Pit-stops at Kasbah’s – An itinerary for Morocco
MARRAKECH & THE EAST OF MOROCCO [inc. MERZOUGA]
I’m always in a chaotic state when I need to plan a trip – especially when it comes to big countries, and Morocco was by no means small! My colleague – who’s almost been around the world – kept telling me of offbeat places he’s been to, and while it made day-dreaming exciting, it also made me all the more confused!
As always I wanted to go everywhere…yet take it slow, and not ruin the pace.
A stay in the Sahara sat at the top of my bucket list and I knew Marrakech and Merzouga couldn’t be skipped.
After considering various routes and flight options, I realized it had to be either Merzouga or Fes. Including both the ends of Morocco was not going to be possible in about a week and that gave a reason to visit again!
So here’s an itinerary to explore the East of Morocco. It includes almost everything, as always!
A WEEK’S ITINERARY FOR MOROCCO
Fly to Marrakech Menara International Airport. We opted for an evening flight [Easyjet]. A lot of countries go above and beyond to provide great hospitality and that includes transportation options. For convenience we asked our Riad to have us picked up at the airport. The Riad is a complex maze for a first-time visitor and we wanted to ensure we reached the right location!
There are many taxi’s available, some pre-paid as well, so you could opt for that as well.
STAY: We stayed at Riad Zayane Atlas. This was because a lot of options were no longer available, being Xmas season. Riad Zayane was the most affordable one in our budget and it was a quick 5-10 minute walk from the city centre – Djemaa el Fnaa.
Would I recommend it? – I wouldn’t!
I believe you will be able to find many options for the same price! It does have a Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor but I wish to differ!
EAT: Since it was Xmas eve, we splurged a little and had dinner at Les Jardins De La Medina. A lovely experience, a little steep in comparison to local eats but the ambiance is great and so is the couscous!
Morning: Time to take a road-trip through Morocco! Since the main highlight was to visit Merzouga, proceed via the Tizi n’Tichka pass, the highest point in Morocco to Ouarzazate, the first stop on the journey.
On the way you will pass many Berber kasbah’s and the Atlas mountains will take your breath away :)
You might come across some road-side vendors as well, ensure you haggle! If you would be staying at Marrakech, all the goods you see on the way will be available in the souk’s, so you could purchase it from there as well.
Aït Benhaddou – A World Heritage Site is en-route and is the focus of the day!
This charming unoccupied kasbah is where major movies like The Mummy, Gladiator were filmed and recently Game of Thrones was too!
Although partially in ruins, this exotic location is not to be missed! Allocate at-least 2 hours to wander and take plenty of pictures!
Later proceed to Ouarzazate, which is apprx. 40 mins away from Air Ben Haddou, to spend the night.
STAY: Opt for a 1 night stay at Riad Bouchedor, where we stayed as well. The food is amazing and ensure you opt for a stay with meals. It gets quiet in the villages at night and restaurants are sparsely available. Stays inclusive of meals are priced reasonably.
Another option would be to try Dar Chamaa, the lobby looks great!
After getting refreshed, proceed to Merzouga via Zagora. Zagora is a town with small dunes nearby, but if it’s massive dunes that you’re after – it has to be Erg Chebbi – in Merzouga!
Many day trips are available to Zagora from Marrakech, but the experience is stressful, as the drive takes about 11 hours and you have to wake up early to drive back!
After a 5-7 hour drive [ depending on the speed] :) , you will reach Merzouga. It is important that you book a stay in the desert through one of the lodges in Merzouga.
They provide a complete package wherein you are taken to the tents, via a 1 hour camel-ride, inside the desert.
Do ensure you carry a backpack – to carry only essentials required for the night, as luggage is left back at the hotel.
It is a surreal experience to travel at a slow pace, admiring nothing but silence and powdery dunes as far as the eyes can see!
Once you reach the tent, you’ll have plenty of time to relax and have fun in the sand. Dinner is served early after which the Berbers who camp with us in the desert, played local percussion instruments and sang for us.
We participated as well!
It was a night full of stars albeit cold! If you visit in summer, you could very well even sleep even outside the tent, it’s very pleasant apparently, if you’re not scared of scorpions!
STAY: Although tonight it’s a stay in the desert, booking the same can be done via Kasbah Mohayut. The buffet breakfast we had here, was the best in Morocco!
Awaken early morning to admire the sunrise! It will be an unforgettable one!
Take a walk in the dunes, try to figure out footprints in the sand!
We got chicken, desert fox and humans of course…although there were 2 sets we couldn’t make out :)
After packing up, head to the hotel again for a great breakfast, Berber+French style!
Once you’re refreshed and full, it’s time to head to the Dades Valley via the Todra Gorge.
A detour through the massive Todra Gorge will take you about 30-40 minutes, but it will definitely be worth it.
En-route you will come across many furniture manufacturers, specializing in furniture made from fossil stones! It did seem authentic, and workshop tours are complimentary.
You’re encouraged to buy some artifacts, which are reasonably priced, if you wish at the end of the 15 minute tour.
Later proceed to the Dadès Valley to spend the night, admiring ‘Monkey’s fingers’ on the way to the hotel. The hills are called monkey’s fingers because they’ve got peaks that look like fingers!
Head to the topmost point in the Dades valley to see the sunrise and to admire the famous winding road in the Dades valley. Although its famous it is not thronged with tourists so take your time!
Then take the road via the Skoura palm grove, to pass via Ouarzazate and the Tizi n ‘Tichka yet again, to head to Marrakech. You could stop to admire various formations in the Atlas mountains or haggle with vendors!
In the evening check back into the hotel.
EAT: We opted to have dinner at Latitude 31. Although reservations are recommended, it’s a great mid-range restaurant and serves some of the best tagines in Marrakech!
It’s time to wander in Marrakech!
The souks can get stressful so here’s a handy guide to have a good time! Once you’ve finally had enough of the souks head to Amal for their delicious fare for lunch. Cheap yet super tasty, all for a great cause. Although it’s outside the Medina, it is definitely worth a visit!
Once you’ve feasted on great fare, why not unwind in one of the hammam’s?
There are many options to choose from. We opted for Hammam Rosa Bonaheur. They have many options to suit every budget and the experience was great! I wouldn’t call it a traditional hammam, but after spending time in the souks I wanted to visit a hammam, which did not keep me guessing about hygiene and Rosa Bonaheur was great.
EAT: We had dinner at La Perle Du Sud, and although it has great reviews on TripAdvisor our experience wasn’t great!
There’s always 1 activity we take up in a new country. This time it was Quad biking. Dunes and Desert have a great reputation and list of activities.
We spent half a day biking through the plains on the outskirts of Marrakech and later returned to have lunch at Marrakech Henna art cafe for a refreshing meal.
You could get a henna tattoo while you’re here, the local artists are great at it! Choose a design while you eat!
Since it was our first time on the Quad, we opted for a half day tour, you could opt for full day ones or even a road-trip on a Quad!
We later took a walk to the tanneries [Bab Debbagh] to check the process. It smelled awful but was a great one time experience. Ensure you carry some sprigs mint with you! More details here.
Here are some additional options to take up on your stay in Marrakech:
- Jardin Marjorelle – A tranquil garden with a Berber museum. One of the top things to do in Marrakech, however we gave it a miss.
Price: MAD 50 (garden), MAD 25 (museum)
Timings: Opening times vary according to season: October to April, 8am to 5:30pm; May to September, 8am to 6pm; and during Ramadan, 9am to 5pm
- El Badi Palace – The ruins of El Badi Palace are a treat for history/architecture lovers . The the courtyards and main rooms are still well-kept and the terrace has great views of the Atlas mountains.
Price: MAD 10
Timings: Daily 8:30-11:45am
- Bahia Palace – The Bahia Palace however retains much of its grandeur. Another attraction for history and architecture enthusiasts.
Price: MAD 10
Timings: Everyday 9 am – 5 pm
- Saadian tombs – These intricately decorated tombs were well hidden until their re-discovery in 1917. They reflect design similar to the Alhambra, and are now restored to their former glory. There is a passage that leads to the tombs which is adjacent to the Kasbah Mosque
Price: MAD 10
Timings: Daily 8:30-11:45am, 2:30-5:45pm
- Koutoubia Mosque – A great way to slow down in Marrakech. Pick a bench and watch the city pass by! No timings no entry fee!
Ben Youssef Madrasa – A madrasa is an Islamic educational institution and the Ben Youssef madrasa has great mosaic work
Price: MAD 20
Timings: Daily 9 am – 5 pm
EAT: Comptoir Darna was an offbeat experience! Great food, orchestras and belly dance performances to keep you entertained! Pricey but worth it!
P.S. If you visit Comptoir Darna, ensure you arrange return transportation, in advance. It’s a little annoying when every taxi driver insists you pick them, to take you back!
It’s the last day in Morocco!
Although there were quite a few options we could take up, we opted to try he legendary camel burger and date milkshake at Cafe Clock. We spent a good couple of hours here reminiscing of our stay in the Sahara.
We later collected a couple of olive jars from the souks and left for the airport, making a mental note to return, to visit Chefchaouen, Fes, Essaouira and Casablanca!
It’s important you leave at-least
You could split the trip to include only Merzouga/Marrakech!
You can print off a detailed map HERE. A gist is also available on the map below.
Hope this itinerary helps you with relevant information, to plan a sunny trip to Morocco!
BEST TIME TO VISIT
We went in December, as it’s one of the closest places in Europe to catch some sun in December! However, Spring [April-May] is the best time. As summers can get super hot and although the days in winter are pleasant, nights in the desert in winter can get very cold! Ensure your visit does not coincide with Ramadan as transportation options get scarce and some attractions could be closed early.
SOME FESTIVALS YOU COULD ATTEND
Feb/March: Wax Lantern (or Candle) Festival near Sale in Rabat
May: Rose Festival near the Dades Valley and the Honey festival near Argana, Agadir
June: Sahraoui Festival for camel races and the famous Laayoune warriors’ dance at Agadir
September: Festival of Volubilis at Meknes
This list is amazing if you wish to explore more options!
Varies greatly by season! However expect to pay apprx. £50 for a double room in a Riad in December, which is peak tourist season. It is definitely cheaper if you opt for some hostels/single rooms.
Public transport is cheap.
A multitude of options for food in every range.
A lot of places to visit in Marrakech are within walking distance, usually in the Medina or on the outskirts. We did not rely on public transport and used taxi’s only on 2 occasions.
Taxis are convenient but you need to haggle [again] before you get in! You could try the Caleche rides, but it’s more of a tourist attraction rather than a transportation medium.
WHERE TO STAY
- Marrakech: It’s a good experience to stay in the Medina. Once you step outside the Medina, it feels like a normal European city!
- Variations of mint tea
- Argan oil
- Leather goods
- Earthenware tagines
- BallerinasThere is a huge variety of knick-knacks to purchase as keepsake’s in the souks :)
- While strolling in the souks ensure you always have your wallets/bags safe away from snatchers
- As a solo female traveler avoid walking alone late at night. It is pretty safe in Marrakech but it does get super quiet in the villages
- We’re from India, so we’re used to noise and commotion. But it can get overwhelming for many. Be firm, learn to say ‘No’ politely or completely ignore and walk away. A woman in the Djemaa el Fnaa square, grabbed my hand and started drawing henna tattoo’s – for ‘free’, only to ask me for tips for her sons later.
- Always carry Moroccan Dirhams with you. A lot of people [including the homeless] will ask you for alms or tips in Euro’s!
- Dress conservatively – although Morocco is very accommodating of tourists, you’re bound to attract the wrong kind of attention if you do not!
- Do not enter shops or ask prices – if you do not plan to buy!
PIN FOR LATER!
Why not check all the information available for for Morocco in the archives?
Which countries are at the top of your bucket list for Morocco? :)
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