With its location at the crossroads of European, Arabian, and African cultures at the southern edge of the Mediterranean Sea, Morocco is often criminally overlooked as a top-tier destination for diverse, adventure-filled getaways. With vast Saharan dune seas, pristine desert mountains, a vibrant culture, and fantastic cuisine, Morocco offers staggering variety for wayward travelers looking to live an incredible story.
A country like Morocco needs a special touch, and for a truly in-depth view of this extraordinary place, book a tour through the Valley of 1000 Kasbahs with My Moroccan Adventure. Adil, one of My Moroccan Adventure’s two co-founders, is a national guide of Morocco and native to the Saharan regions featured on the trip. The other co-founder, Jade, is an expert-level yoga instructor who guides opt-in wellness experiences and occasionally leads yoga retreats into the mesmerizing featured destinations. Together, they lead a team of Moroccan natives intimately familiar with the country’s history, geography, and customs and offer tours in English. The intricate experience, tailored for groups and individuals of all genders, is an exceptionally authentic, detailed view of Morocco and is not to be missed. All that is required is airfare to and from Marrakech—everything else is taken care of once you’ve landed.
The Valley Of 1000 Kasbahs gets its name from the numerous kasbahs, or fortresses, lining the ancient road from sub-Saharan Africa that once hosted caravans from as far away as Timbuktu. The journey begins and ends in bustling Marrakech, one of Morocco’s four imperial cities and a thriving hotspot of local culture, food, and nightlife. After settling into your glamorous countryside villa lodgings, walk the charming streets of Gueliz and step into the upscale shops, imbibe some fine dining, dance at one of the many trendy nightclubs, or head into the enchanting mazelike Medina, the old part of the city that is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. As you wander the lively, narrow corridors of the district, see the spice merchant for a dazzling lesson in the 35 spices that form innumerable concoctions aiding ailments ranging from brain fog to stuffy noses; hear the sparks and crackles of welders creating unique works of metallic art in the many souks, or markets, hidden off the pathways; book a Moroccan hammam and relish a nourishing massage and vitalizing cleanse to feel like a brand new person; get stumped by the puzzle box handed to you by the expert woodworker whose crafts are as rich with detail as they are with cleverness.
After Marrakech, board a fleet of SUVs and leave the city for a stop in Ouarzazate, also known as the “Hollywood Of Africa” for its famous role in local film history. Feast on a fine plate of skewers and delicious Moroccan couscous in the town responsible for classic scenes from Game Of Thrones, The Mummy, Gladiator, and Lawrence Of Arabia. After Ouarzazate, catch the idyllic sun-baked peaks of the towering Anti-Atlas Range off in the distance that were once joined millions of years ago to the Scottish Highlands, the Norwegian Caledonians, and the North American Appalachians as part of the Central Pangaean Mountain Range.
The next stop at Telouet includes a tour of one of the titular valley kasbahs commonly seen along the route. These fortresses were historically homes for the local sultan and offered shelter and protection to passing caravans. As you step through the ornate doors, whose dual handles provide widths for livestock and an inset version for humans, you might notice a sudden temperature drop as you pass into the interior. The earthen walls, common to Moroccan architecture, are designed to cool the buildings’ insides as a countermeasure against the scorching summer sun. Within the ancient halls of the kasbah, take in the precise detail of the handcrafted ceilings, walls, and floors, or cherish the view of the picturesque countryside from one of the many gorgeous elevated windows.
After Telouet, as you travel through more lofty mountain ridges, you might be stunned as the scenery suddenly reveals an unceasing sea of leafy palm trees fading into a homogenous green color far into the Draa River Valley. Here in Agdz, this palm grove is not only one of the largest in the world but is also one of the world’s largest suppliers of dates. Savor the flavor of the fresh, sweet fruit as you look upon the endless, swaying trees whose canopy conceals the lush glamping resort hosting the night’s accommodations. Enjoy tasty piping-hot home-cooked chicken tagine for dinner, and consider ending your day with a rejuvenating vinyasa flow led by Jade beneath the beautiful night sky.
The next day, the road continues to the remote village of M’hamid el Ghizlane. You might be mistaken in thinking that the voyage ends here with the abrupt end of the last bit of paved road, but the reality is that everything up to this point has only been a pregame for what will be the most dramatic sight on your journey: The Sahara Desert. Watch the buildings and houses behind you fade into obscurity as the trip goes literally off-road, where the dirt yields itself to endless rocks, rocks transform into subtle hints of sand, hints of sand morph into elaborate, granular contours, and then finally, the horizon breaks wide open into the dramatic, endless dune sea of Erg Chegaga.
The accommodations here, a cozy, carpeted collection of endearing tents nestled within the captivating dunes, are equipped with electricity, hot water, and large queen beds. The lodgings also include spacious tents for shared meals and expansive outdoor spaces for bonfires and fun gatherings. Partake in exciting conversations with fellow explorers from around the world by the crackling flames as you sit underneath a deep, dark sky bereft of light pollution where the overwhelming number of stars shine their light alongside the visible celestial clouds of the Milky Way.
The handful of nights at Erg Chegaga also include fascinating excursions to notable surrounding locations, starting with a journey led by Adil to meet the community of Saharan nomads he grew up within. Marvel at the bubbling of fresh bread being baked before you and delight in its rich taste as you converse with your new friends. Visit the vast, prehistoric lakebed and ponder its scale as you check out the old fossils of aquatic life that swam here eons ago. Finally, no trip to the desert would be complete without a memorable camel ride to the summit of one of the nearby giant dunes. Admire the spectacle of the unbeatable sunset, where the oranges of the sky merge with the hues of the sand to pierce deep into memory and create an unforgettable sight unlike any other in the world.
As you leave Erg Chegaga, the road back to Marrakech includes a stay back in Ouarzazate within a fancy hotel hosting another fabulous dinner and a glamorous pool. The trip includes a stop at a women’s weaving co-op on the way there. Visitors will get a complete lesson in the history and craftsmanship of the incredibly elaborate, handmade Moroccan rugs. Get lost in the stunning sea of color and detail within the galaxy of painstakingly handcrafted carpets, all of which are available for purchase at unbeatable prices. Shipping back to your place of origin is also included if you don’t want to worry about bringing your favorite new decoration on the plane ride home.
As you return to Marrakech for the end of your journey, experience true Moroccan elegance with a stop at the Bahia Palace, built in the 19th century to honor the favorite wife of former grand vizier Ba Ahmed and another of Morocco’s UNESCO World Heritage sites. The Bahia (a word meaning “brilliant” in English) also doubles as the location of the Marrakech Biennale and an opulent museum. Enjoy the intricacies within colorful works of art and the galleries of ancient Moroccan currency and manuscripts as you browse the decorative halls hosting numerous exhibits covering the history of Morocco. As you explore the many riads (roughly translating to open-air courtyards in English) and 160 rooms comprising the labyrinthine structure, gaze in wonder at the individually handcrafted tiles and ceramics lining the endless walls, floors, and ceilings of the palace whose sheer numbers and effort defy belief and provide some of the most astonishing beauty found in the Red City.
John Sizemore is a travel writer, photographer, yoga teacher, and visual entertainment developer based out of Austin, Texas. Follow him on Instagram at @sizemoves. In his downtime, John likes to learn foreign languages and get immersed in other worlds, particularly those of music, film, games, and books in addition to exploring the world.