Atlantic to Sahara – A Moroccan Road Trip Itinerary

Morocco road trip

A road trip in the stunning country of Morocco will take you from the sparking turquoise waters of the coast, through the dramatic snow-capped Atlas mountains. You’ll head into some of the craziest cities on earth and take the long road east to the rose gold dunes of the Sahara.  With such a diverse landscape and wonderfully welcoming people, what’s stopping you from hitting the tarmac and taking a Moroccan road trip? 

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Is Driving in Morocco Safe?

Morocco is a safe country in which to drive and travel. Before you start planning your road trip or fly drive Morocco adventure, check out our tips for driving in Morocco and car rental tips in this driving in Morocco guide.

Driving in Morocco is not difficult but it can be challenging, especially on mountain roads and in cities. You need to know what to expect before you hit the road, especially if you’re in a rental car. 

 

This Morocco self drive tour is suitable for motorhomes, cars, motorbikes and everything in between!  If you’re planning on taking a car to Morocco (or any other vehicle) you can find lots of tips and information about the process of importing a vehicle in this guide.

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Ten Things to Know Before Going to Morocco
What Do I Need to Know Before Going to Morocco?

To the uninitiated, Morocco is a heady and mysterious country, full of hidden dangers and a confusing culture.  In reality, Morocco is an overwhelmingly friendly country which embraces travellers who are looking to enjoy and celebrate everything this beautiful and diverse country has to offer.  

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Driving in Morocco – Everything You Need to Know

Moroccan roads are made for driving, it’s the perfect country for road trips and longer tours. Driving in Morocco is not like driving back home though, and at times being on the road in Morocco can be challenging. Find out everything you need to know and our top tips for driving in Morocco here.

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Morocco Road Trip Itineraries

You may be tempted to pack more than suggested in to your two or three weeks, but Morocco deserves a slightly slower pace of travel, to absorb and immerse yourself in the culture, landscape and essence of the country and we have designed our itineraries to allow for that.

The two week Morocco itinerary takes you to all the key places and gives you a taste of ocean, mountains, cities and desert.   If you’ve got a bit longer, stay for another day in places you fall in love with or check our additional destinations to help plan a three week Morocco self drive itinerary.  

You could also pick out the destinations or routes you like the look of and create a one week or ten day itinerary.

Our Morocco two and three week road trip interactive itinerary map will help you navigate the best routes between destinations.  

Morocco road trip 10 days

DISTANCE | 1905 – 2300km

DURATION | 1905 – 2 to 3 weeks

DRIVE TIME | 30 – 40 hours

WHEN TO GO | all year round

PLACES VISITED | 7 – 10

1. Casablanca

2. Fes

3. Merzouga

4. Dades Gorge

5. Ait Benhaddou

6. Marrakech

7. Essaouira

8. Chefchaouen

9. Meknes

10. Sidi Kaouki

Casablanca

Casablanca, on the Atlantic coast,  is by far the best place to fly into. It has great international air links and is right on the best roads, all the better to ease you in gently to your road trip in Morocco!  

Casablanca is a modern city and lacks the atmosphere of other large Moroccan cities.  Trade is king here with relatively few tourists spending time in the city and very few attractions to entice them to visit so we don’t suggest staying for longer than you need to.

If you are arriving on a European flight that lands before noon, then getting to Fez before dark is very achievable.   Otherwise (or if you are arriving from the States and need a night to get over your jet lag) head into the city for the evening and pick up your hire car the next morning. Stay at the Barcelo Anfa Casablanca for easy access and great facilities. 

From Casablanca, jump on the A2 heading north and then inland. This road has tolls which can only be paid in cash.  It will take you around three to four hours to get to Fez depending on how fast you drive and traffic on the day.  

We suggest using maps.me to navigate in Morocco. We found the mapping to be more reliable than Google Maps which would regularly just stop working even with full 4g.  You can download country maps to use when offline.  We also use the most up to date paper map of Morocco, the Michelin Map Africa Morocco 742. This is the only navigational tool available which shows roads in Morocco by surface…important if you decide to head off the beaten track en-route!

Fez

Fez is noisy, raw, dilapidated and beautiful all at once.  It is an astonishing city, full of culture, spectacle and history.  The footprint of the ancient medina, Fes el-Bali, has remained unchanged for the last one thousand years and is still home to over 70,000 people.   This dark, twisting and unrelenting place, the worlds largest car free urban area, evokes strong feelings in most visitors. Whether you love or hate the chaos and disorder of the medina, to not visit would be a missed opportunity.  

Visit Fes el-Bali without a guide and you will get lost.  If getting lost is part of the charm, take the best map you can find (don’t rely on your phone as it will struggle to get an accurate location) and follow the general flow of traffic until you find a landmark or ask for directions. Shopkeepers are a good source of direction or let the local kids show you the way; they are happy to take you to wherever you want to go, seemingly with their eyes closed, but you’ll be expected to pay for their services!

Head to the new city, Fes el-Jdid, for a slightly more laid back experience, even though ‘new’ Fes is still over 700 years old!  

drive from Marrakech to Fez
Chaouwara Tanneries, Fez

What to See in Fes el-Bali

Medersa Bou Inania – a short walk from Bou Jeloud square, this is the finest of the theological colleges in Fez and dates from the 14th century.  

Chaouwara Tanneries – take a nose peg, this iconic sight is highly pungent due to the pigeon faeces and lime used in the centuries old tanning process.  The only way to see the action is to head for one of the viewing platforms which surround the tannery, usually sited above leather shops. Head for 10 Derb Chaouwara and pay a few dirhams for a sprig of mint before climbing the stairs to an open viewing platform.  Here a salesman can answer your questions in exchange for a small fee, of for free if he makes a sale.  The tannery operates on a co-operative basis with the leather shops, so if you do make a purchase it will directly benefit the workers you watch from the terrace. The morning is a better time to view as the vats are filled with fresh dye, the colours are brightest and the sun is in the right place for photos. 

Henna Souq – Off Talaa Kebira, this souq is one of the oldest in the city.  Come here to see the fantastic array of traditional beauty products Moroccan women use, including henna and argan oil.  

Kairouine Mosque and University – one of the largest mosque’s in Africa and often touted as the oldest university in the world, this place is at the heart of the medina. Non-Muslims cannot enter, but you can gaze in from the main door on Derb Boutouil.

What to See in Fes el-Jdid

Bou Jeloud Gardens – a welcome respite from the pandemonium of the medina! Renovated and replanted these gardens are popular with locals and visitors alike.  

Mellah – the old Jewish quarter which one housed over 250,000 Jews, now home to only a handful.  The Rue des Merindes is lined with houses built with open balconies, very different to local the style, where Jewish ladies would have watched the world go by.  

Royal Palace – sadly not open the the public, but you can go and marvel at the brass doors surrounded by intricate centuries old plasterwork and incredibly detailed mosaics.

We strongly advise you to employ a guide in Fez.  This jumble of a city is easy to get seriously lost in and there are areas of the medina where you may feel uncomfortable as a tourist and certainly wouldn’t want to be after dark.  

A local guide will take you to the best places and ensure you are not hassled, although inevitably you will end up in a carpet shop at some point; embrace it, it’s all part of the experience!

You’ll probably want at least two nights in Fez; this city deserves  a full day of sightseeing and maybe an extra day for a Moroccan experience, such as a cookery class or market shopping.  

Stay at Dar Roumana, one of the first boutique hotels in Fez and still amongst the best.  Situated in a quieter part of the ancient Medina and within a few minutes walk of all the main sights, this hotel has beautiful Islamic decor and a lovely welcoming, family vibe. They can also arrange secure parking for you, a must in this busy city.  

From Fez, you’re heading south on the main N8/N13 route through the Middle and High Atlas mountains. This is a truly spectacular drive, along mostly good roads with incredible views of snow capped peaks.  Further on, you’ll drive through the seemingly endless Ziz Valley, with its’ dramatic gorges and iconic oasis towns. There are literally thousands of date palms growing here; stop and buy some by the road (expect to pay around 20-30MAD for a box) whilst admiring the view.

With a very early start, you can attempt the seven plus hours directly to Merzouga. If you prefer a more leisurely pace, then stop overnight at Midelt, around three to four hours south of Fez.

If you do decide to stop in Midelt, you’ll find a main street and not a lot else!  Stop at Riad Villa Midelt just outside town.  This pretty ten-roomed hotel with restaurant has large air-conditioned modern rooms and a pool, great for a dip after your long drive.  

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Merzouga

The gateway to Morocco’s Sahara Desert, Merzouga is situated at the foot of Erg Chebbi, a great sand sea of golden dunes.  As you approach from the north, the sight of the huge dunes rising majestically from the surrounding hammada (stony, flat desert) is breathtaking. 

For detailed information on visiting the Sahara Desert in Morocco and taking a desert tour and visiting a desert camp, check out our post.  

Stay at Kasbah Kanz Erremal for stylish and spotlessly clean rooms with a fabulous pool overlooking the dunes. The hotel can also arrange Morocco desert tours for you.

We would suggest three nights here, to soak up the peace and tranquility of the desert and to enjoy all the activities on offer in the area. From experiencing a traditional berber camp in the desert, to sand boarding and fossil hunting, staying in Merzouga for a few days is like a mini-holiday within your Morocco holidays! 

Todra and Dades Gorges

From Merzouga, you’re heading to the gorges of Todra and Dades.  Take the N13 north and then pick up the N12 going west before meeting the R113 north to Tinghir (sometimes Tinerhir) three hours later. From the small village, pick up the R703 north.

This road runs alongside the Todra river and leads you into the seemingly impenetrable Todra Gorge, full of palms and banked by dramatic vertical walls of rock.  Leave Merzouga early to get here before the crowds and for the brief  moments when the gorge is lit up by the glorious morning sun.  There is hiking and climbing galore here and if you have longer than a few weeks, Tinghir makes a good base for these activities. 

Head west from Tinghir on the N10 for around 50 minutes to Boumalne Dades, then pick up the R704 north into the Dades Valley.  Stay for two nights at the excellent and highly recommended Chez Pierre  where you will find simply decorated rooms and a gorgeous flower-filled terrace with a pool.  The five course, French style gastronomic dinner is excellent and is a must if you stay here.  The hotel is situated just below the start of the gorge and makes an ideal place from which to drive the incredible road or stay for a few days of hiking.  Check out the famous monkey fingers hike, so called after the shape of rock formations at the start of the valley.

are roads safe to travel in Morocco
Dades Gorge

The Dades Gorge is one of the most exciting driving routes in Morocco. This is a wild landscape, right at the heart of the High Atlas mountains.  The gorge itself is carved out of red rock, with millennia of strata visible, from layers of different coloured stone to knobbly rocks and everything in between. The gradient is steep in places and the barriers non-existent, even around the endless hairpin bends. This is not a drive for the faint hearted.  In return for your bravery, you’ll get spectacular views and some Instagram worthy photos opportunities to prove you’ve driven what is considered one of the most dangerous roads in the world!

Morocco Road Trip Essentials

Ait Benhaddou

From the Dades Gorge, our road trip route takes us further west on the N10 to Ouarzazarte, then the N9 to Ait Benhaddou.  

Ait Benhaddou (sometimes Ait Ben Haddou) is a stunning and ancient kasbah and traditional Berber village.  Since extensive renovations, it is a protected UNESCO site and sits in the beautiful Ounilla Valley. Once a stop for nomadic trading caravans en-route to and from Marrakech to Timbuktu, this atmospheric village is the perfect place to spend a slow day ambling it’s narrow streets and stairs.   Locals also act as guides, distinguishable by their blue djellaba (robes) and can give you insights and information about Berber life as well as the history of Ait Benhaddou.  Expect to pay around 100MAD for a couple of hours.

It’s also home to a thriving film scene in Morocco, with the nearest town of Ouarzazarte being home to several studios.  Some of Game of Thrones and Gladiator were filmed here and locals will be delighted to show you their photos with the stars; many also work as extras when the need arises!   

If you want a less perfect kasbah, drive a further 6km north from Ait Benhaddou to find the slowly disintegrating Tamdaght kasbah, untouched by mass tourism.  You can walk freely around this kasbah but be aware that there may be debris and falling masonry to add to the authenticity!

Stay at Hotel La Kasbah for fantastic views of the old village across the river, which can be reached within a five  minute walk (longer if the river is flowing and you need to use the bridge).  

If you’re looking for an authentic Berber experience, we recommend Maison d’hôtes Dar El Haja  a guest house in the ancient fort and decorated in the Moroccan style; this place is the real deal in terms of Berber hospitality.   You’ll need to leave your car in the parking at Hotel La Kasbah where there is a guardien who will ensure it’s safety overnight for a few dirhams (agree the price before heading to the guest house!)

driving in the desert tips
Ait Benhaddou

The N9 will take you from Ouarzazarte back across the High Atlas, over the awe-inspiring Tizi n’ Tichka pass at 2260m, into the centre of Marrakech.  

This is another amazing drive, but be aware that the name means ‘difficult mountain pasture’.  This is not an easy road to drive; much of it is one and a half lanes only, with very few crash barriers and roadworks reducing the already narrow road to single file in some places.   There are over 100 turns on the pass itself and hundreds more on the ascent and descent. Around 30% of the road is unsealed and often busy with coaches and lorries.    

This is a gloriously untamed drive with close-up views of the High Atlas and surrounding countryside, particularly from the summit.  Driving over the Tizi n’ Tichka pass is a unique experience, not to be missed. There are plenty of places to stop for a break but you may find that you are harassed by locals selling fossils and minerals by the side of the road…choose your stopping place wisely!

If you are taking a road trip in Morocco between November and March, the road may be affected by snow and avalanche.  If the road is impassable the snow gates will be closed and the only way to Marrakech is along the N10 to Agadir, where you can pick up the A7.  Don’t be tempted to take the R203 as a short cut, this takes you over the even more dangerous Tizi n’Test pass!

Marrakech

The jewel in Morocco’s crown, Marrakech is a magical jumble of tradition and modernity.  The medina is a feast for the senses and will leave you reeling as you struggle to comprehend the different smells, sounds and tastes that are unique to Morocco’s medinas.  

Known as the Red City, for its’ beaten clay buildings and ramparts, Marrakech is a city in which to spend a few days. Underlying what feels like pandemonium in the souks is a laid-back vibe and a growing contemporary scene.  

Many of the major attractions are in the medina, simply wandering the streets, squares and different souks could take a day.  There is so much to see in Marrakech,  taking a guided tour will help you make the most of your time here.  It is possible to self-guide but you won’t get the insight and experience that a local can bring.

Top Things to See in Marrakech

Djemaa el-Fna – simply known as ‘the square’, this is the heart of ancient Marrakech.  Cleaned up in recent years and now a UNESCO site, you’ll find all of Moroccan life here.  From henna tattooists, to snake charmers, spice sellers and everything in between, it’s a window into a different world.  At night the square fills with food stalls where you can eat well and cheaply. Take plastic cutlery and a bottle of water with some hand wipes…there is no running water here.

Some aspects of the square are less than savoury and involve animal tourism and forceful selling. Be on guard against this and pickpockets, especially after dark. 

Souk des Teinturiers – a traditional and colourful sight in the medina with skeins of brightly dyed wool hanging from rafters, alongside tubs of deeply pigmented powder  to delight the eye.  

Le Jardin Secret – a beautiful spot of tranquility, this traditionally laid out Islamic garden is a great antidote to the hustle and bustle of the medina.

Bahia Palace – this gorgeous palace is stuffed with tilework, intricate marquetry and painted wooden ceilings.  In the harem, you’ll find woven silk, stained glass windows and more painted ceilings; four wives and 24 concubines were housed in these lavish rooms!

Jardin Majorelle – in the Ville Nouvelle, this colourful and inspiring garden was the brainchild of Yves St Laurent.  Showcasing the famous electric blue so synonymous of Marrakech, while away an afternoon here or come early to beat the crowds.

road trip from Marrakech
Djemaa el-Fna, Marrakech

If you want to stay in the medina, then Dar Housnia would be our choice.  On the edge of the action, this means there is gardien parking nearby (you’ll need to get details from them before arriving) but all the main sights are still walkable.  This elegant hotel is beautifully designed and extremely comfortable.  With a secluded pool and roof terrace, treat yourself to an afternoon of lounging!

If you prefer the new town, then Les Deux Tours in the Palmeraie neighbourhood, is delightful.  Set in three hectares of lush and beautifully manicured gardens, it’s a dust-free haven!   This luxurious piece of  tranquility is the perfect end to a hectic Marrakech day.

From Marrakech our final destination is an easy three hour drive west on the R207 to Essaouira (pronounced Essaweera).

Essaouira

This vibrant town is a wonderful come down at the end of a road trip.  With few typical visitor attractions, there is no pressure and lots of opportunities to relax, shop and eat!  

Fish is always top of the menu here and the traditional port has to be seen (and smelled) to be believed!   Head in that direction and you will come across a collection of blue and white huts which grill and serve whatever fish has been caught that morning.  It can get busy and as you arrive you will have a dozen menus thrust in you face, but take your time and pick the shack you like the look of best.    

After lunch, wander the streets of the UNESCO protected medina where you will find modern art galleries, traditional crafts and local food shops along with a handful of good restaurants and cafes.  

The beach at Essaouira is a long stretch of sandy playground, with surfers, quad bikers and camel riders all having a place.  It can be very windy here unless you visit during the height of summer.  If you’re looking for a a few more relaxing beach days to end your trip, take the A7 motorway from Marrakech to the somewhat soulless and sterile city of Agadir and flop!

Essaouira has some of the best hotels in Marocco.  We recommend Villa Maroc for it’s amazing medina location, ocean view and beautiful rooms (and yes, parking!).

From here you’ll be heading back north to Casablanca, an easy four to five hour drive up the A1 and N1 roads. 

Morocco coast road trip
Essaouira Medina

By now, you will have covered over 1950km and spent nearly 30 hours driving.  If you have a few more days, why not check out these extra destinations to extend your your road trip to three weeks?

Chefchaoeun

Head to Chefchaouen directly from Casablanca, a five hour drive on reasonably good roads.  Take the A1 (don’t forget change for the toll) north from Casablanca and then pick up the N13 to Chefchaouen.

The Blue City, Chefchaouen is high in the Rif Mountains to the north of Morocco. This pretty and authentic city has embraced being blue with a vengeance! Buildings, walls and even steps are blue washed  in every shade imaginable, bringing life and colour to the old medina.  

This is a haven for backpackers, probably to do with the plentiful supply of locally grown kif (cannabis) which you may be offered, but this is the only hassle you’ll get here. The main square Plaza Uma el-Hamman is home to a restored kasbah and some of the best restaurants in Chefchaouen. This laid-back city is a great place to ease yourself into Morocco and take a few days to find your feet.

Chefchaouen The Blue City Morocco
The Blue City

Take a guided tour of the city, walk out to the waterfall at Ras el-Maa and then on to the Spanish Mosque, or if you’re feeling particularly energetic head for the summit of Jebel el-Kelaa at 1616m.  This two day Chefchaouen itinerary has lot more great ideas for your time in this wonderful city.

Stay at Auberge Dardara outside of town for traditional Moroccan hospitality and decor.  If you want to step out into the square and have the city on your doorstep, then Riad Hicham is our pick for location, superb views and great guest feedback. You can also park at this hotel for a small charge.

From Chefchaouen head to Meknes south on the N13, the drive will take around three to for hours.

Meknes

Meknes is a small city with a relatively quiet medina.  Its a great base for visiting Volublis (around 30km), the UNESCO protected site of the best preserved Roman ruins in Morocco.  If you’re visiting in spring, the wild flowers here are abundant and the fields lush and green, bringing magic to this ancient place.  

Make the most of your day with a visit to Moulay Idriss, a whitewashed town just 5km away from Volublis and one of Morocco’s most important pilgrimage sites.  

Stay at Riad D’or  located in the Meknes Medina. Recently restored, it is a charming place to stay with the added bonus of a roof-top pool and terrace. 

Meknes to Fez is a short hop of just an hour along the A2 toll motorway, which you will need cash to pay for.  

Sidi Kaouki

A hour south of Essaouira, this surfer paradise has an enormous beach which goes on for miles, and a handful of cool cafes, hotels and great seafood restaurants. Take the N1 west from Marrakech to get here, pass Essaouira then pick up the P2216 to the coast. 

You can hire equipment here for surfing, kite-surfing and wind-surfing and take lessons if you fancy braving the waves.   You’ll also find camels, ponies and sand quads lined up if you prefer to stay on dry land!

Stay at the beachfront Al-Vent  a traditional Spanish owned guesthouse and enjoy the paella, burgers and vegetarian choices served in the small restaurant.  

From here backtrack to Essaouira, heading north on the N1.

The beach at Sidi Kaouki

If you’ve visited the additional destinations, by now you’ll have covered over 2,300km and been in the driving seat for over 35 hours.  You’ll have driven on two of the world top ten most dangerous roads and seen the most incredible landscapes, architecture and natural wonders. 

Seeing the real Morocco on the road is easy because this country is so diverse and people so welcoming.  With a little planning and knowledge you can visit the most far-flung corners of this gorgeous country and experience authentic Morocco with every mile you travel. 

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We’ve been taking road trips all our lives and currently travel in a motorhome across Europe. Explore more incredible roads trips and road trip tips and resources from our knowledge base and road trip travel blog.

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