I recently came back from a trip to Morocco… and I have to say this trip ties with Iceland as one of the best places I have travelled to! However I urge you to avoid only visiting the tourist-populated Marrakech, because the best parts of Morocco that I saw were during a three-day tour with Moroccan Exploration Trips.
With this tour company you can customise an itinerary or choose an existing one, Alex and I decided we wanted to begin in Fez and end in Marrakech. It is a completely family-run company from the Merzouga Desert, and everyone I met from their huge family was extremely gracious and kind. For this blog post I will go into the specifics of our itinerary and share exactly why you need to go to the Sahara Desert on your trip to Morocco!
FIRST… Should you join a tour or do a self-planned trip?
Before going to Morocco I knew I wanted to go to the desert but was unsure if I should do a private tour versus renting a car. After going on the tour I would highly discourage renting a car — driving in Morocco is very hectic and could be dangerous if you are not used to it. Also having a local tour guide means you get to stop at sites that are not tourist-populated and learn so much more about the culture. It was the amount I learned from our tour guide, Mohammed, about Morocco which made this trip feel much more meaningful and significant to me.
SECOND… Is Morocco safe?
I didn’t feel unsafe in Morocco but it can be overwhelming! Especially in Marrakech, in fact I had some bad experiences there which I will write about in a separate post. However every second that we were with our tour guide, Mohammed, I felt extremely safe. He was always watching out for us and it was obvious how much he cares for his clients and his company. He truly wants to share his home and show others why Morocco is such an amazing place! All the places we visited during the tour showed me how amazing and generous Moroccans are. It was only once we were dropped off at the end of our tour in Marrakech and had to say goodbye to Mohammed that I felt uneasy.
THIRD… What is included in the tour?
Private transportation in a 4×4 wheeler with A.C. and fuel, an English-speaking driver (in our case), accommodation with breakfasts and dinners for 2 nights, camel ride experience, water bottles and snacks during the drive.
Not included: Tips, lunches
Check out our vlog from the trip:
DAY 1: We flew into Fez one day before our tour began and stayed at Riad Al Makan. The next morning we were up at 8am to meet our tour guide Mohammed outside our riad! From then our jam-packed itinerary began! We had a long drive ahead of us to get to the desert, but it felt totally fine because of the stops Mohammed had planned to show us which broke the trip up very evenly. Here are some of the stops we made:
Ifrane –> Located in the middle Atlas Mountains is this town, it is famous for its skiing during winter and for its high-ranking university. The town definitely gives off luxurious resort vibes, it also sports European architecture from its colonisation by the French.
Monkey Forest –> We stopped to play with some monkeys not far outside of Ifrane. Super cute!
Lunch in Midelt –> The tour includes your breakfast and dinner costs but not lunch. Luckily all the lunch spots we went to were delicious and affordable.
Ziz Valley –> This valley has a river which reaches from Morocco to Algeria, the gorge is extremely beautiful with so many palm trees.
Arrive to Merzouga –> We reached the desert at around 5pm, giving us time for a sunset camel ride to our camp for the night. We stayed at the Milky Way Desert Camp, which had great accommodations, yummy food, and kind staff. We were served dinner then listened to the Berber’s play drums for us around a fireplace. I have never seen so many shooting stars, it was truly an amazing night that I will cherish in my memories forever!
DAY 2: Our second day was journeying to the Dades Valley. We started off waking up at 7am to watch the desert sunrise. Next we had delicious breakfast with Moroccan coffee before packing our things and riding our camels back to meet Mohammed. Along this drives these were the stops we made:
Local marketplace –> Mohammed brought us to a town, Rissani, near the desert to show us a local Moroccan marketplace. The atmosphere was unlike anything I have seen before, there were carpet stores, blacksmith shops, sheep and camel selling pens and more. The streets were hectic and the town was extremely alive, I have never seen such an authentic marketplace as we were the only tourists there.
Learning how fossil furniture is made –> Mohammed brought us to a shop where rocks from the Sahara Desert are brought, chopped (there are fossils inside from when the desert was all ocean), then polished and made into furniture to be sold. We got to see the process of the furniture being made which was really cool and eye opening.
Seeing how the Nomads live –> We made a stop by a nomad family who lives off of the highway, where they showed us their home, mini garden, and the well that they get water from. It was humbling and a great experience seeing how the nomads live. If you are staying in the desert for more than one night there is also a village of nomads that I would recommend you to visit.
Lunch and Water Irrigation –> We stopped for lunch and ate local berber pizza (SO GOOD) off the highway, then peeked to look at the underground irrigation system to see how water is funneled from the mountains to the desert.
Todra Gorges –> After a while we made it to the famous Todra Gorges, the sight was spectacular and we walked around it for probably 30 minutes or so before continuing on our drive.
Dades Valley –> Finally we drove through the Dades Valley, which featured beautiful red and pink shades. We went up a zig zag formation road (you will see in my photo below as well as the YouTube video). Super cool and would definitely recommend.
Lastly we stayed at Ksar Sultan Dades for the night. Dinner was a three-course meal which was nicely plated and very yummy. This hotel was lovely, especially the next morning during the sunrise.
DAY 3: Our final day was the drive to Marrakech through the Atlas Mountains!
Rose Factory –> We drove through the Valley of the Roses, which were not blooming because of the season (it blooms in May). Nonetheless we visited a rose factory and were able to see how rose products such as creams, rosewater, and lotions are made. We even tried some products and bought a hand cream which made our hands feel so soft.
Ouarzazate –> This is the Hollywood of Morocco. We saw the outside of Atlas Studios where many famous movies and tv shows (Game of Thrones!) are filmed. As well as the cinematographic museum.
Ksar Ait Ben Haddou –> Another Game of Thrones site, and UNESCO World Heritage Site. We explored and walked to the highest part of the ksar while Mohammed taught us its history. Really beautiful spot.
Salt mines – While driving through the Atlas mountains keep your eyes out for the salt mines that you will pass, which has a bright orange colour.
Tizi n’ Tichka – After stopping to see the breath taking views from the Atlas mountains, we crossed the highest pass in Africa! This tour covered a very expansive array of sights, from the desert to the mountains!
Finally, we arrived in Marrakech. Mohammed walked us to our riad, Riad BE Marrakech, where we spent our next 2 days. I will post separately about our Marrakech trip soon!
FINAL THOUGHTS… MOROCCO IS AMAZING! This tour blew my mind, I had an amazing time and loved working with this family-run company and learning so much about Moroccan culture. If you are coming to Morocco stray away from the big bus tours or a self rented car, a tour is completely worth the money and makes for a much more fulfilling experience. I will remember this trip for the rest of my life.