Morocco was a big one to check off the bucket list. Beloved by both backpackers and luxury travelers for its fusion of Arabian, Berber and Euro cultures, the exotic setting of this Npth Africa kingdom truly is the stuff of dreams. I spent nearly two weeks traveling south to north where I visited some of the country's most exotic of destinations. While I found parts of the country to be a tad aggressive, other regions were completely laidback and relaxed. And any stress was overshadowed by the otherworldly beauty of the desert castles, blue cities, sand dunes and vibrant Medinas. My travel guide below includes a roundup of the best riads, desert camps, sightseeing spots, photo locations and restaurants for Marrakesh, Chefchaouen, Fez, Aït Benhaddou and Erg Chebbi - all can be visited in two weeks.
Soaking in the spectacular desert dunes of Erg Chebbi, in eastern Morocco.
Known to many as the Red City, Marrakesh might be the most iconic destination in Morocco. It serves up the perfect mix of culture and chaos for tourists, especially for those staying in the city's historic Medina. A fabled ancient quarter, the Medina is a labyrinth of cobbled corridors and lanes lined with spice vendors, textile hawkers, lantern stalls, hidden courtyards, charming riads and tiny restaurants. There's no rhyme or reason to the maze of meandering passageways, making it impossible not to get lost. The entire Medina experience is an assault on the sense, but that's part of what makes Marrakesh so special. There's nowhere else in the world quite like it.
One of the prettiest pools in Morocco sits tucked away inside La Sultana.
THINGS TO DO IN MARRAKESH
The souks are the historic shopping district within the city's ancient Medina. A legendary trading centre, today the souks are a popular tourist attraction filled with hundreds of tiny stalls selling colorful textiles, aromatic spices, straw handbags, exotic lanterns, paintings and more. Arrive with a shopping list, and prepared for aggressive bargaining.
This beloved botanical garden sits outside the Medina, and is reachable via a short taxi ride. Created by French painter Jaques Majorelle, the garden is a myriad of pathways lined with exotic plants, soaring palms, cacti, agave, bamboo, jasmine and more. It's one of the city's more popular tourist attractions, so visit early to avoid crowds of people. (Rue Yves St Laurent, Marrakesh)
Located within the Medina walls, Jemma el-Fnaa is a busy central square filled with food stalls, fresh juice stands, illegal snake charmers, peddlers and hawkers. Several of the souk passageways and Medina alleys lead to Jemma el-Fnaa.
Golden Hour on the rooftop of El Fenn.
PLACES TO STAY IN MARRAKESH
72 RIAD LIVING
I love the design of 72 Riad Living - minimalist, modern and Old World charm. Room prices are slightly higher than other riads, but it's worth the extra spend for the sleek luxury and extra space. The on-site restaurant is one of the best in Marrakech, and the rooftop is one of the highest in the city (great for Golden Hour). (ADDRESS: 72 Arset Azwel Bab Doukkala, Marrakesh)
FOUR SEASONS RESORT MARRAKECH
If you're looking for a more traditional hotel stay, the Four Seasons Marrakesh offers a sprawling five-star oasis near the Ville Nouvelle. The gorgeous property resembles a desert mirage filled with Moorish gardens, sparkling pools, rows of palms, posh cabanas and a full-service spa. (ADDRESS: Avenue de la Ménara, Marrakesh)
La Mamounia is a five-star luxury hotel, also located outside the Medina. The large property resembles a palace, home to 136 rooms, 71 suites, three riads, sprawling gardens, terraces, a spa and an exotic indoor pool. (ADDRESS: Avenue Bab Jdid, Marrakesh)
This is my favorite hotel in Marrakesh. Centrally located inside the Medina, La Sultana is comprised of five small riads, each one completely unique in design. There are 28 rooms, a rooftop terrace, hammam and spa, but the highlight of the property is the dreamy pool that sits in an open courtyard, lined with archways, columns and turquoise design cues. (ADDRESS: 403 Rue de La Kasbah, 63-67 rue Boutouille, Marrakesh)
RIAD BE MARRAKECH
It's worth a stay at Be Marrackech just to access the riad's two stunning courtyard pools adorned in colorful Moroccan tiles, lanterns, plants and pillows. The riad rooms are small, but tastefully decorated, and there is a charming rooftop terrace. (ADDRESS: 23 Derb Sidi Lahcen O Ali, Marrakesh)
Riad Dyor is comprised of three riads, each with a central airy courtyard where guests can enjoy a range of amenities including a plunge pool, fountain and lounge space. The 10 rooms are lovely with high wood ceilings, cool tones and Moroccan design cues. (ADDRESS: 1 Driba Jdida, Sidi Ben Slimane, Marrakesh)
Riad Kheirredine is one of the best reviewed properties in Marrakesh. The boutique hotel boats contemporary Moroccan style, luxurious spaces and a moderate price tag, making it one of the best deals in the city. There is a posh rooftop terrace, full-service spa, on-site restaurant and plunge pool. The 14 rooms are quick to go, best to book well in advance. (ADDRESS: 2, Derb Chelligui, Sidi Ben Slimane, Marrakesh)
A charming little riad that has skyrocketed to fame in recent years thanks to its dreamy courtyard plunge pool. Spacious rooms are dark, but beautifully decked out with Moroccan design cues. You'll need to book months in advance to secure a room at Riad Yasmine. (ADDRESS: 209 Rue Ank Jemel, Marrakesh)
For travelers that want the desert experience, but don't have time to visit the dunes of Erg Chebbi, consider a stay at Scarebo Camp. An hour from Marrakech, this is one of the more popular desert camps in Morocco thanks to its Boho-chic design that makes it an Instagram darling. (LOCATION: Désert Agafay, Marrakesh)
The cactus garden of Jardin Majorelle is an oasis set in the middle of Marrakesh.
WHERE TO EAT IN MARRAKESH
One of the best lunch views in Marrakesh, Atay Cafe sits in the heart of the Medina with rooftop seating that treats guests to views of market corridors, palms, mosques and the Atlas Mountains. The menu is filled with signature Moroccan dishes including tajine, skewers and couscous. (ADDRESS: 62, Rue Amsefah Sidi Abdelaziz, Marrakesh)
Popular lunch and dinner spot that serves up cocktails and classic Moroccan dishes including couscous, aubergine, tajine and soups. (ADDRESS: Derb Sidi El Yamani, 24B, Marrakesh)
This charming riad is also home to one of the prettiest rooftop restaurants in the Medina. The chic space is filled with tables, couches and Boho canopies, all surrounded by Moroccan lanterns that make for a dreamy setting at sunset. I ordered dinner from the three course set menu, and it was very good. Highlights were the fresh lobster and tajine. (ADDRESS: Derb Moulay Abdullah Ben Hezzian, 2, Marrakesh)
LA TABLE DU RIAD
Restaurant is located inside 72 Riad Living. The fine dining experience is limited to 12 tables per night, so definitely make a reservation in advance. Dishes are artfully plated, fresh and delicious. (ADDRESS: 72 Arset Awzel, Bab Doukkala, Marrakesh)
ORANGE JUICE STALLS
You'll find them scattered around the city, but mostly in the Jemma el-Fnaa central square. The orange juice is freshly squeeze, and ridiculously cheap.
Quiet mornings poolside at La Sultana.
HOW LONG IN MARRAKECH
It really depends how you want to experience Marrakech. For a relaxed visit with a bit of the souks, the spa, the pool and sightseeing daily, I recommend four to five full days in town (especially if you want to stay a couple different riads). If time is tight, two full days will give you a good dose of one riad and the Medina.
GETTING AROUND MARRAKECH
Most riads arrange transport from the airport for an extra fee. From the riad, the Medina can be explored on foot - all the souks, restaurants and sights within the walls are walking distance. And for trips outside of the Medina, taxis are very affordable (confirm price with the driver before the journey).
This is the dreamy plunge pool that made Riad Yasmine Insta famous.
One of the five riads inside La Sultana.
ERG CHEBBI & SURROUNDS
For a completely otherworldly experience, I suggest traveling east from Marrakech to Erg Chebbi. It's a long nine-hour journey to reach the famed desert dunes, but the drive can be broken up over two to three days, as there is plenty of spectacular sightseeing along the way. If you're staying at one of the desert camps, the property can put together an itinerary for the trip along with a private driver and lodging. The suggested stops are usually Aït Benhaddou and Ouarzazate, but they can include other stops as well if you let them know in advance.
An overnight in the Moroccan desert is an absolutely surreal experience.
THINGS TO SEE
AIT BEN HADDOU
This UNESCO World Heritage Site might look familiar to Game of Thrones fans. The backdrop of Yunkai in Slaver's Bay is actually a fortified village that dates back to the 17th century. Aït Ben Haddou looks straight out of a fairytale - a desert sand castle come to life. The views are most spectacular from outside the village, but take the time to wander inside and explore the maze of streets lined with little shops selling colorful carpets, bright textiles and straw bags.
For some of the most epic scenery in Morocco, spend a night or two amongst the dunes of Erg Chebbi. Merzouga is the gateway town to the sand dunes - most tourists stay at one of camps in Erg Chebbi. Depending on the heat, guests can experience the surrounding desert by camel, ATV, 4WD vehicle or on foot. The camps are fairly isolated, and one night is usually enough to get a taste of desert life and snap some pretty epic photos.
The Fint Oasis can be visited as a half day trip from from Aït Benhaddou or Ouarzazate. This mirage-like setting is composed of four small villages set amongst a lush green palm paradise. Several movies have been filmed here including Prince of Persia and Kingdom of Heaven.
Skoura Oasis also resembles a mirage - this one a sand castle rising out of an oasis of fertile green palms. It's called the Oasis of a Thousand Palms, and there are scenic topside views from the main road.
Aït Benhaddou might look familiar to Game of Thrones fans.
PLACES TO STAYS IN ERG CHEBBI
ALI & SARA'S DESERT PALACE
Situated in the Erg Chebbi dunes about 30 minutes from Merzouga, Ali & Sara's Desert Palace is the ultimate desert escape. Guests stay in private luxury tents, each with a spacious ensuite bathroom and private shower that pumps hot water. Tents are well furnished with large beds and fresh linens. Meals are served in a dining tent, and wifi is available throughout the camp. (LOCATION: Erg Chebbi Dunes, Merzouga)
KAM KAM DUNES
Kam Kam Dunes is a nomadic oasis of traditional Berber-style tents located in the heart of Erg Chebbi. Tents are spacious with roomy beds, private ensuite bathrooms and showers. No wi-fi. (LOCATION: Erg Chebbi, Merzouga)
MERZOUGA LUXURY DESERT CAMP
An upscale nomadic experience, Merzouga Luxury Desert Camp is also located in the heart of the Eeg Chebbi dunes. The spacious tents are well-furnished and tastefully designed, and similar to the other camps they include a private bathroom and shower, as well as ensuite air conditioning. No wi-fi. (LOCATION: Erg Chebbi, Merzouga)
So many places enroute to the Sahara looked like a mirage.
If you're traveling by car up to Chefchaouen, Fez is a great place to break up the trip. Located in central Morocco, the country'a oldest city is home to a bustling medieval Medina filled with souks, riads, cafes and restaurants. While the charm of Marrakech is noticeably absent, the iconic Chaowara Tannery and Madrasa Bou Inania make Fez a worthy stopover. Be warned that the hagglers are far more aggressive here than Marrakech (more on this below), and it might be worth investing in a guide off TripAdvisor just to keep them away.
Visit the Madrasa Bou Inania early in the morning to experience it without tourists.
THINGS TO DO IN FEZ
Stressful at times, but definitely the highlight of any visit to Fez. The medieval Medina is a mecca of chaos, lined with souks selling aromatic spices, colorful carpets, shiny pots, eclectic jewelry and so much more. You'll find the cutest street in the Medina located alongside the Madersa Bou Inania. It's an alleyway bursting with color, and walls are covered in carpets, cobblestone covered in chalk and doors covered with paintings.
MADRASA BOU INANIA
An early morning visit to the Madrasa Bou Inania is a must in Fez. The former mosque and school is an architectural wonder of Moroccan details that dates back to the 14th century. Early mornings inside the madrasa courtyard offer a completely serene escape from the haggling, noise and chaos located just outside the doors in the surrounding Medina. Arrive at opening to have the place to yourself before the tourist groups start shuffling in.
There isn't a place more iconic to Fez than the Chaowara Tannery. Visitors are treated to topside views of the dozens of stone wells filled to the brims with dyes for coloring and softening leather hides.
PLACES TO STAY IN FEZ
For a truly luxurious stay in Fez, book a suite at the Karawan Riad located in the Andalous Quarter of Fez. The 17th century building is home to seven beautifully designed rooms, some of the most spacious in all of Fez. The spaces are modern, but infused with Moroccan detailing including lanterns, alcoves, muted tones, antique furniture and lots of wood. (ADDRESS: 21 Derb Ourbia Makhfiya، Fez)
An absolute gem tucked away in the Medina. Riad Anata is home to five beautifully designed rooms, very clean and comfortable. The rooms sit on different levels of the riad, but all surround the traditional central courtyard. Meals are served on the rooftop, in an intimate setting that overlooks the edge of the Medina. (ADDRESS: Derb El-Hamia, Fez)
RIAD LAAROUSSA HOTEL & SPA
Riad Laaroussa sits in the heart of the Medina, inside a 17th century palace. The hotel's eight spacious rooms are adorned in Moroccan detailing, and surround an open, airy courtyard. Unlike most riads in Fez, Riad Laaroussa is home to a pool, spa and private hamman. Meals can be enjoyed on the rooftop terrace overlooking the city. (ADDRESS: 3 Derb Bechara, Fez)
RIAD LE CALIFE
Another charming riad that's more of an oasis than a hotel. The details of Riad Le Calife are exquisite with rooms, suites and common areas each designed in a specific color - reds, greens, yellows and oranges. Seven beautifully appointed rooms and suites overlook a lovely central courtyard. The owners provide guests with a local cell phone in the event they get lost the surrounding Medina. (ADDRESS: 19 Bis Derb el Ouarbiya - El Makhfia, Fez)
HAGGLERS & TOUTS IN FEZ
Fez is a place I was pretty excited to visit. It had all the makings of a city I would adore - medieval walls, exotic souks, historic roots and a bustling ancient quarter. But the Medina's pushy merchants, touts and guides were overly aggressive trying to sell us services, good and directions with behavior that bordered on harassment. I'm used to hagglers when I travel, but the level of aggression in Fez made most of the visit stressful and uncomfortable. For anyone planning to visit, there are two popular scams in Fez. First, someone will approach you and insist you are walking down a street that is closed to tourists, hoping you'll turn around or change direction. If you do, they will demand money for "helping" you when the road was never closed to begin with. Also be weary when you visit the tannery. Several "guides" sit in the alleys nearby, and when you reject their offer to be your tour guide, they jump in front of you as you're walking so that it appears they are leading you to the tannery (even though there's only one way to go). They then demand money, claiming to have been your guide. Most of our time in the Medina was like this. Absolutely exhausting.
Marrakech might be tourist darling of Morocco, but Chefchaouen gets my vote for favorite destination. Known by many at The Blue Pearl, the city's Medina is a maze of blue pedestrian corridors where visitors find themselves surrounded by blue doors, blue paintings, blue pottery, blue passageways and blue steps. Everything is blue, and it creates a completely surreal atmosphere. Chefchaouen sits in northern Morocco, a two hour drive from the nearest airport in Tangier, and even further from popular tourist destinations like Marrakech, Essaouira, Fez and Casablanca. It's remote location and Spanish roots lend to a completely laidback atmosphere - a relaxed, charming and peaceful tourist destination.
The charming streets of Morocco's Blue City.
THINGS TO DO IN CHEFCHAOUEN
Spend as much time as possible exploring every nook and cranny of the spectacular blue Medina. That's the reason for any visit to Chefchaouen, and getting lost in the the labyrinth over and over again is the best way to discover the hidden gems of The Blue Pearl.
It's not the greatest viewpoint, but it's really the only place to see the city from above. The Chefchaouen viewpoint is an easy 15-minute walk from the city toward the hills. You'll pass the local swimming hole, souvenir stalls and hawkers selling selfies with chained up animals (please, do NOT take photos with these abused animals) as you leave the Medina. Simply follow the hillside pathway that leads to an overlook that faces the city.
Every street in the Medina is this beautiful shade of blue.
PLACES TO STAY IN CHEFCHAOUEN
Casa Peralta is an absolutely charming riad located on the edge of the Medina in Chefchaouen. The property has been beautifully designed with loads of blue details, as well as Moroccan archways, vaulted ceilings and airy courtyards. Similar to most of Chefchaouen, rooms here are clean, cute and spacious, but still very affordable. Room size and layouts vary - best to scroll through photos online and select the option that best suites you.
Another charming property, this one located a bit deeper inside the Medina. Casa Sabila oozes with dreamy Moroccan design details both inside and outside the riad. Rooms are clean and beautifully designed, some with exposed brick and others with vaulted wood beam ceilings.
A lovely riad that sits on a picturesque corner in the Medina. Riad Garnata is built around a charming courtyard where breakfast is served in the mornings. Rooms are well-kept and very clean. If you book the top floor room, there is an ensuite staircase that leads to a private rooftop terrace overlooking the Medina.
The streets of Chefchaouen.
Chefchaouen's dreamy coloring is from blue talc and chalk-based paint.
HOW LONG IN CHEFCHAOUEN
The entire Medina can be explored in one day, but I recommend at least two full days in Chefchaouen. It's a slow moving city, and you'll want the extra time to really soak in the beauty of The Blue Pearl. Two to three days also ensures enough time for photos.
GETTING AROUND CHEFCHAOUEN
There's no need for a car in Chefchaouen. The historic Medina is a pedestrian-only quarter made up of cobbled lanes, narrow stairways and quiet corridors - easily explored on foot.
Topside views of the Blue City are reachable via a 15-minute walk from the Medina.
Chefchaouen is calm, quiet and laidback compared to other cities in Morocco.