Essential Morocco

  • 2 Weeks

Morocco is a big country, but in two weeks you can still comfortably cover a lot of ground and explore the best of what it has to offer, from imperial cities to mountains and desert.

Touch down in Casablanca, the commercial capital, and start with a tour of the stupendous Hassan II Mosque. Head by train to venerable Fez, with its ancient yet thriving medina.

Next, cross the Middle Atlas via Midelt for your first startling taste of Moroccan kasbah architecture, and the abandoned mining town of Aouli, dropped into the crevasse of a pretty gorge. Continue all the way to Merzouga, Morocco’s gateway to the Sahara. Saddle up your camel and sleep under the stars amid the perfectly sculpted Erg Chebbi.

Shadowing the High Atlas as you head west brings you to the Todra Gorge for a day's hiking amid the canyons and palmeraies (palm groves). From here, head past Ouarzazate to Aït Benhaddou, with its fairy-tale-like 11th-century kasbah.

En route to the Atlantic, check into a riad in Marrakesh, and spend as many sunsets as possible on the theatrical Djemaa el-Fna, then don’t stop until you reach artsy seaside medina and fishing port Essaouira.

Circling the South

  • 3 Weeks

This itinerary takes you deep into the south for wild mountain and desert landscapes, far from clicking cameras, and with plenty of activities to stimulate the mind and body.

Agadir is a handy entry point, but adventurers will want to leave quickly. Head to tiny but vibey Tafraoute, surrounded by beautiful Anti Atlas scenery such as the Ameln Valley, with its lush palmeraies and pink-hued houses. Spend a few days trekking through the valley and up Jebel El Kest, bike past rock formations and engravings to the surreal Pierres Bleues, known as the Painted Rocks, and continue south through the Aït Mansour Gorges. At the far end of the gorges, where the beautiful scenery belies the ancient slave routes that passed this way, stay in the Afella-Ighir oasis. Use Tiwadou as a base for more trekking or discovering the rock carvings at Ukas.

By now you’ll have developed a taste for Morocco’s secluded southern corners. Once back in Tafraoute, wind east through the Anti Atlas and descend to the equally silent and epic Sahara. The last stop before Jebel Bani and a whole lot of hammada (stony desert), Tata makes a convenient base for exploring the oases, kasbahs, agadirs (fortified granaries) and magnificent rock engravings in spots such as Akka. A dusty journey to the east, the yellow-gold dunes of Erg Chigaga are more remote and less visited than Merzouga. In nearby M’Hamid, find yourself a camel to lead you north into the kasbah-littered Drâa Valley.

At the top of valley, head back towards the mountains. Commandeer a bike (mountain or motor), horse, mule or dromedary in film favourite Ouarzazate, where the stony desert landscape has been a celluloid stand-in for Tibet, Rome, Somalia and Egypt. Return to the coast via Taliouine, where you can buy the world’s most expensive spice in Africa’s saffron capital. Pause here, or in Taroudant, for a trekking reprise in a mountainous area such as the Tichka Plateau. With its red walls and backdrop of snowcapped peaks, Taroudant has hassle-free echoes of Marrakesh. Its souqs and squares are pleasant places to relax, and it’s handy for Agadir’s Al Massira Airport.

The Med and the mountains

  • 3 Weeks

In the north the Mediterranean littoral and the Rif Mountains have seen huge investment from the government. Domestic tourism has boomed as a result, but travellers are yet to discover the region in numbers.

Start in Tangier, ideally arriving by ferry across the Strait of Gibraltar to feel the thrill of crossing from Europe to Africa. In the mid-20th century, characters from gunrunners to beatnik literati mixed in this legendary port city. After a few days taking in the history, nightlife and restaurants, skip inland to Tetouan, the old capital of Spanish Morocco, with its charming blend of Arab medina and Andalucian architecture. The Spanish left a lighter imprint on nearby Chefchaouen, nestled in the Rif Mountains with its gorgeous blue-painted medina. It’s tempting to spend a string of sunsets listening to the minarets chorus each other’s call to prayer, but this is also a good trekking spot. You can head deep into the mountains on a five-day trek via riverside Akchour to Bou Ahmed, a fishing village in the Oued Bouchia valley.

Continue east along the coast to the proud, modern seaside resort of Al-Hoceima, gateway to the dry canyons and limestone cliffs of the Al-Hoceima National Park. Walk to the park along the coast, or book a memorable tour including hiking or mountain biking and a homestay with a Berber family. En route to the Algerian border, there’s more fine scenery in the Beni-Snassen Mountains, which you can enjoy in a swimming pool with mountain views, or a 300-year-old rural lodge. With its gorges, caves, mesa and Barbary sheep, this verdant area is far removed from classic images of Morocco. In the Zegzel Gorge, pluck a cumquat and see why the Romans remarked on this small citrus fruit.

From here, head to Oujda to refresh yourself with some city comforts, before taking the train to that grandest of imperial cities, Fez. Dive into the medina and relax in a riad, but if you find yourself missing the countryside, you can make an easy day (or several-day) trip into the cedar-clad Middle Atlas around the Berber market town of Azrou.

Highlights and hidden gems

  • 6 Weeks

Given six weeks you can really dive deep into Morocco: explore its big-ticket destinations while still having plenty of time to discover its more hidden corners – getting off the beaten track or just taking more time to soak the country in.

Climb off a ferry in famously decadent Tangier, with its Europe-facing medina, and head into the Rif Mountains. European influence continues in Chefchaouen, with its bright blue, Andalucian-tiled medina. Further south, the imperial cities of Fez and Meknès are more quintessentially Moroccan in their ancient medinas.

After a few days of labyrinthine lanes and dye pits, you’ll be ready for more mountains. Wind through the Middle Atlas and on through the Martian landscape of the Ziz Gorges. It’s now just a few dusty hours to Erg Chebbi, the achingly beautiful expanse of rolling dunes, which you can explore on a camel or sandboard.

Brush off the Sahara and return to the High Atlas at Todra Gorge. Hike between the enclosing rock walls, then jump in a market-bound truck through tiny villages and deeper into the mountains. Imilchil, surrounded by red rock and turquoise lakes, is the site of a wedding moussem (festival) in September.

Descend through the High Atlas and turn southwest, pausing to refuel in Berber foodie and cultural hub Demnate. The next stop is Marrakesh, with its famous riad hotels, medina shopping and Djemaa el-Fna. Hit the wild west coast at hippie-turned-boutique hang-out Essaouira, then head south to vibrant Taghazout, Morocco’s premier surf spot. Then take the N10 to Taroudant, the Souss Valley’s prettiest market town with its mud-walled medina and kasbah.

Travel barren mountains and empty roads to Tata, a Saharan gateway where blue-robed guides can show you the desert. The road back to the Atlantic passes oases, palmeraies, kasbahs, agadirs and rock carvings. Near the coast, detour north to the Tiznit jewellery souq, particularly if it’s a Thursday (market day).

Arcing west and south, you come to Mirleft, with its pink-and-blue arches, and Sidi Ifni, a jumble of wind-whipped art-deco relics surrounded by coastal walks. End your journey on the edge of the Western Sahara in sandy, gloriously isolated Tarfaya.

Atlantic adventure

  • 3 Weeks

Morocco’s Atlantic seaboard takes you from the clamour of the north to the quieter coastline of the south. It's a landscape where cities give way to dramatic sea cliffs, long sandy beaches and picturesque fishing ports.

Take the ferry from Spain to Tangier, at once a quintessentially Moroccan mosaic and a decadent outpost of Europe. Catch the train south, first to chilled-out Asilah, with its whitewashed charms, and then to Rabat, with its colonial architecture and palm-lined boulevards. Follow Casablanca's suburbanites taking the spectacular ocean road to Oualidia, the St Tropez lookalike with a perfect crescent lagoon.

Further south, the hippies once gravitated to Essaouira, and its white-walled ramparts, bohemian beat and renovated riads still make travellers linger. When you’ve eaten your fill at the outdoor fish grills, follow Jimi Hendrix and today’s surfers to the peaceful beaches at Diabat and Sidi Kaouki.

Past more surf spots, Agadir is a modern family-friendly seaside resort, but the beaches and boutique accommodation of Mirleft may be more appealing for other travellers, along with the Spanish art-deco treasures of Sidi Ifni.

Empire and Atlas

  • 10 Days

This short route gives a fast-paced introduction into the best that Morocco has to offer – its ancient storied cities and medinas, and the mighty Atlas mountains that ripple in waves down the length of the country.

This itinerary begins in two cities once ruled by enlightened dynasties. Throw back a shot of Maghrebi exoticism in Fez, where modern Morocco and its rich past crowd for space in the extraordinary medina. Next, catch your breath in nearby Meknès, bypassed by many travellers despite its echoes of Sultan Moulay Ismail’s glory days.

A detour north takes you to Volubilis, Morocco’s best-preserved ancient city, and testament to the Roman Empire’s astonishing breadth. Nearby Moulay Idriss, with the mausoleum of the founder of Morocco’s first imperial dynasty, is another wonderful antidote to urban clamour.

Head south into the Middle Atlas, stopping at the Berber town Sefrou, with its charming medina. From here, take the cross-country route via Beni Mellal, skirting the edge of the High Atlas to the icon of contemporary Morocco: Marrakesh. The city’s souqs, street performers and imperial architecture form an intoxicating mix.