SIDE DISH: How to Travel Around Morocco in 10 Days

I may look like a seasoned traveller, but if you look closely - you'll see that I am in fact wearing leather loafers in the desert.

I may look like a seasoned traveller, but if you look closely – you’ll see that I am in fact wearing leather loafers in the desert – not the best idea, in hindsight.

DURATION: 10 days
GOOD FOR: Anyone with a sudden onset of near-middle-age wanderlust.

Let me just preface this post by saying that V. and I are not, by any means, hardcore backpackers; nor are we veteran, world-weary globetrotters. We enjoy lounging by the pool, mojito in hand, as much as the next couple. Once in a while, though, we get the urge to see new cultures – and this itinerary we put together for our one year anniversary managed to hit all the right spots.

The beauty of Morocco is that because the culture is so vivid, and the landscapes so varied and dramatic, 10 days is more than sufficient for first time visitors to get a full dose of otherworldly wonder. You’ll feel like an explorer just being there.

If this is your first visit to North Africa you will experience some culture shock – I definitely did – but if you take it all in stride, I promise you’ll have an extraordinary time.

I’ve also included accommodation details at the bottom of the post for anyone looking for places to stay. All were charming and comfortable.


AND OFF WE GO!

Morocco is a country of culture and contrasts. Your journey will start in the “Ochre City” of Marrakech, home of one of the busiest market squares in Africa; you’ll drive over 600 kilometres towards the desert, across sweeping valleys, up the cliffside roads of the Atlas range, and through countless un-named roadside towns full of wonderful people; you’ll go by camel into the Great Sahara, and spend a night in a Berber camp – and that’s only half the trip!

Into the desert, and out again.

Into the desert, and out again.

DAY 1 TO 3: MARRAKECH

An intricately crafted riad door in the old city.

An intricately crafted riad door in the old city.

If you’ve made it to Marrakech – congratulations, adventure awaits. Well – sort of. Since neither V. nor I had been to North Africa, we erred on the safe side and (unadventurously) had the hotel arrange for a driver to pick us up at the airport. If you’re feeling adventurous, grab a cab and find your way to your hotel.

The hotel we stayed in was in a beautiful traditional riad nestled within the crowded alleyways of the Medina, a few streets from Bab Doukkala (one of nineteen gates into the Old City), and about a 15-minute walk from Jemaa el-Fnaa (Marrakech’s main square).

Passing through the entrance of the riad is like entering another realm altogether – the bustling sounds of the street fade away, enveloped by the quiet trickling of a marble fountain in the riad’s courtyard. We were welcomed with a small plate of biscuits, and a pot of mint tea, a gesture of hospitality throughout Morocco. The tea helps to soothe any aching pains from travelling, and gives you a moment to take in your surroundings.

Once you’ve settled in, ask your hotel or riad proprietor for advice on places to see. Muriel and Laurent (owners of our riad) were absolutely invaluable in showing us the ropes.

One place you’ll definitely want to see in Marrakech is Jemaa el-Fnaa. In the evenings, Jemaa el-Fnaa is a sea of people pulsating with life. The square is packed with locals and tourists alike, huddled around food stalls serving mounds of shellfish, and mouth-watering tajines. Snake charmers, performing Barbary apes, dancers, and even amateur boxers all clammer for the attention of gathered onlookers, creating islands amidst the dense crowd.

The main square at sunset, just before it gets REALLY packed.

The main square at sunset, just before it gets REALLY packed.

A moment amidst the crowded square

A quiet moment in the crowded square.

A shopkeeper hawks his wares at the main souk.

A shopkeeper hawks his wares at the main souk.

Lining the edge of the square is the main souk, a huge, sprawling, and maze-like North African marketplace selling pretty much anything you can imagine – from spices, to silks, to jewellery, to carpets, to fragrant oils, overwhelming your senses with all manner of sights, sounds, and smells.

If you’re hungry, stop at one of the many stalls that line the square for a bite. Be adventurous – try what the locals are having! If you’re thirsty, what’s better than freshly squeezed orange juice on a warm summer night?

Explore Marrakech at your own pace for the next couple of days. At some point you’ll need to make a visit to a car rental company to get a car – ask your riad for recommendations. We had a GPS in our tiny Hyundai, which was helpful, if anything just to reconfirm what you’re seeing on your driving map (which may be slightly out of date,) and to give you estimated driving times.

DAY 4: MARRAKECH > SKOURA

There's a several hundred foot chasm just behind this roadside shop.

There’s a several hundred foot chasm just behind this roadside shop.

Get an early start – you’ll be covering over 250km on narrow mountain roads to the small town of Skoura (population 2,808), roughly halfway between Marrakech and the Sahara. You really don’t want to be driving in darkness along those treacherous Atlas roads (trust me, I speak from experience,) so keep an eye on the clock.

Driving in and around Marrakech is a hair-raising experience – at first it feels like you’re constantly driving on the wrong side of the road, dodging oncoming traffic. The locals make it look easy though, as they dance around each other as if it were all choreographed.

Once we left Marrakech, the roads cleared up, and it was surprisingly easy to navigate the cross country highways.

As you ascend the windy roads of the Atlas range towards Skoura, you’ll be driving through countless villages and small towns, some bustling with people, others perched silently over dramatic precipices.

The old man who offered to take a photo for us

The old man who offered to take a photo for us. We thought it’d be cooler if it was just him and his shop.

DAY 5: SKOURA > ERFOUD > MERZOUGA / HASSILABIED

One of the most fascinating aspects of the journey is experiencing the vast changes in landscape as you make your way from the city to the desert. Notice how the dusty, crowded city streets of Marrakech make way for flat, open highways, which gradually transform into red, clay-coloured gorges and valleys as you approach and ascend the Atlas range, and finally to the grey, slate-like cliffs at the highest point of this journey before starting the descent on the other side of the mountain range.

Dramatic Mordor-esque landscapes protrude along the horizon.

Dramatic Mordor-esque landscapes protrude along the horizon.

Our beaten up Hyundai - not bad for having just driven across Morocco!

Our beaten up Hyundai – not bad for having just driven across Morocco!

We stopped for gas and lunch in Erfoud (at the Pizzeria-Restaurant des Dunes – great food, by the way) before continuing on to Merzouga. If you get approached by “well-meaning” locals who claim that the road to Merzouga requires a 4-wheel drive / dune-buggy, or a tour permit, and that (conveniently) they have a brother that provides such vehicles or tours – you can safely ignore them. The road to Merzouga can be traversed even by a beaten up old Hyundai.

We arrived in Hassilabied just before sunset. Hassiabied is a small village on the edge of Erg Chebbi – one of the larger dunes of the Moroccan Sahara. Sitting on the roof of our hotel, a large mud brick building, we sipped mint tea with Lahcen, one of the three Segaoui brothers who own and operate the hotel. We had previously communicated via email, and had arranged a camel trek the next day, so he recapped our itinerary and welcomed us to his hotel. It turned out that it was low season, and so we were literally the only guests in the hotel for the next two nights!

In the distant horizon, we could see the undulating waves of the Sahara – the inhospitable conditions of the desert softened by the warm glow of the setting sun.

DAY 6: SAHARA

Me with Lahcen's scarf, holding on for dear life.

Me with Lahcen’s scarf, holding on for dear life.

As morning broke across the distant dunes of the Sahara, Lahcen drove V. and I to the edge of the desert to meet the two Berber camel men who would be our hosts for the trek. During high season we would probably be camel trekking in a much larger group, but here, as in the hotel, V. and I were the only guests. It only occurred to me later that we were in fact entrusting our lives to complete strangers, but at the time I was too mesmerized by our two rather majestic camels to realize.

“Wait, wait, wait,” said Lahcen. “You have a hat?” he asked, pointing at my bare head.

In all the excitement I had left my cap back at the hotel.

“No, no – you must cover head. The sun.”

At which point he immediately began to unravel the bright, tumeric coloured scarf that was on his head.

“Come, I help you.”

And thus our Saharan camel trek began with another act of typical Moroccan generosity.

A few hours into the trek, and with Hassilabied somewhere far behind us, we were alone amongst the dunes – V. and I on the camels, the two Berber men leading us deeper into the desert, and miles of sand stretching in all directions as far as the eye could see.

Desolate, but strangely beautiful. Only a small wisp of a cloud in sight.

Desolate, but strangely beautiful. Only a small wisp of a cloud in sight.

Our Berber guide leads the way towards the camp

Our Berber guide leads the way towards the camp. He needed no navigational tools – just a pair of plastic sandals.

“Camels are the ships of the Moroccan desert”, as they say. It’s true – riding a camel is like gently bobbing along to the current of the dunes.

Eventually, we rounded a crescent shaped dune where the Berber men signaled to the camels to stop. Just over the lip and about a hundred meters below at the base of the dune were a scattering of small Berber tents, sheltered from the winds by the dunes themselves – this would be our home for the night.

Our Berber camp, sheltered from the winds - and cellphone reception too.

Our Berber camp, sheltered from the winds – and cellphone reception too.

One of the tents where our dinner was made.

One of the tents where our dinner was made.

The ultimate chicken tajine

The most mouth-wateringly delicious tajine we had on the whole trip. Just fresh potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, chicken, and some simple herbs. The kind of stew that will warm your soul on a chilly night out in the desert! The two of us finished it in 15 minutes.

After dinner fire-side bonding with our Berber hosts

After dinner fire-side bonding with our Berber hosts. Looking up it felt like we were sitting in a planetarium.

Making Berber bread

One of our hosts decided we needed more food, and started making Berber bread – baked under the bonfire directly in the sand!

The bread, uncovered, after baking in the sand

The bread, uncovered, after baking in the sand.

The two of us, and the two of them, from cultures that couldn’t be more different – sharing a piece of bread unearthed from the hot sand, in total darkness save for the light of the glowing embers. Miles away from another human soul. This couldn’t have been a stranger, more surreal experience.

DAY 7 TO 10: HASSILABIED > OUARZAZATE > IN AND AROUND MARRAKECH

Gradually make your way back to civilization. If you’ve made it this far, the return trip should be a breeze. As always, take your time and enjoy the adventure!

If you’re already considering a trip to Morocco – you can safely stop considering now. Go ahead and tell your boss you’re taking at least ten days off, because there’s a simmering tajine and a pot of mint tea waiting for you, under a blanket of stars and amongst the dunes of the Great Sahara.


WHERE WE STAYED

MARRAKECH

Riad Dar Dialkoum
317, DerbJdid – Derb Nakhla, Bab Doukkala, 40000 Marrakech Medina, Royaume du Maroc
Website: http://www.dar-dialkoum.com
Email: info@dar-dialkoum.com
Tel 1: +212 (0) 665 407 206
Tel 2: +212 (0) 524 385 833
Tel 3: +212 (0) 524 386 118

Hotel Riad Monceau
7/8, derb Chaabane, Riad Zitoun Lakdim 40000, Marrakech
Tel: +212 524 429 464
Email: courrier@riad-monceau.com, direction@riad-monceau.com

SKOURA

Hotel Dar Es Salam
Palmeraie de Skoura, Skoura, Morocco
Email: nuancesmarocaines@menera.ma
Tel: +212 524 852 139

MERZOUGA / HASSILABIED

Hotel Guesthouse Merzouga Seggaoui
BP 24 Merzouga 52202 Errachidia, Morocco
Email: mdmerzouga@yahoo.fr
GPS location: N: 31° , 08 , 320 W: 004° , 01 , 336
Cell phone 1: 00(212) 661 254 658 (Lahcen)
Cell phone 2: 00(212) 667 766 832 (Ali )
Tel: 00(212) 535 577 299

OUARZAZATE

Hotel Dar Chamaa
Tajda Bp 701 Tarmigte, Ouarzazate, 45000 Morocco
Tel: +212 524 854 954
Email: info@darchamaa.com


Have you been to Morocco? What was your experience like? Have an awesome recommendation in Morocco? Let me know in the comments!

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13 comments

  1. Thanks for visiting my blog. Best of luck in your travels and writing.

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    1. Thanks for the comment Victor! Keep up the great work over on your blog.

      Like

  2. Thanks very much for a rivetting read.
    I live in southern Morocco by the Erg Chebbi dunes and was particularly interested in your experience here and your colourful descriptions.
    You summed up a great time in an entertaining way that kept me reading to the end.
    Regards, Sara

    Like

    1. Thanks for the comment Sara! It must be amazing living near Erg Chebbi. One of these days we’ll definitely make a trip back to Morocco and maybe see the coastal cities and towns. Glad you enjoyed the post, drop by again soon!

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  3. Hi

    I’m trying to organise a trip to Morocco following your itinerary. It sounds great. The only problem is one of the party suffers with vertigo. Can you please let me know if we will be on very narrow roads with steep drops or anything else that can worry her?

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    1. Hi Monique, thanks for dropping by!

      I guess it really depends how serious the vertigo is. The drive from Marrakech to Skoura (the first leg) and from Agdz back to Marrakech (last leg) passes through the High Atlas, which does have some pretty steep drops along the edge of the road but all of them have safety barriers. This is the part with the really dramatic views. Here’s a another great description about that section of the trip to give you a better idea: http://travelblog.viator.com/marrakech-to-ouarzazate-tour/

      Once you get to the desert, if you guys do a camel trek, the route into the Berber camp skirts along the tops of some pretty huge dunes, some of them are a few hundred feet tall AND you’ll be perched on top of a camel too. Another option might be to go by quads (dune buggies) but that’s definitely not as cool / environmentally friendly because of the noise and sand that gets churned up.

      I hear the route along the coast from Tangier to Essaouira is pretty amazing too, so that might be an option if the vertigo prevents you guys from doing this itinerary.

      Let me know what you guys decide in the end!

      Like

  4. Ahh, re-reading this blog brings back such wonderful memories of Morocco.

    I still see a lot of you linking to this post from TripAdvisor. If you have any questions (or if you’ve just been to Morocco and found this itinerary helpful – or not) feel free to leave a note.

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  5. Loved this post. We have been thinking of visiting Morocco for some time but were undecided because we weren’t sure how much was there to do. You just helped make up my mind. Morocco here we come! Thanks for the lovely insight.

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    1. Thanks for the comment – glad you enjoyed the post! I’m a little jealous you’re planning a trip haha. The experience was wonderful – it’s hard to describe the vast landscapes and interesting people as you make your way from the city into the desert. Hope you guys enjoy the trip – let me know how it goes.

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  6. Hi! I really like your blog and thinking about doing a similar trip, including the north. How easy is it to rent a car? and how expensive? we are going in the summer so the prices may be higher.

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    1. Thanks Rahul!

      It’s been a few years since our epic trip to Morocco so the details are a little fuzzy. We were lucky because the owner of our riad was a tremendously helpful resource and referred us to a couple car rental companies in the area. Ours had a GPS which was indispensable – especially when we were still on the road when the sun went down! (It was pitch black on some of the mountain road save for our little cars high beams.)

      I’ll try and dig out some info. Let me know how the planning goes!

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  7. Hi Jiksun,

    Really enjoyed this blog post. My girlfriend and I are thinking about doing a similar trip as you did to Morocco but I was just wondering what time of the year did you go? I figure the heart in the desert must be unbearable in the Summer…

    Thanks,

    Peter

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    1. Hey Peter,

      Thanks for dropping by. So excited for you guys – it’s going to be an awesome trip! We went in November for our wedding anniversary, so just outside of the peak season (July – September).

      Weather was just right, if a bit windy as we were driving on those hair-raising Atlas roads. Bring a jacket if you’re venturing into the desert at night (on a camel tour for example.)

      Let me know how it goes!

      J

      Like

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