Exploring Morocco: The Ultimate Guide to Meknes, Fes, Chefchaouen and the Sahara
Morocco is a country full of diversity, with bustling imperial cities, charming mountain villages, and the vast Sahara desert. While popular cities like Marrakech and Casablanca draw big crowds, this guide shines a light on some equally intriguing but undersung destinations. Read on for the ultimate itinerary across Meknes, Fes, the “Blue Pearl” of Chefchaouen and finally a magical Sahara desert adventure.
The Imperial City of Meknes
Founded in the 17th century Meknes served briefly as the capital under the ambitious Sultan Moulay Ismail before power shifted permanently to Rabat. Today visitors can explore the site of Ismail’s massive building projects, enormous granaries and stables that could hold over 12,000 horses.
The grand Bab Mansour gate ushers you through towering walls into the lively medina, full of produce markets, restaurants simmering aromatic tagines, working artisans in tiny workshops, and the bustling El Hedim Square. For expansive views over the rolling countryside, climb to the top of one of the forty piles of the Aguedal Basin.
No trip to Meknes is complete without seeing Ismail’s Mausoleum, an opulent resting place for the influential leader. Meet your guide for an overview of Meknes history before heading to the nearby excavated Roman city of Volubilis to wander mosaic floored mansions and crumbling pillars lining the Cardo Maximus.
Ancient Fes: the Cultural Heart of Morocco
The medieval fortress city of Fes dates back 1200 years, and exploring the immense Fes el Bali medina feels like entering a time machine. Getting pleasantly lost in the maze of 9400 alleys, you’ll discover ornate fountains, impressive madrasas, dye pits for iconic leatherworks, and aromas of spices leading to holes-in-the wall food stalls.
Watching sunset over the minarets and clay roof-tops of the medina from a café terrace promises an unforgettable panorama. Just outside town lies the ceramics factory of Fes el Jadid. Glowing cobalt blue and white pots shine like jewels embedded into the hillside village.
No amount of time seems enough to soak in centuries of history on display behind Fes’s high walls, but 3-4 days provides a satisfying taste to inspire coming back.
The Blue Pearl Chefchaouen
Nestled in the Rif Mountains, the small hillside village of Chefchaouen charms all who wander its photogenic blue-washed lanes. The striking building color tradition began with Jewish refugees in 1930s but today the hues represent hope and heaven to locals.
While Chefchaouen has its share of shops filled with wool items, woven blankets and leather goods, its greatest delight comes from simple pleasures: sipping mint tea on a restaurant terrace, chatting with the djellaba-robed men clustered around games of checkers under shady trees, tasting lavender honey and bread fresh from a communal village oven.
Hike up to the Spanish mosque for epic views over the rooftops to the peaks beyond. Or walk just outside town to discoverhidden waterfalls and swim below the cascades for a free natural jacuzzi.
With limited accommodation Chefchaouen fills up fast, so book a room or whole riad well in advance. Or even consider making it a day trip from Fes just 90 minutes away if short on time.
Sahara Desert Adventure
No trip to Morocco seems complete without experiencing the shifting sands and salty Bedouin hospitality of the Sahara desert. While desert towns like Merzouga or Mhamid make good bases, the real magic lies encamped among the orange dunes or exploring via camelback and 4×4.
Most overnight tours start early to avoid the brutal midday heat. Journeying through palm oases and visiting historic ksar mud castles, you’ll learn about desert village life today and centuries past. Food stops include Berber pizza baked in desert sands.
Come late afternoon, mount your assigned camel and ride deeper into the undulating dunes. Many encampments employ solar panels for charging devices between relaxing on carpets listening to traditional drum music and songs under jaw-droppingly starry night skies.
The next morning, early risers can catch the glory of desert sunrises before piling into 4×4 vehicles to seek out fossil valleys, old mines, nomad wells and ruins entombed in sands over the centuries. Exhilarated yet exhausted, you’ll never look at a desert quite the same.
Itinerary Ideas & Recommendations
Arranging the highlights of Morocco into an itinerary depends greatly on the time available. At a minimum, do Fes and Chefchaouen or Fes and the Sahara. Here are sample routes:
1 Week Itinerary
- 2 days in Fes
- 2 days in Chefchaouen plus day trips
- Desert trip from Fes or straight to Sahara
- Fly out from Ouarzazate
2 Week Itinerary
- 2 days in Fes including day trip to Meknes
- 3 days in Merzouga area for Sahara trip
- 3 days Chefchaouen and nearby nature sights
- 2 days relaxing in Tangier, Essaouira or Casablanca
3 Weeks + Itinerary
- All major stops above
- Plusatlas mountain stops like Azrou cedar forests
- More time exploring anomalies and nature parks
- Consider Spain extension to Andalucia
Reputable local tour companies like Journey Beyond Travel handle custom multi-stop trips designed around interests and efficiently handling transport between cities. Or design a private tour with an accredited guide for ultimate flexibility.
Planning Your Moroccan Adventure
The best times to visit Morocco fall in the spring (mid-March to May) and autumn (September to November), when temperatures are warm but comfortable for sightseeing. Book accommodations and desert tours several months in advance for popular seasons.
Pack modest lightweight clothing to cover knees and shoulders entering religious places per Islamic custom. Bring cash in Moroccan dirham, especially to small towns, but know credit cards and ATMs available in most cities.
Leave extra time getting around via grand taxi routes in case of delays. Within cities, petit taxis (older Mercedes Benz’s) provide an affordable way to get around a fixed-rate per ride. Consider arranging airport transfers or a car and driver to maximize time.
Ready for a Trip of a Lifetime?
The imperial cities, alluring villages and Sahara desert of Morocco deliver nonstop magic. Blend cultural wonders in Fes and Meknes with stunning Rif Mountain vistas in Chefchaouen, topped off by a camel riding voyage deep in the shifting sands. This route promises exciting adventures, luxury riad living, local encounters and endless visual feasts for all who make the trip.