Make your way to magical Morocco this Christmas, a short hop from Europe but worlds apart. An exotic land of spices, ancient Kasbahs, rolling Saharan sands, verdant valleys and bustling souks. Morocco stands in such exotic contrast to its European neighbours that it’s hard to believe that the country is just across the Mediterranean from Spain. Despite a strong French influence on Morocco’s cities and high culture, this easternmost country of the Arabic-speaking world is arguably more influenced by the culture of local Berbers, longstanding inhabitants of the area whose language is still spoken in many places.
Explore the delights of Morocco with on the go this festive season and have a cracking Christmas at the foot of Todra Gorge, ring in the New Year in magical Marrakech or in Essaouira on Morocco’s stunning Atlantic coast!
The name Marrakech originates from the Amazigh (Berber) words mur (n) akush, which means "Land of God." Marrakesh – "Morocco City", as early foreign travellers called it – has always been something of a pleasure city, a marketplace where the southern tribesmen and Berber villagers bring in their goods, spend their money and find entertainment. For visitors it's an enduring fantasy – a city of immense beauty, low, red and tent-like before a great shaft of mountains – and immediately exciting. It's known as the Red City from the natural red-ochre pigment that bedecks its walls and buildings, but there's certainly no shortage of other colours.
Aït Benhaddou is a 'fortified city', or ksar, along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech in present-day Morocco. It is situated in Souss-Massa-Drâa on a hill along the Ounila River and is known for its kasbahs, although they take damage with each rainstorm. Most of the town's inhabitants now live in a more modern village at the other side of the river; however, ten families still live within the ksar. Aït Benhaddou has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987.
Welcome to Morocco! Arrival transfer from Marrakech airport to our hotel located in the heart of the old city. This evening (at 19:00) our welcome meeting takes place, where you’ll meet your tour leader and fellow travellers and afterward, maybe go for a drink at a bar.
Marrakech – Dades Gorge. Leaving Marrakech, we drive through the Dades Gorge, an awesome valley which extends from the High Atlas to the Jebel Sarhro range in the south. Berbers built many kasbahs in the vicinity of gorges for defence purposes. These many kasbahs, combined with their stunning setting, make this a beautiful region through which to travel.
Dades Gorge – Todra Gorge. Merry Christmas! The morning is spent at Dades Gorge where you can choose to trek or relax. After lunch we visit to a traditonal Berber home where the semi nomadic family have set up a co-operative for the trade of carpets, kilms and handicrafts for all the rural communities across the Atlas. The remiander of the afternoon is spent taking in the remarkable and sheer brilliance of Todra Gorge, opt to go rock climbing (book and pay locally) or just relax and enjoy the day with a great Xmas dinner in the beautiful surroundings.
Todra Gorge – Erg Chebbi sand dunes. Crossing the Jebel Sarhro, we head down to Erg Chebbi sand dunes, which signify the start of the mighty Sahara Desert. In parts the vast sand pile reaches skyward to heights of 150 metres!
The desert winds ensure this astonishing landscape is forever changing and no two days offer the same panorama. Mounting our camels, they relaxedly glide across the desert sands as we happily photograph and take in the breathtaking scenery. Arriving at our simple Berber camp, we enjoy a simple dinner and a night under the Saharan stars. Remember to wrap up warm as it can get a little chilly once the sun sets!
Erg Chebbi – Ouarzazate. After a stunning sunriseand a tranquil and ambient ride back to our frontier post (camel HQ) there is time to freshen up before driving to the verdant Draa valley, along the route of 1000 Kasbahs.
Besides the natural, historical and architectural wonders that the Draa Valley offers, there are also small villages along the valley where time seems to stand still, so little is the effect of modernity on them. We continue on to Ouarzazate, which African traders once used on their journeys up to Europe. It has also been used as a film set, for Alexander the Great, The Last Temptation of Christ and The Living Daylights.
Ouarzazate – Ait Benhaddou – Marrakech. In the morning either visit the film studio that produced Lawrence of Arabia or opt to go Quad Biking (book and pay locally) before driving onward to the legendary Ait Benhaddou.
Ait Benhaddou – a ‘fortified city’ situated along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech, boasts some beautiful examples of ancient kasbahs. Only a handful of which remain inhabited. Granted UNESCO World Heritage listing, this incredible site had been the setting for many films including Gladiator.
This morning we tour magical Marrakech, an exotic pink city of snake charmers, steamy hammams, bustling souks and hidden palaces. The focal point and highlight of the city is the Koutoubia mosque and Djemaa el Fna – the central square, which is an extraordinary market place full of colour, music, spicy aromas and traders. Best seen in the evening when the square is overflowing with food stalls, dancers, acrobats, fortune tellers, musicians and henna artists.
This afternoon and evening is free for you to explore independently, soak up the incredible atmosphere and test your bartering skills in the souks. Perhaps pamper yourself with a steamy hammam!
Our Moroccan adventure concludes after breakfast. Happy travels! If you would like to extend your trip and spend New Year’s Eve in Marrakech, take a look at our Rock the Kasbah tour.