You are using an old version of the browser and your video viewing experience may be impacted
X
The Leader in Small Groups on the Road Less Traveled Never more than 10-16 travelers—guaranteed!

2016 Morocco Sahara Odyssey

16 Days from only $4045 including international airfare

Casablanca • Rabat • Fez • Sahara Tented Camps • High Atlas Mountains • Marrakesh • Casablanca

©2014 The New York Times
36 Hours in Casablanca

Visit Rick's Cafe, the Hassan II mosque, and other gems in Casablanca.

Trip Itinerary

From Casablanca to the windswept Sahara and spirited Marrakesh, take a look at how your itinerary will unfold.

Courtesy CNN
Marrakech's magnificent mountains

With the Atlas Mountains in the city's outskirts, many Marrakesh locales revolve around the unique landsapes of Morocco.

Trip Extension: Chefchaouen

Meet locals and lose yourself among mesmerizing lanes of indigo on this trip extension.

Trip Extension: Essaouira & Casablanca

Meet the locals who bring the markets, music, and art to life on this trip extension

FROM
$4045
16 DAYS
$253/DAY
including international airfare
15 DAYS FROM $2895 Land Adventure Only
Extend Your Trip
 

ATTENTION
This trip features long flights and/or multiple connections. Learn More »

 
 

Share Your Travel Moments
Upload your travel videos
and photos from your past adventures with us.

Itinerary Overview

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.

In the intimacy of our O.A.T. small group, we’ll meet 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.

Day-to-Day Itinerary

  • 5 nights from only $995

    Before you travel to Morocco, venture to the mountainside city of Chefchaouen to witness its striking scenery and meet the Berbers who dwell amidst the Rif’s 6,000 peaks. Then travel to Tangier on Morocco’s northern coast to discover a city that has drawn travelers for centuries—and experience the intoxicating mix of cultures they’ve left behind.

    View Extension Itinerary
Casablanca Marrakesh Expand All
  • Depart the U.S. today on an overnight flight to Casablanca.

  • An O.A.T. representative 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. Tonight, we'll enjoy dinner on a boat that is docked on the Bou Regreg river, which separates Rabat from the city of Salé.

  • 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 (fortress) of the Oudaya. We stop at the Hassan Tower, a huge unfinished mosque, built mostly at the end of the twelfth century.

    Enjoy lunch on your own in Rabat, and then the afternoon will be yours to make your own discoveries. Tonight, we gather for a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.

  • This morning, we leave the coast and Rabat behind, and set off for Fez. We'll drive past sweeping fields, rolling countryside, and the tree-covered slopes of Mount Zerhoun, which mark the beginning of the Rif Mountains. Depending on the time of year, the fields and slopes may be speckled with poppies, prickly pear, olive trees, or snow.

    Upon our arrival in Fez, we'll stop for lunch at a local restaurant. Then we'll take a short drive up a hillside to take in a panoramic view of Fez's tightly clustered Old City, the medina, which we'll explore in depth tomorrow. Afterward, we'll learn how Moroccan pottery is made at a local ceramics workshop.

    We'll then check into our riad—a Moroccan home that has been refurbished into an intimate hotel. Dinner is at our riad tonight.

  • Following breakfast in our riad, we'll begin our full-day exploration of Fez. Led by our Trip Leader and a local city guide, we leave our bus, the 21st century, and all previous conceptions of urban design behind as we enter Fez's medina, often considered the world's most well-preserved medieval city, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We start by exploring the traditional Jewish quarter, called the mellah, where we'll view the elegant gates of the Royal Palace.

    Then we'll enter the souks (markets) of Fez, walking through myriad tiny lanes. This ancient section 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, donkeys, and people. You can't help but be amazed by the vibrant display of age-old urban tradition, and the intensity of life bursting around every corner. The thrill of it must be experienced to be understood.

    We have lunch in a local restaurant and then explore the medina some more before returning to our riad.

    Early this evening, we have a bit of free time to continue exploring Fez. Then we'll join a local family for a Home-Hosted Dinner, where we'll get the chance to taste authentic regional cuisine, and learn even more about daily life in this ancient city.

  • After breakfast in our riad, the day is yours to make your own discoveries in Fez.

    Or, you may join a full-day optional tour of two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Volubilis and Meknes. First we’ll explore Volubilis, one of the most well-preserved Roman cities in North Africa. Led by a local guide, we'll wander amongst its historic ruins and striking mosaics, and our guide will help us envision what life was like in ancient times. From this vantage point, we'll be able to gaze upon the panoramic, whitewashed vistas of the holy city of Moulay Idriss in the distance.

    Then we’ll set off for Meknes, onetime home of the Moroccan sultanate. After passing through the monumental gates of this walled city, we’ll stop for lunch at a local restaurant. Then we’ll embark upon a tour of the Old City, including the immense stables—a massive structure that once held 12,000 horses—and granaries that were built for 17th-century sultan Moulay Ismail.

    Upon returning to our riad, we'll regroup for a stroll down Hassan II Avenue, a palm-lined boulevard in the French-influenced Ville Nouvelle district. Your Trip Leader will be happy to provide you with recommendations as you seek out dinner on your own.

  • 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'll briefly stop in the ski resort town of Ifrane, and we'll have lunch at a restaurant in 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 to watch the sunrise in the Saharan dunes, then stretch your legs during a guided walk.

    We'll return to camp for breakfast, and then set off to visit a local farm, where we'll learn about the local produce and vegetation produced there. After, we'll head to Khamlia, a remote desert village. This region is renowned for the ritual music of its Gnawa musicians, and we'll get the chance to hear their melodic chants during a lively musical performance. We'll learn more about everyday life in the desert as we visit nomadic families. After lunch, we'll have a free afternoon to make our own discoveries, with the option of hunting for fossils during a hike to the sand dunes.

    This evening, we'll hear about the basic tenets of Islam during a fascinating discussion before dinner at our camp. We'll spend our last night sleeping beneath the starry desert sky, where (weather permitting) the Milky Way appears uncannily clear and bright.

  • This morning we leave the open desert behind and set off for the oasis town of Ouarzazate, making a stop in Tinejdad. There, we'll arrive at the Ksar of El Khorbat and take a walk inside one of the unique and ancient fortified ksars (walled cities). We'll then visit a Berber museum and learn about the history, architecture, and daily life of Berbers in this region.

    After lunch at El Khorbat, we'll continue with our overland transfer fo Ouarzazate, a city built by the French as a garrison outpost in the Sahara.  We arrive late this afternoon and will check into our hotel. This evening, we'll gather for dinner together at our hotel.

  • Today, we visit Aït Benhaddou, a picturesque, mountainside ksar 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. Our group will have the opportunity to experience A Day in the Life of several aspects of the community in Aït Benhaddou, beginning with meeting some of the local men and women who work in the fields, cutting the grass and plowing the land. Next, we'll learn more about the history of this ksar as we sit down with locals and have a conversation over mint tea.

    After, we'll visit the Imik Smik Women Association for Rural Development. Established in 2012, the association's goal is to create workshops and programs that teach girls and women how to sew, read, cook, develop healthcare and further education that otherwise would not be available. Sponsored by Grand Circle Foundation, the Imik Smik Women Association currently generates funding by selling bread, pastry, and couscous to local guesthouses in the village. We'll meet these women and learn how they are trying to change their lives and those of the young women in their community, for the better. 

    We'll enjoy a Home-Hosted lunch with the women of the association before returning to Ouarzazate. The remainder of the afternoon is at leisure. Tonight, we'll have dinner at a local restaurant.

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    We travel through the High Atlas Mountains today en route to Marrakesh. Along the way, we'll pause high above narrow green valleys to take in spectacular views. This is a somewhat long, yet scenic drive.

    Upon our arrival in Marrakesh, we'll check into our riad where we enjoy lunch together. If you wish, your Trip Leader will take you on an orientation walk, and lend suggestions on where to go for dinner on your own.

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    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.

    • Meals included:
    • Accommodations:

    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 our 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 restaurant.

  • After breakfast we'll depart for Casablanca, enjoying lunch en route. Upon arrival, we'll set off for a discovery walk through the city center where we'll discover some of its gems—particularly its impressive colonial architecture.

    While the French controlled Morocco in the first half of the 20th century, they added their unique flair to the local architecture. Today, Neo-Moorish and Art Nouveau buildings from this era are peppered throughout the downtown area, as are some fascinating and beautiful Art Deco structures. After Morocco gained its independence in 1956, the styles changed considerably as Casablanca sought to leave its colonial past behind. Some buildings from the colonial era have been beautifully renovated, while others have fallen into disrepair and await restoration to their former glory. We'll have a chance to gaze upon striking facades, horseshoe arches, and decorative tilework.

    After taking in Casablanca's architectural history, we'll check into our hotel and enjoy dinner at our hotel.

    Please noteTravelers taking the post-trip extension will depart for Essaouira on Day 15.

  • If you are flying home today, you’ll transfer to the airport after breakfast for your flight to the U.S.

  • POST-TRIP EXTENSION:
    Essaouira & Casablanca

    4 nights from only $645

    After you travel to Morocco on the main trip, spend time exploring Essaouira. Known as “the pearl of the kingdom,” Essaouira boasts an exceptionally temperate climate, beautiful whitewashed neighborhoods, ornate architecture, a splendid medina, and a host of artisans’ workshops and colorful markets. Much of Essaouira’s magic comes from its artistic influence—inspired by the city’s tranquility, beauty, and splendid light.

    View Extension Itinerary

Click below to read our Travel Planning Guide on Morocco Sahara Odyssey

Read Travel Planning Guide