One of Mint Tea Tours’ favorite itineraries to travel and explore in Morocco – our private 9-day tour from Tangier has you explore not only the former imperial cities of Morocco, but also Morocco’s hidden gems you must visit, such as Chefchaouen and Assilah, and of course, the most popular and top-rated “tourist attraction” in Morocco, a camel trek and overnight in the Sahara Desert at Merzouga!
Morocco is well known for cultural diversity. This unique fact about Morocco is well observed in every place we visit throughout the tour. Sometimes, the distinction between western and eastern architectural influence over Morocco can be easy, but in other times, it might be rather hard to make a distinction.
Today, our 9-day private tour from Tangier in Morocco starts from Tangier in the far north. Tangier is a perfect example of cultural diversity in Morocco, because the city has endured the rule of many empires throughout history, and therefore, it has inherited different cultural and traditional heritage. In present days, Tangier still reflects the European influence. More precisely, the Spanish influence mixed with Arab traditions. This is true not only because Tangier was under the Spanish protection, but also because it is located less than 5 kilometers away from Spain. For that reason, Tangier has always been a strategic gateway between Africa and Europe since Phoenician time.
Tangier’s top attraction is remarkably its medina. The medina is contained by a 15th-century wall that circles the old town since the time of the Portuguese, making the medina of Tangier continuously vibrant with life from within. The streets and alleys inside the medina are not limited to only commercial shops, but also for residents who prefer the old medina and the old fashion life- style over modern one. The medina contains local souks of different types where local life thrives in a perfect harmony with touristic atmosphere. Within the medina there is a hidden kasbah. The kasbah is often described as a maze; a charming maze of blue and white buildings with beautiful doors with hobnails and trident hardware to ward off evil. It has also a wonderful market place with all kinds of offerings from dried nuts & fruits to butchered ram head ready to cook.
Later, a 30 minute drive outside of Tangier leads to Cape Spartel, the meeting point of the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. The view from there is spectacular, where one can see Europe on the other side. Another few minutes from Cape Spartel, across the beautiful sea and along the golden beaches, brings us to the cave of Hercules, the pride of Tangier people. The cave has two openings, one to sea and one to land. The sea opening is known as the map of Africa, because it resembles the African continent in shape. The cave was long thought to be bottomless. It was believed that the cave is one end of a subterranean tunnel over 24 kilometers long which passes under the Strait of Gibraltar.
Once day one in Tangier is over, you will have a two hours’ drive along the beautiful landscape of the Rif Mountain where you will spend the night.
Chefchaouen is a small city located in the heart of the Rif Mountains. It is often considered a village by tourist for its small size, which makes it an easy place to discover. Chefchaouen is well known among locals for its calm, clean air as well as its fresh, natural water, since the city contains no factories. On the other hand, Chefchaouen is famous amongst tourists for its fifty shades of blue.
The “blue heaven” or the “blue pearl” are nicknames this little town acquired for being thoroughly painted in blue. There are many theories why Chefchaouen is blue. Some of the theories tell stories about the blue and its divine significance, some others have to do with the Jews who lived in the city, and other theories say that blue is meant to keep mosquitoes away. The truth however will always be a mystery. Hence, all what one can do is to enjoy the stunning result.
The overall medina of Chefchaouen is beautiful and charming that every single street you pass is more beautiful and more breathtaking than the previous. Walking through all those blue-washed Andalusian alleyways, glancing local crafts hanged in every store’s typical wooden door and being greeted by the friendly merchants and little kids of the city, brings joy to soul and makes one feel really alive. In fact, if you are a photography lover, Chefchaouen is certainly your place. Or, maybe if you prefer drawing, you will find enough inspiration in this little Smurfs’ town.
Chefchaouen also bears one of the oldest kasbahs in Morocco which centers the main square, surrounded with a 500 year-old wall that circles the entire medina with 7 gates and 10 towers.
Finally, Chefchaouen also offers a perfect sunset view. Since the town is surrounded with mountains, sunset is a perfect scenery of the sun peacefully sinking beyond the mountains and clouds, making indeed a spectacular and unique show.
Today we head towards the center and the cultural heart of Morocco to Meknes and Fes. The drive from Chefchaouen to Fes is approximately 4 hours, but before arriving there, we will stop first in the ruin of Volubilis, which once used to be the capital of the Roman empire in northwest Africa. This archaeological site is located around 60 kilometers from Fes, our last destination for today. The history of Volubilis dates to the 3rd century BC onward where Berbers first settled and after them the Carthaginian before the advent of Romans. The ancient city was the most remote city in the Roman Empire. Apart from just its resonant history, Volubilis is also stunning for photo sessions if one wants to imitate a mighty Greek emperor or a beautiful Greek goddess within Volubilis’ ancient walls and poles.
The second stop on today’s trip will take place in the imperial city of Meknes.
This holy city was founded in the 11th century by Almoravides for military reasons. However, it reached the peak of its glory once it became the capital of Morocco in the 17th century, during the reign of Moulay Ismail, the third king of the Alaouite dynasty. The city is rich with historical landmarks and monuments that narrate different stories about every place in the city.
Start your visit by discovering Bab Mansour, one of the most remarkable gates in Morocco and maybe in North Africa. The gate looks like an entrance for a holy castle from the 16th century. Later, enjoy the lively local vibes at Hedim square, the main square in Meknes, which is surrounded by historical buildings and narrow alleys that lead into the markets. Then, wander around the old medina which is a lively museum for tourists, and explore other monuments such as Royal Stables & Agdal Reservoir and the 17th Century kasbah if time allows.
Finally, arrive to Fes, the city where the first university in the world was established.
Fes is probably the most interesting city in Morocco. The city is full of wonders, history and harmony. Fes is consisted of two main parts, Fes el-Bali (“old Fes”) and Fes el-Jedid (“new Fes”). First we start our day from Fes el-Jedid, by visiting the famous golden gates of the king’s palace. The palace was constructed in the 14th century of neat and beautiful architecture. Even today it is still considered among the largest and the oldest in palaces in Morocco.
Not so far from the king’s palace is situated the Jewish mellah. “Mellah” is the typical name of traditional Jewish quarters. The mellah of Fes is the oldest among all other Jewish quarters in Morocco. The mellah was usually established next to the king’s palace so the Jews could feel safe under the personal protection of the king. Within the same neighborhood we will visit the Jewish cemetery and the Ibn Danan synagogue, which are recognized as a cultural treasure and an important piece of art of Moroccan Jewish heritage.
Next, after a walk through the well-preserved streets of the mellah, we enter the Bab Boujloud Gate, the famous blue gate of Fes. Once we enter the gate into the old medina, we will observe the green-tiled minaret of the Bou Inania Medersa, our next stop, jutting into the sky. The Bou Inania Medersa was built between 1351 and 1358, and functioned as both an educational institute and a mosque. Today it is still an active religious building, and it is one of the few mosques in Morocco that are open for all visitors, including those that are not Muslim, providing a unique experience for tourists. It is also one of the most stunning examples of Merenid architecture in the world.
Next, we leave the medina behind and we drive to El Borj of Fes, the fine fortress, which was built by Sultan Ahmed Al Mansour in 1582 to monitor the populace of Fes. From there, you can have a panoramic overview of the three parts of Fes.
We continue our short drive to reach the pottery and zellij tile cooperative. In this place, the production is totally handmade, relying on old techniques of how zellij and pottery is traditionally made. You may even be invited to have a try at making a ceramic pot in the traditional Moroccan way and experience how challenging this art form is. This place is also a perfect shopping opportunity for those who admire fancy quality handmade Moroccan goods.
Later we return to the medina for our walking tour. We enter the old medina of Fes el Bali, the center of manufacturing of all local goods. We walk through local markets of all kinds, selling fruits, vegetables, delicious local pastries and different types of craft and workshops, such as Nejjarine and Seffarine squares. We stop at the University of Al-Qarawiyyin that was founded by Fatima al-Fihri, a woman who came as a refuge, fleeing her homeland of Tunisia for Morocco, in 859 AD. UNESCO considers it to be the oldest university in the world whose libraries have several extremely valuable documents dating from c. 780 A.D.
Later we visit Fes’ tannery. The oldest and largest of all traditional tanneries of leather in Morocco and the world, Chouara Tannery dates back to medieval times. The sight of the multi-colored dyeing vats in the central courtyard of the tannery is indeed a unique picture that should not be missed. The tannery is famous for its intense smell. Of course, “the smell is free… but if you want to buy, you have to pay” is the phrase that merchants in the tannery often say.
Not far from the tannery lies our last destination for today’, the carpet workshop and market where you will learn about everything concerning the different types of Moroccan carpets, scarves and local handicrafts.
Erfoud is the ultimate destination for today, but along the way, we will make some stops and explore the charm and beauty of Ifrane and Midelt. Ifrane was built by the French in the mid-1930s mainly for its strategic location in the mid-Atlas, which makes the atmosphere of the little town feels like an alpine resort. For this reason, Ifrane has earned the nickname “Little Switzerland”. Ifrane is also famous for its fresh and clean air, scrubbed and tree-lined streets, as well as the mountains peaks which are often well-adorned with snow in winter months. Next stop before reaching the final destination is Midelt, which is known for its fossils and rocks. Midelt is located between the Middle and the High Atlas Mountain ranges, where the landscape offers some breathtaking views.
Evening arrival in Erfoud – make sure to relax and refresh for your upcoming Moroccan Sahara Desert adventure in the morning.
Having already explored sea and mountains, now it is time to discover the golden sand dunes of the Moroccan Sahara. Erfoud, being the closest point to the Sahara desert, acquired the nickname “Gate of Sahara Desert”. Start your morning by discovering local arts and crafts which makes use of fossilized stone in a very impressive and elegant way.
Later in afternoon, meet a local 4×4 driver who will take you to Merzouga and into the Sahara desert where its magnificent orange and golden sand dunes can reach as high as 150 meters. There, you will have one of the most stunning experiences in your life that will stay with you forever. Start by riding your own camel through the dunes, until you reach a stunning point of view where sunset makes you feel like you are in another world with all of its glory. Another no less remarkable experience is stargazing upon nightfall, where you are likely to be treated to millions of stars which make the sky look like a beautiful painting. This view will most likely make a tear stream unconsciously down your face.
This morning, we will not drive back to Ait Ben Haddou. Instead, we will ride a camel. This way, once the tour is over, you will have acquired a new riding skill. Once we arrive at Ait Ben Haddou, we will take a drive back to Fes in our comfortable van. You will most likely have a bit of fatigue from the Sahara and the camel ride, so this would be a perfect opportunity for you to relax. The landscape along the middle atlas is indeed beautiful so make sure you keep eyes open and enjoy your ride. We will make a stop in Fes for a break, and in case someone wants one last shopping in the city of craftsmen, and then we continue to Meknes for the night. You will have free time in Meknes to stroll around and discover the other parts of the medina that you missed in the first visit.
Get an early start today for a two hours’ drive to Rabat. Rabat is the administrative capital of the country and is located on the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of the river Bou Regreg.
The city was built in the tenth century, near the ruin of an ancient Roman settlement in the area of Salé. During the mid-eleventh century, an Almohad sultan established a rabat, or citadel, for his army near Salé. And in the 17th century Rabat became a haven for Barbary pirates. The French established a protectorate over Morocco in 1912 and made Rabat its administrative center. Morocco achieved independence in 1955 and Rabat became its official capital.
Rabat is rich with historical sightseeing that stretch back to medieval times such as Chellah, the medieval fortified city that is buried in the heart of Rabat. Chellah stands as the remains of a pre- Islamic city which was abandoned in 1154 and then built upon by a Merenid Sultan. It is an atmospheric place, full of history and charm.
Another older part of Rabat is Kasbah el Oudaya, which occupies the oldest part of Rabat. Kasbah el Oudaya lies as the original site of the city, complete with stunning river and ocean views. Now, a predominantly residential area, it is a peaceful and beautiful place to wander around the narrow, white-washed streets, some painted in a refreshing blue.
Rabat, apart from being the capital, it is also famous for being the resting place of the few recent kings of Morocco that are descendent from the Alaouite family, the current ruling family in Morocco. Next to the mausoleum where the kings are buried, is found Hassan tower which is built of beautiful reddish stone, the tower stand high above the podium and across from the mausoleum. The tower was supposed to have been the minaret to the largest mosque in its time, but was never completed.
In afternoon, get back to the van for another two hours and half drive from Rabat to the city of art, Assilah. Assilah is a fortified seaside town on the northwest of Morocco. It is a bright and fresh little destination that provides a taste of Spain mixed with Moroccan traditions. The city is small enough to be explored by foot in just half a day. However, its small size doesn’t detract from its beauty. You will have the afternoon and evening free to make a discovery of your own in this little charming town where you will spend the night.
Today, after half an hour drive back to Tangier along the beautiful coast, our 9 day tour of Morocco comes to its end back to where it started. By this end, you will have explored a fair number of places in Morocco. Yet, Morocco still has plenty of secrets and places that people should see at least once in a lifetime. Make sure you join us again in one of Mint Tea Tours private tours in the near future in order to enjoy, learn and explore the rest of Morocco such as Marrakech, Essaouira and other parts of the Sahara desert.
I never expected Morocco to be as fascinating and amazing, but Mint Tea Tours and their team of a private driver (Hicham) and guides (Jamal in Fez and Ider in Marrakesh) made it come alive!
Thanks for accommodating us and taking “risks” to please us. I had a wonderful time and I will treasure this experience of traveling to Morocco forever.
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When we got off the ferry we were not sure what to expect from our driver. Our concerns were that he would insist on showing us things we had already seen and explaining things we already knew. But Tarek’s winning smile and flexibility set those worries aside. He has shown us his wonderful country, explained things we didn’t understand and brought to our attention things we would have missed. Tarik’s use of English was excellent and he could explain everything clearly. He was the best guide/driver we ever had!
We were deeply honored to be invited to Tarek’s home for tea and meeting his family was a highlight of our visit.
Tarek kept his calm ways in the face of lost passport, changes in plans, where we wanted to eat. Simply – Tarek was the best. He made our trip to Morocco outstanding!
His driving ability was outstanding, always safe and wise, from no traffic in the country to the craziness of Marrakech and Casablanca. Tarek was always cool, calm and accepting. We never worried about being in his car.
We will think often of our Moroccan friend. Good luck!
Mitch & Cynthia, USA