Desert Itinerary – From Marrakech to Fez
Most people think of Marrakech as a short-break destination – and many of them fly in and out of the city’s airport. But we’re passionate about the beauty of the whole of Morocco and it’s something we fear many visitors miss out on.
This extraordinary country has Mediterranean and wild Atlantic coasts, turquoise lagoons to the south, historic cities including Fez and Meknes, mountains and expansive vistas of never ending desert plains. There is so much beauty to see.
Then of course there is the desert. And it’s like nothing else you’ve ever seen. Believe the hype. Sunrise with the dunes undulating into the distance all around you is magical.
If you can spare a week, we’d advise a couple of nights in Marrakech at either end – with a three-day desert trip in the middle to make the most of this beautiful country. This is a trip that allows you to see some of the most majestic – and unforgettable – landscapes of Morocco.
Day 1: Marrakech – Ait Benhaddou – Ouarzazate – Dades Gorge
Leave Marrakech and travel through the High Atlas Mountains via the Ticha Pass – the highest road in Morocco. Along the route, you’ll get panoramic views of the High Atlas Mountains and the magnificent surrounding landscapes.
You can also visit the ancient Kasbah of Ait Benhaddou. Every tribe in Morocco once had its own fortress and Ait Benhaddou is a 16th century UNESCO site – one of the best-preserved and most spectacular kasbahs in Morocco. Scenes from the blockbuster film Gladiator were filmed there so channel your inner Russell Crowe as you explore it.
You’ll then head towards Ouarzazate and, if movies are your thing, you can also stop to visit the Atlas Studios – the largest in the world by acreage. Filmmakers love these studios for their desert vistas and everything from Aladdin to Game of Thrones has been shot there.
The route further south is called the Road of the Thousand Kasbahs and you’ll also travel through the Valley of the Roses. Each year, 3000-4000 tons of flowers are produced here during the main growing season between April and mid-May. You’ll also pass through the beautiful Dades Gorge.
Day 2: Dades Gorges – Todra Gorges – Merzouga – Erg Chebbi
The highest sand dunes in Morocco can be found in Merzouga. This is where your desert experience really starts.
To reach Merzouga, you’ll drive through the huge canyons of the Todra Gorge with traditional Berber villages dotted in the surrounding landscape. Another stand out feature of this area is of course the palm-filled oases. These bright spots of lush green leap from out from the arid landscape surrounding them and the one at Erfoud is famous for its dates.
By the afternoon, you’ll reach Merzouga and travel to the dunes at Erg Chebbi. Most people reach Erg Chebbi on camels – be warned, it’s a pretty ‘rolling’ kind of ride – and this is where many of the best luxury desert camps are located.
Sunset and sunrise over the dunes are simply stunning. You’ll also get the chance to do some star gazing and eat dinner by an open fire before settling down for the night. Depending on your budget, this will be at the more chic end of the tent spectrum. Think Out of Africa.
Day 3: Merzouga Desert – Ziz Valley – Cedar Forest – Ifran – Fez
Climb to the top of the dunes to take in sunrise before returning to your camp for breakfast. On this final day of your trip, you’ll head to Fes, the ancient – and spiritual – capital of Morocco. It’s a truly amazing city with a dense medina that feels as if you’ve stepped back in time. The city is also packed with craftsmen.
On the journey there, you will pass through the city of Errachidia, the Valley of the Ziz and the cedar forest at Azrou – home to wild Barbary Apes. The final stop on your journey to Fez is the beautiful city of Ifran, known as the ‘Switzerland’ of Morocco.
We’d definitely advise spending a night in Fez. You’ll want to explore this beautiful city. And the next day, you can either drive back to Marrakech – stopping on the way back in the pretty ‘blue’ town of Chefchaouen that’s been captured on a thousand social media feeds. Or you can hop on a train. It meanders through verdant green countryside and is a stunning counterpoint to the desert landscapes you will so recently have been immersed in.
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