Moroccan Discovery: From the Imperial Cities to the Sahara
"Tufts trips are enlightening, convivial, well planned, and executed."
Morocco is a land of dramatic contrasts. Join us and explore its ancient ruins, sacred mosques, lush desert oases, imposing Kasbahs, spirited souks, and traditional villages. Six UNESCO World Heritage Sites including Meknes, Morocco’s youngest imperial city; Volubilis, with its ancient Roman ruins; and Fez, prized for its cultural, religious, and educational institutions, are on our itinerary. We will also follow a fabled ancient caravan route in the snow-topped High Atlas Mountains, to see the spectacular Todra Gorge, and travel to the fortified city of Ait ben-Haddou. We will spend three nights in Marrakech, taking time to sip mint tea in a local Berber family’s home, before concluding in storied Casablanca.
Activity Level: Active
Price From: $5,229
Includes land and air; per person, based on double occupancy.
Itinerary and price are tentative and subject to change.
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Usha Nand Sellers Ed. D., Director Tufts Travel-Learn Program, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617-627-5323.
Day 1: Depart U.S. for Casablanca, Morocco
Day 2: Arrive Casablanca/Rabat
This morning we arrive in Casablanca, Morocco, the country’s chief port, economic capital, and largest city. We will meet our local Tour Director at the airport; then transfer by coach to Rabat, stopping for refreshments along the way. After checking into our hotel near the famed Hassan Tower, we have the remainder of the day at leisure. Tonight we will meet our traveling companions over a welcome dinner at Dinarjat, a famous restaurant located in Rabat’s Old Town.
Day 3: Rabat
Rabat, capital of the French Protectorate of Morocco from 1912 to 1956, and Moroccan capital since independence, has a European elegance while maintaining a unique Islamic character. We will spend the day touring this city that was once one of the four ancient capitals of Morocco, beginning with the fortified Kasbah des Oudaias that surrounds the 17th-century Royal Palace and the beautiful Andalusian Gardens. We will also visit Chellah’s Roman relics where we can see the remnants of Sala Colonia, the Roman port that was abandoned in 1154. This afternoon we will cross the river to Sale and have lunch at a local restaurant. We will then visit Rabat’s Archaeological Museum followed by a short walk through the medina.
Day 4: Rabat/Meknes/Volubilis/Fez
This morning we depart by motor coach for Meknes, the country’s youngest Imperial City and also a UNESCO World Heritage site. Meknes’ construction was dominated by the Sultan Moulay Ismail, one of Morocco’s most powerful leaders. During his 55 year reign he developed Meknes from a small town into a majestic capital with gigantic ramparts, monumental gates, more than 50 palaces, and 15 miles of exterior walls. We will see the Bab el Mansour gateway and visit the ruins of the imperial stables and granaries. After lunch in a local restaurant we will continue on to Volubilis, the largest of the Romans’ 17 colonies. The excavated ruins here are particularly noted for their colorful mosaics. From here we will travel to Moulay Idriss (time permitting), the town where we can see the tomb of Moulay Idriss el Akhbar, descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. Thereafter, we will continue on to Fez, arriving late this afternoon. Tonight we will meet for a traditional Moroccan dinner at our hotel, the Sofitel Palais Jamai.
Day 5: Fez
“The history of Fez,” writes author Walter Harris, “is composed of wars and murders, triumphs of arts and sciences, and a good deal of imagination.” We begin with a walking tour of Fez’s medina, a UNESCO World Heritage site, focusing on the artisans’ quarters, the 14th-century Koranic schools, and Al Karouine, the medieval theological university that opened in 859 and is believed to be older than its European counterparts Oxford and Bologna. We return to the hotel for lunch and some time at leisure. In mid-afternoon we will visit the old mellah (Jewish quarter) and its 17th-century synagogue, the royal gates, and the Museum of Fez. Tonight our dinner is at an intimate family-run riad, La Maison Bleue.
Day 6: Fez
This morning we will travel outside the city to visit a Berber village where residents live much as their ancestors did. We will share mint tea with a local family in their cave dwelling. Then we continue on to whitewashed Sefrou, an old Jewish town located at the foot of the Middle Atlas Mountains. Returning to Fez, we stop at renowned pottery factories that create the complex blue-and-white geometric patterns of traditional “bleu de Fez” household and decorative objects. The remainder of the afternoon is free for lunch on your own and for independent exploration. Tonight we will dine together in the hotel’s international restaurant.
Day 7: Fez/Midelt/Erfoud
Traveling inland, we will cross the fertile plains beyond Fez and continue through the Middle Atlas mountain range, stopping in the small town of Midelt for lunch. Continuing on, we will cross the Ziz River, passing rows of sky-scraping palm trees and fortified villages before reaching our kasbah-style hotel outside of Erfoud late in the day. Originally an oasis fort built by the French, Erfoud is now a sizable city and the gateway to the Sahara. Dinner tonight is at our hotel.
Day 8: Erfoud/Rissani/Merzouga
Our morning begins with a visit to the city of Rissani, with its 18th-century ksar, a virtually impenetrable warren of alleys; then we will continue on to the ruins of Sijilmasa. Once a central trade point in the Trans-Sahara trade routes, the city of Sijilmasa suffered through years of continuous religious conflict. Today, the ruins lay as they were left after the nomadic tribes of Ait Atta destroyed the city in 1818 and are protected by the World Monuments Fund. We will take a sunset excursion to the breathtaking sand dunes at Merzouga on the edge of the Sahara. In the enormous silence we will watch the sun set over the desert as we take a camel ride along the erg, Morocco’s only Saharan dunes. Following this experience we will return to our hotel to dine together.
Day 9: Erfoud/Tinehir/Todra Gorges/Ouarzazate
With a full day of travel ahead, we will leave Erfoud bound for Ouarzazate in the snow-topped High Atlas Mountains. Our first stop is in Tinehir, a stunning mountain oasis with lush riverside produce gardens, palm trees, and dominated by ornate clay villages. Here we will stop at the Todra Gorge, home to rare plant and bird species. After lunch, we will continue on to El Kelaa Mgouna, Morocco’s “rose capital,” before our journey along the “Route of a Thousand Kasbahs,” a region of fortresses with elaborately decorated façades. We will arrive in Ouarzazate late afternoon; dinner tonight is at our hotel.
Day 10: Ouarzazate/Ait Ben-Haddou/Marrakech
We leave Ouarzazate for Marrakech today, stopping en route at Ait ben-Haddou, one of southern Morocco’s most recognizable villages, often used as a location for fashion and film shoots (including Gladiator). A UNESCO World Heritage site, the village’s old section consists of deep red kasbahs so tightly packed together they appear as a single building. The fragility of the buildings – and their state of conservation – might mean we have to stop outside the city itself. Then descending from the High Atlas mountains, we will pass through typical villages. In Tizi N’Tichka, we traverse the Pass of the Pastures, where life is as it was centuries ago: shepherds bring their flocks to the high pastures every summer, and returning to their villages in autumn. Later this afternoon we will arrive in fabled Marrakech. Considered Morocco’s most cosmopolitan city – and some would say it’s most beautiful – Marrakech boasts a spectacular location surrounded by rich farmlands and high mountains. Dinner is at our hotel.
Day 11: Marrakech
Although disputed, it is believed that Marrakech was settled in the early 11th century. Today it is an exciting blend of modern architecture and an ancient walled medina. On our full-day excursion, we will concentrate on Old Marrakech, taking in the Koutoubia Mosque , El Bahia Palace with its Andalusian influences and fascinating harem quarter, and the ruins of the Palais El Badii, built in the style of Granada’s Alhambra and decorated with Italian marble and gold. Lunch is at our hotel, followed by time to explore the city’s souks, including shops of yarn dyers, wrought iron and lantern makers, herbalists, and wood carvers, and painters. Then we head to Djemaa El Fna, the heart of Marrakech where snake charmers, storytellers, acrobats, and musicians create a circus atmosphere, serving as a mecca for both locals and tourists.
Day 12: Marrakech
On today’s excursion we will travel via horse-drawn carriage from Menara to Majorelle Gardens, a botanical garden in the heart of the city known for its cobalt blue accents. Following a tour of the gardens, we’ll visit its newly renovated Berber Museum. Afternoon is at leisure before dinner tonight at a local restaurant in the city’s Old Town.
Day 13: Marrakech/Casablanca
This morning, we leave for Casablanca, the country’s largest and most sophisticated city. On the afternoon’s excursion, we will visit the Grand Mosque of Hassan II, the world’s second largest Islamic house of worship. A renowned architectural achievement, the mosque boasts a stunning setting on the Atlantic shoreline. It is also Morocco’s only mosque that is open to non-Muslims and we will have an opportunity to visit the palatial interior with its polished marble floor, Venetian chandeliers, and Moorish arches with 70 cedar-paneled cupolas. Other highlights of our Casablanca stay includes a visit to the harbor area and central market where vendors sell spices, meats, fish, and flowers; the Habous Quarter (“New Medina”), designed by French architects in the 1930s to resolve a major housing crisis; and, the Royal Palace. Tonight we will meet for a farewell dinner.
Day 14: Depart for U.S.
This morning we transfer to the Casablanca airport for our flights to the U.S.
*Price and Itinerary are tentative and subject to change