Steal My Vacation: Morocco Highlights in 8 Days
Woohoo! Welcome to my latest and greatest #StealMyVacation post! If you didn’t know this about me, I spend a LOT of time planning my trips from scratch, and I usually get asked for my itineraries. So, I started this series with my trip to #Thailand, then followed up with #Italy and #Indonesia.
This time, I will be taking you to sunny #Morocco on my favorite continent of Africa. This #itinerary is a little different because I did not do this on my own. Adnan, director of Treasures of Tangiers, was recommended to us by a friend and really made this trip special. In this itinerary, I will outline our activities, lodging, and route—much of which you can replicate yourself. But many of the special, authentic moments were compliments of Adnan, who is also incredibly knowledgeable of his home country.
Where possible, I will give you details to help you plan your own trip, but I will also call out which experiences were made possible only by Adnan. It is totally up to you which you prefer—and I think there is value to either option!
If you want to check out our #video recap, just scroll to the bottom!
A note on personal travel style
Obviously, everyone travels differently. I always like to give a disclaimer on my own personal travel style before you decide to steal my vacation.
I typically like active trips with some adventure thrown in. I run the gamut on lodging preferences—from luxury Balinese villas to campervans in the remote South American pampa. I either leave detailed reviews on my TripAdvisor page or will leave reviews within my itinerary, if appropriate.
Another important detail to note is that I do not typically like guided tours. I prefer to travel at my own pace and discover things in my own way. However, I also appreciate the fact that there are times a private guide can be very beneficial (notice I said private—I’m almost never into the big tour buses). If you are crunched for time and want to cover a lot of ground, having a personal guide and driver is ESSENTIAL. If you want access to private, or more authentic, experiences, a local can really make a difference. However, it still feels guided, so if you really hate being hand-held, it may not be for you.
THIS ITINERARY IS PERFECT FOR:
-First time visitors to Morocco
-If you have a short amount of time to visit the country, and you want to see more than just Marrakech
-People who don’t mind limited down time. We were up early every day.
-Culture and art lovers
-If you want to do a little bit of everything
-You don’t mind missing out on the beach/coast or hiking in the mountains (which I would have loved to do, but the mountains would be more of a second visit type of thing)
When to travel to Morocco:
We went to Morocco in March, which was a perfect time! I am always an advocate of traveling during the shoulder season (March/April or September/October) for fewer crowds and better weather. We visited the desert, but not the beach or the mountains, which meant March was a perfect time. It was a little chilly in some cities, so I brought a light jacket. But in other cities (and the desert, obviously), it could be very warm during the day.
Some notes on Morocco:
Morocco is a very safe country. I have my own personal opinions on what constitutes safety and why so many people are nervous to travel (mostly that it’s probably more dangerous driving a car in the US and we have our own share of safety concerns). But Morocco is fairly progressive and very welcoming to foreign travelers. I was traveling with two men, so I never had to fend off any unwanted advances, but ladies traveling solo may want to be extra aware of their surroundings (as always).
I was also a little surprised how much tipping was expected in Morocco. Our currency goes very far in the country, so I didn’t mind, but it is just something to keep in mind!
Whew! Ok, now that that’s out of the way, let’s dive in to the fun stuff!
Marrakech is The Spot that people visit when they go to Morocco. It is lively, iconic, and hectic. You can easily get lost in the winding streets of the Medina and drink mint tea to your heart’s content (seriously, you are going to drink so much mint tea in Morocco!).
Some people can get overwhelmed in Marrakech, especially when you visit the souks. I would recommend a nice riad to serve as your oasis from the hubbub.
We arrived into Morocco from #Paris very late. Our riad (a traditional Moroccan home converted into a hotel) was in the middle of the old city. It is easy to get lost in the old city and GPS does not work very well. Plus, the streets are cobblestone and difficult to navigate with luggage. There are plenty of porters who are willing to load your bags onto a hand cart. But this was one example where Adnan was super helpful—we could “ooh” and “ahh” while he led us to our riad.
Check in to Riad dar Alfarah
Honestly, there are SO MANY CHOICES for riads throughout Morocco, so I really don’t see how you can go wrong. I loved this Riad because Adnan arranged for us to have the largest room on the rooftop terrace. Everywhere we stayed throughout our trip had the greatest hospitality. There are probably hundreds of blogs written about the best riads in Morocco, so I won’t go into too much detail here. We loved every place we stayed, but we didn’t spend too much time in the riads because we were so busy. They were all moderately priced (usually less than $100) and beautiful. There are definitely more luxurious riads, if that is your thing.
Head over to Djemaa el-Fna, Marrakech’s largest outdoor marketplace.We didn’t make any purchases at this market, since we had planned to visit artisanal co-ops later in the trip.
Note: Even with a local guide, we were surprised how persistent the salespeople were. Do not take anybody’s photo or they will demand payment, and may follow you until they get something. Plus, it is kind of rude.
In the middle of the marketplace are hundreds of stalls where you can sit and eat authentic Moroccan cuisine. The location of your favorite stall may change every day. It’s first come, first served when vendors set up, so make note of the number of the stall if you want to eat there again. Adnan suggested stall #55 for food he trusted.
Day tour around Marrakech
If you don’t want to hire a personal guide for your entire trip, I would at least suggest taking a carriage ride with Treasures of Tangiers.
Adnan assured me the horses are well cared for, and we were able to ride through the narrow streets of the medina where most tours can’t go. The highlights of the day were the Marjorel Gardens and Bahia Palace.
Lunch and Spa
La Mamouina is one of the top rated riads in Marrakech. It was once a palace and it is absolutely GORGEOUS. If you fancy a splurge, definitely stay here!
Or if you are like us, you can just visit for lunch and a traditional hammam. We had the buffet lunch by the pool and it was absolutely INCREDIBLE. We followed it up with a traditional hammam at their spa. I had feelings about it.
Relax at riad
After a long (and rather hot!) day, we went back to our riad for tea and relaxation on the rooftop.
Explore the souks
We spent another evening exploring the winding maze of the marketplace. Be careful you don’t get lost!
Nomad. Seriously gorgeous views. Amazing food. Cool music and vibes. We loved it. Oh, everyone also eats at like 10pm. So, there’s that. This place is also not easy to find, so if you are asking for directions (like we had to since we decided to wander by ourselves for the evening), be sure to ask for a second opinion. A common scam is to send tourists deeper into the medina until they are lost and need to tip someone to guide them out.
If you don’t want to cram in as much as we did on the first day, you could spread everything out over two days. But we pretty much kept a busy schedule so we could see everything.
HIGH ATLAS MOUNTAINS
Morocco is geologically diverse. The High Atlas mountains are gorgeous and probably worth hiking in if you have more time or a chance to make a second visit.
This day began our drive to the Sahara Desert, which is far from Marrakech. We opted out of the cheaper bus option because we wanted to make stops along the way. Our driver, Mustafa, was amazing!
One of my favorite stops was the Kasbah Ait Benhaddou, which is featured in many movies and shows, but its recent claim to fame is the location of Yunkai from Game of Thrones.
Another Treasures of Tangiers exclusive was a stop with a local Berber family for a traditional tea ceremony.
Our long day ended at Hotel Xaluca Dades.
We were warmly welcomed by the staff with traditional song and dance (and, of course, mint tea). The hotel rooms were a good size and very nice, considering most hotels in the area are only considered moderate. The included dinner was decent, but this was just a stopping point on our long journey to the Sahara.
More road tripping!
Yep, you still aren’t at the desert yet. But there is more to see along the way!
Gorges of Toudra
Hike a little ways in to take in the beauty of these massive gorges. There is also an old hotel that was abandoned after parts of the gorge caved in on it. If you are a rock climber, this is a very challenging climb. We talked to a couple who said they climbed for something like 6 hours on exposed rock face to get to the top. No thanks for me.
Part of the beauty of Morocco is the dichotomy of the landscape. We had been driving through brown, rugged, dry scenery—sometimes looking like something from the American west. But then, we could see this vibrant green oasis from the road.
This is where we revealed another Treasures of Tangiers exclusive to my co-traveler, Nathaniel. Through Adnan’s personal connections, he was able to set up a horse ride through the oasis.
Nathaniel, who is an experienced dressage rider, said it was one of the best riding experiences he has ever had. We rode through the oasis, following the river, waving to locals washing their clothing along the way. Movie scenes have been filmed in this oasis, and it was easy to see why!
Dubbed the “Hollywood” of Africa, Ouarzazate has seen numerous films and celebrities. The town was literally built to house film crews during shoots and you can still visit a number of sets. I wish we had had more time to explore, but we only got to drive through.
Arrive Erg Chebbi
Ah, now we’ve finally reached the edge of the desert! Typically, you would take a camel ride into camp, but we arrived during a sandstorm, so we thanked our lucky stars we were in a vehicle with 4-wheel drive and we drove into camp instead.
Check In Luxury Camp Chebbi
THE SAHARA DESERT
Quite possibly the most FAMOUS desert in the world, this place was GORGEOUS! I highly recommend spending two nights in the camp (though most people hustle out early on the second morning) because there is so much to do!
4-wheel drive through the dunes, ATV ride, oasis lunch, and a camel ride!
During our time in the desert, we also had a unique and authentic opportunity to visit a nomadic woman in her camp. I chose to enjoy the moment and her hospitality, but did not feel it was appropriate to photograph. I would only recommend doing this through someone who has a personal relationship with the individual. I would also highly suggest providing a small token of gratitude.
You may be tempted to just do one night in the desert, but check out why I think you should stay for two nights, instead.
Fes is considered the cultural capital of Morocco. It is home to artisans and some of the most winding streets in all of Morocco! We actually had considered skipping Fes, but I’m SO glad we didn’t! We ended up loving it more than Marrakech.
We spent our final morning in the desert at a leisurely pace. Nathaniel slept, I did yoga, and we had a nice breakfast before getting back on the road.
While this road trip had fewer attractions, the changing topography was amazing. We started in the desert, progressed to olive groves reminiscent of Italy, stopped in Ifrane (also known as Little Switzerland), and finished in a cedar forest that reminded me of New England. It was fascinating.
Check in Riad Dar Ben Souda
Y’all, this riad was gorgeous. We had a huge suite—it actually had two levels! If I ever go back to Morocco, I want to go at a more leisurely pace so we can enjoy the riads. They were all so lovely and most of them under $100/night.
This day was truly special thanks to Treasures of Tangiers.
We met up with a Fes local named Aziz. Aziz has lived his whole life in Fes and has been dubbed “Cosmos” or “The Mayor.” Since we were in his care, he brought us off the tourist path and into the neighborhood streets of Fes. We were stopped along the way by people who knew Aziz since he was young and we met so many kind people!
One friend of his was in the process of refurbishing his family home. UNESCO has been investing money into the reconstruction of old riads in Fes, employing local artisans to hand craft everything from the wood carvings to the mosaic tiles.
We were invited into the construction site to watch local men at work, and it was incredible how quickly and accurately they could carve etchings into the walls!
After visiting the narrowest street in the city, the Andalusian blacksmith quarter, and the Koranic Madrassa Al Sherratine, we said goodbye to a tearful Aziz, who we had formed a special bond with. He insisted that if we should ever return, he would welcome us to stay in his home.
Visit local cooperatives
Through Adnan, we visited a number of cooperatives. While they are more expensive than the trinkets in the tourist markets, the craftsmanship is better and the funds go towards helping local women and craftsmen.
See apprentices at work and walk with a master as he explains the process for creating these famous works of art.