If you are thinking of Morocco as your next travel destination, we found that a Morocco road trip is an ideal way to see more of this diverse country.
Because of its mix of Middle Eastern, European and African cultures, Morocco will hold your interest. Especially the Berber influence.
Our local guide gave us the history of the medina, took us through the markets and allowed time for some shopping. But it was lunch our guide had organised. Wow, it was the highlight of our day.
This is why we decided on a 12-day self-drive itinerary this time.
12-Day Road Trip – Self-Drive of Morocco
Most Morocco road trip itineraries we researched ranged from seven to 14 days, allowing time to spend a few days in the chosen places.
But what surprised us was the variety of itineraries from the travellers we met.
They ranged from trips north to south or south to north. Travelling inland or along the coast. Chatting with them gave us more insight into more popular places to visit. Which means whatever route you plan won’t disappoint.
We decided to arrive in Marrakech, drive inland to the Sahara Desert, up to Fes, and leave from Tangier.
- Day 1-3 -Marrakech
- Day 4 – Tinghir via Ait Benhaddou
- Day 5-6 – Sahara Desert
- Day 7 – Midelt (via Errachidia)
- Day 8-9 – Fes
- Day 10-11 – Chefhaouen
- Day 12 – Tangier
This is what we found.
Marrakech-crazy, diverse, and not to be missed
Even with our research, you don’t really know a place until you visit.
Arriving at Marrakech airport, we were overwhelmed by the long border queue to enter the city.
We had a taxi booked to arrive 45 minutes after landing (standard procedure), but how long would this queue take?
A bit of panic set in. With the sun beating in from the windows above and the water bottles low, it took an hour until we made it to the police booths asking for:
- boarding pass
- accommodation address
- your occupation
Finally, through the first hurdle, Terry went to find the taxi while I purchased a sim card at one of the booths.
Which SIM card is the best in Morocco?
We chose Maroc Telecom (located after immigration) for coverage for our 12 days in Morocco.
We paid €20 for the package of data and a sim card to access WhatsApp used by most Riads and Car Rentals. Staff will load the SIM card for you and ensure it’s working before you leave.
Now, we’re ready for the 12-day road trip to Morocco.
Wander the Marrakech Medina
Within the medina’s walls, there are plenty of places to explore. For us, our favourites were:
- Bahia Palace
- Jamaa El Fna square
- Souk Semmarine
Admire Bahia Palace
Bahia Palace opens at 9 a.m., which is the best time to visit without crowds for the tranquillity of absorbing the architecture. The riad and the gardens were built in the 19th century and decorated with tile floors and ornate ceilings.
You can wander through the various rooms and inner gardens, imagining life within the confines of the walls.
Jamaa El Fna Square
From about 10 am, this square comes to life with fruit sellers, snake charmers and monkeys. You can view the Koutoubia Mosque and walk through the surrounding garden.
But at night, is when the square is buzzing.
You have a smorgasbord of food stalls to try local food while enjoying the night music festivities. Or a rooftop bar and restaurant for sunset and a meal
We chose Rue Bani Marine for local restaurants at local prices. The alternative if you want a tasty tagine is Mythe Restaurant. Their rooftop has good views, and the food is delicious.
The souk of Marrakech is definitely not a place you would want to wander unless it is early morning before the shop owners open their doors.
During business hours, motorbikes are driven at pace through the souk. You’ll find yourself sucking in carbon monoxide as you try to take cover as they zoom by.
And the donkey carts aren’t much better. Those sharp edge carts are loaded to the brim with their owners on a mission to deliver their cargo.
It’s all part of the daily life of the souk.
- Raw meat hanging to show its freshness
- Colourful spices piled high
- Shop owners entice you to shop for their array of products
- Getting distracted as to which direction you are going.
We used MapsMe to navigate the souk and to find ATMs.
If you want to avoid being scammed by someone offering to show you the way, having a destination route on MapsMe before you leave your accommodation is better.
The alternative is to book a walking tour. At least this way, you get to see the souk, learn its history, and not worry about getting lost.
We chose Marrakech with Locals – our Guide was Ismael.
Past the Medina Walls
Outside the walls of the Medina is the new city built by the French, where you will find Marrakech’s business centre.
It has a large mall for brand shopping and the famous Jardin Majorelle.
Here, you’ll find the local markets where you can purchase fruit and items at lower prices than the souk.
Where to Stay in Marrakesh
Riads are the alternative to hotels in Morocco.
These guest houses usually offer free breakfasts and have a family feel to them. Like our riad giving us the front door key to come and go.
And when you enter the front door, the central courtyard to the skylight gives a feeling of a sanctuary from the busy streets outside.
The ensuite rooms look out over the central courtyard. And often, there is a rooftop terrace to enjoy a drink or to relax with a book.
Self-Drive Road Trip in Morocco
We have enjoyed driving Europe because doing so allowed us to stop where we want.
After reading plenty of information on driving conditions and what to expect, we decided to hire a car here in Morocco.
What we didn’t count on was the parking scam!
After collecting our car, we navigated back to the riad. Only to be stopped by a young man claiming the road was not accessible to cars due to heritage repair.
So, we reversed and chose another route within the medina to the riad. The young guy and his mate were now running ahead of us, directing the way.
When we arrived at the riad, they demanded €100. Yeah right. Our riad host spoke with them, and €10 was handed over.
Experiences like that can spook you and mean you are on guard with any new approaches.
Official Parking Wardens in Morocco
- Identified by wearing the hi-vest jacket
- The parking charge is normally MAD20 per night (€2:2022).
Booking a rental with the bigger brands, like Europcar, you may pay a little more, but the service can be more reliable. They are easy to find at airport terminals, and communication is better.
However, if you decide to book through rentalcars.com or discovercars.com, your booking is allocated to a local supplier. When collecting a car from the airport, you will be driven to their depot outside of the airport.
Whichever rental car hire you choose, we suggest hiring the Dacia Duster or a similar model. Because, at times, the road conditions suit a larger vehicle.
Road conditions in Morocco
We felt that, overall, the roads in Morocco were pretty good.
- A – Toll roads
- N – National roads were good
- R – Secondary roads were narrow, as expected
- P – Local roads are best avoided.
National Road numbers 2-16 travel east to west and 1-17 north to south.
Be prepared to increase your travel time.
The mountain roads are being upgraded as you drive from Marrakech to the desert and onto Fes.
And if you take a local road, like us, the road may sometimes disappear. All part of the adventure. Seeing daily life unfolding was worth the drama.
But make sure you are ready for Police checkpoints at the entrance and exit of towns and villages. You need to have on hand your car papers, driver’s licence and passport.
Thankfully, we were never stopped (unlike a couple we met who were stopped three times in one day). We kept to the speed limit, unlike the local tour vans!
Tips for driving in Morocco:
- Keep to the speed limit
- Don’t drive at night due to wandering animals
- Avoid the “water bottle empty” scam (their village is just past the hill)
- Refuse hitchhikers (especially schoolchildren)
Transverse the Atlas Mountains
Leaving Marrakesh, we were up at 7 a.m. for a small breakfast and driving away by 7.30 a.m. We wanted to avoid the chaos of the medina and its narrow streets.
Stopping for fuel on the outskirts, we were surprised at the lack of traffic. Our faith in self-drive was once again restored.
Driving the Atlas Mountains
Of the four mountain ranges in Morocco, we transverse the High Atlas mountain range to the Sahara Desert. And the Middle Atlas mountain range to Fes.
The changes in landscape varied from rocky to sandy to green pastures.
The roads weren’t busy, giving us plenty of photo stops of local life to see:
- Roaming camels
- Grazing goats and sheep
- Oasis grove and hut
- Berber camps
- Horse market
And one place you need to make a detour from the national road is to Ait Benhaddou.
Stop for Lunch at Ait Benhaddou
If you are looking for a stop from Marrakech to the Sahara Desert, Ait Benhaddou won’t disappoint.
Set up on the hill, this UNESCO-fortified village made of mud bricks was a stopping point on the caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakesh.
Ait Benhaddou is also a popular filming location, similar to Gladiator. Morocco’s film studios at Ouarzazate are 30 minutes down the road.
Before entering the village, stop at the viewpoint on the right to get the view above.
You can park your vehicle for €1 daily. Then, it’s a short walk to the bridge, taking you across to Ait Benhaddou.
But for lunch, try a restaurant on the main street. We ordered an omelette cooked in a tagine. Absolutely delicious.
Absorbing Paradise at Tinghir
Tinghir, for us, was a highlight of our 12-day road trip to Morocco.
Is Tinghir worth visiting?
We think so. Tinghir has 30 km of palm groves called the Palmeraie de Tinghir.
The oasis of lush fields, date palms, pomegranate trees, and a subtropical climate oozes a vibe of relaxation.
From our family hotel, we had panoramic views of the oasis and the old town that was built around Glaoui’s Kasbah (palace). The city was also a French garrison.
After breakfast, we spent the morning walking through the fields.
Where to Stay in Tinghir
Maison d’Hotes Iriki – Bed and Breakfast, free parking.
We stayed the night at Maison d’Hotes Iriki for €27. They also offer a delicious three-course meal.
Take a short drive to Todra Gorge
If you stay in Tinghir, you must visit Todra Gorge, popular for day treks.
The drive from Tinghir to Todra Gorge is as interesting as the gorge. The landscape of various crops and small villages is an unexpected visual of Morocco.
You can stop at various lookouts for panoramic views or buy some local wares.
And from Tinghir, it’s only a three-hour drive to Merzouga for the Sahara Desert stay.
Getting to the Sahara Desert
Our starting point for our two-night Sahara stay was the small village of Merzouga.
Our self-drive from Tinghir to Merzouga took three hours. But it could have been longer as we arrived at Rissani as the school bell rang.
Dozens of kids on their bikes spanned the width of the road, oblivious to cars, as they chatted on their way home.
Sunrise in the Sahara Desert
It doesn’t get any better than waking at sunrise to find you are new grandparents to Hazel Rose. We were very excited by the news and wanted to chat with the new parents, Daniel and Jess.
Unfortunately, the wifi was unreliable, which is why we followed a local Berber up to one of the sand dunes.
While he caught up on the latest football scores, we had a quick chat while watching the sunrise over the Sahara Desert.
Merzouga Luxury Camp
Our two-night stay in the Sahara Desert was with Merzouga Luxury Desert Camp. We arrived at Merzouga village early afternoon, which meant we had to wait until 5 pm for our ride to the camp.
Unless you have activities booked (camel rides or quad bikes), there isn’t much to do within the camp. Sunset was at 6.30 pm and dinner at 8 pm, followed by music and dancing for entertainment.
We stayed two nights and booked a camel ride and lunch in the desert the following day.
Book a Camel Ride for Lunch
The camel ride was about 20 minutes to an area to let them graze. We walked another five minutes to a small oasis. Under the shade of the palms, we chatted and sipped mint tea.
We all helped prepare the chicken skewers cooked over an open fire. Our tummies were full of Moroccan salad (the same as Greek or Turkish salad) and bread.
With time to spare, we climb the steep sand dune for views across to Algeria.
The following morning, we left the camp for the apple capital of Midelt. We could have driven directly to Fes, but we decided to take it slow to photograph the landscape and villages.
Merzouga Luxury Desert Camp
- €119 – 2-night stay (ensuite, breakfast and dinner included with free parking)
- €20 person – 4×4 wheel drive return to camp (Camel ride is available for €30)
- Cash only – MAD (Moroccan Dirham) or Euro
Walk the medieval labyrinth of Fes
After the craziness of Marrakech, walking the medina of Fes was more enjoyable.
The shop owners left you to browse. The medina is a car-free zone, so no scooters are allowed. And the porters call “balak or attention”, so you have time to move aside for him and his donkey.
Entering through the impressive Bab Boujloud (Blue Gate) to the 19th-century medina, you can admire the Arab-Muslim architecture. Especially the Islamic colleges of Madrasa al-Attarine and Bou Inania Madrasa.
Fez was once the capital of Morocco.
It’s easy to understand why the walls and buildings of the medina are protected by UNESCO. “The Medina of Fez is considered as one of the most extensive and best conserved historic towns of the Arab-Muslim world.”
And if you occasionally get lost as you wander the 3,500 streets of the medina, that’s ok.
For us, we would stop for a coffee or freshly cooked doughnut at one of the small shops. Watch the daily life or chat with the locals about New Zealand.
Funky Walking Tour of Fez
Our walking tour was with Funky Walking Tour. It began with a lesson on street signs. A diagonal indicates a dead end, while a square leads on.
Next was a panoramic view over Fes, where you can easily see Al Quaraouiyine Mosque (green and white). It is the oldest university in the world, founded in 857–859. Compared to England’s Oxford University in 1029 and Cambridge University in 1209.
Indulge at a Hammams
If you have indulged in a Turkish bath in Turkey, you’ll want to do the same at a hammam. These traditional steam baths, with massages and scrubbing (with black soap), are separated for men and women.
Learn more about Argan Oil
And again, as in Turkey, shops were selling argan oil. This oil has been used for centuries for medicinal and cosmetic uses, especially as a moisturiser.
Our walking tour stopped at the Herboristerie Chez Rachid. Here, you can discuss what you need and purchase from an extensive range of products.
Dine at Chez Hakim
If you want to taste one of Morocco’s dishes (other than a tagine), try a Pastilla.
Chez Hakim is a great spot to sit, eat, and people-watch. We ordered the three-course meal of salad, Pastilla / Skewers, followed by sweet treats and coffee.
Marvel at Blue Chefchaouen
Chefchaouen may be blue, but the vibe is definitely uplifting.
It is a pretty place to unwind and relax as you wander the various blue streets decorated with flowers and artwork. There is an abundance of cats draping themselves out of windows or on the doorsteps.
A walk to the main square (Place Outa el Hammam) is the red-walled Kasbah fortress. There are plenty of restaurants here to sit and people-watch. Often, local music and bands are playing.
Impressions of Morocco
Our final night in Morocco was at the refurbished Hotel Miranda near Tangier Airport. Great staff, great food and a great bed because it had been a last-minute decision. The roadworks from Chefhouen meant we would have been cutting it fine for our flight.
Which gave us time to reminisce on our 12-day self-drive of Morocco.
We had wandered the ancient souks, driven through the vast mountain ranges, and photographed the varying landscapes and daily Moroccan life.
The highlight for Terry was the overnight stay in the desert for the variation of landscape and light for photos. For me, it was driving the local road out of Fes (even though the road did disappear at times), where we navigated through a local market, the horse market and small villages.
Driving inland from Marrakech to Tangier is only a small portion of Morocco. And with so many interesting places to visit, we will be back.