Southern Morocco Explorer

Morocco

Culture

The Anti Atlas, Berber villages & Sahara Desert

Dates & Prices

Intro

Enter a city of souks and colourful spice markets in lively Marrakech and watch a dramatic sunset from the peak of Erg Chigaga`s golden sand dunes in the Sahara. Wander around the abandoned kasbahs of the Draa Valley, marvel at prehistoric rock carvings and sip mint tea with the Berbers in the remote Anti Atlas. Travel to the far reaches of the Atlantic coastline and relax in the serene seaside town of Mirleft and its art deco neighbour, Sidi Ifni. Head north through Sous Massa National Park, a haven for birdlife, to the white-washed medina of picturesque Essaouira. Unwind in elegant riads, a luxury desert camp, finely renovated kasbahs and traditional guesthouses - capturing the essence of the real Morocco.

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

  • Eat street food in Djemaa el-Fna
  • Dine in a hidden Marrakshi palace
  • Barter in Marrakech's colourful souks
  • Travel the kasbah trail in the Draa Valley
  • Soak up coastal charm of Essaouira
  • Spice shopping in Marrakech

Places Visited

Marrakesh - High Atlas - Ait Benhaddou - Draa Valley - Erg Chigaga - Anti Atlas Mountains - Les Roches Bleues - Ameln Valley - Mirleft - Sidi Ifni - Essaouira - Souss Massa National Park

What's Included

Airport transfers
Ground transport
Accommodation
Breakfasts and some meals (refer to itinerary)
Entrance fees to sites
English-speaking guide
Activities as per itinerary
Itinerary & Map
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Day 1 : Arrival

On arrival you will be met at the airport by your guide and taken to your hotel in the Marrakech medina. 

Meal plan: n/a

Marrakesh (Marrakech in French) is the capital of the Moroccan south, an oasis town in hues of red, ochre and pink, rising up out of the dusty plains to the north of the Atlas Mountains. The ancient centre, a UNESCO Heritage Site, is said to be the second largest medieval complex in the world after Cairo. The medina (old town) of Marrakech is a beguiling labyrinth of alleyways, souks (markets) and workshops where little has changed since the Middle Ages. Although Marrakesh has a small selection of monuments and museums, such as the ancient Badi and Bahia Palaces, a world-famous botanical garden - Les Jardins Majorelle - and an impressive 12th Century rampart surrounding the city's medina, the real draw is the colourful, lively and exotic atmosphere of the main square, Djemaa El-Fna. The square is famous for it's orange-juice vendors, healers, henna tattoo artists, snake charmers, astrologers and acrobats. There are around 100 restaurants on Djemaa El-Fna, specializing in barbecues, tasty cooked salads and steaming snails. For the ultimate dinner theatre, look no further than the Gnaoua drummers, male belly dancers and Berber musicians surrounding the Djemaa dining action.

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Day 2 : Marrakech

You will be met at your accommodation and accompanied by an English-speaking city guide on a half day walking tour of the Marrakech medina. The focus of the tour is to introduce you to Marrakech with a walk through a traditional neighbourhood, visit to a communal bread oven, tour of artisan workshops in historic 'foundouk' coach-houses, as well as visiting the souks and the famous Djemaa el Fna square. Marrakech has a few interesting monuments such as the Bahia Palace and the Ben Youssef Madrassa which can be visited, time permitting. Overnight in Marrakech.

Meal plan: Breakfast

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Day 3 : High Atlas Mountains

Today, start your journey over the High Atlas Mountains and into the Moroccan south. Today's drive time is around five hours. The journey takes you up from the plains that surround Marrakech, through an ever-changing landscape and over the Col de Tichka, one of the highest mountain passes in North Africa. This 7,000ft pass is the gateway to the south and soon after crossing the pass you'll start to see changes in character and vegetation as the desert starts to stamp its imprint on the landscape. 

After the Tichka Pass, a winding country lane takes you to Telouet, a crumbling, and now uninhabited, kasbah (a building with fortifications) built over four centuries and once owned by the ex-governor of Marrakech. After visiting the kasbah you can enjoy a typical Moroccan meal sitting at low tables in a Saharan nomad tent. You then retrace your tracks back towards the Tichka Pass to rejoin the road to Ouarzazate. Your guesthouse for the night lies about an hour from the junction. Overnight in guesthouse.

Meal plan: Breakfast

The High Atlas mountains form the largest and most dramatic range in Morocco. It extends northeastward for 740 km, from the Atlantic Coast to the Algerian border. Many peaks exceed an elevation of 3,660 metres, including Mount Ayachi (3,737 metres), Mount M’Goun (4,071 metres), and Mount Toubkal (4,165 metres), the highest point in the Atlas Mountains. Well-known passes include Tichka (2,267 metres), Test (approximately 2,225 metres), and Talrhemt (approximatetely 2,210 metres). The lower slopes enclose well-watered valleys in which the Amazigh (Berber) peoples cultivate tiny irrigated fields. The mountains’ southern flanks, exposed to the hot, dry Saharan winds, are generally destitute of vegetation.

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Day 4 : Ait Benhaddou and Draa Valley

After breakfast set off for the UNESCO protected site of Ait Benhaddou (45 minutes from guesthouse). After your guided visit, continue your drive to the dramatic Draa Valley where you will stay in the village of Agdz. Check into the excellent boutique guesthouse (Bab El Oued), surrounded by partially inhabited crumbling kasbahs. Overnight in guesthouse.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Ait Benhaddou is the most celebrated and best preserved kasbah in Morocco. Ait Benhaddou is an 11th century “ksour” (a collection of kasbahs, or fortified houses) which is still inhabited by a handful of families. The kasbah has been restored with the help of UNESCO and the film industry and is one of the finest examples of mudbrick architecture in Morocco. The kasbah gained particular notoriety when scenes from Ridley Scott's epic “Gladiator” were filmed there.

The Draa Valley is one of the most spectacular regions in Morocco. The Draa River is the longest in Morocco and passes through some of the harshest environments in the world. Here you're in the northern Draa region where poor communities line the river, farming the cultivatable land with date palms, fruit orchards and vegetables for local consumption. The route is also lined with beautiful kasbahs all set against the backdrop of the anvil-shaped mountain, Jebel Kissane. The route south takes you to Agdz.

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Day 5 : Tamnougalt - Erg Chigaga

Morning visit to the enchanting Kasbah village of Tamnougalt, which is thought to date back to the 16th century. It has an interesting Jewish quarter and our local guide will show you around the interior of the Kasbah, its gardens and the warren of alleyways which make up the village. The journey continues along the banks of the Draa River, which might have water, as the flow is now regulated by a large reservoir to the east of Ouarzazate. When the river is in full flow it has an almost tropical feel to it as it passes through lush farmland and palm groves. 

Stop in Zagora for lunch and then continue on to M'Hamid, where the tarmac road ends. From there you start the bumpy drive through the 'hamada' (stone) desert to the golden sand dunes of Erg Chigaga in the Sahara Desert (2 hours). Depending if there has been any rainfall, you may see the black Saharan camels grazing on rare patches of grass, otherwise the terrain is dry as one would expect. 

On arrival at the desert camp, check into your luxury en-suite tent. Help yourself to drinks and later enjoy a sumptuous dinner in the tented dining area. Round off the night with some stargazing accompanied by more drinks and the sound of crackling embers emanating from the bonfire.

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

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Day 6 : Erg Chigaga

Today is a free day in the desert. Take a morning camel ride into the dunes led by one of the local Tuareg nomads. Before the temperature picks up too much, return to the camp for lunch and spend the afternoon at leisure. Early evening, we take the jeep to one of the biggest dunes in the area where we hike to the peak of one its ridges and enjoy a sun-downer whilst watching a spectacular sunset over the golden dunes. Return to the camp for another hearty meal, drinks and some more stargazing. Local Tuareg musicians occasionally perform traditional music.

Meal plan: Breakfast, lunch & dinner

Erg Chigaga is one of two ergs in Morocco - large, windswept areas of sand without plants or trees. Their deep red colour and perfectly formed peaks of soft sand are the classic image of the Saharan Desert and watching the sun set behind the tall ridges is sure to be one of the most impressive sights of the whole trip. A camel ride through the golden desert will also be an experience you never forget.

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Day 7 : Anti Atlas Mountains (Tata)

Today we start early from the camp for the long drive (6 -7 hours), travelling across the Erg Chigaga massif in the shadow of the Jebel Bani mountain range. The landscape in the region is a spectacular mix of sand dunes, rugged mountains, dry salt lakes and rocky adventurous 4x4 roads. The first half of the journey is off-road (prepare for a bumpy drive!) before joining a smoother tarmac road from Foum Zgid to Tata, a small oasis town surrounded by barren mountains at the eastern flank of the Anti Atlas. We will take regular breaks for refreshments and photos. Check into the local guesthouse in Tata where our hosts will serve up traditional Berber fare. Evening free to relax.

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

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Day 8 : Anti Atlas Mountains (Tafraoute)

Today's half day journey is divided between tarmac routes and jeep roads, taking in some of the finest scenery in southern Morocco. The region is home to luxuriant palm groves, gorges, barren mountains, and around the village of Tafraoute, an extraordinary boulder-strewn landscape reminiscent of parts of the southern USA. Today you'll visit (and can have lunch in) the magnificent Ait Mansour Gorge - a haven of peace where a ribbon of water cuts through a deep gorge which is home to beautifully scenic gardens. Sadly the gorge has lost many of its inhabitants to Morocco's larger towns, fleeing to seek paid work in light of the region's limited economy of almonds and dates. This is the main reason why you will see mainly women, dressed in black and fiercely traditional, in the villages given the exodus of men to the cities. 

Settle into a traditional guesthouse, situated in a small village in the Ameln Valley (Almond Valley), a few kilometres from Tafraoute.

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

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Day 9 : Les Roches Bleues and Ameln Valley

Today is yours to do as you please under the guidance and advice of your guide. The car(s) will be available to those who would like to visit Les Roches Bleues or some of the wonderful villages in the Ameln Valley. Others may prefer to explore the towering granite peaks that surround Tafraoute by foot.

Meal plan: Breakfast & dinner

Les Roches Bleues are a collection of huge boulders painted primary colours by a Belgian artist, Jean Verame. The blue, red and yellow rocks are emphasised by the natural scenery surrounding them and inspire some wonderful photos. 

The beautiful Ameln Valley is full of villages with their bright, painted buildings and tiny mosques. Nestled amongst the red rock formations of Tafraoute, it is a pleasant walk between many of them, exploring and uncovering the nooks and crannies of these quiet almond groves.    

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Day 10 : Mirleft

Waking up early, today you'll take a scenic drive through the mountains to the west of Tafraoute, keeping an eye out for the wild boars that roam the region and can sometimes be sighted in the mornings. The road drops away from the Col de Kerdous, revealing spectacular views towards the Atlantic coast. The drive to Tiznit, a pleasant walled town well known for its excellent silver jewellery, takes around two hours before we wind our way down to the ocean and the quiet coastal village of Mirleft. Spend two nights right on the coast, just south of Mirleft.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Mirleft is a coastal village which attracts visitors looking for peace, quiet and good beaches - the kind some search for their whole lives! Many people find it here - the village has a slightly bohemian feel to it and is situated 30 kilometres from the pleasant seaside town of Sidi Ifni. Mirleft has several small restaurants and cafes in its location below an ancient hilltop fort.

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Day 11 : Sidi Ifni

Today is an easy-going day on the shores of the Atlantic with a walk along the famous Legzira beach, well known for its ochre coastal arches and eroded sandstone rock formations. The beach is situated a few minutes north of Sidi Ifni, another coastal town full of character and off-beat charm. Life goes at an easy pace here and the town has several appealing places to eat, as well as some art deco architecture - a relic of the Spanish occupancy of the Western Sahara (formerly 'Spanish Sahara') which lies further south. For those who want to really relax, either at the hotel's pool or at the beach below the guest house, then time can easily be built in for this. At the other end of the scale, there are also a number of sporting activities possible in the area such as paragliding, mountain biking, surfing and quad biking.

Meal plan: Breakfast

In 1860, following the Treaty of Tangiers, Sidi Ifni was conceded to Spain after the Moroccan-Spanish war. It only returned to Moroccan hands in 1969 and its unusual art deco style is a reminder of the centuries it spent under French and Spanish rule. It is an interesting place to wander around and soak up the atmosphere as this laid back beach town is a mecca for surfers and beach walkers but retains its natural charm and character.

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Day 12 : Souss Massa National Park - Essaouira

Today brings with it a wonderful journey up the Atlantic Coast to Morocco's whitewashed and weather-beaten beachside gem, Essaouira. This journey takes the best part of the day, stopping in the stunning Souss Massa National Park, before continuing on the final three hours to Essaouira. On arrival you will be taken to check in at your guest house in the heart of the medina.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Souss Massa National Park is one of Morocco's most important habitats for birds, particularly noted for its colony of the rare bald ibis. People flock (if you pardon the pun) from all over the world to the park, which is also home to many sedentary birds including the kingfisher, cormorant, Elonard’s falcon and curlew. Depending on the time of year, migrating birds will join them, such as the glossy ibis, crane, pink flamingo and spoonbill.

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Day 13 : Essaouira

Today is yours to explore the picturesque medina of Essaouira or participate in one of the many optional activities available in and around town. There are possibilities to surf, wind surf, fish, sail, and quad bike or take a Moroccan cookery class at the L'Atelier Madad.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Due west of Marrakech on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, lies Essaouira, a strikingly picturesque 18th century fort town. The town boasts an attractive main square, a whitewashed medina and a wide, sweeping bay. Scattered with blue fishing boats, the harbour is a hive of activity full of people pulling in the daily catch. Seeing the original European cannons of the ruined fortress is an interesting way of spending the day, letting Essaouira's long history invade your senses. As a classic Atlantic town its hassle-free atmosphere makes Essaouira a great place to buy local crafts and bask in the laid back end to your trip.

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Day 14 : Departure

The final day arrives as you are transferred the two and a half hours to Marrakech airport for your onward travel home.

Meal plan: Breakfast

Extensions

Southern Morocco Explorer (14 days)

The Anti Atlas, Berber villages & Sahara Desert

Classic Morocco (13 days)

Imperial cities, Sahara Desert and the Atlantic Coast

Exotic Flavours of Morocco (8 days)

Discover Berber culture & cuisine

Reviews

What`s staggering about this journey is the sheer beauty and drama of places which are hardly known to most travellers - from the jaw-dropping granite rock faces of the Anti-Atlas Mountains to the wild shores and tranquil fishing villages of the Atlantic Coast.

Charlie , Southern Morocco Explorer, Morocco

The trip was fabulous. I can’t imagine why it wasn’t booked fully immediately when you announced it. There were no major glitches, and really no minor glitches. The electrical grid was down for 13 hours at Traditional Maison area, but that is far beyond the control of Travel the Unknown, and, frankly, it adds to the charm of the experience!!! As for our guide Omar and our driver Mohammad for two weeks, they were the BEST !!!! Smart, bright, great sense of humor, good command of English — everything you could ask for. We highly recommend them, and would request them again, if we go to Morocco. Form & balance: perfect balance between travel, sightseeing and free time. Again, many, many thanks for a GREAT trip. We could not have asked for a better adventure !!!

Kenneth Gassman - Southern Morocco Explorer ,
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