Morocco should be on the top of any traveller’s bucket list – not only does this African beauty boast grand history and culture, it has some of the best and most diverse landscapes and scenery, as well as ancient medinas and an array of epic activities.
Spanning the whole northwest corner of Africa, Morocco is huge. Across its landscape of mountains, desert, lush plains, and unique cities, the choices for the best places to visit here are hard to narrow down. But unless you have endless time, you have to. That’s where planning comes in. With some research and choosing the right route, it’s possible to see a lot of the country on a two-week Morocco itinerary.
Our Morocco trip was 14 days. We had 14 days of actual sightseeing plus a day on either end for transit. In those days, we covered a lot of ground, driving from the Atlantic coast of Casablanca east all the way to the desert where we could see Algeria in the distance. We had some days with short trips and other days with much longer journeys, but all the destinations were worth the effort and the planning.
In just 2 weeks in Morocco, we saw the major highlights and a few less visited places. Even if you have only have 10 days in Morocco, it’s possible to see a lot of what this beautiful country has to offer and to learn about its history, customs, and unique features.
Day 1: See Casablanca
Most people arriving in Morocco will start out in Casablanca, which has the country’s largest airport, or Marrakesh, because it’s awesome. Our starting point was Casablanca because we chose to visit the north of the country first before visiting the desert and then heading south. Casablanca is the centre of business in Morocco and isn’t teeming with tourist attractions, which was fine with us because we were itching to get going to other places in Morocco. But we couldn’t leave without seeing the city’s main attraction – Hassan II Mosque.
Although there are mosques all over the country, stopping at Hassan II is a must if you want to see inside one because it’s the only mosque in the country open to non-Muslims. The fifth largest mosque in the world, it was built in 1993 on land that used to be part of the Atlantic Ocean. The grand green exterior of the mosque and its massive minaret are instantly impressive. Inside, the handmade scalloped arches, crafted marble walls, and brilliantly carved wooden ceilings are gorgeous. The cavernous building is meant to hold 25,000 worshipers inside and 80,000 outside, so its biggest feature is space. There are a lot of details to see, and visitors need a guided tour.
Days 2: Visit Chefchaouen, the blue city
The whole reason for our journey north was to visit Chefchaouen. The spectacular blue city was one of the places that enticed us to plan a Morocco vacation in the first place, so we weren’t going to let the fact that it’s a little difficult to reach deter us.
Chefchaouen is a dream. Located in the dramatic Rif mountains, the town was largely closed off from the world beginning in the 15th century, which contributes to the feeling that it’s from another time. Its crooked passageways and hillside medina create a labyrinth to lose yourself in, literally and figuratively.
There is a handful of things to do in Chefchaouen. Visitors can stroll along the waterfall on the edge of town, hike in the mountains, or visit the Kasbah museum. There are plenty of crafts and souvenirs to haggle over in the medina, and the vendors are always eager to engage.
Our favorite thing in Chefchaouen was just being—something we often don’t take enough time to do on our trips, so we were glad we had two nights dedicated to staying in the colourful town. The homes, alleys, and stairs are all painted in shades of royal blue and cobalt, and there are unique designs, murals, and tiles all across the town. Every time you turn a corner, there’s a new surprise. It was a luxury to take it all in.
Day 3: See Fez
The next day brought a 3.5-hour trip south to Fez. For me, Fez was all about the tanneries. Years ago, I saw a photo of these colourful circles—not knowing where they were or even what they were—and was determined that I needed to see them in person one day.
Lucky for me, the Chouara Tannery was one of our first stops in Fez. Every day, the tannery workers fill the giant vats with different coloured dyes as well as a variety of unsavoury substances like urine and pigeon poo mixed with water that are used to strip and prepare the hides. They walk back and forth rotating, submerging, and dyeing their products to be used for the leather goods Fez is so famous for.
The result of all the work is a giant grid of colour when seen from above. The best vantage points come from the shops that surround the tannery so you can see all the work going on at once. In the warmer months, the smell can be quite fierce, so guides and shop owners provide mint springs to guests to dull the odour. You don’t have to buy anything in the shops in order to get the good view, but they are some of the best places for buying leather, if you’re in the market for something.
After the tannery, we had a long list of other sites to visit in Fez. We stopped by the gleaming gates of The Royal Palace, one of the main attractions in Fez. After admiring the gates, we walked just a few minutes away through the mellah, the historically Jewish quarter.
Then it was off to the medina—one of the most popular attractions—we wandered all the souks, soaking up the atmosphere of the busy passageways and small squares and getting thoroughly lost in the activity. There’s really no way to avoid getting a bit turned around, and finding your way out is fun anyway.
We saw an endless number of multi-colored lanterns, stacks and stacks of rugs for sale, and metalworkers shaping copper pots. Plenty of the shops in the souks are designed for tourists, but there are many more—like the professional knife sharpener—that are for locals.
There are also several historical sites in the 9th century medina that have helped Fez land a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Foremost among them is the University of Al Quaraouiyine. Founded in 859, it is considered the world’s oldest university. It is one of the top spiritual and educational institutions of the historic Muslim world and still instructs men and women in a variety of subjects. The courtyard’s colourful tile work and carved arches make Al Quaraouiyine one of the prettiest sites in the medina.
Day 4: The sights of Ifrane and Azrou
The midpoint of our 2 week Morocco itinerary was just about getting from one place to the next—making the 8-hour trip from Fez south to Merzouga, the entry point for Erg Chebbi and the Sahara. We stopped a few times along the way simply to break up the drive. The first stop was Ifrane, a city about an hour outside of Fez. In the Middle Atlas 5460 feet above sea level, the city has a Swiss alpine feel to it. The weather is cooler, houses have flower beds and red roofs, and there are parks and lakes.
In the winter, Ifrane is a ski resort so you really feel like you’ve been transported to Europe. Ifrane was quite a contrast to both where we had left—the hectic city of Fez—to the where we were going—the ruddy desert dunes. After a brief break in Ifrane, we made a quick pit stop in Azrou, which is known for its population of Barbary macaques. It’s possible to get close to them, but don’t feed them and guard your items closely because they are known for taking things. From Azrou, we then then drove to Midelt where we stayed the night.
Day 5: Visit Merzouga and Erg Chebbi
From Midelt we had a long day of driving and watching the landscape change. We drove through the mountains, past oases, and ultimately out to the desert but not before making a brief stop at Erfoud, famous for its fossils.
Located in the Sahara in southeastern Morocco, Merzouga is the gateway to Erg Chebbi, the point where many visitors enter the Morocco desert. When we arrived we found our camels waiting for us. Despite the fact that it was raining we climbed onto our camels and headed out to the desert. Our caravan of camels plodded through the golds and oranges of the undulating sand dunes, watching the waves of sand twist and turn along our path.
We arrived at our desert camp right after dark and quickly explored this hotel in the sand that was a completely new experience for us. With full showers, plumbing, and fabulously comfortable beds, there was almost nothing that felt like a camp other than the canvas walls. After dinner and another musical performance, it was bedtime.
Day 6: Experience the desert
We started the day off with a visit to a nearby village that included a performance by Gnawa musicians. The Gnawa are an ethnic group originally from West Africa who play a style of music based on African Islamic spiritual songs and rhythms. The performance involved lots of drums and hypnotic beats with call-and-response lyrics. There are many different musical traditions throughout the country, so it was interesting to see this one in the desert.
After the performance, we drove around the area to see the remains of traditional homes that had been constructed in the sand (and are now being reclaimed by the dunes). We then were treated to a tasty Berber pizza for lunch. Later on in the afternoon, we went quad biking in the desert and once again it was raining! However, Morocco is not complete without a quad driving across the Sahara Desert!
Day 7: Experience Todra Gorge and Ouarzazate
Like the drive out to the desert, the journey back east to Ouarzazate was long stretches of open road. But we did have the chance to stop for a while in the Todra Gorge. In the High Atlas, the Todra River carves out a deep red canyon. What it leaves behind are dramatic views of towering cliffs and lots of opportunities for rock climbing, wading in the water, and otherwise enjoying the outdoors. Despite the area’s remoteness, it’s one of the more popular places in Morocco for hiking. But by late afternoon, we were ready to settle into our hotel in Ouarzazate.
Day 8: Day in Ouarzazate
Close to the desert, the mountains, and an oasis, the city of Ouarzazate can double for just about any setting in North Africa, the Middle East, or an author’s fantasy world. That’s why it’s been used as the backdrop for everything from Game of Thrones to Gladiator and Lawrence of Arabia. In fact, this city that is likely not on the radar for most travelers, is home to the world’s largest movie studio by acreage, and you can walk among the sets for many of its productions.
The reason we chose Ouarzazate, though, was for its UNESCO World Heritage Site, Ait Benhaddou. The ksar (fortified village) was once an important stop on the former trading route between Marrakesh and the Sahara. Today, it’s a beautiful example of Southern Morocco architecture—earthen buildings surrounded by high walls.
From far away, the structure hardly looks real. It nearly blends into the ground around it, except for the pillars and relief carvings. Up close, we got an appreciation for the fragility of the construction, much of which has been rebuilt several times since its inception in the 17th century. Only a handful of families still live in Ait Benhaddou, but there are several shops, and a hike up provides great views (although we didn’t find going all the way to the top overly impressive).
Days 9-12: Visit Marrakech
After an overnight stay in Ait Benhaddou it was time to head for Marrakech. It had been snowing the past few days up in the mountains so our drive through them was more like being in Switzerland than in Morocco!
Marrakech is one of the best cities to visit here. No matter how long your Morocco trip is, Marrakech should be at the top of your itinerary. Once we arrived in Marrakech, we were taken on a guided tour of the medina and its enormous square, Jemaa el Fna. During the day, you’ll find juice stands and a handful of roaming vendors selling everything from jewellery to henna applications plus lots of people milling around and making their way from one place to the next.
However, before doing so we had a good look at the Koutoubia Mosque; it dates from the 1100s and is the largest mosque in Morocco. Although non-Muslims can’t go inside the red stone building, you can visit the gardens and admire it from the outside. At night, the Jemaa el Fna Square buzzes with bright lights and grills as dozens of open-air restaurants take over for the evening, accompanied by even more people selling all kinds of goods, playing music, and spinning tales. It’s quite something to see, and the square has been recognized by UNESCO for its unique, historical environment.
The activity continues inside the souks, which are also a highlight when you visit Marrakech. We wandered our way through the amazing colours of the dyers’ souk and to the spice souk, which is surrounded by modern cafes. As in Fez, we were taken in by the patterns of the carpets, the smells of the amazing food stalls, and the endless number of shoes and lanterns in all the rainbow-hued glory. There were stacks of olives as tall as a toddler, an enormous supply of every leather good you can imagine, plus silver, tea, and any other thing you could want.
The souks of Marrakesh wind for miles in a dizzying pattern of back alleys, dark doorways, and sun-speckled courtyards. There’s so much to see that you’re bound to miss most of it. Our guide showed us as much as our feet could stand on the first day, and we went back to explore more on the second day.
Day 10: Hot air balloon ride and Ourika Valley day trip
One of the highlights of this trip was to be the hot air balloon. The balloon ride was ok and the pilot was great but we didn’t really get to see a sunrise as it was rather misty and we were shoved in a basket with at least 20 other people. You could barely move.
After the balloon ride we were treated to breakfast, following which we were taken back to our hotel. A short while later we were off again, this time to the picturesque Ourika Valley. We made it all the way to Setti Fadma.
There are many restaurants and cafés along the river in Setti Fatma, ideal for a spot of lunch or a refreshing drink after hiking. Indeed, some of the tables and chairs sit directly in the shallows for patrons to soak their feet in the chilly gushing waters. Cross rickety-rope bridges, pick the perfect spot and dig into a tagine, flavourful fresh salad or brochette as the flowing waters soothe feet and souls alike.
Adventure-loving travellers could spend the afternoon rafting or kayaking along the river. Alternatively, set off on a gentle hike through the countryside, admire the lush greenery of the valley and the quaint Berber villages that speckle the landscapes.
Day 11: Ouzoud Waterfalls day trip
The Ouzoud Falls – Cascades d’Ouzoud – are 110 metres high, making it the second tallest waterfall in Africa. It’s a huge touristic destination and one of the most visited and photographed natural sites in all of Morocco. It stands atop of the Azilal region of Morocco, overlooking the Tanaghmeilt village. The waterfalls empty into the El-Abid River (Slaves’ River). The word ‘Ouzoud’ was said to be Berber for ‘the act of grinding grain.’ Apparently, a lot of the buildings there happened to be grinding mills which probably utilizing the force of the water.
Day 12: Essaouira day trip
There are lots of unusual things to see in Morocco, but one of the most unexpected must be goats in trees. Our last day in Marrakech included a day trip to Essaouira on the coast, and we encountered this unusual sight on the side of the road along the way. Historically, the goats climbed into the argan trees and ate the tough seeds that hang from the branches. Their “processing” of the seeds helped the farmers to extract the valuable contents inside the seeds. Today, machinery processes them more efficiently, so the snacking goats in trees are just for tourists, but it makes for an interesting stop on the 2.5-hour drive to Essaouira.
This lovely seaside city has a busy harbour with an active fishery and is a popular destination for windsurfing. Every day, fishermen line the harbour with their catch and deliver fresh fish to the restaurant kiosks near the water. If you’ve had your fill of chicken tagine elsewhere in the country, Essaouira is the perfect place to try some seafood.
The white-washed homes and businesses have blue shutters that look more like they belong in Santorini than Morocco, but the medina has looked this way for centuries. Inside the winding alleys of Essaouira’s medina, you’ll find craftspeople carving cabinets, numerous art galleries, and all manner of shops and restaurants. Many cafes have rooftop views that let you enjoy the sun and sea breeze. After all the activity the last two weeks, it’s nice to have a spot to sit and relax and watch the waves crash.
Days 13 to 14: See Rabat
After about four hours from Marrakech, we arrived in Rabat, the country’s capital. Wed made a beeline to Hassan’s Tower and the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, which contains the tombs of the King and his late sons King Hassan II and Prince Abdallah. The huge marble building topped with a green tiled roof has mosaics and a gold leaf ceiling, leaving no doubt about its importance to the Moroccan people.
Originally designed as a minaret base, the Hassan Tower features charming gardens and faces the Mausoleum of Mohammed V. There’s no charge to explore the remains of the mosque, which make for an atmospheric photo, and the tower is a common stop on Rabat city tours. While the red sandstone facades impress (each side is different), as do the mosque’s marble floor and ruined columns, it’s not currently possible to climb to the top of the tower.
The following day we headed to the Kasbah des Oudaias, a fortified portion of the old city that dates from the 12th century and sits on a bluff overlooking the ocean. The narrow, whitewashed lanes of the kasbah are full of homes with brightly-coloured doors that echo the blues of Chefchaouen on a much smaller scale. Following that we spent some time walking around the medina.
Most of it is residential, with very quiet and pretty streets, and plenty of cats roaming around. The part near the city is where the market is, with plenty of street food options. Rabat is not very touristy, the advantage being that you can see more genuine local life, and vendors don’t hassle you do buy stuff.
We were then whisked off to the Morocco Mall in Casablanca. Innovative, complete and modern, it is the largest shopping mall in Africa, ideal for your shopping days! The Morocco Mall is spread over 250,000m2 and contains more than 163 stores. A majestic aquarium, the 3rd largest in the world, stands in the centre of the mall. Here is where we enjoyed our last dinner before we flew back home!