Small Groups: Never more than 10-16 travelers—guaranteed!
Travel to Morocco enthralls even the most experienced adventurer. Tradition infuses its labyrinthine medinas, overflowing with centuries-old customs and the colorful bounty of the Earth. Village oases seem to rise from the desert, mirage-like. And the mighty Sahara, a timeless sea of sand, stretches to infinity. The Romans found this land enticing enough to build the once-bustling city of Volubilis here.
In the intimacy of our OAT small group, we’ll meet the Moroccan people, experience their traditions, and taste the secrets of their flavorful cuisine. We’ll discover the beauty of mosques and sample regional specialties during Home-Hosted meals. And to get a true feel for the mighty Sahara that has so decisively shaped this culture, we’ll camp amidst its dunes for two unforgettable nights—and even explore by camel.
Depart the U.S. today on an overnight flight to Casablanca.
Our OAT Trip Leader meets us at the airport in Casablanca this morning. Then we begin our transfer overland to Rabat, one of Morocco’s ancient imperial cities and its capital since 1913. We'll arrive at our hotel in the early afternoon, followed by some time at leisure. This evening we meet our fellow travelers who took the optional pre-trip extension to Tangier, Chefchaouen & the Berbers of the Rif during an orientation briefing and dinner at our hotel.
After breakfast this morning, we have a brief introduction to the Arabic language before heading out on a guided tour of Rabat. We see the exterior of Rabat's Royal Palace and its impressive Bab ar-Rouah (Gate of the Winds), and visit the ruins and wild gardens of the Chellah, a 14th-century Merinid necropolis. We walk in the Andalusian Gardens, within the walls of the kasbah of the Oudaya. We stop at the Hassan Tower, a huge unfinished mosque, built mostly at the end of the twelfth century.
We have lunch in a local restaurant in Rabat, then enjoy the afternoon at leisure to explore on our own. Tonight, we gather for a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.
This morning, we leave Rabat and drive to the Roman city of Volubilis, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the best-preserved Roman archaeological sites in North Africa. We explore the historic ruins, where—amongst the fragments of stone from ancient dwellings—we’ll behold a variety of well-preserved mosaics, and our Trip Leader can help us envision what life was like in ancient times. From this vantage point, we'll also be able to look out upon the panoramic, whitewashed vistas of the holy city of Moulay Idriss in the distance.
We continue driving past the tree-covered slopes of Mount Zerhoun, which mark the beginning of the Rif Mountains, passing through the monumental gates of the walled city of Meknes, onetime home of the Moroccan sultanate and another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here, we embark upon a tour of this ancient city of bustling markets, elaborate gardens, and centuries of history, including the immense stables built for the 17th-century sultan Moulay Ismail—a massive structure that once held 12,000 horses. Then, we enjoy lunch in a local restaurant before continuing on to Fez.
We arrive in Fez late in the afternoon, and then we check into our riad—a Moroccan home refurbished into an intimate hotel—and have a bit of free time before regrouping for dinner at the riad.
Following breakfast, we set out on a day of exploration in Fez. After taking in a panoramic hilltop view of the city, we leave our bus, the 21st century, and all previous conceptions of urban design behind to enter the Fez medina, often considered the world's most well-preserved medieval city and designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. This ancient quarter of Fez is a maze of narrow streets, and one of the largest car-free urban areas in the world. Every inch of space is filled with bazaars, cafés, shops, and people. You can’t help but be amazed by the intensity of life bursting around every corner—and by the clean and fresh-painted quality of this vibrant display of age-old urban tradition.
Led by our Trip Leader and city guide, we walk through myriad tiny lanes, exploring the traditional Jewish quarter called Mellah, viewing the King’s Palace and the Nejjarine Fountain, and learning how Moroccan pottery is crafted at a local ceramics workshop. We have lunch in a local restaurant and then explore the medina some more before returning to our hotel.
The rest of your afternoon is at leisure to continue exploring Fez. This evening, we’ll join a local family for a Home-Hosted Dinner and a chance to learn even more about daily life in this ancient city.
Our Sahara odyssey begins today, as we drive across the Middle Atlas mountain range, winding through beautiful pine groves and giant cedar forests. The contrast of the rich purple soil and the tall evergreens is magnificent. We cross a 6,000-foot pass in the mountains and head further toward the Sahara. This is a long, but fascinating transfer as we witness the varied geologic and ecological zones we travel through. Along the way, we stop for lunch in the village of Midelt.
In the late afternoon, we descend into Erfoud, a small trading village that is the gateway to the vast Sahara Desert.
This evening, we’ll enjoy dinner in our hotel.
After breakfast, we'll board rugged 4x4 vehicles and drive to the village of Rissani, where we visit a family home and learn about their traditional way of life. Then we head into the desert, where we enjoy a chance to hike on top of the dunes, and to travel the desert the traditional way—on the back of a camel. Lunch is served after the camel ride in a ceremonial tent facing some of the highest dunes in Morocco.
Afterward, we journey to our private tented campsite, at a sea of sand dunes near Merzouga, experiencing the remote environment of the Sahara: No roads, no people except an occasional nomad, and total silence as we navigate the sandy tracks. Should we encounter some nomads during our drive, we'll stop to visit with them.
We arrive at our campsite in the late afternoon, and gather around the dining tent for tea. Keep your journal handy as our Moroccan chef gives us a lesson in preparing Moroccan cuisine. Most Americans are familiar with couscous, a nourishing staple of Moroccan diets, but savory discoveries abound in this exotic cuisine: harissa, a fiery sauce made from hot red pepper, olive oil, and garlic; tajine, a slow-cooked stew named for the pot that it’s cooked in; and the crowning glory of bstila, squab pie made with 100 individual layers of flaky dough. We’ll come away with not only a delicious meal, but also some authentic cooking tips to take home with us.
Today, we absorb the feeling of the extraordinary desert environment. We are camped where few foreigners venture, along routes known only to the camel and goat-herding Tuareg nomads. If you wish, you can rise before dawn today to watch the sunrise in the Saharan dunes, before returning to the camp for breakfast. Afterward, our guide will lead a walk into the desert during the cool of the morning. We then take our 4x4 vehicles to visit nomadic families nearby. While here, we’ll enjoy a discussion about the famous “Blue Men” of the Sahara, a group of nomadic camel herders of the Tuareg people who originated in Timbuktu who have inhabited the desert for thousands of years. Their name is drawn from the indigo-dyed robes they traditionally wear, and their caravans still cross the desert sands. We'll also visit the small desert village of Khamlia, where we’ll learn about the famous ritual music of the local Gnawa musicians.
After lunch back at camp, join our local guide for elective hikes into the dunes, or enjoy free time to relax as you wish in this unique environment. At camp this evening, we learn about the basic tenets of Islam during a fascinating discussion. We spend our last night camping under the starry desert sky, where (weather permitting) the Milky Way appears uncannily clear and bright.
We awake this morning for one last walk before leaving the open desert behind, boarding our 4x4s for a drive to our next stop: a Berber cemetery to learn about Muslim funeral customs.
We enjoy a lunch at a local restaurant before driving to the oasis town of Tineghir, an oasis known for its artisan workshops, gold, fig trees, and date palms. En route, we cross the J'bel Sahro Range (at about 4,500-5,000 feet), and enjoy spectacular views of the High Atlas Mountains. After our arrival in Tineghir, we’ll visit Todra Gorge, where we'll take a short walk and enjoy its stunning landscapes, where sheer red cliffs rise dramatically up to 500 feet on either side.
Tonight, we’ll enjoy dinner together at our hotel. After our days of “roughing it” in the desert, we can enjoy a cool drink and a hot shower, or—to relax in Moroccan style—you may elect to visit the local hammam, sweat baths that comply with Islamic laws of hygiene and purification.
After breakfast, we delve into the local Moroccan culture during A Day in the Life of Tineghir. We begin with a visit to a Berber market (open Saturdays and Mondays) where we learn about bargaining in their cash-only culture, then proceed to the oasis where local women harvest alfalfa and wash clothing in the river. We’ll talk with them about their traditional roles, and maybe have the chance to help them with their chores. From there, we enter Tineghir’s medina, where craftsmen create colorful bellows, as well as the sickles the women use to work the fields. We'll have a chance to try a little haggling, too, as we purchase food for our evening meal.
Then, we visit the IGHIR Association, a workshop where Moroccans with disabilities produce traditional crafts out of metals and textiles. Afterward, we head to Dar Et-Taleb Education Center—a residential facility for rural students from Tineghir’s surrounding villages. Grand Circle Foundation’s support has helped fund the construction of much-needed showers, restrooms, and a soccer field that offers students some well-earned recreation. We’ll tour the facilities and learn about the mission of Dar Et-Taleb, then sit down for lunch with its friendly students (when school is in session).
Afterward, we’ll visit a carpet cooperative and learn about both handmade Berber carpets and more modern carpet designs during a demonstration of this traditional craft. Then, in the late afternoon, we are invited to a local home where Berber women offer a demonstration of a regional custom. These Moroccan women will show us how they apply intricate traditional designs to their hands with paint made from the henna plant native to North Africa. The henna patterns are intended to foster a sense of closeness to God and traditionally adorn a new bride's hands and feet. You may have a chance to choose your own design from among traditional patterns, including one popular design that is said to protect the wearer from the evil eye.
In the evening, we’ll come together under a Berber tent to enjoy a dinner made with the ingredients we purchased at the medina.
After breakfast at our hotel, we enjoy a scenic drive through the spectacular Dadès Valley. Afterward, we call at the home of a local Berber family, where we'll share tea and observe how they transform their grain into delectable bread, known in Arabic as khubz.
We continue our adventure outside Kelaat Megouna, where we enjoy a Home-Hosted Lunch today with a local family. We'll also have the opportunity to learn more about Berber culture from an imam, who will tell us about local wedding customs. Then we travel to the oasis town of Ouarzazate, originally created by the French as a garrison outpost in the Sahara. Upon arrival, you will have time to explore on your own and relax in your room. Then we gather together for dinner at the hotel.
We travel through the High Atlas Mountains today on our way to Marrakesh. First, we visit Aït Benhaddou, a picturesque, mountainside ksar (fortified city) that features one of the best-preserved kasbahs in the entire Atlas region. Scenes from the classic films Lawrence of Arabia and The Man Who Would Be King were set here, and Aït Benhaddou has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its striking example of southern Moroccan earthen architecture.
While most of Aït Benhaddou's onetime residents have moved to a modern village across the Ounila River, a small group of families still dwells within the old walled city, and we'll visit with them today. Then, our journey continues toward the High Atlas Mountains. We pause high above narrow green valleys for lunch at a local restaurant, and reach Marrakesh in the late afternoon, where we settle into our comfortable hotel. Enjoy dinner together this evening at our hotel.
In the morning, we explore the legendary city of Marrakesh in a traditional horse-drawn calèche. We begin in Gueliz, the modern part of the city designed and built by the French in the early 20th century, then visit the Koutoubia minaret, the Saadian Tombs, the Moorish spice market, and the opulent Bahia Palace. Following our tour, you'll have time for lunch on your own as you explore the famous medina of Marrakesh, one of the ancient crossroads of North Africa and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This afternoon is at leisure and dinner is on your own.
You have the day free in Marrakesh, where past travelers have greatly enjoyed time for independent exploration. As in Fez, there is much to see, do, and buy in the bustling medina, and your Trip Leader will be able to offer you plenty of suggestions about where to go. If you haven't done so already, be sure to check out the high-energy street performers in the legendary Djemma El-Fna square.
Or, you can choose to join our optional Marrakesh Museums tour, which features visits to the Jardin de Majorelle and Islamic Art Museum; the Ali Ben Youssef Medersa and Marrakesh Museum; a stroll through Marrakesh’s ancient medina, and lunch with some local Moroccans.
This evening, we’ll come together to share our stories over a Farewell Dinner at a local French restaurant.
After breakfast this morning, we travel to the airport for our flight to the U.S. Otherwise, begin your post-trip extension to Essaouira & Casablanca.