With this perfect 20-day Morocco itinerary you can see everything the country has to offer, from the great imperial cities of Marrakech, Fez, Meknes, and Rabat to the calm oases of the desert. Relax on the beaches along the Atlantic Coast and walk through Roman history in Volubilis. If you have less time, prioritize Marrakech, Essaouira, and the desert excursion. This can be done in as little as 10 days.
Arrive in the afternoon at the Mohammed V International Airport outside of Casablanca and take the train into town. Get cozy in a beachfront hotel, or a boutique hotel like Le Doge. Treat yourself to a night out at one of the myriad five-star dining options, such as Brasserie la Bavaroise, and sleep off any jet lag.
In the morning, take a tour of the Hassan II Mosque and catch an afternoon train for Marrakech. Check into a restored riad, such as Dar Najat or the friendly hostel Hotel Central Palace in the old medina for a three-night stay. Spend the night walking around the giant plaza Jemaa el-Fnaa, taking in the circus-like atmosphere with monkey handlers and snake charmers, and eat dinner back at your road.
After breakfast and a fresh orange juice, take a tour of the sights, including the Saadian Tombs, Bahia Palace, and Marrakech Museum, before lunch. Spend the afternoon walking around the souks and getting lost. For dinner, experiment with Moroccan fusion cuisine in a restored riad like Pepe Nero.
Tour some of the famed gardens of Marrakech, such as the Menara Gardens, perhaps by horse-drawn carriage, and have lunch in the Ville Nouvelle, Marrakech’s new town, on the hipster strip of Rue de la Liberté. Spend the afternoon in the Ville Nouvelle exploring some of the shops and cafés, but be sure to purchase your bus ticket for the following day to Essaouira. As darkness falls, head back to the Koutoubia Mosque, which comes alive when lit up at night, and have dinner at one of the food stalls on the Jemaa el-Fnaa. Spend a last night in your riad or hostel.
In the morning, take the two-hour bus trip to Essaouira and look out for goats eating argan nuts from the trees. Settle in for three nights in the old medina at Riad Malaïka or the Atlantic Hostel Woodstock. Have lunch at one of the more eclectic restaurants, such as the eco-friendly Shyadma’s Vegan Food. Explore the medina and start souvenir shopping and getting to know a few of the artists, like the metal sculptor Rachid Mourabit. Catch the sunset from the ramparts, and for dinner treat yourself to a night at the funkily delicious Elixir.
Pack your swimsuits and towels for a day on the beach. Consider taking a windsurfing class or taking a boat out to the Îles Purpuraires for some bird-watching. For lunch, head to the port and order some fresh grilled fish at the stand there or duck into Chez Sam for some simple, fresh seafood. In the afternoon, hike down the beach for a bit more privacy, or consider taking a beachside gallop with one of the horses or camels available.
Get ready to go to cooking class. Spend the day preparing your own tajines, salads, and desserts at La Table Madada, where chef Mouna will have you slicing, dicing, and simmering your way to a delicious Moroccan meal. Enjoy the fruits of your labors and your last night in this magical coastal retreat.
If you want to trek to the summit of Jbel Toubkal in the High Atlas, go to Day 8. If you want to continue on, go to Day 13.
Excursion: Trekking the High Atlas
Catch the morning bus for Marrakech. Think about spending the night at one of the palatial hotels, like the Es Saadi Gardens and Resort, and pamper yourself in the spa service there or at the Baan Thai Institute as preparation for the hard days ahead.
Meet your mountain guide at the hotel. Take the two-hour drive to Imlil. Have lunch and spend the afternoon gearing up for the two-day trek to summit Jbel Toubkal, then have a good night of sleep at the Imlil Lodge.
After a hearty mountain breakfast, trek up through Tizi n’Mazik pass to the village of Tamsoult, where dinner and a comfortable bed await your arrival.
From Tamsoult, hike to the stunning Irhoulidene Waterfalls, break for lunch, and then take mules to Aguelzim before continuing a trek to the mountain base camp to spend the night at the foot of the summit.
After breakfast, ascend Jbel Toubkal. Have a picnic atop the summit or descend and have lunch at the base camp before continuing back to Imlil or Armed for a well-earned night of sleep.
Ouarzazate and the Southern Oases
Be prepared for a long day of travel. Catch the morning bus to Marrakech, and then catch the first bus to Ouarzazate. Have dinner at French bistro Accord Majeur and tour the Hotel Le Berbere Palace next door, keeping an eye out for visiting movie stars. Check in for two nights at the budget-friendly Hotel Atlas or the charming Le Petit Riad.
Spend the morning touring the Atlas and CLA movie studios and in the afternoon make your way to the impressive, still functioning, kasbah of Ait Ben Haddou. Have dinner back in your riad or make it a real kasbah day and dine at La Kasbah des Sables.
Catch the bus or drive through the oasis of Skoura, along the “Road of 1,000 Kasbahs,” taking in the date palm valleys and crumbling kasbahs set against the snowcapped peaks of the High Atlas. End the drive or get off the bus in the Dades Gorge at Auberge Chez Pierre and enjoy one of the best meals this side of the mountains.
Take a morning stroll through the mountain villages of the gorge, perhaps all the way to the Monkey Fingers, before heading back to the car for an afternoon drive (or taking a bus) through Tinghir to Merzouga. Climb on a camel and make your way into the desert for a night under the stars at Erg Chebbi.
Wake up to watch the sunrise over the Saharan dunes. After breakfast, climb back on your camel and head back to civilization. Check into the Hotel Tizimi in Erfoud or the Hotel Yasmina in Merzouga and relax for a day next to the pool, sip on a fresh juice, and get a good night of sleep.
Fez and Meknes
After breakfast, make the long drive through Errachidia and the Ziz Valley to the medieval city of Fez. If traveling by bus, you’ll have to wait for the Supratours night bus, which leaves Merzouga at 7pm. In Fez, check into one of the restored riads that have been converted into boutique hotels, such as Riad Laaroussa, or the Funky Fes hostel for two nights.
Spend the day getting lost in the labyrinthine medina of Fez or take a guided tour of the museums and sights, such as the breathtaking Batha Museum and the majestic Medersa Bouanania, a restored 14th-century Quranic school. Explore the Chouwara tanneries (after plugging your nose with mint) and tuck in for a quick bowl of bissara at the Elminchaoui soup stand.
Take a drive or catch a grand taxi out to the old Roman ruins of Volubilis. Spend the morning walking through history and then have a simple lunch in Meknes, on the Place el-Hedim looking at the impressive Bab Mansour gate. Consider shopping for souvenirs in the medieval (though easy to navigate) medina, and check into a luxury riad near the train station in Rabat for your last night in Morocco.
If You Have More Time …
Think about heading up to Asilah to start a one-week tour that includes Tangier and Chefchaouen.
Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Morocco.