Trip Number: 13810A
Price: $4,295 (12-15)
$4,595 (or fewer)
Staff: Rochelle Gerratt
- Explore the medieval walled cities of Fez, Marrakesh, and Casablanca
with their mysterious souks (markets)
- Enjoy a three-day trek in the High Atlas Mountains at the foot of Mt.
Toubkal, North Africa’s highest mountain
- Journey by camel into the pink sands of the Sahara
- Comfortable hotels with swimming pools, mountain lodges, and a Berber
tent in the Sahara desert
- All accommodations, meals, transfers, on trip transportation, fees,
- Local professional guide throughout
Photo: Rochelle Gerratt
Morocco -- exotic, magical, transcendent. Most first-time travelers to this
genuinely magical place discover that all they’ve heard about this land
Known to the Arabs as "the farthest land of the setting sun," Morocco
stands at the western edge of the Muslim world. Separated from Europe by just
nine miles at the Strait of Gibraltar, it is a crossroads of past and modern,
a land of amazing contrasts where medieval minarets tower over exotic souks
and soaring mountains give way to sensuous deserts.
Starting in Casablanca we travel to the "imperial cities" of Rabat,
Meknes, and Fez, exhibiting stunning traditional Moroccan architecture that
includes blue-tiled facades and elaborately carved woodwork. Exploring the labyrinths
of the cities’ souks, we admire the craft shops using ancient techniques
and savor the scent of spices, sizzling kabobs, and sweet honey cakes. We continue
across the Middle Atlas Mountains to Erfoud, where we reach the pink sands of
the Sahara and witness the sunrise and sunset over the dunes. Here we experience
a touch of nomadic Berber life as we ride camels with the local tribesmen into
the majestic solitude of the Sahara desert. We enjoy a night in Berber tents
with a traditional feast and Berber folklore.
Traveling west, our next destination is the Todra Gorge, a striking natural
wonder with1,000-foot walls. Through the Dades Valley set amid the snow-capped
High Atlas Mountains, we travel on to Ouarzazate along the "Road of a Thousand
Casbahs" and then to Marrakesh.
A short drive from Marrakesh brings us to the foothills of Mt. Toubkal, at
13,356 feet, the highest mountain in Morocco and North Africa. We spend three
days trekking on well-maintained trails and sleep in rustic mountain lodges
with dormitory lodging. We then travel back to Marrakesh for a well-deserved
rest and spend the next two days exploring the busy souks, famous gardens, and
Our last stop is the lovely walled town of Essouira on the Atlantic, an artists’
haven of white-washed houses with blue shutters. We explore the medina, the
fisherman’s market, and the harbor where wooden fishing boats continue
to be built in the traditional manner. On our last day we drive back to Casablanca
by the scenic coastal route.
Note: This itinerary is subject to change based on weather and/or other factors.
Day 1: Our adventure begins at 9 a.m. at a hotel in Casablanca.
Participants will want to arrive in Morocco at least one day early to stay at
our Casablanca hotel or another nearby lodging. After an orientation meeting,
we visit the modern Hassan II Mosque (one of the largest in the world) and take
a tour of the city. We then drive to Rabat, Morocco’s capital, for lunch
and a tour of some of the most famous sites, including the Royal Palace, the
Roman ruins of Chellah Necropolis, the medina, and Le Tour Hassan and Mausoleum.
We arrive in Meknes for dinner and overnight.
Photo: Rochelle Gerratt
Day 2: We begin our day with a visit to the former stables
and granary of Moulay Ismail. We have lunch at the village of Moulay Idriss,
a beautiful hilltop town named after Morocco’s most revered saint and
founder of the country’s first real dynasty. We then drive to the 1,700-year-old
site of Volubilis, a UNESCO World Heritage site and the best preserved complex
of Roman ruins in Morocco. We walk amid towering marble columns and gawk at
the well-preserved mosaic tableaus. We take a scenic drive by back roads to
Fez. Before we arrive at our hotel we enjoy a sunset view overlooking Fez with
the haunting "call to prayer" echoing from below.
Day 3: We spend today touring the walled medina of Fez. The
oldest of Morocco’s imperial cities, it is the symbolic heart of the country
and a UNESCO World Heritage site. We explore on foot the medieval Medina where
narrow winding alleys and covered bazaars offer every conceivable type of craft
workshop, market, restaurant, and mosque, all surrounded by magnificent old
stone walls. Some of the finest Berber carpets in Morocco are found in this
medina. Our stroll through this ancient labyrinth highlights the colors and
activity of Moroccan souks (markets). We enjoy a local dinner show with traditional
food, music, and belly dancing.
Photo: Rochelle Gerratt
Day 4: From Fez we begin to drive south to the desert. We
start with a morning drive across the Middle Atlas Mountains, dotted with cedar
forests. We stop en route to see the Barbary apes that invariably sit at the
edge of the road waiting for travelers to toss them peanuts. In the afternoon
we reach the Ziz Valley, an oasis of date palms, with its magnificent gorges.
We continue past palm-fringed towns and old fortresses to Erfoud, a small town
at the gateway to the Sahara, where we overnight.
Day 5: After breakfast we explore an ancient ksar (a fortified
village) where modern restoration is being done. This desert region is famous
for the petrified remains of plants and animals. We visit a local workshop to
learn about the fossils and watch them being made into jewelry, furniture, and
works of art. In the afternoon we journey to Merzouga, the gateway to the Sahara.
Tonight we stay in a comfortable lodge at the very edge of the sand dunes.
Day 6: This morning we board Land Cruisers to visit an oasis
where we will enjoy a one-hour walk to visit some desert Tuareg nomads and learn
about their agricultural practices. In the late afternoon we meet up with our
camels for a safari through the desert to our campsite. (Those who do not wish
to ride a camel may ride in a Land Cruiser). Tonight we experience the desert
in local fashion as we spend the night in a traditional Berber tented camp.
The camp has a large main tent for meals. Each of the sleeping tents has two
beds, a table, solar powered illumination, a private bathroom, and shower. Before
dinner we will climb the dunes, watch the sunset, and return to camp to be entertained
with Berber folklore. After dinner we can gather around the fire to share stories
and listen to the local Gwana music under the star-filled sky.
Photo: James Beck
Day 7: We rise early this morning to climb the sand dunes
for sunrise over the Merzouga Dunes. We return to town in Land Cruisers and
continue on in our bus to explore the Todra Gorge with its limestone cliffs
and fig orchards. This gorge lies at the end of a lush valley filled with mud-brick
villages and enormous palm groves. Hemmed in by barren, craggy mountains, it
is one of Morocco’s most magnificent natural sights. The walls surrounding
it are 1,000 feet high and a river runs through the gorge bottom that narrows
to a width of 30 feet. We will hike in the gorge after lunch. We overnight in
Day 8: We travel west along the "Road of a Thousand Kasbahs,"
stopping to explore Kasbaah Saad, which dates back 200 years. We join a local
family for mint tea. We then visit the spectacular Dades Gorge with brilliantly
colored rock formations. Our next stop is the Rose Valley where we take a short
hike. Our overnight is in Ourzazate, Morocco’s premier movie-making center.
Day 9: This morning we visit the legendary casbah of Ait Benhaddou,
a restored medieval casbah, the location used in the filming of Lawrence of
Arabia and The Last Temptation of Christ. After lunch we leave the desert scenery
of south-central Morocco behind and head northwest to Marrakesh, a palm-fringed
metropolis that has existed for a thousand years.
Photo: Rochelle Gerratt
Day 10: We depart early this morning to start our three-day
trek in the High Atlas Mountains, a two-hour drive from Marrakesh. We will be
traversing the foothills of Mount Toubkal, Morocco’s highest mountain
and the highest mountain in all of North Africa at 13,356 feet elevation. With
several peaks above 12,000 feet, the Central High Atlas is part of a large chain
of mountains that spreads from the Atlantic Coast in the west to the Algerian
border in the east. We start hiking at Aguersioual, a half-mile from the village
of Imlil at 5,280 feet before reaching Ait Ouaougmoute for lunch. We then continue
to Tizi Oussem for dinner and overnight at 8,250 feet at a gite d’etape,
a rustic mountain lodge, that has 15 shared bedrooms and showers. There is approximately
six hours of hiking today on well-traveled trails through high mountain Berber
villages. The scenery of mountains and valleys is spectacular.
Day 11: Today we hike from Tizi Oussem south to the watefalls
at Enebro at 9,900 feet, then back north along the trail to Armed, a mountain
village. We overnight there at another gite d’etape at 6,419 feet. There
is approximately six hours of hiking today.
Day 12: After breakfast we hike from Armed to Imlil, east
to Tinerhuhine at 7,590 feet, and west to Aguersioual at 5,280 feet as we finish
our trek in the afternoon. There is approximately five hours of hiking. We drive
back to Marrakesh to our hotel for dinner and a welcome rest.
Photo: Rochelle Gerratt
Day 13: After breakfast we tour Marrakesh visiting the Koutubia
Mosque, the Saadian Tombs, Bahia Palace, and other well-known sites. After lunch
we take a horse-drawn carriage ride to visit the exotic Majorelle Gardens and
Islamic Arts Museum formerly owned by Yves Saint Laurent. We will have time
to explore the Djemma el’Fna, a huge square and focal point of Marrakesh
that turns into a fascinating spectacle every day and night. A massive food
court is erected every evening while storytellers, dancers, fire-eaters, snake
charmers, musicians, and acrobats keep their audiences spellbound. There will
be some free time in the afternoon to wander on our own or possibly enjoy a
hammam, a Turkish bath where attendants use rhassoul mud, henna, and olive soap
to improve your skin and hair.
Day 14: After breakfast there is time for shopping or just
enjoying the unique atmosphere of Marrakesh. After lunch we take a three-hour
drive to the lovely port town of Essaouira where we will spend two nights at
the seashore. Essouira is a quaint, historic walled town filled with interesting
streets, a colorful harbor, a small souk, Portuguese ramparts and fortifications,
as well as miles of white sand beaches. It also offers some of the best seafood
in all of Morocco. We stay at a comfortable beach-front hotel, just a short
scenic walk from the walled city.
Day 15: After a morning walk on the beach to birdwatch, we
tour the medina of Essouira with its artisan workshops and fishermen’s
market, stopping at a local Thuya wood cooperative where tradesmen make articles
of this wood endemic to the area. We eat lunch at an open-air fish market. We
enjoy our farewell dinner together at a fine Moroccan restaurant.
Day 16: We leave Essouira after breakfast and take the coastal
route to Casablanca, arriving by 5 p.m. Trip members can take a late night flight
home or stay overnight in Casablanca and fly out the next day.
Book your flight into and out of Casablanca, Morocco (CSM). You will be picked
up at the airport and transported to our hotel in Casablanca. The leader will
be happy to give you recommendations and assist you if you wish to extend your
stay on either end of the trip.
Accommodations and Food
Photo: Rochelle Gerratt
For 12 nights we stay in comfortable locally owned hotels with swimming pools;
some of these offer fitness centers and opportunities for spa treatments including
hammams, Turkish baths. On our trek for two nights we stay at simple mountain
lodges or gites with dormitory sleeping arrangements and shared bathrooms and
showers. We spend one night at a fixed Berber camp among the sand dunes of the
Sahara. Each goat-hair tent has two beds, a shower, and a bathroom. All rooms
are double-occupancy except for the mountain lodges. If you come alone you’ll
be sharing with another person of the same gender.
The food will be delicious with a variety of many fruits and vegetables. Moroccan
food is fresh, locally grown, and homemade. The cuisine is a blend of Mediterranean,
Arabic, Jewish, Persian, West African, and Berber influences. We will sample
traditional meals, including the famous couscous and tagines of Morocco, in
all of the restaurants we visit. Vegetarians will be accommodated and any other
food limitation or allergies should be shared with the leader as soon as possible.
To fully appreciate this outing you should be in good physical condition and
enjoy moderately strenuous hikes. On nine of our days we will be touring historical
and cultural sites on foot. We will take short one- to two-hour walks on three
of our days in the canyons and the desert. During our three-day trek in the
High Atlas Mountains we hike an average of six hours per day with a daily elevation
gain of between 1,100 and 3,000 feet and a daily elevation loss of between 2,300
and 3,100 feet. On the trek we will sleep at elevations of 6,419 feet and 8,250
feet. The trails are in good shape and generally not rocky.
Equipment and Clothing
A detailed equipment list will be shared with the group after you register.
The Saharan campsite is furnished with beds and blankets. Hiking poles will
be useful on the mountain terrain during our trek. Everyone will want good binoculars
and cameras to photograph the amazing scenery.
- Abouzeid, Leila, The Year of the Elephant.
- Ben Jelloun, Tahaar, The Sacred Night.
- Bergier, Patrick and Fedora, A Birdwatcher’s Guide to Morocco.
- Bowles, Paul, The Sheltering Sky.
- Clarke, Suzanna, A House in Fez: Building a Life in the Ancient Heart
- El Koudia, Jilali, Moroccan Folk Tales.
- Lonely Planet, Morocco.
- Mernissi, Fatima, Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood.
- Shah, Tahir, In Arabian Nights: In Search of Morocco Through Its Stories
- Shah, Tahir, The Caliph’s House: A Year in Casablanca.
The Sierra Club is an environmentally focused entity. We are concerned about
conservation and sustainability of resources, both locally and globally. Our
work is accomplished by volunteers and aided by a salaried staff, encouraging
grass roots involvement. Our outings seek to empower participants toward understanding
parallel environmental concerns at home and abroad.
The Moroccan government has a firm commitment to the protection of its biodiversity
and has set up a protected area network comprising three national parks (Souss-Massa,
Toubkal and Tazekka), four proposed national and natural parks, and 146 existing
or proposed nature reserves.
Morocco is party to a number of international treaties including Biodiversity,
Climate Change, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Marine
Dumping, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, and Wetlands.
However there are significant environmental issues currently including land
degradation and desertification with soil erosion resulting from farming of
marginal areas, overgrazing and the destruction of vegetation, water supplies
contaminated by raw sewage, silting of reservoirs, and the oil pollution of
coastal waters. We will hear a discussion of these issues from a representative
of a local environmental NPO.
This trip requires a $200 per-person deposit. An additional payment of $300 per person is due six months prior to trip departure. International trip prices are subject to change and are based on double-occupancy or group accommodations as described above. Single rooms may not be available or may cost more than the listed price. If you have any questions regarding double occupancy, please contact the trip leader.
See the How to Apply for an Outing
section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the
trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing
up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing
approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical
Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on
the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to
the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and
notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
The Sierra Club accurately and fairly budgets and prices our trips. However, unforeseen costs such as devaluation of the dollar compared to other currencies and fuel surcharges assessed by our international providers may necessitate adjustment in trip price. We will make every effort to mitigate and absorb these fees. If a price increase is necessary, however, you will have 14 days after announcement to cancel without penalty.
Rochelle Gerratt loves Morocco for its exotic scenery, rich history, and friendly people. Rochelle has been leading international trips for Sierra Club Outings since 2000. She enjoys designing and leading natural history trips in the United States, Central and South America, Europe, and the Mideast. Her trips feature scenic hiking, good food, and authentic cultural experiences. An avid traveler, Rochelle works as a career coach when she is at home. She looks forward to sharing Morocco's treasures with you.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips