Easily reached, with plenty of direct flights from both North America and Europe, Morocco is perfect for a one week getaway. Being the most stable state in the region, it is a safe place to travel as long as you apply basic common sense. With a wide choice of activities and places to visit, figuring out an itinerary is no easy thing. The destinations suggested below will give you a sense of this variety by going through very diverse landscapes.
3 reasons to go
- Friendly locals. The Moroccan culture is all about hospitality. English is spoken in most places (and French too) which make it easy to interact. Expect to be greeted with (sweet) mint tea and be sure to slow things down a bit. In Moroccan culture, time is not handled the same way as in Western culture and it can be rude to rush.
- Variety. Morocco has plenty of interesting cities to visit with a rich cultural heritage like Marrakech, Fes, Tetouan, El-Jadida, etc. Nature is also at its best with the mountains of the High Atlas (including the highest peak in Northern Africa), dunes in the desert, and the Atlantic Ocean.
- Food. From couscous to tajine, but also including pastillas and pastries, Moroccan gastronomy is famous worldwide. Make sure you taste as many local dishes and plunge into the food traditions.
Destination 1: Marrakech
The old town (Medina) is entirely listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is best explored on foot. Shopping in the local souk is also an experience not to be missed as you will need to ramp up your haggling skills.
Destination 2: Essaouira
A short escape to this fishing town is refreshing after a bustling stay in Marrakesh. You can hop on a horse or camel to wander along the beach or even try a surfing lesson as it is a great spot for beginners.
Destination 3: Atlas Mountains or desert
Depending on your interests you can choose between a trek in the mountains or a desert expedition. Both offer unforgettable views and are easily organized from Marrakech.
How to book your vacation?
If you enjoy organizing your own trips.
Start booking hotels:
This itinerary is very convenient as you can set up your basecamp in Marrakech and easily explore the surroundings from there.
Day 1: land in Morocco and reach Marrakech
If you are flying from North America, you will most likely land in Casablanca where you can catch a train from the airport to Marrakech. It’s a 4 hours ride with an easy connection in Oasis (140 Dh in second class, which means no guaranteed seat. If you would like more comfort and be sure to have a seat, select the first class compartment, for about twice the price but still a quite reasonable amount). You can book your tickets online here.
If you come from Europe, you’d better choose a flight to Marrakech which will be more convenient and time efficient for your visit.
Once you are checked in at your accommodation, spend the evening at the Square Jemaa-el-Fna which is the heart of the old town. For dinner, choose from the many restaurants offering a terrace with a view (for example, Chez Chegrouni, where you can find affordable local dishes).
Day 2: Marrakech
Explore the city by foot and roam the tiny streets of the Medina. Famous sites include the Medersa Ben Youssef, Majorelle Gardens, Bahia Palace and the Koutoubia Mosque.
Day 3 & 4: Essaouira
Wake up early and catch the 8:30am bus to Essaouira (70 Dh). You can take one at the Supratours bus station, next to the main train station (easily reached with a 30Dh taxi ride from the medina). It takes a little bit over three hours to arrive in Essaouira.
Once you are checked in, you can spend the afternoon exploring the old town and the waterfront where you can visit the fortress by the harbour (called Skala). Then you can walk to the beach for stunning sunset views.
The next day, spend some more time by the beach, take a surf lesson or ride a horse or camel or even rent an ATV. Plenty of activities are available. After this active day you can hop on the 5 or 6pm bus back to Marrakech and return to the same hostel/hotel you left the day before.
Day 5: reach the Atlas
Take the morning to relax and have a breakfast and a café on a terrace overlooking Jemaa-el-Fna (at l’hôtel de France for example). In the early afternoon, you can take a minibus to Imlil from Square Youssef-Ben-Tachfine (10 minutes walk from Jemaa-el-Fna). The price is 50 Dh per seat and the minibus departs when full so be sure to bring some patience although it shouldn’t take more than an hour. It takes about 2 hours to reach Imlil with multiple stops on the way to pick up passengers after others get off. This is the best way to truly experience the local transportation and you will most probably be the only tourist in the vehicle.
Imlil is located at a 1740m elevation and is the starting point for treks to the Mount Toubkal (4167m), the highest in Northern Africa. This trek is challenging but feasible even if you are not experienced but in a good physical condition. Plenty of accommodations are available in the village and you should also stock up on food for the trek. Pick up some dried fruits, dates, fresh bread, fruits and you will be good to go.
Day: 6 & 7: High Atlas
The first part of the trek is from Imlil to the altitude refuge (Named Refuge du Toubkal and Les mouflons). It takes about 5 hours up. Once at the refuge they serve dinner and breakfasts, and you can also rent crampons if there is still snow at the top (ask the local guides at the refuge to confirm).
On your second day, you can go up to the summit of Mount Toubkal, which is about 3 hours from the refuge (and two hours to come back). This is the toughest part, but if you feel that it’s too challenging, don’t hesitate to go back to the refuge. You can have a break for lunch and start to head back to Imlil, which takes about 4 hours. From there, take a minibus back to Marrakech.
Even if you don’t go to the top of the mountain, but only spend the night at the refuge and come back the next day, this is still an amazing trek with unforgettable scenery!
Alternative for day 5-6-7: Desert Expedition
Book a 3 days/2 nights tour in the desert. Many companies offer these excursions from Marrakech and you can book online in advance. Most of them follow a similar itinerary and include stops in Aït Benhaddou, Ouarzazate, Dades Gorge and Merzouga.
This alternative option is much easier with a travel company because it would take too much time to explore the areas of interest by relying solely on local independent transportation.
Day 8: return home
Fly back from Marrakech or take the same train to reach Casablanca for your international flight.
Tips and advice
- Avoid going in July or August if you want to visit Marrakesh or go in the desert. Prefer May or September for bearable temperatures. For the Toubkal trek, those months are usually good too, although some snow can remain at the top (past the refuge). Just rent some crampons at the refuge and you will be all set.
- On the Toubkal trek, be sure to try the fresh orange juice offered along the way. Pressed in front of you, the taste is just amazing.
- Most people buy a package for the 2 days Toubkal trek including transportation from Marrakech, food, night at the refuge, a guide and a mule to transport your bags. This option cost around 150 to 200 euros per person and can be bought directly from the refuge here. This is a good alternative if you want things to remain simple, but organizing it on your own if fairly easy and cost of fraction of that price. Plus you get to experience local transportation and you will never get lost on the trail as there’s always someone nearby. If lost, simply wait a few minutes and follow other tourists that have hired a guide!
- Although Essaouira is right by the Atlantic Ocean, it is not the best place for swimming. Rip currents make it unfavorable and the Ocean’s temperature never gets really high there.