Our 14-day tour of Morocco highlights kicked off in Casablanca where we met up with our tour mates and our guide. Most people staying at the departure hotel were on our tour so meeting people was easy and we toured the city together before the departure meeting. Over the course of our two weeks, we covered much of the countries highlights, there would be no way to see everything we saw if we were traveling independently.
The Morocco Highlights tour took us to small villages, through the historic Medina of Fes, into the Sahara desert, over the high atlas, to the shores of Essaouira, submerged us in the vibrant craziness of Marrakech, and so much more in between. For us, this was a good way to see the best places in Morocco and meet some new friends along the way.
The first morning before exploring the Hassan II Mosque of Casablanca we filled up on a typical Moroccan breakfast of pastries, yogurt, and fresh orange juice. The highlight of the morning was the massive mosque boasting the tallest minaret in the world. Inside and out the building is decorated in full Moroccan style with keyhole doorways covered in intricate tile work. After touring the mosque we jumped on a train bound towards Meknes.
Home for the night was a small village outside of the town. We slept in a family-run riad that was perched high on the hill overlooking the village. After dropping our bags we hit the streets of the small village with a local guide who took us around.
He brought us up to the panoramic outlook at the top of the village for sunset. To finish the night we came back from the tour to a home-cooked meal of traditional Moroccan fare with tajines of all sorts.
On day two we headed toward the city of Fes, which would be our base for the next two nights. Before reaching Fes we had a lot to see. Just outside the area, we stayed the night before is home to an ancient Roman city full of stone columns and other unique ruins. It turns out the Romans weren’t too different for modern people, they also enjoyed drinking games.
In Roman times the drinking games involved riding a donkey backward. They enjoyed the sport so much that they had a mosaic floor depicting the event. The Romans were drunk on a donkey rather than drunk on color.
On the way to Fes, we made a stop to visit the Meknes market for a local specialty: Camel Burger. As intense as it sounds it was actually quite good. Meatballs of ground meat were grilled and nicely seasoned, then served up with a pita and tomato salad.
On the fourth day, we made our way into the ancient medina of Fes. Dating back to the 8th century the narrow alleyways are alive with vendors and the smell of grilling food. Age-old crafts mix in with modern goods and spices. While in the city we visited a leather shop that overlooked the tannery full of men hand cleaning and drying skins. The craft is done today as it has been for centuries with men half-submerged in the dye as they work the animal hides.
It was a sight, and a smell, to see. We all were handed a sprig of mint to sniff to help cover the smell of the tannery. Our tour of Fes and the crafts of the city didn’t stop there, we also visited a traditional metalworking shop and textile shop. Fes is known for its intricate metal embossing and engraving and we got to see how it’s done, and as you might have guessed, by hand.
The last stop of the day was to the shop where they make traditional scarves and other textiles. Between exploring the different crafts of the city we also paid a visit to several cultural sites including the beautiful Bou Inania Madrasa. Our busy day finished as we left the medina and returned to our hotel located in the new part of town.
Overall I was impressed with the accommodation on the tour. I wasn’t sure what to expect because hotels in Morocco aren’t as cheap as you’d expect them to be. All the rooms we stayed in were better than anticipated, and some were really nice.
We were in a private room with a private bath every night, most had AC which we rarely used in November. Daily breakfasts were included, which were simple, but good.
After Fes, we had one night before the desert portion of the trip in the town of Midelt. Today is the day we met our driver for the rest of our trip, Mohamed, who took us on our first drive over the mountains. I guess I didn’t think about it, but I didn’t really expect to see snow in Morocco, but we made our required snowball!
The tour is a budget tour that operates close to like traveling independently but without the headache of figuring everything out on your own. Going as a group we were able to take a minibus for a majority of the trip and that’s what really sets the trip apart from going on your own because you get to go many more places this way.
Another positive is that you have someone to share your trip with. Hannah and I are always together so it was good to have some more people to talk to and enjoy Morocco with. We had people on our trip from 4 different continents, all with lots of travel stories. We love traveling with like-minded people.
For me, a highlight of a trip full of highlights was the desert. It was a large part of our reason for coming to Morocco, and it lived up to the hype. After a dusty and bumpy drive, we made it to the desert just before sunset. We quickly mounted our camels and held on tight as our camels got up.
If you have never ridden a camel you need to find room on your bucket list. They may not be the most graceful animals, but riding into the sunset on a camel across the sands of the Sahara is something I will not soon forget. By the time we made camp the moon had risen above the sand dunes and was giving just enough light. We slept in the desert in traditional Berber tents under the stars and the moon. Before hitting the tent our guides, who also was our chefs for the night, prepared clay pot tajines for us and we ate outside the tents and talked and laughed the night away.
Once everyone had enough Moroccan fare our camel guides, turned chefs, took on one more role as entertainers as the got the drums out and played and sung some Berber music for us. It was a perfect way to spend a night in the Sahara.
We did bring one more thing out to the desert with us that fits the theme of the trip, well kind of. We made a special stop to pick up a few bottles of wine to enjoy under the stars, but buying alcohol in Morocco is a trip in itself. In some of the smaller towns, it’s felt almost like you are buying something illegal. Booze isn’t against the law in Morocco it’s just not approved in the Muslim religion, which makes up 98.9% percent of the population according to Wikipedia.
Anytime we wanted to get some beer or wine our guide would make a stop and it wasn’t a problem, but I don’t know how you would have found some of these places without a person who knows. So, for the most part, we were just drunk on color and not the other stuff, but that was fine because Morocco kept us more than busy.
Speaking of busy, our night in the desert was short because we needed to be up bright and early to watch the sunrise over the dunes. Waking up was definitely worth it, we got lots of bright pinks and oranges swirled over the dunes in the moments leading up to the sunrise. We rode our trusty camels out of the desert and back to the hotel that runs the camel trip where we stored our bags to shower and wash the camel smell off.
Camels are super cool, but they are some smelly creatures. We were slightly worried about leaving our stuff in a hotel when we weren’t there, but it was fine and we had easily $8k worth of cameras and electronics. These trips bring the hotel a lot of business and the wouldn’t jeopardize it by rifling through our stuff, or at least that’s what I told myself. Enough about the details, this is what I came here for. It’s beautiful, there is just something so magical about sand dunes, and watching the camels walk past as the sun comes up is something truly special.
From the desert, we made our way toward the Todra Gorge. A big gash in the earth where sheer cliffs seem to have just separated leaving a flat river bed surrounded by high canyon walls. Of all the places we went to, I think the gorge was one of the most photogenic.
The tall red rock split in the middle with bright blue skies and crisp white clouds. I could have taken pictures here all day, and I did for the most part as we went on our walking tour through the villages around the gorge. Of all the hotels we stayed in, I think one of the most interesting was the night in the gorge. We stayed in a riad built right in the middle of the gorge. The hotel itself was nice, but the location was spectacular.
After the Todra Gorge, we made our way to get a glimpse of the Dadès Valley and the intense roads carved into its sides. After filling our memory cards with photos from the top of the gorge it was time to head toward Ouarzazate where we would spend the night.
The main draw in Ouarzazate is the Aït Benhaddou Kasbah built on the river bed near the town. The Aït Benhaddou is a world heritage site and was stunning at sunrise. I braved the early alarm clock along with some of my other tour mates to watch the sun come up over the Kasbah.
It was worth a couple of hours of sleep to watch the first rays of golden sun fall on the ancient buildings. After breakfast, the rest of our group gathered and we went inside and to the top of the kasbah for some more great pictures. By this point in time of the trip, the group started to know one another pretty well and group shots were flowing.
From Ouarzazate, we were bound for Marrakech. This drive took us over the High Atlas and I was glad to have our driver because I have heard nothing but horror stories about this stretch of road when people arrange trips to or from Marrakech.
This road often ranks as one of the most dangerous in the world. With sheer cliffs without much between you and the edge, I can see why. However, I felt much better with a responsible driver, I have been on too many budget minibus rides where I thought I was going to die.
Day 9 Welcome to Marrakech or the madhouse as some call it. Marrakech is the capital and the main tourist city in the country. The city is an interesting intense mix of culture and tourist chachki. The main square is full of snake charmers, food carts, monkeys on leashes, and just about anything else you could think of. Marrakech is a city you need to visit to fully understand, I would describe its beautiful chaos.
There are a ton of things to do in Marrakech, one of my favorite memories from Marrakech is when we went to one of the rooftop cafes with some of our tour mates to watch the sunset over the medina. We sipped mint teas as the sky darkened and the lights of the city came on. The city was great, but I was glad we had just two nights, we were ready for a break after visiting.
Our final stop on our Morocco Highlights tour was the town Essaouira which was a welcomed change of pace from Marrakech. Essaouira was the perfect place to relax for a few days at the end of the tour. Located on the Atlantic coast fishing is still a large part of the economy. The city is full of great markets with most of the things that Marrakech has, but with better prices and little haggling.
We began to call this little gem of a city ‘Morocco light’. It’s got all the things that make Morroco good, but with a slower and friendlier feel. We spent two nights here, but I could have spent a week. Nightly the sun would plunge into the sea with a burst of yellow rays that silhouetted the old stone fortresses. We saw many amazing things along our tour of Morocco, but as far as cities go, Essaouira was our favorite.
For us and at this point in our trip I am very glad we decided to travel to Morocco with a group rather than go alone. We were able to go so many more places, and it was much less stressful than figuring out all of the details. Having a group we felt we got good value, going solo we wouldn’t have been able to afford or even arrange tour guides for all the cities we visited. Overall we had a great time in Morocco!
Have you been to Morocco? What were your Morocco highlights?
*Note we traveled as guests of TourRadar and Geckos Adventures, but all opinions are our own. The tour was great and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to a friend.