn pink sands on an unstable back of your camel and watch the landscape change dramatically as the sun goes up and a new day starts. Chances are, your tights will be not a little sore when you arrive, but the experience if well worth the trouble!
Your car will take you across the Middle Atlas through the Ziz valley, with more beautiful views to admire. If you have time, stop in the city of Ifran – one of the most charming locations in Morocco that positively looks like a cozy European town! There is a Moroccan king residence and a big university here, and nature around is stunning!
Well, here you are at the end of your tour circling all of the most awesome destinations in Morocco! You’re back where you started and are ready to fly back home. Unless you’d like to stay? :)Written by Kate