We spent a total of 8.5 days and 10 nights in Morocco, which was a good amount of time for Marrakech, Essaouira, and a tour of several beautiful valleys, mountains and the Sahara desert. We had only one night and half a day in Fes — that was not enough to see the city, but we definitely enjoyed the little time that we did get to spend there, and would love to return to explore more.
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1. Marrakech (3.5 days, 5 nights)
Marrakech is Morocco’s most visited city, and given that about half of the country’s GDP comes from the tourist industry that’s a lot of tourists. But there is a lot of culture to take in, a good amount of landmarks to see, and plus the city is safe and compact (at least the medina), all of which makes it an excellent starting point for a first visit to the country.
Morocco, and Marrakech, are markedly different from anywhere else we have been, so it took us a moment to get our bearings. The small alleys and streets are often unmarked, so we ended up walking around in circle around a few streets before figuring out that we weren’t actually making any headway to our destination.
Our destination was Jemaa el Fnaa – the central square in the media — apparently second in size only to the one in Cairo. It really was pretty large, featuring all sorts of traditional entertainers – snake charmers, monkey trainers, acrobats, henna artists, and lots and lots of fresh squeezed orange juice.
At night time the square adds food stalls — which we sampled on one of the nights. The food was delicious, albeit the smoke from the open grill made it a bit difficult to be indulgent with our meal.
We spent a good amount of time walking around, eating, drinking mint tea on the rooftop restaurants of Jemaa el Fnaa, and also visited the Bahia Palace, Museum of Marrakech, Ben Youseff Medressa, El Badi Palace, and the Saadian tombs. I don’t think I am going to be very original in saying that the zellige, Moroccan hand-cut tile, in all the fancy places, was hands down my favorite bit in Marrakech (and also later in Fes).
2. Essaouira (1.5 days, 2 nights)
Essaouira was the reason we traveled to Morocco in the first place. Or rather not so much Essaouira as the wedding of our friends, who decided to celebrate their union in the bride’s home town. And it was breathtaking! You can see all of little beach town — on the Atlantic ocean — in a couple of hours, but can stay for many many days surfing, swimming, lounging.
This was the view from our hotel room. *Good thing that the one day I was feeling a bit off, and not up for walking around I could just stare at the ocean and hear the waves crash from my bed.
Also cool? Bits of the latest Game of Thrones season were filmed in Essaouira (and some of the other bits in Ourzazate film studios, which we saw on our epic trip to the desert).
4. High Atlas Mountains – Ait Ben Haddou Kasbah – Ouarzazate – Rose Valley – Dadés Gorges (1 day, 1 night)
Time to stop relaxing. We took the 6 am bus from Essauoira back to Marrakech to start our tour to the desert. After a bit of a snafu with a driver – we missed each other, we were on the road to check out what Morocco’s countryside had to offer. So, yea, the High Atlas mountains — pretty cool. Also, the roads are pretty winding, which in itself is a whole another attraction.
we also hung out at a bunch of ksars — a group of buildings built out of straw and mud and surrounded by high walls. One of the most impressive is the Ait Ben Haddou, in Ouarzazate province, but we also had a lot of fun exploring the Taourirt ksar a bit down the road. And also, Ourzazate plays host to lots of Hollywood movies, such as the gladiator.
It is ridiculous how many different landscapes there are in Morocco – the desert, the palmeries, the valleys and gorges. We finished the day with a drive through the rose valley, where the locals were hard at work harvesting this year’s crop and getting ready for the rose festival, which we missed by just a few days. And also, some ridiculous imagery from Dades Gorges — including what our guide told us looks like monkey’s figures, though the huge stones look distinctly like something else entirely…
5. Todra Gorges – Rissani – Merzouga (1 day, 1 night — in the desert!)
The following day we checked out the Todra Gorges, a popular local spot for picnics and playing in the water. One of two locations — the other one being Essaouira — where we actually came in contact with Moroccans who weren’t trying to sell us a souvenir or get a tip for something. The expectation that being a tourist must mean that you are a living, breathing ATM was a bit hard, I admit. Anyway, Todra Gorges — awesome spot to hang.
But really, the day was all about getting to Sahara – driving via Rissani, and Merzouga the last populated outpost before the dunes. Sahara did not disappoint. Neither one of us has seen so much sand in one place ever. We saw the desert before – in Israel, but that was pretty rocky and not nearly as pretty as the orange sand peaks.
We had an hour trek on the dromedaries (one hump camels) out to the desert — awesome, way easier than horses, but I definitely don’t want to do a trek of several days. Your legs / thighs get tired! I made friends with a dromedary — he kept coming up to me and nudging so i can swap the flies of his face (he had some snot problems). Dromedaries are very, very sweet.
6. Ziz Valley – Middle Atlas Mountains – Midelt (1 day)
The last day was a haul — I think we spent about 7 hours in the car with a few short sightseeing breaks to see the Ziz Valley, and the Middle Atlas mountains. Driving north, via more lush landscapes we saw a lot more of Morocco’s nomad families than out by the desert. The highlight of the day were the Barbary macaques in the middle atlas mountains. We stopped in a rest stop and there they were — just chilling.
7. Fes (half a day and 1 night)
What can I say about Fes — the one thing that comes immediately to mind — is I want more! We were both kind of awe stuck driving into Fes, by how lively it is and how many people were out mingling, hanging out, doing their thing. We got to sample the medina just a little bit with a guided tour, that mostly took us to all sorts of shops — which was fine since we didn’t do much of that in Marrakech.
Both of us agree that we got a good glimpse of the country, and would love to come back one day particularly to see more of Fes, but also make our way down the coast to see Casablanca and Rabat. I wouldn’t mind checking out Tangiers either. Inshallah.