Morocco - the grand tour

After we’ve had enough of the souks, street sellers, and had our senses completly overwhelmed at Jemaa el fna, we had enough of Marrakech and it was time for the big road trip across Morocco. 

We had booked a private company online, and our tour had a total of 2,000 km driving, covered quite a few cities, some villages, the desert and a lot of beautiful sites along the way. 

Day 1

We drove through Casablanca and visited the Hassan II Mosque, the largest mosque in Africa. 

Casablanca looked very different from Marrakesh, more modern architecture with a more western feel. As you drive around the city, one cannot ignore the beautiful big murals on the buildings. 

As you approach the shore, you start to see the mosque, which is grandiose and beautiful with the ocean spread behind it. It’s as if they compliment each other. It is the only mosque in Morocco where the non muslim can enter. It has to be a great view when the whole place is filled with believers, as we had it all to ourselves. We had picked an ideal time to visit, with only a handful of people around. 

We learned that Casablanka has some big plans for the coastline near the mosque to make it more attractive for summertime activities and tourists. Construction has already began, so next time we are in town we will definitely visit. 

Back in the car, and from Casablanca we start driving to Rabat. 

We pass a huge park, the royal palace where the king Mohammed VI stays most of the time and some beautiful views before we got to the Medina. There are royal palaces at almost every city in Morocco and the people there love their king. Not so much the government. 

When you reach the ocean coast in Rabat you can see people surfing. There’s actually surf shops and surf schools in the souk’s, where you can get boards and learn how to surf. Surf’s up dude!

Kasbah des Oudaias

The biggest treat in Rabat is the blue city or Kasbah des Oudaias. It feels like a prelude to Chefchaouen, so if you cant get there, this will give you a sense of what it’s like. 

To enter the Kasbah, you have to pass through the Almohad gate of Bab Oudaia, built in 1195, which now houses an art gallery that you can visit for free.

Almohad Gate

The gate is now a beautiful art gallery

You will lose track of time wandering the small cobble streets in the blue and white houses, and wonderful greenery that the residents maintain meticulously. 

As you get lost through the narrow streets of the Kasbah filled, you finally make your way towards the Atlantic ocean, and the river that divides Rabat from the city across, Sale. It’s here that you can see the surfers in action, as the strong winds create a bit of myst in the salty air, adding to the magic of the moment.

The Atlantic ocean shore

Where the river meets the ocean

Across the river is the city of Sale

The hidden cafe with the best view

The view from the cafe

The stores are just magical

The Andalusian Gardens

They were built in the 1800s by the French and are 3-5 acres big. They were suppost to compliment the museum which used to be the Andalusian Palace.

The gardens are fairly shaded, and provide a pleasent walk even in the hot days. It features a lot of exotic fruit trees, such as bananas, lemons, dates and oranges, as well as stone and ornate fountains so well preserved, making you feel like you’re back in the age when royalty walked here.

This magical place has one more surprise in the form of a hidden cafe, that has an amazing view of both the ocean and the river. Sit down and enjoy a cafe while you take the most amazing photos that all your friends will envy.

Rabat’s most recognizable symbols of the city are the two towers, the Hassan Tower and the Mohammed V Mausoleum, both scenic, worth visiting and free.

Hassan Tower

Was supposed to be the largest minaret in the world at the time, and the mosque that was built along side it was also supposed to be the largest in the world. However, the Calif al-Mansur died in 1199 which led to all construction stopping. The tower now stands 44 meters high. 

If you also wanted to see the Mohammed V Mausoleum, you’re in luck, as it’s just opposite of Hassan’s Tower (they are both in the same place). It’s actually a tomb of the Moroccan king and his sons: King Hassan II and Prince Abdallah. The building is quite impressive and has quite interesting arabic architecture, which impressive white walls and green tiled roof. Unfortunately I got there a closing times so I had just a few minutes to take a few photos before guards escorted everyone out.

Day 2

From Rabat we went to Chefchaouen to spend the night there. We passed through the Rif mountains and its endless green fields and little clay villages.


We loved this little blue city and its atmosphere from the moment we stepped there. People were more relaxed, nicer, ready to help and accommodate us. We stayed in a little riad on the hill with a cosy room, nice terrace and welcoming hosts. As you can imagine, getting four large suitcases up the hill was quite a challenge.

Chefchaouen is located on a hill so the streets are going up and down. The old quarter is entirely blue and white, with sweet little houses and narrow paths. We learned that religious reasons are behind the design choice. Jewish teachings suggest that by dying thread with tekhelel (an ancient natural dye) and weaving it into prayer shawls, people would be reminded of God’s power. The memory of this tradition lives on in the regularly repainted blue buildings.

Unlike Marrakech, where people would get mad if you take a photo of them, we did not have any problems taking photos here and they had good prices for souvenirs. They have some problems with the electricity that goes on and off, but it’s for short periods of time. Chefchaouen is a great place for hiking and there are some old roman ruins nearby but we skipped that part. We saw the little waterfalls and it is probably a famous spot for relaxing but it wasn’t so spectacular for us. However, the Old Quarter is a must see. 

Overall the atmosphere in this little town is so tranquil, and I dont know if it’s the mixture of blue and white, or being tired after walking up and down the hills, but you just want to sit down and relax in a local cafe while absorbing all the colors.

The waterfall

Ladies washing clothes

Day 3 & 4


Because you cant experience Fez unless you’re in the medina, our Riad was in the heart of the medina.

We spent two nights there in an old riad house hidden from every view. The house was marvelous, and a museum in it self. Behind the big doors there was a big central garden with a fountain and a lot of rooms at the three story house. The highest level was an open terrace. Everything inside was handmade, wood carvings, Moroccan mosaics tiles on the ceilings and inner pillars, colorful divans and curtains. It’s been in their family for generations, but we did not see anyone to inherit the family business.

The Medina or the inner city of Fez is UNESCO protected. It’s called Fes el Bali and it was founded between 789 and 808 AD. Besides being famous for having the oldest university in the world, the University of Karaouine, Fes el Bali, with a total population of 156,000, is also believed to be the biggest car-free urban area in the world. It has over 1.600 little alleys, and walking here definitely feels like you’re in a maze.

Some of them are barely walkable with a space between the walls less than a meter apart. Around these alleys we found different souks, lots of remarkable gates that indicate a riad is hiding behind it, charming restaurants, cafe’s, a mosque, a well, a river that crosses through the Medina and the famous tanneries and Madrasas.

The tanneries

We visited a leather factory, and as part of the tour, you get to see the tannery, along with your personal guide that tells you how the leather is colored in the tanneries, and more intricate details about leather production. The only thing they ask in return for this service is that you buy a product from their store. It was a very colorful and interesting place to visit. We were lucky our noses were not working due to our cold because the place smells very funny, not in a good way. 

They give you sprigs of fresh mint to cover your nostrils but it doesn’t help much. The whole process of softening, dyeing, drying is achieved manually exclusively by men, without the need for modern machinery, and the process has barely changed since medieval times, which makes these tanneries absolutely fascinating to visit. We had no problem exiting the place without buying anything but I think Luka’s sick face had a lot to do with it.

The Madrasas are very important to the people of Morocco because these are the places where the young boys learn about their faith. Some of the Madrasas are very old,  but they all have the same concept. Dormitory for the students, central domed space with a fountain, prayer hall, the prayer iwan, all covered in tiles and various decorations. 

The gates of Kairaouine Mosque were open so we sneaked a peek and it look huge and interesting. We weren’t that lucky to be let in. It’s super important as It is the oldest working higher educational institution in the world according, for which it also holds a Guinness World Records.

After walking for several hours up and down through the small alleys of Fes el Bali we understood why young people choose to live at the outskirts of the Medina. The only help you can get to transport something in the Medina are the wheelbarrows pushed by men for a certain fee (50 dirhams/5€ for our luggage for 300m with a lot of bargaining). 

Royal palace in Fez

There is also a royal palace in Fez, but you can only see the gates from the outside. The seven gates from which two are fake (the last ones) are gold colored and shiny. The fake ones are there to confuse any enemy invaders. 

After walking for several hours up and down through the small alleys of Fes el Bali we understood why young people choose to live at the outskirts of the Medina. The only help you can get to transport something in the Medina are the wheelbarrows pushed by men for a certain fee (50 dirhams/5€ for our luggage for 300m with a lot of bargaining). 

There is also a royal palace in Fez, but you can only see the gates from the outside. The seven gates from which two are fake (the last ones) are gold colored and shiny. The fake ones are there to confuse any enemy invaders. 

Fort Borj Nord

For the best views of the city go to the fort Borj Nord. It’s located on a hill overlooking the city, providing you with the best view of the city. They also have a museum of armory but you can’t take pictures inside.

View from Fort Borj Nord

Luka at the fort

We had fun time at the pottery factory. We saw the complete process of making small pots, ceramic stuff, tables, fountains, mirrors etc. It seemed like a hard and creative process. People that worked there were nice, they even let Luka draw at one of the ceramic plates. They found a way of easing the process of purchasing of the heavy/large goods by shipping the customers’ orders directly to their homes all around the world. Everything was custom and handmade. Visiting this workshop feels like you’ve been in a live museum, where the exhibits move and make pottery.

Day 5

From Fez we started our 3 days desert tour. We drove through the Atlas Mountains and the cedar forests of the middle Atlas. The cedar forest was breathtaking but we didn’t see the monkeys living there. We passed by the ski resort Ifrane and Azrou. Some of the locations along the way seem really desolate and remote, and make you wonder why anyone would want to live there. 

 The drive to Merzouga was long so we only made one stop at Erfoud. Our driver kept talking for hours about this amazing meat pie that they make here, so we had to stop for lunch and try it. The pie is big and it is large enough to satisfy the appetite of four people. 

Around 5pm we got to Merzouga and the meeting point for our desert tour. This was the moment we were all waiting for, especially the kids. A quick introduction with the local hosts at the desert center, toilet refreshment, last preparation of the backpacks (the luggage stays behind, only essentials) and we were ready to start our desert journey. 

Meanwhile the camel men were helping people tie their scarves around the head and mouth, so you feel like a real berber. When everyone was ready, we all went to our designated camels and one by one mounted on them. 

Pro tip: the camels are sitting down when you mount them. So in order to get going it has to get up. Now when it tries to do that, or it tries to sit down again, hold on to the railing in front of you because it’s not very smooth transition. 

We were a big group that day and had six camel guys walking along with us. 

The camel ride is not very pleasant as they walk like models on the catwalk, which involves a lot of shaking. While they were walking on hard ground, it was impossible to take pictures as both of our hands were busy with holding tight. As we approached the desert sand the ride went more smoothly. 


This is a camel. It has automatic transmission

We slowly come to the Erg Chebbi desert dunes and the first thing that strikes you are the beautiful colors of Sahara. The camel tour is intently set up before sunset so you can see how the light changes the reddish colors of the dunes. After a few minutes, when you enter the desert deep enough, we were surrounded by dunes from all directions. There’s just something magical about the sand and it’s colors, and the lack of any other noise or distraction. 

As the sun is about to set, the tour stops at the bottom of  a high dune. You get to walk to the top, and learn how difficult it is to actually climb a desert dune. If you do that fast enough, you will reach the top of the dune just as the sun is setting and you get to experience one of the most beautiful sunsets in your life. 

The sand is like red flour, it’s hard to walk on and it made us appreciate the camels a little more.

After an hour and a half of camel riding through the desert we reached our camp. This could not come fast enough as our bodies were now hurting from all that riding.  

You are greeted with complimentary mint tea. As the sun was going down the temperatures started to fall quickly, and it wasn’t long before they fell below zero.The big camp fire in the middle gathered all of us – weary travelers from all parts of the world, trying to absorb as much of the heat as they could. 

One by one we were allocated to our personal tents, containing a couple of beds and a lot of blankets inside. We left our backpacks and headed out for supper in a much bigger tent. 

Served under candlelight, the hot couscous soup and of course – tajine with some fruits for dessert felt like the best meal you’ve ever had. Or maybe we were just extra hungry and cold.  

After supper while we waited for people to gather around the fire again we went behind the camp and watched the stars. I have never seen so many stars on the crystal clear night sky. We saw the Milky Way and some falling (shooting) stars. It was magical but hard to photograph without professional equipment. That night (January 12) the Berbers were waiting for the arrival of their New Year which according to their calendar is in the year 2969. The camel guys through quite a party for us playing the drums and other traditional instruments, as well as dancing some traditional Berber dances. We even had a birthday celebration as one of the ladies in our group just turned 30 years. Double party, plus we got some free cake.

When the party ended the real survival started. We walked into a cold tent which doesn’t stop the desert winds so we covered up with three blankets to try to sleep through the night. We were feeling the heavy weight of the blankets and still shaking from the cold air. It was -2 degrees in the tent. 

When the alarm set off at 6:30, still pitch black until 8am, I wanted to cry. That was the moment when we were supposed to get out from underneath the blankets, dress our winter gear and go to the toilet. We wore all of our clothes and by 7 o’clock started the route back. 

The idea is to catch the sunrise on the way back, but it’s hard to enjoy anything when you are freezing. 

When we reached the camp the sun was up and breakfast was served. We couldn’t stop shaking so we skipped our breakfast and went directly to our warm van. I gave my self a laugh when I realized my kids would have a hard time explaining in school how they almost froze in the desert, when it’s common knowledge that deserts are quite hot.

Sunrise in the desert

Everybody onboard

Overall the desert is a great experience but from our experience, we think the best time to go may be spring or fall. If you decide to do a trip during the winter like we did, than have some very, very warm clothes. Also dont forget to bring some bottles of water with you as there is no water provided in the camp. Another gotcha is that the camps don’t have electricity so you need to power your phone and gadgets before leaving. A battery bank may save your day, as well as flash light for walking around the camp at night. 

Like anything else you will find different camp’s offerings for the desert experience. There are more luxurious camps, some even have heating and a private shower but these were above our budget. Some people choose Zagora as a desert experience but the desert in Zagora is drystone and flat and there are no golden dunes there. So if you want to see the magical golden dunes of Erg Chebbi be prepared for a long, long ride from Fez or Marrakesh, although the roads are better and a bit shorter when you are coming from Fez rather than Marrakesh. 

Day 6

We were headed to Skoura for the night driving through palm trees groves. The landscape between Merzouga and Skoura is breathtaking especially the Todra Gorges, the series of limestone river canyons in the eastern part of the High Atlas Mountains. The last 600 meters of the Todra gorge are the most spectacular. Here the canyon narrows to a flat stony track, in places as little as 10 metres wide, with sheer and smooth rock walls up to 200 meters high on each side. We were lucky it was a dry season and the canyon floor was mostly dry so the wadi floor was easily traversed by travelers. During the rainy season, however, the Todra can expand massively, covering the canyon floor in a strong torrent. 

From Todra Gorges we passed the Dades Valley that slowly uncovers its gorges into their full beauty. The nature in this part of Morocco is stunning. From time to time small mountain villages would appear, some of them in ruins, surrounded by beautiful palm tree oasis. We would prefer staying at this part of Morocco a little bit longer instead of the big cities. Trough the Roses Valley we reached Skoura just to be informed that we are skipping this town and going to Ourrzazate instead.

But in the hotel in Ouarzazate we met Mick Extance, the Dakar veteran, who was on his way to the desert with his motorbike group. He was indeed inspirational and we wish him to have more Dakar experiences and to never drop his helmet.

Day 7

We got up early and went to Ouarzazate to visit the Taourirt Kasbah Museum. The building gives you the opportunity to visit inside a real old kasbah showing the best of south Moroccan kasbah architecture. This Kasbah is a museum that once had 300 rooms. It was the home of the El Glaoui family – the last Berber Pasha of Ouarzazate. It’s a maze of rooms, crazy stairways and passageways. It was more fun for Luka because he was able to enter the endless rooms without bending down all the time.

CLA studios

Considering what I do for a living, Ouarzazate and its surroundings were of great interest for me. This place is called Morocco’s Little Hollywood  and a lot of movies were filmed there. Besides the exterior of the city and its surroundings that are constantly used as shooting locations, they have several studios with constructed sets. We chose CLA studios for our visit. Some of the blockbusters as Sahara, Troy, Gladiator, The Mummy… were filmed there. We walked through the sets, and most of them looked neglected. But it was fun and educational for the kids, to get a bit of perspective how we fake things when making movies. 

Feel like an Egyptian Pharaoh

Or if you ever wanted to be catapulted

Get thrown in a medieval jail cell

It's very photo-realistic

... but once you get close enough...

... you realize it will crumble if you touch it ...

... it's all fake!

Ait Ben Haddou

The best was yet to come. As a Game of Thrones fan (I was wearing my t shirt “Winter is coming” especially for the occasion) we were excited to visit the town of the Khaleesi, Ait Ben Haddou. This is a traditional mud brick city on the edge of the High Atlas Mountains. It is on the UNESCO World Heritage List and has featured in many films, mostly as a replacement for Jerusalem. Before entering Ait Ben Haddou there is a spot where you can take a picture of the entire city located on the foothills. The place looks totally unreal. 

The public entrance to the city was free, we crossed the river bridge and we stepped at the steep stairs of the ksar (walled town). Walking slowly up through some alleys filled with market stalls and shops we found a cafe with a great terrace overlooking the riverside. We enjoyed the view over coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice. It is a bit of a climb to the top but the view from there is amazing. You can see the difference of geography of the area compared to the greenery at the valley, the brown sand of the desert and the white snow at the top of the Atlas Mountains. The walk by the river gave us a new perspective of the city and the popular gate from the Game of Thrones scenes.

This is the gate from Game of Thrones! ... or it used to be, it's a bit broken now

Our travel itinerary was finished and trough Tizi n Tichka road, we started our way back to Marrakesh. Very slow going, especially more so due to the construction going on as they were building new sections of this road. But it was worth the scenery passing through the Atlas mountains and small villages.

Tizi n’Tichka pass

Tizi n’Tichka pass is on the main highway N9 running southeast from Marrakesh to Ouarzazate. The road winds up tight hairpin turns and steep grades to this pass through the High Atlas mountains. The foothills are green with forests and orchards, but the mountain tops are bare rock, the highest peaks covered with snow. At an elevation of 2,260m above sea level, it is the highest major mountain pass in North Africa. Tichka means “it is difficult” and so it literally means “a difficult path”. The winding roads and our drivers fast driving made us all sick, but Luka suffered the most.

Reminiscing the trip

It wasn’t an easy itinerary to follow. 2.000 km in 7 days and a lot of things to see and experience. We are now safe and sound at home, still revoking memories. From a distance I would say that from everything we saw on our trip the desert experience was the best, along with the beautiful countryside. We found the small cities and villages more attractive and relaxed. 

We felt considerably safe along the way. We succeeded in staying out of trouble by avoiding the big crowds, playing dumb when people were assault and treated us as a “walking wallet”, stubborn at our intention to have a good time despite everything. Morocco is a beautiful country with a lot to offer. Some people will try to ruin this experience but hopefully these things will change. We met a lot of nice people along the way, had deep discussions about the life there and learned that they cope with everyday problems as we all do. We found a lot of similarities regarding the food and customs with our own, even though we are very far apart and never had a common history. We were shocked that the kids there go to school from 8am until 6pm with an hour break for lunch. We saw a lot of them through the countryside walking long distances to the school building. Overall this trip was a great experience for all of us and we learned a lot. 

Things that went wrong

The weather in Morocco was nice but with big variation between day and night temperatures. Before are driving tour me and Matej got sick. It started like a common cold with fever and cough but after a few days Matej started to vomit, had nausea and at a point totally lost his strength. my huseband started showing symptoms a few days after, while Luka was the last who got it. It was very hard to travel when we were all sick but luckily I had all the medicine we needed. It took us a long time to get better and we had to skip some of the itineraries, but we still managed to see most of it. As we were traveling we noticed that most of the people, locals and tourists were also coughing so it was probably some virus / flue going around.