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Morocco Desert Tour? Timeline? Logistics?

I’m doing a trip to Morocco. I would like to fly into Marrakech and out of Fez. If it needs to be switched, that’s completely ok.

I refuse to rent a car. I prefer to hire a guide or go with a tour group.

  • If someone could recommend a guide or tour, I’d appreciate that!

    • How easy is it to arrange guides/tours? Does it need to be booked prior to the trip or is it easily done last minute upon arrival? Do raids help arrange this? (I have yet to select accommodations).

Mostly, I’m just trying to understand the logistics, therefore helping me determine the duration the trip needs to be so I can make flight arrangements.

I would love to spend time in Marrakech, (day trip to) High Atlas Mountains, see Ait Benhaddou or Ouarzazate, overnight in the Desert (prefer camping out/would love that experience), and a little bit of time in Fez.

  • I’m very confused on where exactly you’re taken for the Desert? Is it the Sahara, Erg Chebbi, Merzouga, or Agafay Desert? How long does it take to get there?

    • When your riding camels out there to camp, where is your luggage??
    • Would it be better instead of doing a day trip of High Atlas Mountains to combine that with Ait Benhaddou or Ouarzazate and an overnight in the Desert? Do any tours do that? I don’t see the point in backtracking because of a day trip.
    • Would I have to go back through Marrakech for Fez or can I go straight from the desert? Approximately how long does that take?
    • Should I consider doing only one or the other, between Marrakech and Fes?

Day 1- Land in Marrakech

Day 2- Marrakech

Day 3- Marrakech

Day 4- Early departure from Marrakech for High Atlas Mountains -

Day 5- Drive to Desert -overnight-

Day 6- Depart Desert for Fes

Day 7- Fes

Day 9- Fes

???? I don’t know. Help please. Thanks!!

Posted by
5412 posts

I would like to fly into Marrakech and out of Fez. If it needs to be switched, that’s completely ok

Good plan. Both are very worthwhile, somewhat similar but still unique.

I refuse to rent a car. I prefer to hire a guide or go with a tour group.

Your choice. Personally, I enjoyed driving a rented car up and over the High Atlas to some of the places on your list; I see no need for a guide or a tour. If you prefer that, fine. But a rental car was not difficult or expensive (admittedly, the first 5 minutes driving away from marrakech was a bit stressful, but the first 5 minutes driving in any foreign country always is).

Ait Benhaddou

Is great - you will like it.

a little bit of time in Fez

IMHO Fez is every bit as interesting and worthwhile as Marrakech. I'd say each deserves 2 full days, even on a very aggressive schedule.

I’m very confused on where exactly you’re taken for the Desert? Is it the Sahara, Erg Chebbi, Merzouga, or Agafay Desert? How long does it take to get there?

Caveat: I did not do that, but investigated it. There are multiple options, many outfits. Most take you to Erg Chebbi, near Mergouza. It is all part of the Sahara (along the edge). You're not going to get deep into the dessert on these overnight glamping trips, but you will get out onto real dunes that are on the fringes of the great "sand seas". As I recall, it takes about a day to drive there (and another back), which is why I skipped it.

Should I consider doing only one or the other, between Marrakech and Fes?

I liked both very much and was glad I went to both. You can connect them via train if you prefer (an all-day train, good trains, a legacy of the French occupation). Or you could depart from one, go south over the mountains, then return to the other. Just takes time. Spectacular scenery in between.

How many days do you have, not counting your arrival and departure days? To include Marrakech and Fes and a trip all the way out to the dessert, I think you're going to need over a week on the ground. I faced the same dilemma and cut the trip out to the erg, settled for a drive from marrakech over the mountains to ait benhaddou (which was awesome).

Posted by
996 posts

I've never done Morocco that way, but I did visit with a tour group. We flew into Casablanca and departed from Marrakech. We did do Fes - MAJOR highlight - and also went out into the desert after crossing the Middle Atlas mountains from Fes to Merzouga. While we were out there (and while en route to other places) we did see other campsites. There seems to be quite a few places where you can camp, but I'd definitely go with a reputable company.

We did do the High Atlas mountains on our way up to Marrakech, but for me the distance between Fes and the desert seemed shorter. That could just be me.

I'd look at finding a day company that does the camping excursion you want. Then I'd think about planning the rest of the trip. Whatever you do, I cannot recommend Fes highly enough. You definitely want to spend a minimum of two full days there, not including arrival/departure days.

Posted by
5538 posts

We visited Morocco for 3 weeks in January/February 2019. A year ago today, I’d just been back to the USA for almost 3 whole days. We flew into Marrakech, and stayed as the wonderful Dar Kawa riad as the only guests that time of year. We had all breakfasts and dinners there, and they also arranged for a guide to meet us at the door 3 mornings and take us on a mostly walking, but also Tuk-Tuk or taxi tour around the Médina and other parts of town. We had a different guide each day, but all excellent. We also booked a great market tour/cooking class.

We flew to much colder (in January) Fes, and as this was low season were also the only guests at the Dar Finn riad. Fatina and the rest of the crew took great care of us, although being on their top floor “penthouse” that time of the year, without other people taking showers, it took a while before we got hot water in our shower. Rather than head down the street in the cold evenings, we had both breakfast and dinner there each day, too. They also arranged for our guided tours around Fes, including the fascinating, ancient leather dying operation, plus to the ancient site of Roman Volubilis, plus Meknès and Moulay Idriss.

On to the desert! After flying back to Marrakech, we started the tour that we booked before we left home, with Desert Majesty. Abdulech (sp.?) drove us in an SUV from Marrakech to Ouarzazate, then on to Erg Chebbi, at the border with Tunisia. We were dropped off for an hour and a half camel ride to our camp, while Abdulech drove our bags to the camp. There are several outfits with camps, all actually accessible by vehicle, but each tucked in a dune recess so it feels private. Desert Majesty also offers “upscale” camps, where you get a private sleeping tent, with its en suite private bathroom. There’s a shared dining tent, and a campfire in the common area. We opted for the upscale camp, one dune over from their regular camp, and would do it again. It’s not a luxury hotel by any means, but not having to go out to the shared latrine in the middle of the night was truly worth doing the nicer option.

We rode camels the next day back to the rendezvous spot with Abdulech and his SUV, and headed for desert location #2, Merzouga, farther south. We were dropped off by SUV at our camp, and due to some miscommunication, camels didn’t show up until it was close to sunset. Because the ride wasn’t materializing in time for seeing a wondrous sunset across endless sand from atop a dune, we decided to hike up to the high spot above camp, and made it just as the sun was setting.

We had many stops in between the camps, including Ait Benhaddou, but also a tour of a farming village with a separate guide, and a lunch with a Berber family, prepared on their very old-school stone-and-fire oven. Very good value, and packed with experiences. Desert Majesty doesn’t run a high pressure shopping scheme, but we ran into another couple twice, who sadly said their tour “guide” with another company just stopped at one shop after another, expecting them to buy and buy, probably earning him lots of commissions. They weren’t there to load up on souvenirs, and were not happy with their tour.

Desert Majesty offers a discount if you pay in cash, but it turns out their bank won’t accept any US dollars with any markings. We weren’t aware that our Credit Union marks some bills to help them count quickly, and we hauled them to Morocco in a money belt, only to have some of them refused by Desert Majesty’s bank. So we had to make two ATM visits with different banks on our way back towards Marrakech, to get enough dinars to make up payment for the refused dollars. ATM’s only let you take out so much money per day, so that was a little challenge. Perfect bills make the process easier.

Our final 3 days were back in Marrakech, staying again at Dar Kawa. We flew home from Marrakech - best place for our easiest schedule logistics, and best price.