From the vibrant city of Marrakech to the serene Sahara Desert, Morocco is a diverse country for exploring. To avoid the crowds and intense heat, we traveled to Morocco in January. The weather was perfect with daily highs around 70F and daily lows around 50F.
Day 1 and 2: Marrakech (2 nights)
The only accommodation for this trip booked in advance was our first night in Marrakech. We booked online and scheduled an airport pickup service. The driver dropped us off in a roundabout where another gentlemen walked us through the winding alleyways of the Medina. The Medina is extremely hard to navigate so we were lucky to have local help in navigating our way to the Riad.
We spent 2 days wandering the maze that is the medina, eating tagine, browsing the souks, relaxing in Jardin Marjorelle and admiring the tile work at Bahia Palace. We were itching to explore more of the country so the wonderful gentleman of Riad Houdou assisted us in renting a car. For about $400USD +gas, we were able to rent a car for the remainder of our stay and discover Morocco on our own schedule.
- Getting lost in the medina
- Eating slow roasted lamb in Mechoui Alley
- Bahia Palace
- Jardin Marjorelle
- Snake charmers in the Medina
- The liveliness of Jamaa el Fna after dark
Day 3: Ouarzazate (1 night)
The drive to Ouarzazate from Marrakech took us over some of the highest peaks in Africa through the High Atlas Mountains. The long, windy road through Tizi N’Tichka pass to Ouarzazate took about 4 hours. The landscape changed vastly as we drove up and over the mountains, making a stop at the fortified city of Ait Ben Haddou Kasbah at dusk.
Day 4: Merzouga (1 night)
Early the next morning, we began our 5 hour journey to the Sahara. We arrived in Merzouga just in time to book a camel trek into the Erg Chebbi Dunes. For $120USD, we booked a night in the desert including camel ride both ways, accommodation, dinner, breakfast and shower back at the hotel in the morning. I would recommend booking in advance as we had some trouble finding an opening last minute.
We mounted our camels at dusk and road for about an hour into the depths of the dunes. We arrived at a lovely camp complete with sleeping tents, dining tent, restroom and campfire. After eating a delicious tagine dinner, we roamed the dunes in the darkness with the brightness of the stars and the Milky Way lighting our way. Upon return to the camp, our Berber hosts treated us to some mint tea and played traditional music as we huddled around the fire. We went to bed in our tents made of rugs wearing every layer we had available and still ended up freezing all night!
Early the next morning, we packed up and rode our camels back to Merzouga. There was a traditional breakfast waiting for us and we were allowed to use the hotel facilities for a quick shower. We said our goodbyes to our new friends and camels and set off on our way to Fes.
Day 5 and 6: Fes (2 nights)
After a 7 hour drive, we finally arrived in Fes. Exhausted, we found our Riad and went straight to bed. Early the next morning, we had a delicious Moroccan breakfast and headed to the Medina.
For about $5USD we found a local to give us a private tour of the Tannery, including a climb up the terrace for an incredible view. Despite the pungent smell, the technique and care that goes into creating the leather products from start to finish was fascinating.
After the tannery tour, we spent the rest of the day exploring all the Medina has to offer including the beautiful Attarin Medersa, incredible city views from rooftops and Bab Boujloud- the gorgeous blue gate that welcomes you to the city of Fes.
- Where to stay: Riad Fes Aicha
- Tannery tour
- Walking the Medina
- Attarin Medersa (Entrance fee roughly $1USD)
- Bab Boujloud (Blue Gate)
- Rooftop views of the city
Day 7: Chefchaouen (1 night)
A “quick” 3.5 hour drive from Fes turned into a stressful drive through the windy roads of the mountains. There is a highway that goes from Fes to Chefchaouen, but on the map it looked farther so we opted for the more “direct” route. Lesson learned…always, ALWAYS take the highway!
After a strenuous drive, we arrived in the enchanted city of Chefchaouen, known for its blue hue. Chefchaouen is a small, quaint town with not much to do other than marvel at the extraordinary color that paints the town. So 1 day here was more than enough. We strolled through the square, wandered the maze of alleys and admired the many shades of blues.
To get a bird’s-eye view of the blue city, we took a short 20 minute hike to the top of a hill nearby. We exited the medina near The Hotel Atlas and walked uphill to the Spanish Mosque perched above the town. Even on a rainy day, the blue of the city brightened the sky.
Day 8: Tetouan-Tangier (1 night)
The next day, we took a short 2 hour drive to Tangier, a port town known as the gateway to Europe. On the way, we stopped at the small town of Tetouan to explore the markets and eat a delicious lunch at Blanco Riad.
Stepping into the city of Tangier was like stepping into another country completely. Right away, you could see the European influences and energy brought from the influx of travelers from across the Strait of Gibraltar. We spent the night and hopped on the first ferry to Spain in the morning.
Day 9: Gibraltar (1 night)
First thing in the morning, we parked the car at the ferry station (free) and took the ferry from Tangier to Tarifa (1 hr). Once in Tarifa, we hopped on a free shuttle to Algeciras (30 min, show your ferry ticket). From Algeciras, we took a short taxi ride to La Linea ($25USD) where we walked across the border (which happens to be an airport runway) to Gibraltar. Once in Gibraltar, there is a local bus, but we decided to walk so we could explore. For dinner, we hopped back over the border to Spain and enjoyed some tapas before heading back to Gibraltar for a good nights rest.
First thing in the morning, we decided to hike the mediterranean steps to the “top of the rock”. The steps, built by british military start at Jew’s Gate cemetery and run along the eastern side of the rock. The hour-long, grueling hike was well worth the struggle with incredible views beyond imagination.
At the top of the rock, we toured the battery before walking down to the Military Tunnels and St. Michael’s Cave. We ended the day from a secret spot we found inside the rock where we watched the sunset over the water with Morocco in the distance.
- Where to stay: Rock Hotel
- Where to eat: La Chimenea
- For a less strenuous approach to “the top of the rock”, there are several options including the cable car, bus or private tour.
- The only food/refreshment on the rock is located near St. Michaels Cave.
- Plan to spend an entire day exploring the rock.
- If hiking, take plenty of water.
- The temperature drops drastically at the top of the rock so plan to bring a warmer jacket.
Day 10: Safi (1 night)
Arriving late in the evening to Tangier, we decided to get right on the road and begin our 7 hour drive to Safi along the African coastline. We made brief stops along the way in Rabat and Casablanca before arriving in the beautiful town of Safi at sunset.
We spent our last day in Morocco walking the coastline and exploring the small Medina in Safi, one of the smallest, most local towns we visited. We stood on the cliffs watching the sunset, wishing we had more time in this beautiful country before we drove back to Marrakech to catch our flights back home.
Morocco Travel Tips:
- Money: Most places are cash only and ATMs are hard to find. Plan on bringing enough cash for the entire trip, including accommodations.
- Dress: Women should plan to dress modestly, but it is not necessary to cover your head.
- PDA: Avoid kissing, hugging, holding hands etc with your significant other in public. This is considered inappropriate and you will likely get some dirty looks.
- Access: Non-Muslims are typically not allowed in the Mosques. If you are unsure, it’s best to ask before entering.
- Accommodation: Stay in a Riad (traditional Moroccan house). We learned the hard way that it’s best to book accommodation in advance if you can!
- Tipping: Carry small change. You will need to tip often for everything from directions to parking and on your restaurant bill.
- Tours: Do not pay “guides” that offer you tours on the streets in the Medina. Instead, go to a tour office or ask at your accommodation.
- Haggling: Don’t be afraid to negotiate on prices for everything from cabs to souvenirs.
- Stay in Touch: Likely, your cell phone will not work here, but you can purchase a local sim card. We used Maroc Telecom which was a bit spotty, but worked for our needs.
- Driving: When driving, roads are not marked well (ie: It will not say N1 or N10), so look for the name of the city you are heading towards as these will be the only “directional” markers you will see.
- Checkpoints: Driving through Morocco, you will pass through many checkpoints. They may ask for your passport, but typically we were not even stopped.
- Women Driving: While you may get a weird look or two, I had no issues as a woman driving in Morocco.
- Filling Your Tank: Gas stations are few and far between outside of the main cities so make sure you fill up when you see one. Stations are full service and take only cash. Unlike in the states, where pumps have a sensor and stop filling when the tank is full, the attendant looks down into the tank and takes a guess whether it is full or not. Check for yourself and make sure your tank is full before leaving.
- Avoid Getting Lost: When navigating the Medinas, look for permanent landmarks to mark your way such as doors or shop signs. If for example, you say “turn right at the shoe stand to get back to the riad”, the shop may be closed on your way back and you will not be able to tell where the shoes were.
- Plan for Closures: Friday is a holy day so be prepared for shops and establishments to be closed.
- Health: Drink only bottled water to avoid getting sick.
- Communication: A variety of languages are spoken across Morocco including: French, Moroccan Arabic, Berber and English.
- Sanitation: Take your own TP! Most public toilets in Morocco do not have TP so it’s best to bring your own, just in case. I’d also recommend hand sanitizer!
- Drink: Develop a liking for mint tea as you will be drinking a lot of it!
- Eat: If you see a lamb hanging by its feet on the side of the road, STOP! This means the meat is fresh. We had some of the most amazing lamb of our lives on the side of the road in Morocco. Covered in cumin and grilled, you won’t want to miss it!