Morocco is an exotic destination. Being only a few hours from Europe it’s almost a weekend destination. Yet when you first step foot into Marrakesh, it’s easy to feel like you’ve travelled back in time. The packed laneways of the old towns appear to run as they would have done a century ago. Donkeys parade past storefronts carrying goods. Local women sit in doorways tending to their crafts. Kids play in the squares, drinking from town fountains. But when you get out of the old towns, the landscape comes alive with the golden orange hues of the Saharan Desert. Spending 9 days in Morocco allows you to see exquisite Moorish details, explore mud-brick movie sets and live like a Bedouin.

This itinerary covering 9 days in Morocco, explores Marrakesh and Fes on foot, and the High Atlas Mountains on wheels. The roads in Morocco are very good and – with a deft navigator on hand – it’s easy to get around yourself. Prepare to be immersed in an exotic culture, fantastic food and some incredible scenery on your 9 days in Morocco.

Trip Overview

2 Days
1 Day
2 Days
2 Days
2 Days
Exploring the souks of Marrakesh
Driving over the Atlas Mountains to Aït Benhaddou
Exploring Skoura, Todra and Dadès Valleys
Living like a Bedouin in the Sahara
Getting lost in the ancient town of Fes

Watching the stars sparkle above the silent dunes
Sheer excitement of daily life in Marrakesh and Fes
Getting lost, finding yourself, getting lost again
Rugged red rock scenery pierced with green oasis
Tasty street food washed down with mint tea
Great hotels at great value for money

Why we loved Morocco

Trip Overview

2 Days
1 Day
2 Days
2 Days
2 Days
Exploring the souks of Marrakesh
Driving over the Atlas Mountains to Aït Benhaddou
Exploring Skoura, Todra and Dadès Valleys
Living like a Bedouin in the Sahara
Getting lost in the ancient town of Fes

Why we loved Morocco

Watching the stars sparkle above the silent dunes
Sheer excitement of daily life in Marrakesh and Fes
Getting lost, finding yourself, getting lost again
Rugged red rock scenery pierced with green oasis
Tasty street food washed down with mint tea
Great hotels at great value for money

Exotic Moroccan Road Trip in 9 Days.

Day 1 | Old Town Marrakesh

Spend the first day of your 9 days in Morocco exploring Marrakesh. Begin by taking a stroll around the central souks. It’s best to not worry too much about a plan – just allow yourself to get lost. Collect a morning coffee at Café Arabe on Rue Mouassine, before checking out the nearby mosque, library and hammam. The Mouassine Fountain just beside the mosque is an excellent example of Moroccan wood carving that you will soon discover all over Marrakesh.

Continue through the souks to the Ben Youssef Madrasa. In 1570 the Madrasa became the largest centre for qur’anic learning in the area. It’s a stunning building with beautiful Moorish architecture, creating a tranquil oasis in the centre of the old town. The ornately carved balconies, incredible courtyards and intricate calligraphy make this a sublime experience.

Pop into the Musée de Marrakech – an absolute gem of a museum – before heading to La Maison de la Photographie, an interesting exhibition of photography techniques through the ages. Stop for lunch at one of the many local market stalls nearby for a delicious snack on the go. Next, check out some of the impressive fondouks. These artistic courtyards are full of artesian craftsmanship covering a number of different disciplines. We particularly liked Fondouk Namas for its very photographic display of handwoven carpets.

As the feet grow weary, grab an afternoon mint tea at Café Des Épices. Perfectly situated on the busy Rahba Kedima Square, it’s a fantastic spot to watch the busy world of Marrakesh go by. Finally, continue on to Jemaa el Fna and spend what’s left of the late afternoon exploring one of the most impressive night markets in the world. Hustle your way into a balcony seat overlooking the market at Café du Grand Balcon and watch the sun go down and the lights come up over the spectacle of Jemaa el Fna. Read about our experience at this amazing market.

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Riad Moucharabieh, Marrakesh
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The assault on the senses as night falls on the Jemaa el Fna

Day 2 | Exploring local Marrakesh

This morning, explore the slightly less visited southern and eastern parts of Marrakesh Medina. Start at Bab Agnaou and head east to check out the Saadian Tombs. Located on the south side of the Kasbah Mosque, the tombs date back to the 16th century but were only discovered in 1917. They have since been renovated showcasing their decorations in exquisite detail.

Explore the area around Rue de la Kasbah – south of the tombs – which still feels like Morocco of yesteryear. The tourist-friendly market stalls of the old town are replaced with functioning food vendors serving a predominately local market. It’s a fantastic area to stroll around, capturing that traditional Moroccan feel. Have a drink on the top floor at Kosybar overlooking the El Badi Palace.

Next up, head to the Grand Bijouterie, an atmospheric market selling all things gold and silver. Once you’ve purchased some trinkets, continue strolling around Place des Ferblantiers and find a local stall to grab some lunch. After lunch, wander around Mellah, a walled Jewish quarter. As the residential area for the Jewish community, it contained a wealth of artesian vendors. Today, the Jewish population is much smaller, but the atmosphere lives on.

After exploring the Mellah, take in some of the fascinating riads in the area. Dar Si Said contains an interesting collecting of Moroccan artwork including ceramics, embroidery and weapons, while Bahia Palace was intended to be the greatest palace of its time. Finally, Maison Tiskiwin provides a fascinating insight into the trading routes between the Sahara and Marrakesh.

Round out the day with a top-notch dinner at Le Fondouk, specialising in traditional Moroccan dishes with a fantastic rooftop dining area. Make sure you book in advance.

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Riad Moucharabieh, Marrakesh
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Intricate beauty of the Saadian tombs
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Day 3 | Drive over Atlas Mountains to Aït Benhaddou & Ouarzazate

Today, commence your road trip through the stunning High Atlas Mountains. Pick up a hire car from the outskirts of Marrakesh and set off towards Ouarzazate. Take the N9 that rises up over Tizi n’Tichka pass for some dramatic scenery. This is the gateway to Western Sahara and, at an elevation of 2,260 metres, the highest mountain pass in North Africa. It’s a sensational drive but check before you leave as the road can be closed during winter.

Just before reaching Ouarzazate turn left on the P1506 towards Aït Benhaddou. It’s easy to see why this stop on the former caravan route has been used in so many feature films. As one of the best-preserved examples of Moroccan clay architecture, it was good enough for the likes of Gladiator, Jesus of Nazareth and Lawrence of Arabia. Park in town and make your way down the hill, cross over the riverbed and enter the Kasbah. You may have to pay some Dirham to get across the river, or into the Kasbah through someone’s house. Once inside, stroll around and make your way to the top for views over the surrounding landscape.

Back in your car, head further north on the P1506 to Tamdaght Kasbah (15 minutes). The Kasbah is perched on a rock with the dry river bed swirling around it. For a quick 15 minute detour, it presents some great photo opportunities.

Finally get back in the car and head into Ouarzazate for the night.

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Dar Kamar, Ouarzazate
Marrakesh to Ouarzazate: 4 hours, 45 minutes. (Including 1 hour of detours)
Strolling around the crumbling Kasbah of Aït Benhaddou

Day 4 | Desolate Draa Valley and Sumptuous Gardens in Skoura

This morning, leave Ouarzazate early to make your way southeast towards Tamnougalt to experience the desolate Draa Valley. The joy of this drive is following the contours of a small river (Oued Draa) as it winds itself through the valley. At times the river disappears underground only to reappear again in a lush, green oasis. Make your first stop Tizi’n-Tinififft, a rubble-filled canyon almost 1700 metres deep, about 1 hour from Ouarzazate. If you have a 4WD it’s possible to take the car down to the canyon and explore a bit more. We did not have a 4WD. Instead, we spent most of our morning trying to get our little 2WD back out of the canyon.

Next, drive 25 minutes further to Agdz. This is a beautiful oasis full of palms, gardens and mud-baked Kasbahs. It’s straightforward to stroll around by yourself but if you look interested enough, someone will find you and offer to act as your guide. We had a very interesting tour from a local man who was happy to show us around for a few dirhams.

Finally, make your way to Tamnougalt (another 15 minutes), a large and impressive Kasbah. There is an entry fee and compulsory guide who will give you some insights into the different cultures that lived there. While it’s a bit of a ruin its very atmospheric and the views over the valley are great.

To make your way to your accommodation for this evening, head back to Ouarzazate then go east on the N10 to Skoura. Here, we stayed in one of the most atmospheric places we have ever stayed in, Les Jardins de Skoura. With extremely complicated instructions from our host including crossing a dry river bed and turning at a strategically positioned drum, there was a sense of achievement just making it there. But it’s well worth it. The stunning setting, beautiful gardens, interesting food and charming hosts made it a fantastic experience.

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Les Jardins de Skoura, Skoura
Ouarzazate – Tamnougalt – Skoura: 3 hours, 40 minutes
Exploring the lush green oasis framed by rugged red rock

Day 5 | Todra Gorge and Dadès Valley

Today, head west on the N10 to explore another natural wonder in Morocco, the Dadès Valley. Carved out by the Dadès River some 350 kilometres away in the High Atlas Mountains, the valley is a spectacle of multi-coloured sand and rock. Some sections up to 500 metres high.

The valley is explored by turning left at Boumaine Dadès (1hour drive) and heading north on the R704. The road winds up the valley getting narrower and narrower as you proceed. The crests of green amongst the barren red rock make a spectacular visual combination. Stop the car and get out for photo opportunities whenever the urge takes you. We went as far and Tisdrine (about 45 minutes from the turnoff), which sits at the top of a series of dramatic hairpin turns climbing up the valley wall. Go back the way you came on the R704 to get back on the N10.

Once back on the N10, head east to the Todra Gorge – another 1 hour away. The drive is stunningly scenic with the rugged mesas of Jbel Saghro to your south. To visit the gorge, you have to leave the N10 at Tinghir and drive north on the R703. This road winds through the gorge offering a number of classic photo opportunities. Unfortunately, during our visit, work was being done to the road and so, Todra Gorge was a bit of a mess. Hopefully, it’ll be in better shape on your 9 days in Morocco.

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Dar Ayour Guesthouse, Todra Gorge
Skoura – Boumaine Dadès – Todra Gorge – Tinghir: 4 hours
Stunning views driving across the Dadès Valley

Day 6 | Merzouga and the Erg Chebbi Dunes

Today, head deep into the desert to a small settlement called Merzouga. The drive to get there along the R113, N12 and N13 covers a beautiful – but very desolate – desert and mountain vista. The odd green oasis punctures the view at various points creating an exotic feel. It’s like driving in some kind of desert-based movie. It’s a fantastic way to get away from it all and experience the beginning of Western Sahara.

Near Merzouga, locate Hotel Kasbah Mohayut to join a 1-night camel trip into the desert. The trips leave from the hotel in the late afternoon. It’s an excellent experience and a great way to see the Erg Chebbi dunes. An erg is a large area of dunes, formed by wind-blown sand. Erg Chebbi is one of two in the Sahara and it’s a fantastic sight to see. While the camels out to the erg aren’t that comfortable, seeing sand for miles will make enduring some butt-pain well worth it. The tour stops at a desert camp for the evening where you’ll enjoy some local food and experience the Bedouin lifestyle. If only for one night.

The tents are very comfortable with a communal bathroom and proper flushing toilets. As the sun sets you’ll sit beside a campfire, sing songs, swap stories and live the desert life.

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Desert Camp near Merzouga
Todra Gorge to Merzouga: 2 hours, 45 minutes
Living like a Bedouin in the beautiful Sahara Dessert

Day 7 | Relaxing day in the desert

After breakfast, you’ll make your way back on those uncomfortable camels to the hotel. We spent the day relaxing by their pool, catching up on sleep and enjoying some well-earned rest. There are a number of other activities you can organise from the hotel, including quad biking in the desert, or you can just do as we did and sit by the pool all day.

Strolling out into the dunes at sunrise and sunset is a fantastic way to see the changing colours of the desert. If you are here during summer you can take part in a Moroccan ritual. As a treatment for rheumatism, Moroccan’s will allow themselves to be buried neck deep in the sand for a few minutes at a time. What might be considered torture for some is a hopeful cure for others.

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Hotel Mohayut, Merzouga
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The changing colours of the shifting dunes at sunrise and sunset

Day 8 | Drive to Fes

It’s a long driving day today as you make your way up the Ziz valley to Fes. The whole drive takes 7 hours to complete. It’s best to start early and tuck the miles behind you.

As there are no cars in Fes, the best option is to drop your car back at your car hire place outside the old town. Depending on where your hire car company is located, you may need to get a taxi to the old town medina gates. We managed to arrange for our hire car company to come and meet us in one of the car parks just outside the old town. This sounded like a good idea at the time, but navigation in Fes is difficult. We ended up accidentally driving down a pedestrian lane that got narrow and narrower. With chickens flying over the bonnet, we endured the embarrassment of needing to get the shop owners to move their goods so we could squeeze our car out of our narrow predicament.

Once outside the old town, you will need to take your bags into your hotel by foot. There will be a number of people with wheelbarrows offering to carry your stuff for you. Given the number of wheel-barrows that came flocking in our direction, it appears this is a good money spinner for Fesians. Even if you can manage your bags like a well-travelled pro, it’s not a bad idea to take them up on their two-wheeled offer. Fes is a complete labyrinth. Finding your hotel will be a test of your sense of direction, so a little local guidance may not go astray.

Spend the evening wandering around the old town, allowing yourself to be amazed that a place like Fes still exists. Much more battered than the slightly glossed up, tourist-friendly Marrakesh, Fes is old-school Moroccan living.

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Riad La Maison Bleue, Fes
Merzouga to Fes: 7 hours
Arriving in the different world that is Fes

Day 9 | Day in Fes

A day in Fes is not so much about ticking off sights, it’s about just strolling around and taking it all in. It’s hard to picture a town with so much authenticity. Time appears to have forgotten Fes. Everything seems to run exactly as it did 400 years ago. Old ladies sit in doorways making crafts to sell to locals, live animals are purchased at the market and dragged home still kicking. The laneways are an intricate web of confusion. We often got so lost we had to pay kids to take us to where we wanted to go. Some of the lanes are so tightly packed its necessary to step into a shop door to allow a donkey to pass by.

Some of the sights you do want to collect on your day in Fes are Bou Inania Madrasa, a theological college with extremely elaborate mosaics, and the Royal Palace. While not open to the public, the colossal brass doors of the palace have visitors lined up for an iconic photo opportunity. At the Moulay Abdellah Quarter, you’ll witness the leather drying process local craftsman have perfected over the eons.

In the afternoon enjoy a coffee at Café Clock. Here you’ll sit on refurbish chairs collected from nearby souks, listen to Moroccan hip hop and relax in one of their many spaces. For dinner this evening, try the incredibly atmospheric restaurant at the Riad Dar Anebar. Sitting in their opulent courtyard, sipping mint tea and savouring fine Moroccan cooking is an excellent way to round out your 9 days in Morocco.

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Riad La Maison Bleue, Fes
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Watching chickens being bought and sold in Fes medina
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Itinerary Amendments

  • Our 9 days in Morocco itinerary may seem like a lot of driving but the roads are good, traffic is minimal and the scenery is stunning. Having said that, the drive up to Fes was a bit of a slog. It might be worth doing some of it the night before and finding a place to stop mid-way.
  • Les Jardin de Skoura was beautiful. If you are looking for a bit of extra downtime – sitting in their garden, reading a book, doing nothing all day – this would be a good place to add an extra night.
  • If you have some extra days and are feeling energetic, you could include a hike in the Atlas Mountains or Jbel Sarhro. Both looked great but we didn’t have the time.
Guide Books & Reading

We used the Lonely Planet Morocco (Travel Guide) to help plan our 9 days in Morocco and locate some good accommodation and food options. It’s also handy for maps in the towns. Keep in mind that in Fes, maps are pretty much useless. It’s best just to find your own way around or pay some local kids to take you where you want to go.

For a lighthearted and fascinating read about the trials of building a riad in Fes, try A House in Fez: Building a Life in the Ancient Heart of Morocco by Susannah Clarke.

    

Booking Tips & Checklist


  • We hired a 2-wheel car with low clearance which was fine, except for going down the Tizi’n-Tinififf, where it wasn’t fine. If you’re happy with the extra expense, having a 4-wheel drive will open up a few more options to explore south of the Atlas Mountains.
  • Pick up the car after spending two days in Marrakesh so you don’t need to worry about it or pay for parking. Drop it back as you arrive in Fes.
  • Apart from hotels and the night in the desert, nothing else required advance booking in Morocco. However, restaurants in Marrakesh can get very busy so it’s a good idea to make a reservation if you have your eye on a particular place.

Hotels to Book


The accommodation in Morocco feels as exotic as the country itself. The riads in the town centres are like an oasis of lush living within the dusty run-down feel of the medinas. To follow this itinerary you will need to book the following. Our accommodation choices are included, all of which we recommend.

2 nights Marrakesh | Riad Moucharabieh
1 night Ouarzazate | Dar Kamar
1 night Skoura | Les Jardins de Skoura
1 night Todra Gorge | Dar Ayour Guesthouse
2 nights Merzouga (including 1 night in the desert camp | Hotel Mohayut
2 nights Fes | Riad La Maison Bleue