Morocco: The perfect 7 day itinerary

And now for the perfect Morocco itinerary. Note that the itinerary assumes you have full 7 days.

(To prepare for your travel to Morocco, read this first)

Day 1: Fes

Fes is a sleepy city in the North of Morocco. It is the second largest in the country (pop: 1.5 mn), yet has a distinct small-town feel. It’s also largely Arab influenced (unlike Marrakesh, which is predominantly Berber). Fes was the capital city of Morocco until 1912. Fes is also believed to be one of the world’s largest urban pedestrian zones (car-free areas).

The Fes Medina

The Fes Medina is a madhouse and littered with many gems. It was the best (and most authentic) of the medinas we visited. Founded in the 9th century, the medina is home to the oldest operating university in the world (Al Quaraouiyine), the Bou Inania Madrasa, and people who’ve actually been living here for decades. The city has been called the “Mecca of the West” and the “Athens of Africa” and continues to be the spiritual capital of the country.

 

 

Stay: At Riad Le Calife, which was delightful with the most enthusiastic Frenchman (Alex) describing the many vagaries of the city along with his very beautiful and poised (Moroccan) wife Yasmin. The rooms were gorgeous too – especially the bathroom. The attendants were traditionally attired which added to the place’s charm. It’s well located, though not quite central. It has a cool rooftop bar with a great view of the Fes Medina. Per night at USD 100 for a double

The room
Bathroom
Courtyard

 

 

 

 

 

Or

Riad Alya. An equally beautiful Riad, with a lovely, restored two-century courtyard and live music every night. Each of their rooms was fitted-out as per Moroccan cities (a red room for Marrakesh, a yellow one for Tiznit, blue for Chefchaouen etc.) Per night at USD 100 for a double but plenty of discounts available on travel sites.

View from the room below to the courtyard
The yellow room

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eat at Café Clock, which also doubles as a cooking school. It is a beautiful multi-story café with much to be explored, but we were really exhausted and hungry when we visited and landed up eating a lot and resting our tired legs. The place is young, hip, and quirky with events happening every evening. As it says on its website, “Clock fuses and celebrates the rich traditions and playful manifestations of modern Moroccan culture.” Truly so. The 7alwa platter we had was amazing. Located both in Marrakesh and Fes. Do check this place out. Also, the menu.

Where we sat in Cafe Clock
View from top

 

 

 

 

 

Fes would be our base for the next two days.

A way to do day trips out of Fes is to contact local travel agents. We used Fes desert tours, who were good, but there’s really not much difference in the tour operators. We had much better luck taking local guides for walking tours. The multi-day tour operators coordinate with each other and are interchangeable. So take any – no difference. Remember to clarify all the nuances of the trip before though: is it a shared or private trip, what are the stops, what are the inclusions and exclusions. Insist on no shopping, or you’ll land up going to places (restaurants, stores) where the tour operators get commissions from.

The blue streets of Chefchaouen
Day 2: Chefchaouen

The blue city, the city you’ve probably seen in Moroccan postcards. What can I say? It looks as beautiful as it promises in those postcards.

There are several theories as to why the walls are painted blue. One popular theory is that the blue keeps mosquitos away, another is that Jews introduced the blue when they took refuge from Hitler in the 1930s. The blue is said to symbolize the sky and heaven and serve as a reminder to lead a spiritual life (Wikipedia)

Narrow lanes, half blue, half white, derelict walls, yet oddly enchanting.  Steep cobbled roads laden with goodies for sale – baskets, kilims, leather, scarves, wool garments and woven blankets. Also lined with men approaching you with, “Indian brother, want some?”

Kif they mean. Hashish. After all, Chefchaouen is located in the Rif Mountains and the region is one of the main producers of cannabis in Morocco (and the world). Random men at cafes offered to share their hash with us.

And when we left, they asked us to “Love each other more and more.” Aww. Cannabis can make you so generous.

 

 

 

 

Day 3: Volubilis, Meknes, Moulay Idriss

Oh, how I love Roman ruins. Volubilis is a partly excavated Roman city situated near the city of Meknes. It used to be the ancient capital of the Roman-Berber kingdom of Mauretania. It covers about 42 hectares (100 acres) with a 2.6 km (1.6 mi) circuit of walls. Like all Roman ruins, the city has a basilica, temple, and triumphal arch. We saw plenty of baths (the Romans seemed to love them), mini arenas/ amphitheaters, olive oil presses and ornate tiled floors to occupy us for a few hours. Entry is 20 dirhams, a guide costs 200 dirhams, but the latter can be bargained down.

Volubilis ruins
Arch of Caracalla
Mosaics
The Basilica
Arch of Caracalla (close up)
More ruins

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meknes and Moulay Idriss were the most authentic small towns we visited. The market square at Meknes was only just warming up when we arrived; musicians were starting to set up, the tenor on the hawkers’ calls grew louder as dusk approached, odd games were being played, odder wares were being plied as possible (and suspect) food. It was all quite fascinating.

Kefta at Moulay Idriss
View of Moulay Idriss Zerhoun
Bab Mansour Gate (Meknes)
Meknes main square
A grocer at Moulay Idriss
A sweet seller at Meknes market

At the Moulay Idriss market square,  we were possibly having the best meal until then in Morocco (pickled olives, tangy kefta…you see, we need spice!) but I was more occupied by the hotelkeeper on the other side of the road. He was waving for patrons to come in to eat something at his shop and he did this for the entire hour we were there, but no one went in. I watched as he finally gave up and sat down. The road had quite a few eateries, and most of them were empty. Moulay Idriss is a fairly small town and not top of a tourist’s itinerary, and I wondered how these guys made ends meet. Our restaurant was teeming with people. We saw people, decided it must be a good place to eat and went in. I guess that was true for the others there as well. Reviews beget reviews, after all.

The un-visited Tajine seller at Moulay Idriss
Our overworked restaurateurs

 

 

 

 

 

 

We used Authentic Sahara shared desert tour for the next three days.

The landscapes we crossed
Day 4: Fes, Ifran, Cedar Forest, Midelt, Ziz Valley, Merzouga
Day 5: Erfoud, Rissani, Todra Gorges, Dades Gorges
The Todra Gorge
Chez Talout
Breakfast at Chez Talout
Day 6: Ouarzazate, Ait Benhaddou Marrakech, via the High Atlas Mountains, night at Marrakesh

Ifrane was a really pretty town. The Todra gorge was breathtaking, although full of tourists. We stayed overnight in Hotel Chez Talout at the Dades Gorge, which was pretty cool too. But what stood out in our two nights, three days trek through the almost 1000 km drive from Fes to Marrakesh were:

The landscapes: We sat cooped up in a 4WD most of the day, and so, the small towns we passed, alternating with the High Atlas mountains with the occasional patches of green shrubbery and yellow mud-brick homes, were bound to be the highlights. Luckily, there was enough variation to keep us entertained and gasp out in awe, pointing our discoveries to each other.

Ouarzazate and Ait Benhaddou:

Ouarzazate

Ouarzazate is a city in south-central Morocco, chiefly inhabited by Berber-speakers, who constructed many of the prominent kasbahs and buildings for which the area is known. The fortified village (ksar) of Ait Benhaddou west of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

A Berber jewelry seller
Strumming the Oud
Aït Benhaddou

The Ouarzazate area is a noted film-making location. Some examples are below. Located here is also Atlas Studios, one of the largest movie studios in the world in terms of land area.

1961 – Sodom and Gomor

1962 – Lawrence of Arabia

1988 – The Last Temptation of Christ

1999 – The Mummy

2000 – Gladiator

2005 – Kingdom of Heaven

2006 – The Hills Have Eyes

2008 – Body of Lies

2013 – Game of Thrones

The ‘Mhysa’ episode of Game of Thrones (Season 3)

Others

And finally (drumrolls)

The Sahara desert

The Dunes of Merzouga

It was a dream come true. Trekking through the Sahara on camels, camping overnight, watching the sunset and sunrise while shivering in the frosty winter cold and soaking in the orange glow of the sun. I did feel bad for the camels once in a while: the poor, utterly domesticated creatures, tied to each other with ropes, ferrying fat-asses like us on and on and on. But they had been trained to be quiet, gentle, and subservient. I relied on the grip of their large feet on the downward slope of the soft, powdery desert sand, while fervently telling my quivering heart, “They’re trained. Worry not. You’ll come to no harm.” (But that’s not wholly true. A friend of mine, on a later trip, was severely injured when a camel threw her to the ground, and unfortunately for her, they were still on –err quite literally – rocky ground) Getting up and down the camels is the hardest. I was struggling a bit to hold on, but once your bodies attune to the rhythm of their movement, you’re golden.

As you leave this narrative, picture this, because I want you to see what I did. How ethereal this experience actually is.

Imagine…

…A vast expanse of orange-yellow powder, soft as

…On it, rows and rows of camels, undulating in uniform waves

…Bedouins in blue, leading them

…At one end, white and black tents, warm and cozy inside

…Bonfire at night. Berber drums. Hot mint tea.

…Sleeping under a million stars in the inky blue sky visible through the translucent tent’s roof

Day 7: Marrakesh

And now the most famous city of them all.

Marrakesh.

Also known as, Red City or Rose City or Mad House, or More Cash (coz, everyone is always asking for more money, you see). The walls of the city are made of a distinct orange-red clay and chalk, giving the city its nickname as the ‘red city’.

Marrakesh is a lot of sights, sounds, smells, and colors. It’s a lot like India (minus the roadside garbage and beggars) and similarly overpowering. Though the people we met were relaxed and friendly. Chilled. My fondest memory is of drinking sweet cinnamon coffee sitting on a pavement while a dozen old men got up from a nearby bench to offer me their place. Another memory is of buying a bunch of postcards and sitting in the spacious Post Maroc office to send them to beloved friends. A third is of sitting on the terrace of Café de France and watching the market below come alive. Fruit sellers, snake charmers, sunglass peddlers, tajine sellers…a fable straight out of the Arabian Nights, unfolding right in front of our eyes.

The next day we went past the dusty orange-red clay walls over to Gueliz, the French part of town. It was fancier, cleaner, done up in pristine French yellow and white, a noteworthy contrast to the old city. Things to see here are: the Majorelle Gardens, The Berber museum, and the Yves St Laurent museum. The area is quite a good place to hang out and party at night. Top things to do in Gueliz.

Inside the Souks
The narrow red lanes
Aerial view – medina
Bahia Palace
Storks of the El Badi Palace
Squeezing in through the narrow streets

 

 

 

 

 

Traditional bread maker

 

 

 

 

 

A Candy Souk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stay at: Riad Abaca Badra. Run by a charming old French couple – Gilles and Dominique – the riad is well located and cozy. It was the cheapest of the places we stayed in Morocco and comparable or better in quality to most. And Gilles does make some killer cocktails! Night stay for a double: USD 60

Take a walking tour: I can say with a fair degree of confidence that if not for Saeed, our walking tour guide in Marrakesh, we would’ve gone home mostly ignorant about the city (and the country). Guides in Morocco are more travel organizers; they ferry you from place to place but rarely tell you about what you’re seeing. Not so him. Saeed spoke excellent English, went to great lengths to take us through the history (both real and purported) of every place we were seeing and patiently answered our naïve questions. Most importantly, he gave us an orientation to the medina, which even though we are from India and used to chaos, was extremely helpful. Marrakesh by Locals

You may need to stay more than a night at Marrakesh. There is a lot to see and savor. Stay as long as you like. Then fly back to where you started. Weep a few tears as you leave.

Merhaba. You were good to us.

The Marrakesh central train station

Read what you need to know about Morocco before you go here.

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