The Dades area is made up of a large valley, river, and a gorge all of the same name. Dades Valley is made lush and green by the Dades River, a tributary of the Draa River, Morocco’s longest river.
The Dades River sustains almond, fig, walnut, and birch trees scattered throughout the valley in beautiful contrast to the earthen colored cliffs and rock formations. Palm groves add to the verdancy of the valley.
For those who are interested in trekking, Dades Gorges and Dades Valley offer a vast array of adventures –– from an overnight with a nomad family reached by hiking to day treks throughout the area. There’s something for everyone.
Due to its strategic location, Merzouga is the popular starting point forf treks to the Erg Chebbi Dunes. The village of Merzouga itself is quite small and rather touristy.
West of Merzouga, Dayet Srji is a seasonal salt lake that’s created by the run off from the mountains. When full, the lake attracts a wide range of birds, including desert warblers, Egyptian night jars and, believe it or not, flamingos.
Tinghir is a small oasis city between the High Atlas and the Little Atlas in southeastern Morocco. Palm trees covering almost 50 kilometers on wide tracks along the Todgha River make this a prefered 15 km trekking route between Tinghir and the popular Todgha Gorge. Hikers and trekkers enjoy the wonderful scenery of the otherwise arid and deserted rocky region.
Ouarzazate was established as a French garrison town. The majority of the population is Berber who are descendants to the people who built the kasbahs throughout the region.
Ouarzazate is known as the Moroccan Hollywood, in part due to the abundance of kasbahs in the area. World famous movies have been filmed across the country via the film studios in Ouarzazate. Some of the more recent movies are:
Ait Ben Haddou is a fortified city on the edge of the High Atlas Mountains. The site is along the former caravan route that ran between the desert and Marrakech. As the trade along the trans-Saharan routes began to decline, in the 19th century, its inhabitants began moving to other locations, It’s amazing to think that a city made of mud, straw, and rocks has stayed put since the 15th century. Games of Thrones fans will be interested to know that Ait Ben Haddou is the fictional slave trading city of Yunaki.
The mud-built city, surrounded by palm trees, is an amazing site to behold. This UNESCO World Heritage Site has been featured in at least 20 Hollywood blockbusters. It is often described as the best way to delve into the past and immerse yourself in the Morocco of antiquity. While a few families still live in the ksar (small city of multiple kasbahs), most families have moved out of the ksar and into more modern housing across the river.
At the time the ksar was built, it was necessary to keep watch for approaching warring tribes. For that reason, the ksar has one of the best views in the region. From the top of the ksar, on a clear day, you can see for miles in all directions.
Recommended Length of Stay: ½ day
Read about Abdou, a Berber fire painter Ait Ben Haddou.
Ifrane is a gorgeous resort town located at an altitude of 1,665 m. Its French establishment in 1929 is evident by the architecture, which looks even more beautiful covered in snow with its chalet-type summer homes in Alpine style surrounded by pine trees. Irfane is also home to the world-famous Al Akhawayn University: an English-language, American-curriculum, not-for-profit public university. Largely funded by the at-the-time King of Saudi Arabia, it was founded in 1995 to celebrate the Saudi King and the at-the-time Moroccan King, Fahd and Hassan II, respectively. The university offers typical American undergraduate and graduate courses and follows a common core based on the American liberal arts odel.
Midelt is located on a high plane between the Middle Atlas Mountains and the High Atlas Mountains. This is the center of Morocco’s apple region.
The town is a good midway stop between Fes and Merzouga, however we often do not stop unless we have folks traveling with young kids. While Midelt is a nice town, the area isn’t necessarily worth taking up a whole night of precious tour time.
Recommended Length of Stay: Pass Through or 1 night
The Middle Atlas is a majestic mountain range in the north of Morocco. A significant portion of its area rises over 6,500 feet (2,000 meters). In fact, its highest point is Jabal Bou Naceur at 11,110 feet (3,350 meters.) The Middle Atlas stretches 220 miles (350 km) in length.
These mountains offer varied landscapes and a wide range of activities, from trekking and skiing to hunting and fishing.
It is said that prior to World War I, lions roamed this terrain. Unfortunately, the last of these Atlas lions was believed to have been killed in 1922, although it is rumored that the palace has recently discovered a few of these lions and are trying to preserve them. It’s impossible to know whether tidbits such as this are rumors or truth.
An ancient, beautiful and culturally rich city, once the capital of Morocco, Fes sits in the middle of the Fes Valley in the north of Morocco.
Fes was founded by the Idrisid Dynasty between 789 and 808 A.D. In the 11th century, the Almoravids took the city and it continued under the dynasty of the Almohads during the 12th and 13th centuries. The Merinds then took the city from the 13th to the 15th centuries. During this time Fes Jadid (New Fes) was founded.
Today, these two parts represent the “old medina” and the “new medina” despite the fact that they are both quite old!
Morocco’s second largest city is home to the oldest university in the world (founded by a woman!) The University of Al Kuaraouiyini, established in 859 A.D is still operating to this very day, making it the perfect complement to Fes Medina (the old Fes). Fes was inscripted as a UNESCO declared World Heritage Site in 1981, and is one of the world’s largest urban pedestrian only zones.
Marrakech, known as the Red City for its sandstone red walls surrounding the medina, is the 3rd largest city in Morocco. It is one of the four Imperial cities. The other three being Meknes, Fes, and Rabat. The medina, the old city, was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1985.
The region around Marrakech was inhabited by Berber farmers beginning the Neolithic period. The city itself was founded by Sultan Youssef Ben Tachfine around 1062 as the capital of the Almorivad Empire. During the middle ages, Marrakech served as the market crossroads among the ancient Atlas tribes. Slaves, gold, ivory, and leather brought by caravans from the empires of Mali and Songhay were traded here.
Today, like many Moroccan cities, Marrakech is a city of two parts: the ancient walled Medina and the Ville Nouvelle, or new city, built by the French in the mid 1900s. At the heart of the city is the famous nightmarket, Jmaa el-Fna. Architectural attractions include the Saadian Tombs, the Koutoubia Mosque, El Badi Palace, Bahia Palace, and more.
Although in our opinion the heart of the country is outside of the cities, Marrakech is a must see.