Morocco map & itineraries
Make the most of your time
If you are trying to work out where to go in Morocco, think of it as a three tiered cake. The base is the Sahara Desert, with nomadic culture, oases and stunning dune landscapes dominating much of the landscape. The second layer is the sea, with two very different maritime systems of the Mediterranean and Atlantic wafting their salty influences over the north and west coasts respectively. Standing tall on the top layer are the Atlas Mountains with Mount Toubkal, North Africa’s highest peak, dusted white for most of the year. Slice through the gateau of gorgeousness and you find the most delectable mélange of ingredients, with prolific Berber and Arab culture, imperial and colonial history, extraordinary trekking and cycling options, artisan crafts, gregarious people and superb food. And the icing on the cake? It’s all just three hours away.
This has been on the expert explorers’ radar for a long time, but lovers of Moroccan souks and seaside are now starting to embark on journeys up to its magnificent peaks. Hardcore hikers head for the High Atlas’ Mount Toubkal but there is superb walking to be had in the lower Atlas range too, with welcoming Berber people at wonderfully remote mountain villages.
Old and new, medinas and modern art. Chic and shabby. Casablanca certainly keeps you on your toes. It is also largest city in Morocco so a bit overwhelming. But a day trip is worthwhile, not least to see the contemporary chic Hassan II Mosque, one of the world’s largest, towering over the Atlantic. You can even see the sea bed under its floor, and laser pointing to Mecca.
This beautiful blue painted town appears in the slopes of the Rif Mountains like a sapphire glinting through a rock face. Perhaps inspired by its aesthetic, it has also become a centre for quality artists and artisan crafts people. Immersed in history, it protected the region from the invading Portuguese in the 15th century, and the museum is a must. Although its charming living culture is the real highlight.
Famous for its dazzling shades of blue, you’ll feel far from blue here, as the Moroccan culture, charm and creative savoir faire blows through every tiny street of this walled town, as strongly as the Atlantic winds off its shores. The fishing port is a blanket of blue boats, women dressed in blue clothing sell fish, shutters and doors are all painted blue and a sky that is almost always blue.
If Marrakech is the lion, Fez is the tiger. The one that doesn’t need to roar about how beautiful it is, and long admired for its innate elegance. It has a superbly preserved ancient Islamic heritage, with Attarine Madrassa, Moulay Idriss mausoleum and Karaouine Mosque as highlights. Its heart is the labyrinthine, car-free Fez el-Bali medina. The Fez Festival of Sacred Music in June is a fab event too.
Marrakech wears its heart on its sleeve. It’s out there. Bombarding the senses, enticing you out of your comfort zone and welcoming you into the fiesta. A fiesta of food, with spices, exotic fruits and mint tea everywhere. A fiesta of sounds. Drumming, snake charming, haggling. And a fiesta of culture, with the Koutoubia Mosque its centrepiece and Jemaa El-Fna Medina where all the action happens.
Only 45 minutes from Fez, this iconic Isma’ilian town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where you can stroll round the architectural and cultural highlights such as the Bab Mansour gate, Royal Stables, the old Habs Qara underground prison and the Jewish quarter, without being hassled. As it’s still not on the mass tourism trail. It’s also the nearest city to the Roman ruins of Volubilis.
The Atlas Mountains are one thing, but its highest point is one of the mothers of mountaineering. At 4,167m, it is the highest peak in North Africa. Even in spring and summer this is a strenuous hike when you need expert guidance and support. And in winter it’s a whole other ballgame again, when crampons, ice picks and a serious commitment to winter climbing come into play.
If you know the movies Lawrence of Arabia, Gladiator, Babel and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen you will have a clear picture of Ouarzazate already, as they were all shot here, its wild, desert landscapes and untouched villages proffering timeless backdrops. It’s the latest activity hub for adventurers heading into the mountains, desert and valleys.
Much upstaged by the Adonis-like Atlas Mountains, think of the Rif Mountains as his Aphrodite. More curvaceous, less Alpha Male somehow. In other words, the hiking is more laid back with remote hamlets and the Talassemtane National Park which is home to rare flora and fauna including Barbary Macaques, golden eagles and black kites. And at its heart, the gorgeous town of Chefchaouen, shining blue like Aphrodite’s finest jewel.
From small buffer towns, such as Zagora and Erfoud, take a camel ride into the dunes. If you remember the first time you saw the Alps, this is a similar thump in the chest moment, like you’ve landed in the heart of greatness. Don’t miss the chance to camp the night. This region is not to be confused with Western Sahara, further south, a long disputed territory.
Taroudant and the Drâa Valley
Sometimes called a ‘mini Marrakech’, this pre-Islamic walled town is in southern Morocco, about 75km inland from Agadir. Really this whole valley is still off the tourist trail, although hikers have discovered the hiking trails of the staggeringly beautiful Drâa Valley, with traditional agriculture omnipresent around the lush oases and dramatic gorges that run between Taroudant, Tafraoute and the Sahara.
Also known as the Todgha Gorge, this canyon is located in the eastern part of the High Atlas Mountains near the town of Tinerhir. The pink and orange limestone cliff walls are aglow not only with the sunlight that catches it at various points, but also with the buzz of serious climbers, who discovered this Atlas adventure centre a while back.
7 day cultural vacation: Fez - Meknes - Rabat - Casablanca - Essaouira - Marrakech
12 day desert, mountains and cities vacation: Marrakech - Rabat - Meknes - Fez - Sahara Desert - Todra Gorge - Dades Canyon - Ouarzazate - Ait Benhaddou - Marrakech
8 day family adventure vacation: Marrakech - Ait Benhaddou - Ouarzazate - Drâa Valley - Tamegroute - Sahara Desert - Marrakech
Travel times in Morocco
The following times give you a rough idea of the travel times between the main attractions in Morocco.
- Tangier - Fez: 4.5 hours by train
- Marrakech - Imlil: 1.5 hours by car
- Marrakech - Essaouira: 3.5 hours by car
- Imlil - Summit of Mount Toubkal: 1.5 days by foot
- Marrakech - Ouarzazate: 4 hours by car
- Ouarzazate - Zagora: 4 hours by car