Marrakech, Chefchaouen & the Sahara Desert: the ultimate 2-week Morocco itinerary
For many travellers, it’s the fantasy of riding camels through the Sahara Desert, the sun setting behind the sand dunes and a scarf fluttering lightly around their head, that draws them to Morocco. As spectacular as the desert may be, though, it’s only a small part of what makes this North African country so special.
Morocco is all about losing yourself in the intoxicating chaos of the souks as you barter for colourful scarves (and fielding the occasional offer to “buy you” for 200 camels); sleeping under billions of stars in the middle of the desert; strolling through colourful Old World medinas that burn gold in the afternoon light; and sampling flavours you’ve never even imagined, everything about the country a beautiful assault to your senses.
There’s an incredible culture and rich history to discover here too, and every moment spent in Morocco promises to mesmerise you further. Use this 2-week travel itinerary to discover some of top highlights in Morocco, from the buzz of Marrakech and the enchanting Sahara Desert to Morocco’s famous Blue City.
Planning for your trip
Best time to visit Morocco
Morocco can rise to swelteringly hot temperatures, especially in the Sahara, so the best time to visit the country is during the cooler months in spring (March to May) or autumn (September to October). That being said, it’s still possible to enjoy a wonderful trip in summer, you’ll just need to prepare to do a lot of sweating.
It’s also worth noting that the country, now a major tourist draw, tends to be busier during the European and North American summer holidays from June to August. I travelled around Morocco in August, and although it wasn’t difficult to do the things we wanted to do, my top choice riads were completely sold out months in advance, so it’s definitely something to consider.
Getting to Morocco
For this itinerary, fly into Marrakech through the large Marrakech Menara Airport. It’s usually possible to find cheap flights from most cities in western Europe, particularly those in Spain and France, for as little as $75AUD one way!
From Marrakech Menara Airport, the best way to get into the medina is to take a taxi, which can be hailed on arrival and shouldn’t cost more than 150Dh. The taxi can only take you so far into the walled city, though, so know that you might have to walk a bit to your actual riad or hotel. It can be a good idea to contact the riad from the car and see if one of the staff will come meet you where the taxi drops you off, just since it takes a bit of practice to navigate through the maze of narrow streets.
Getting around Morocco
As Morocco has a reasonable network of inexpensive buses, all of the internal transit described in this itinerary is over-land. The main companies are CTM and Supratours, and apparently they are very comparable, although I personally only travelled with CTM.
You can book buses on the spot by just going to the departure station, but in the event that a particular route is sold out (as can happen in summer or to popular destinations like Chefchaouen), it’s often possible to pay for a private taxi instead. There are usually large queues of taxis waiting outside the station and you can negotiate a reasonable price with the driver (we paid 600Dh for the 4hr drive from Fes to Chefchaouen, which was about $45AUD each for me and a friend).
Always speak to the staff at your riad or some trusted local to get an idea of a fair price before trying to haggle for a taxi, because the drivers will definitely try to rip you off if they sense that you don’t know the going rate for a particular trip.
Safety in Morocco
It’s safe enough for women to travel alone in Morocco, but you will definitely need to keep your wits about you, especially in the larger cities like Marrakech and Fes. It’s also not a destination I’d necessarily recommend to first-time solo travellers, just because there’s a fair bit of harassment that goes on in the souks. Most of it is harmless, but it can be pretty unnerving if you aren’t expecting it or haven’t experienced it before.
Make sure you always know where you’re going and how to get there when you’re out exploring— it’s a popular scam for men to stop you, tell you you’re going the wrong way, and then purposefully get you completely lost so you have no choice but to pay them for help. Ask staff at your riad for directions before you head out and only ask trustworthy shop-owners or women for help navigating.
There were also some times, mostly in the chaotic souks of Marrakech, where I didn’t feel comfortable having my camera on me and I also wouldn’t have wanted to carry a purse (I just shoved my money down my bra). Just be extra aware when you’re in crowded areas and don’t lose track of your valuables while you’re shopping, because it would really be all too easy as hundreds of people brush past you.
Trip budget for Morocco
Here’s a detailed breakdown of the budget for this specific 2-week itinerary. Many travellers will fall somewhere between the two options of mid-range and shoe-string, but this should give you a good idea of exactly how cheaply you can experience Morocco for and how much it would cost to add in some extras.
Mid-range travellers that are willing to splurge on a few things, such as nicer riads and restaurants, more activities, and an upgraded Sahara Desert tour, can expect to spend a total of 9180Dh for this itinerary, or 612Dh per day ($94AUD per day).
Shoe-string budget travellers counting every Dirham by staying in cheap hostels, eating some street food or other cheap meals, and opting for fewer tours can expect to spend a total of 4135Dh for this itinerary, or 275Dh per day ($42AUD per day).
Note that the accommodation and food costs below are only for 12 days/nights because these costs are included in the 3-day Sahara Desert Tour (quoted separately in the bottom row of the table).
Packing list for Morocco
- 2x shirts and singlets (avoid cotton, go for something that will dry quickly)
- Lightweight scarf to cover up your shoulders
- Linen or other lightweight long sleeve shirt
- Light jumper (unlikely you’ll need this, but good for the flight there)
- Lightweight comfortable pants for hot weather
- Maxi skirt
- Lightweight dress
- Sandals (Birkenstocks are a good option)
- Sunnies + hat
- Hygiene: shampoo bar, tooth brush, razor, etc
- A reusable water with a built-in filter
- Passport (+ colour photo copies), credit cards
- Camera + spare batteries!
- Travel adapter (Morocco uses a European adapter like this)
*Overview: recommended itinerary
- Marrakech (2-3 days)
- Sahara Desert (3-4 days)
- Fes (1-3 days)
- Chefchaouen (3-4 days)
- Oued Laou (2-3 days)
Marrakech is a great place to begin your Moroccan adventure, as flights into the large Marrakech Menara Airport are frequent and inexpensive from Europe— just don’t expect the city to go easy on you. Upon entering the medina (Old City), you’ll be in for quite a culture shock as narrow, winding lanes give way to chaotic souks overflowing with people, sounds, and foreign smells. Wandering through the souks is total sensory overload, but these buzzing shops are the lifeblood of Morocco’s “Red City” and they are at once both exhausting and exhilarating.
As you explore Marrakech, be sure to venture into Jemaa al-Fnaa, a large square in the Medina that is home to more shops, snake tamers, and plenty of restaurants. Try your first chicken tajine at one of the restaurants overlooking the square, and then shop around to find a good deal on a Sahara Desert Tour departing from Marrakech. Read this post to learn more about how to choose a good tour and get the best possible deal: A GUIDE TO BOOKING THE BEST SAHARA DESERT TOUR
Recommended time: 2-3 days
Highlights: Get lost in the maze of souks as you shop for scarves, jewellery, perfumes, spices, lanterns, and other Moroccan souvenirs; visit the bustling main square, Jemaa al-Fnaa; walk through the amazing Ben Youssef Madrasa.
Getting there: Fly into Marrakech Menara Airport and then take a taxi to the medina for about 150Dh.
Where to stay: A large double room with aircon at Riad Dar Nael is 200Dh per night, which includes the help of some incredibly attentive staff who prepared food for us at all hours and drew intricate maps of the Medina to help us get around.
Sahara Desert tour to Merzouga
You’ll be retrieved from your riad in Marrakech early on the first morning of your Sahara Desert Tour, driving first through Tizi n’Tichka Pass and the Atlas Mountains that, in winter, receive a beautiful dusting of snow. You’ll stop to admire the view in a few spots before reaching the walled city of Aït Benhaddou, a picturesque terracotta-coloured fortress that often provides a backdrop to action films set in ancient Persia or other parts of Arabia.
More movie scenery can be seen in Ouarzazate, the so-called “Moroccan Hollywood”, where there is an inexpensive studio tour on offer after lunch. The day finally concludes at a nice hotel in the Dadès Valley, where you’ll spend the night surrounded by stunning scenery, feasting on traditional Moroccan cuisine, and learning Berber songs in a spirited drum circle.
After a bit of driving the following day, you’ll spend the bulk of the morning exploring a Berber village with a local guide who will tell you all about the history of the area and the Berber way of life. Walking through the fields and the little village, you’ll finish with tea at a rug shop, where you’ll learn all about how the pieces are made using camel hair and natural dyes (and also be somewhat pressured into buying a rug, but don’t feel obligated).
The afternoon brings more beautiful scenery in Tinghir and the impressive Todra Gorge, whose chilly waters are practically medicinal on a hot day, and then you’ll finally arrive in Merzouga to begin the much-anticipated Sahara Desert portion of the tour. Leaving the bulk of your things behind in the van, you’ll ride out into the desert on camels (dromedaries, actually) and spend nearly two hours moving slowly across the sand towards an extremely remote camp in the Erg Chebbi dunes where an enormous Moroccan feast awaits. The standard tours will provide shared accommodation in a large desert tent, but I’d recommend pulling your bedding out into the sand to sleep under the stars.
Waking up in the middle of the Sahara, scramble up the nearby dunes to enjoy the sunrise over a sea of golden sand before cruising back towards Merzouga either via camel or exhilarating 4×4 ride (a 4D/3N tour will stay an extra night in the desert before returning). A large breakfast is waiting in Merzouga, as well as hot showers, but this is where you’ll say goodbye to at least some of your group. Those who are returning to Marrakech will depart in the van for a long day on the road, while the guide will help organise onward transport for those continuing on to Fes.
Recommended time: 3-4 days
Highlights: Admire breathtaking natural scenery in the Atlas Mountains, Dadès Valley, and Todra Gorge; learn more about the Berber way of life in Boumalne Dades and on a village tour; ride a camel over sand dunes in the Sahara and sleep under the stars in the middle of the desert.
Getting there: Your Sahara Desert Tour will include transport from your riad in Marrakech all the way to Merzouga (where the guide can help you organise transportation through to Fes). If you pre-book your tour online, expect to pay as much as 3,000Dh for the exact same tour you’ll find locally in Marrakech for 750Dh. Read this post for more info on finding a good tour once you arrive in Marrakech.
Where to stay: Your accomodation is included in the price of your tour, and is usually a nice hotel in the Boumalne Dades area on the 1st night and a Sahara Desert camp on the 2nd.
For about €20 each, you should be able to hire a driver to take you from the Sahara Desert all the way to Fes, stopping at several points of interest along the way. The drive takes the better part of the day, but the beautiful Ziz Valley and Cedar Forest, whose trees are full of friendly monkeys looking for a snack, break up the trip nicely.
When you do arrive in Morocco’s oldest city, you may find that the 9th century Medina lacks some of the colour and sparkle that makes Marrakech’s network of souks, with their overflow of filigree lanterns and rainbow of scarves, so enchanting. Yet, Fes feels somehow more authentic.
Locals buzz around you with hardly a second glance in many parts of the walled city, the hassling and harassment from shop owners a mere fraction of what you likely experienced in Marrakech. In many ways, our time in Fes was much more pleasant, as we were finally able to relax enough to enjoy our surroundings (and, more importantly, the street food), but I still loved the (albeit stressful) experience of wandering through Marrakech’s narrow lanes and being entirely inundated with sights, smells, and sounds. These cities are so different, and it would be a shame to skip either one.
Recommended time: 1-3 days
Highlights: Feed monkeys in the Cedar Forest en route to Fes; visit the colourful tanneries; try Msemen and some of the other delicious (and cheap) street food options on offer in the Medina; sip traditional mint tea on the rooftop of your riad.
Getting there & away: The guide from your Sahara Desert Tour will be able to help you organise transport from Merzouga to Fes. A private driver only costs about 200Dh per person, and usually includes plenty of interesting stops. When you’re approaching Fes, have your driver make a call to your riad and one of the staff will come to escort you through the maze of narrow streets— cars aren’t able to drive into the Medina and you’re sure to get painfully lost on your own, which is unlikely to be a pleasant introduction to the city.
Where to stay: Riad Rocco offers large double rooms and amazing Moroccan hospitality at 200Dh/night. The staff will happily help you plan your days and organise onward bus transport.
From Fes, reach your next destination via bus (a modest 75Dh per person) or in a private taxi (600Dh total), both of which depart from the large bus station in town and arrive approximately 3 hours later in The Blue City. Arguably Morocco’s most instagram-able destination, Chefchaouen and its small medina have become amazingly popular in the last few years, and for good reason. Strolling through the vibrantly blue streets, walking up countless blue steps, and gawking at the seemingly infinite number of decorative blue doors and fountains around the city, you’ll feel as if you’re in a never-ending postcard.
I asked my friend Hind, a Chefchaouen native, about the history of all this blue, and she told me that it is closely tied to Jewish settlement of the medina, beginning during the Middle Ages and continuing through WWII. These Jewish settlers painted many of their homes blue, a colour meant to represent the sky and, therefore, heaven, but the bright blue walls and doors also had the unfortunate side-effect of highlighting the residents who were non-Muslim. Hind told me that the rest of the community later chose to paint their homes blue to prevent the easy identification of Jewish families and limit religious persecution. A beautiful story of coexistance that makes for a truly one-of-a-kind destination.
While you’re in town, be sure to walk up into the hills and look down on the sea of blue below from the Spanish Mosque or Hotel Atlas Chaouen, both of which are fabulous (and free) viewpoints. For even more blue photo-ops, check out the Outa el Hammam & Kasbah and Plaza Uta el-Hammam. Most importantly, though, just make time to wander through the medina streets and soak in this enchanting place and its friendly locals.
Recommended time: 3-4 days
Highlights: Wander through Outa el Hammam & Kasbah; take in views of the city from the Spanish Mosque and Hotel Atlas Chaouen; soak in one of the local hammams; explore Chefchaouen’s beautiful blue streets.
Getting there: You can reach Chefchaouen in about 3 hours via the CTM bus, departing several times per day from the bus station in Fes (8am, 11am, 12pm, 4.15pm, 11.45pm) for 75Dh. If tickets are sold out, which is common in the busier months, you can still reach the Blue City via a taxi for 600Dh (departing from the bus station). It’s not a bad idea to have one of the staff from your riad in Fes accompany you to the station to help you organise either the bus or a taxi.
Where to stay: A short walk from the centre of town, Hotel Atlas Chaouen offers incredible rooftop views over Chefchaouen and its sea of blue buildings for about 350Dh/night.
Top tips: Have lunch in one of the many restaurants lining Plaza Uta el-Hammam, and enjoy a large plate of chicken couscous while enjoying a beautiful view of the city.
While in Chefchaouen, take a break from all the blue and venture out to the incredible Cascades d’Akchour, a destination that was recommended to me again and again by locals (and that still exceeded my expectations). It’s only about a 45 minute drive to reach Akchour and its many waterfalls, swimming holes, and endless supply of natural scenery.
There are a number of different short hikes in the area, and all are reportedly amazing, but it’s usually a good idea to get advice from a local as to which ones will be best during your visit. One of the falls was dry in August, for example, so we were advised to do two separate walks to the Lower Falls and God’s Bridge, the latter of which is an impressive rock arch that was one of my absolute highlights. In asking for advice on the hikes, you might find that few people in Akchour speak English (although some speak Spanish or French), but they are incredibly friendly and willing to help, even if it means spending several minutes trying to understand your question. A good thing, too, because you’ll also definitely need help with directions to the various trails, as they are not marked.
Recommended time: day trip from Chefchaouen
Highlights: Hike to a number of beautiful waterfalls; swim in the cool, clear water beneath the natural rock arch, God’s Bridge; enjoy chicken tajine and other local delicacies at the river.
Getting there & away: It is possible to take a tour to Akchour, but I didn’t see any groups while we were there. Instead, have your riad organise a taxi for you, which should only cost around 250Dh total for the 45min drive from Chefchaouen. For a little extra, you’ll be able to have the driver wait for you to explore for a few hours orcome back to get you at a pre-arranged time.
Where to stay: Akchour is best enjoyed as a day trip from nearby Chefchaouen.
Top tips: Bring a camera, several bottles of water, a bit of cash, and a hat with you to Akchour, but don’t worry about hiking boots. I did all my walking in Tevas, and they were actually far better than boots or runners, because you’ll need to walk through the water to get all the way to God’s Bridge and no one likes wet shoes!
Oued Laou & Tetouan
For a relaxing end to what has undoubtedly been a whirlwind trip through Morocco, travel from Chefchaouen to nearby Oued Laou via an inexpensive bus and enjoy a few days at the beach.
This is a popular destination for local families on holiday, so you’ll likely be sharing the sand with masses of excited children, but that’s half of the fun anyway. Take time to check out the variety of open-late cafes and restaurants, serving up plenty of traditional cuisine alongside hot-weather favourites like smoothies and ice-cream. After your time in Oued Laou, you’ll be recharged and ready for your next adventure!
Recommended time: 2-3 days
Highlights: Relax with local families on one of Morocco’s most beautiful beaches.
Getting there: A 1hr bus from Chefchaoeun should only cost around 20Dh. Onward transport to Tetouan is 2hrs and will also cost around 20Dh; this is the best place to catch a bus back to Fes for your flight home (or on to your next destination).
Where to stay: Try one of the great Airbnbs near the beach in Oued Laou. In summer, head back out after dinner to watch the town come to life in the dark― children’s rides whirl noisily, market stalls sell all sorts of snacks, and cafes are open for midnight chats with friends.
Read more: ON THE BEACH IN OUED LAOU