Marrakech & the Sahara vacation in Morocco

“From the High Atlas Mountains to the Sahara Desert, this is an overland introduction to central Morocco culminating in one of the world's most exciting cities, Marrakech.”

Highlights

Draa Valley | Zagora | M'Hamid | camel trek in Sahara Desert | Ouarzazate | Kasbah Ait Benhaddou | High Atlas Mountains | Lawrence of Arabia and Gladiator film locations | early mornings over the Tijhza Valley | Tizi'n'Tichka pass | guided tour of Marrakech or free day to explore | Optional activities include hammam visits, horse drawn carriage rides and longer treks in Tijhza Valley |

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Date
Price
Basis
11 Feb 2017
US $ 615
excluding flights
Available
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25 Mar 2017
US $ 615
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15 Apr 2017
US $ 615
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26 Aug 2017
US $ 615
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21 Oct 2017
US $ 615
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23 Dec 2017
US $ 615
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10 Feb 2018
US $ 665
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07 Apr 2018
US $ 665
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18 Aug 2018
US $ 665
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20 Oct 2018
US $ 665
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22 Dec 2018
US $ 665
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Our top tip:
There's plenty of walking and driving involved so bring sensible footwear and an empty pillowcase to fill with comfy clothes in order to cushion lumps and bumps. Also, don't forget a toilet roll and a torch.
Trip type:
Small group. Avg 12. Min age 16.
Activity level:
Leisurely/Moderate.
Accomm:
5 nights en-suite hotel, 1 basic gite, 1 Bedouin camp - communal sleeping arrangements.
Included:
Accommodation, transport (including camel), listed activities and tour leader throughout.
Meals:
All breakfasts and 3 dinners.
Solos:
Single rooms available in hotels only (surcharges apply).
Vouchers
Accepted
Vacation type

Small group vacation

Small group travel is not large group travel scaled down. It is modelled on independent travel – but with the advantage of a group leader to take care of the itinerary, accommodation and tickets, and dealing with the language. It’s easy to tick off the big sights independently – but finding those one-off experiences, local festivals, traveling markets and secret viewpoints is almost impossible for someone without the insider knowledge gained from years in the field. If you’re heading off on a gap year your, perhaps – but for those with a two-week vacation, a small group tour will save valuable planning time.

The leaders are not guides – they’re not there to shepherd you around. Instead, they’ll let you know which local restaurant serves great value food – without running the risk of travelers’ tummy. They’ll allow you to avoid hour-long queues at train stations and attractions.

We like to think of small group travel as the Goldilocks option. It is independent travel without the fuss, worry and bunk beds – and organised travel without the coaches. And it’s cheaper than a tailor made tour. It’s sits somewhere in the middle – and we think it’s just about right.

What are the main benefits?
Big experiences
Have big, life-enriching experiences that would be impossible to organise without lots of time and insider knowledge.

Simplicity
Make the most of your vacation time by letting someone else do the hard work and boring logistics!

Peace of mind
Small group tours take care of the security aspects – and provide a safety net should anything unexpected happen.
Who is it ideal for?
Travelers who are short of time
If you don’t have three months to spend exploring, small groups trips let you cover more ground in less time. Your days are not spent queuing for tickets or finding hotels – so you can squeeze more into your vacation.

Solo travelers who’d like company
Likeminded travel companions plus peace of mind for those traveling alone. Single supplements are usually available – providing privacy if you want it.

Less confident travelers
Stray from the tourist trail without worrying about getting lost, and meet local people without dealing with the language barrier.
Mythbuster
“I won’t get any privacy!”
Couples and friends have private rooms, and you can choose to eat alone or not. Single supplements give solo travelers their own room.

“There won’t be any free time”
Free mornings or afternoons let you explore on your own, or just relax.

“The accommodation will be basic”
Trips are as high or low end as you like. Though off the beaten track destinations won’t have luxury hotels, this is all part of the adventure.

“I won’t like the other travelers!”
Tour operators try to create groups with a similar demographic – age, families, activity levels... Chances are, you’ll even make new friends.

“Will we be following an umbrella?”
No.
Valerie Parkinson
Meet a group Leader
Name: Valerie Parkinson

Story: The first British woman to climb Manaslu, Valerie climbed Everest for her 50th birthday. She’s spent fourteen Christmas Days trekking to Everest Base Camp, and is involved insetting up Responsible Tourism initiatives in the Himalayas.
Roshan Fernando
Meet a local guide
Name: Roshan Fernando

Story: Roshan has led over 130 trips – he adores showing travelers around Sri Lanka. He won the company Leader Award in 2010, but his career highlight was working on their Tsunami Project – which earned him a responsible tourism award.

Responsible tourism

Responsible tourism: Marrakech & the Sahara vacation in Morocco

Accommodation and Meals:
We spend 5 nights in en suite hotel rooms, 1 night at a gite and 1 night camping at a traditional Bedouin camp. Our local operators generally prefer to select accommodation which is locally owned in order to support smaller businesses and their employees. This ensures that most income generated is reinvested into the area and the community. Our suppliers are encouraged to create awareness of energy and water savings as Morocco can be arid in places. Consumption is often reduced by putting signs in the rooms and ensuring that employees are thoroughly aware of the issue. Most vegetables come from the region of Sous; meat is locally supplied by butchers and fruits can be found at markets or farms in the countryside. The main Moroccan dishes most people are familiar with are couscous, meat and vegetable tagines, fish chermoula and bocadillos, which are available from street stalls almost everywhere.

Local Craft and Culture:
We stop at a number of desert towns and mountain villages, including Zagora, Telouet and Tijhza before ending in Marrakech. On the way down to the Sahara camp we stop in one of the oldest villages in the area, Tamegroute. Here, clients can look around the village and learn about their traditional methods of making ceramic items. We can purchase souvenirs and rest assured that we are contributing to a sustainable industry which allows customary craftsmanship to continue. Another cultural highlight is Marrakech, where clients are encouraged to haggle for souvenirs, take a ride in a traditional Caliche, or to visit the world renowned Marjorelle gardens. In the evening, the Djemma el Fna central square comes alive with musicians, snake charmers, traveling acrobats and food stalls. This is the perfect opportunity to interact with local people, purchase locally produced handicrafts and to support small street vendors by trying authentic food.

Campaigning for Change:
In conjunction with Baraka Community Partnerships, we have sponsored the development of a small village called Tijhza for many years with a variety of projects. These include supplying a pipeline system and water tower to the village and a toilet block for the school. Thanks to our volunteer groups, Tijhza now also has electricity and an annual medical clinic, which has had a hugely positive effect on the welfare of the village. More recently, we have achieved our aim of building a Hammam to alleviate some of the hygiene issues in the area and to provide a sustainable source income for many inhabitants. Unfortunately, devastating storms struck in November 2014, leaving much of the village severely damaged. We were able to raise emergency funding to provide supplies and to re-build many of the homes affected.

Community:
Passing through Berber villages up in the High Atlas Mountains, hiring local guides, staying in local gites and using markets and mule transport has a positive impact on the local economy. There are also opportunities for us to stop at women’s co-operatives in the south east of the Atlas and in the Essaouira region. These co-operatives help local women to be more independent and take care of their children- especially if they are in difficult family situations. Stops can also be made at a care centre for those with disabilities, which aims to teach handicrafts skills and sell souvenirs. Also as we stay in Tighza, which is remote and still recovering from damages, our presence is really appreciated. Many clients like to leave behind items such as reading and writing materials and winter clothes which are taken in and re-distributed by a local association.

UK Office:
It all starts at home so we have first worked at reducing our carbon footprint in our UK Offices. Through energy conservation measures and recycling policies, we are proud to be actively reducing the waste produced and our impact on the environment. We support various projects all over the world to try and give something back to the places we visit.

Group Size:
This small group tour has a maximum of 16 participants, meaning that we have a low impact on the environments and communities we visit and are able to ensure that we do not disrupt or lead to the displacement of local people. The small number also allows us to stay in unique, family-run hotels that cannot benefit from coach tours and other mass tourism due to their limited sizes.

Reviews of Marrakech & the Sahara vacation in Morocco

You can trust Responsible Travel reviews because, unlike many other schemes, reviews can ONLY be written by people who we have verified have been on the vacations.

I am reborn! Simply the best vacation I have ever been on
Some great stories to tell the grandchildren. Would recommend to a friend
Very enjoyable
It was OK
A bit disappointing really

Reviewed on 14 Dec 2015 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your vacation?


This was an excellent trip. In the space of a week we visited the desert near M,Hamid, a Unesco World Heritage Site at Ait Benhaddou, the High Atlas mountains and the bustle of Marrakesh. Very varied and beautiful terrain, with two distinct types of people (Berbers and Arabs). The best bit was climbing a sand dune after a camel trek to our camp for the night.

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?


Remember that it can get cold in the desert in December, so bring a good sleeping bag (though warm blankets are available). Camels are not the most comfortable beasts to ride!

3. Did you feel that your vacation benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


Yes.

4. Finally, how would you rate your vacation overall?


Excellent. No criticisms whatsoever.

Reviewed on 13 May 2013 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your vacation?


The camel trip was a memorable experience, as was glamping* in the desert and star-gazing. Equally memorable is the trip into the ante-Atlas mountains, and stay in the peaceful village, with gorgeous views from the gite. [* some members of our group were disappointed that the campsite is far more luxury than they were expecting - has low-occupancy tents (2 or 3 sharing max), proper toilets (although flushed with a scoop of water from a bucket and not plumbed) and a 3 course dinner was served on ceramic plates with proper cutlery. Our hosts even managed to rustle up a birthday cake !]


2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?


Generally the quality of the accommodation is much better than you might expect from the trip notes. Sheets and blankets are provided at the gite and the camp site, so a light sleeping bag or liner should be sufficient - certainly from May- Sep (despite the trip notes recommending 3 season sleeping bag).
Group flights change at Casablanca airport for both outbound and return flights, to/from Heathrow. There are limited facilities particularly for the domestic transit lounge on the outgoing flight (you'll have a 3h wait). You can get small amounts of Dirham in the UK (at poor exchange rates) but Euros also seemed to be accepted at the one and only cafe/bar in the terminal and where the group congregated!
On the return leg, there was nowhere in Casablanca airport to exchange Dirham and most (Duty Free) outlets would not accept them for purchases even. Recommend you try to spend them in Marrakech. As a guide, £180 per person was plenty for the week for most people to cover meals, drinks, tips and small souvenirs. If you are not particular about returning to Heathrow or being on the group flights, there is a direct EasyJet flight to Gatwick leaving at a similar time to the group flights, for the return journey. This avoids another wait in Casablanca and Air Maroc were not the most efficient of check- in staff, to say the least!
Some members of our group flew out on the Saturday, because the group flights arrive in Ouarzazate quite late and you arrive at the hotel around 2am, leave to start the first day proper at 9am. This is something I wish I'd done!

3. Did you feel that your vacation benefited local people, reduced environmental impacts or supported conservation?


The tour operator runs a dedicated programme of volunteer trips in the mountain village, having recently completed building projects at the school, they are now funding and volunteers helping to build a hammam in the community. Restaurants and hotels visited were operated and seemed to employ locals. A visit to a co-op pottery benefits locals in the village.

4. Finally, how would you rate your vacation overall?


A whistle-stop tour of Southern Morocco, nicely topped off with a 2 nights in Marrakesh. Great trip for anyone looking for a variety of experiences - desert, mountains, city - packed into a week.

Reviewed on 21 Apr 2011 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your vacation?


Too many to mention! Walking in the Atlas in general was terrific with the beautiful scenery. Sleeping outside under the stars was also amazing.

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?


Sensible shoes! I know it's obvious, but there really is so much walking. Also if you get Abdulla as your guide, there are a lot of picnics, so some plastic utensils would have been really useful.

3. Did you feel that your vacation benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


Yes, as far as possible. However given the amount of water we consumed, I would have liked to know of a way to recycle the plastic bottles. Advice on this would be welcome.

4. Finally, how would you rate your vacation overall?


Second to none!

Reviewed on 15 Nov 2009 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your vacation?


Visiting the souks in Marrakech

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?


Go for it

3. Did you feel that your vacation benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


yes

4. Finally, how would you rate your vacation overall?


great

Reviewed on 07 Nov 2009 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your vacation?


Walking in the mountains and haggling in the souks

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?


take toilet paper and very warm clothes for the Sahara plus something to read as you spend quite a while driving

3. Did you feel that your vacation benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


a little

4. Finally, how would you rate your vacation overall?


Very enjoyable. The traveling to the Sahara isn't worth the journey as you don't get to see the real Sahara with its sand dunes etc. I would recommend a trip to the coast and take a camel ride there.

Reviewed on 13 May 2008 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your vacation?


Essaouira was just charming and tour guide (Youssef) in Marrakech really gave us a good overall flavour for the city considering limited time. Loved the place. All parts were memorable in their own way, was really pleased that we were able to experience dessert, mountains, coast and city all in 1 trip!

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?


If you are looking for a time efficient, hassle free vacation which allows you to experience so much in a short time this is definitely the one for you. Oh and don't forget the toilet roll!

3. Did you feel that your vacation benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


Yes, all guides were local, ate local produce and food and our guide was able to tip all those who helped/assisted us on the trip which was great.

4. Finally, how would you rate your vacation overall?


Great experience, fantastic place would definitely go back again. Made so much easier by the fact that everything was so well organised. (The only thing i would say is that there was a lot of traveling on Day 3 from Dessert to Ait ben hadou - which was quite tiring). Great group, great guides and definitely recommend it!

Reviewed on 03 Dec 2006 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your vacation?


The most memorable part was sleeping in the Sahara dessert and waking up to watch the sunrise. The town of Essouaira was fantastic also.

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?


I would tell them to book their own flights, as they are not good flights booked by the operator (arrive very late at night and leave at 9am via Casablanca which makes a possible 4 hour flight a 7 hour flight) I would also tell them to spend a day or two in Marrakesh before or after as there was not enough time to explore this city.

3. Did you feel that your vacation benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


I do think it benefited local people however I struggle to understand how they can justify using bottled water - bought in 600ml containers rather then by a 20L one (or equivalent) and encouraging people to refill water bottles - the environmental impact in producing bottled water is huge - 400 billion plastic water bottles are produced and disposed of every year and it costs.

Read the operator's response here:

We use Royal Air Maroc who fly use Casablanca as their hub which does mean that all flights will have a transit stop in Casablanca. The reason we use this airline is because we have an excellent working relationship with them, this means they are able to confirm seats for us when we require them. There are a huge amount of low cost carriers who fly direct to Morocco. However they only fly into Marrakech, as this trip starts in Ouarzazate we would be unable to use these carriers, starting in Ouarzazate also means we are able to cover more on the ground and reduce traveling time.

We are aware of the situation of the numerous amounts of bottles being used by tourists to the country. This is something we are addressing and are in discussions with our local operator. Unfortunately the 20 litres are unavailable in Morocco, the largest we can source is 5 litres, so we are looking into using these as well as trying to filter and purify local water.

Thank you for your comments and I am pleased to hear that overall you had an excellent trip.

Reviewed on 16 Apr 2006 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your vacation?


The most exciting part of my vacation was experiencing the most authentic of Moroccan treats - the hamman. Sadly this wasn't part of the pre-arranged tour, I guess it wouldn't have suited everybody, but it's well worth it!

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?


People booking this vacation need to know that you will spend the majority of the time (60%) on a bus.

3. Did you feel that your vacation benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


The vacation benefited some local people but I did not feel it was environmentally friendly at all. We covered 1500 miles in a bus, created tonnes of plastic water bottle waste and the amount of food we were given at hotels was enough for a party twice the size, so much was wasted.

4. Any other comments?


I did enjoy the vacation and loved the country but would only give it three stars.

Read the operator's response here:

Unfortunately to fit in all the sights on this trip it is necessary to cover the ground. We use appropriate vehicles that are regularly maintained and this ensures that they run as efficiently as possible. For the plastic bottle issue we are looking at providing a supply of drinking water that clients can fill their own bottles from to help mitigate this problem. Thank you very much for the feedback, it really helps us to make changes as we continually re-evaluate our performance.

Reviewed on 12 Mar 2006 by

1. What was the most memorable or exciting part of your vacation?


Riding camels into the desert, and sleeping out - night sky without light pollution.

2. What tips would you give other travelers booking this vacation?


Read the information carefully before you go! We didn't! Morocco in March is VERY COLD - hotel bedrooms may be unheated. Pack accordingly.

3. Did you feel that your vacation benefited local people, and minimized impacts on the environment?


Not sure. Better to have 16 in a bus than in eight separate cars and we ate at Moroccan restaurants, so probably yes.

4. Any other comments?


Excellent food except at the gite (which would be better described as a very basic youth hostel). It would have been nice to have two nights in one place, as there was slightly more bus travel than was comfortable, especially as the bus was small for 16 plus day sacks. We were the only retired couple on the bus, and the only ones with grandchildren, but felt entirely at home with the very friendly group and are now busy exchanging photos and e-mails. Would recommend it, but perhaps a month later when it would be warmer.

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