This comprehensive tour brings you the diverse delights of Morocco: from stunning scenery to impressive Islamic architecture, with its intricate stucco, wood carving and colourful tilework, ancient cities, inviting locals and the best of Moroccan cuisine. The tour starts in cosmopolitan Casablanca, and then travels along the Atlantic coast visiting Rabat, Roman Volubilis and bustling Fes, before crossing the Atlas Mountains to the kasbahs and oases of the northern Sahara. Returning to the Atlantic coast, we explore Marrakesh, famous for its vibrant souks and palaces, and Essaouira, a medieval port still nestled inside its walls.
The bustling and picturesque markets of Fes and Marrakesh
Rabat on the river Bou Regreg, a most wonderfully located capital city
The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Roman ruins at Volubilis, overlooking rolling plains
The Atlas Mountains, home of the Berbers and stands of Cedars of Lebanon
Majestic kasbahs and verdant oases on the fringe of the Sahara Desert
Peaceful Essaouira on the shores of the Atlantic
The spectacular Todra and Dadés gorges
Beautiful, secluded towns such as Boumalne Dades, and Ouarzazate, the ‘Gate to the Desert’
Days 1–4: Arrive in Casablanca on Morocco’s Atlantic coast, tour Casablanca’s vast Hassan II Mosque and the Roman city of Chella in Rabat.
Days 5–7: Travel inland, stopping at Meknes and Fes and visiting the Roman ruins of Volubilis.
Days 8–12: Cross over the Atlas Mountains and explore the western edge of the Sahara Desert, including the spectacular scenery of the Todra Gorge.
Days 13–15: Travel to Marrakesh, see the city’s fine Islamic architecture in the museums and madrasas and wander through Jemaa El-Fna.
Days 16–19: Travel to Essaouira, exploring the city and its complex history, then return to Casablanca for our departure.
The tour begins and ends at our hotel in Casablanca. Emirates has suitable direct flights into and out of Casablanca from most Australian cities. Contact us for quotes and bookings.
Included meals are shown with the symbols B, L and D.
Saturday 27 March: Arrive Casablanca
Flights from Australia arrive mid-morning and early afternoon. Passengers booking their flights through Academy Travel to commence the tour today will be transferred to the group hotel. Ben Churcher will meet group members this evening in the lobby for drinks and introductions before dinner in the hotel. Overnight Casablanca (D)
Sunday 28 March: Touring Casablanca
Casablanca is a cosmopolitan, vibrant city often overlooked for more exotic destinations. Our day commences with a tour of the Hassan II Mosque completed in 1993 and spectacularly located on a rocky outcrop reclaimed from the Atlantic Ocean. We continue to the Quartier Habous built by the French in the 1930s blending the Moroccan architecture of an ancient medina with French colonial buildings. We also pass by Sacre Couer, the French built neo-gothic cathedral which became a cultural centre after independence. Overnight Casablanca (B, L)
Monday 29 March: To Rabat
We depart this morning for Rabat, the political and administrative capital chosen by King Hassan V when Morocco gained independence in 1956. We visit Chella, a Merenid necropolis built over the Roman city of Sale Colonia. Excavations on the Roman site reveal the Decumanus Maximus passing through a triumphal arch to the temple of Jupiter and ending at the forum. The Islamic necropolis consists of a stone and zellij tile minaret, medersa and the tomb of the great Merenid leader, Abou al Hassan. In contrast is the mausoleum of Mohammed V housing the tombs of the nation’s recent kings. It is considered a masterpiece of Alawite architecture. Elaborately dressed royal guards watch over the three white onyx tombs where Mohammed V is laid to rest with his two sons. After lunch in a local restaurant, we explore the cliff top Kasbah les Oudaias, 12th-century fortifications with narrow streets and whitewashed houses that are still inhabited today. Rabat’s small yet interesting archaeological museum and its collection of Neolithic carving and small bronzes from Volubilis and Chellah is our final stop before checking into our hotel. Overnight Rabat (B, L, D)
Tuesday 30 March: Meknes
Heading east by coach we travel to Meknes, the capital of Morocco under the Sultan Moulay Ismail between 1672 and 1727. Our touring includes Bab el-Mansour, Meknes main gate across from the square, the medina and the lavishly tiled and decorated Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail. We also visit the stable and granary for 12,000 horses designed with under floor water channels to keep the temperature cool. After lunch we visit the Bou Inania Madersa, a school for students of Islam studying the Koran. Younger students lived in small cells on the ground floor while older students and teachers were accommodated in more spacious rooms on the upper floor. The Dar Jamai Museum is housed in the Sultan’s former palace and features excellent displays of traditional ceramics, jewellery, rugs and textiles, including exquisite needlework using gold and silver thread. A highlight is the reception room preserved as it would have appeared in the Sultan’s day. We continue to Fes this afternoon. Overnight Fes (B, L, D)
Wednesday 31 March: Fes Medina
Today we explore the maze of streets that make up the medina in Fes El Bali on foot. Passing through the blue tiled Bab Boujeloud gate we enter the Bou Inania Madrasa. The marble and onyx courtyard features a fountain and intricately carved cedar mashrabiyas, (lattice screens) covering the alcoves where the students studied. Unusually the madrasa also has a mosque with a green tiled minaret. We continue past the Fondouks, two to four storey buildings with courtyards lined with small rooms that are used as workshops and warehouses by the traders and craftsmen in the souk to the Chaouwara Tanneries. From the rooftop of the leather shops we see and smell the earthen vats of the tanning pits filled with chemicals and dyes used to soften and colour the hides. Leaving the medina we head to Borj Nord, a 16th-century fortress that formed part of the city’s fortifications and visit a tile factory to see the Zellij tiles being made by hand. Overnight Fes (B)
Thursday 1 April: Touring Fes
This morning we visit the excellent collection at the Dar Batha Museum, a converted 19th-century Moorish Palace that is a work of art in itself. Most Moroccan artisanal pieces were also functional and we see displays of carved wooden furniture, embroidery and clothing, musical instruments and carpets. The pottery room has a superb display of ceramics from the 14th century featuring the unique blue cobalt glaze that was developed using a special process in Fes during the 10th century. After lunch we explore the Mellah or Jewish area which is distinguished by its houses with street facing balconies. Overnight Fes (B)
Friday 2 April: Volubilis and Moulay Idriss
Today we explore Volubilis, dating back to the Phoenicians in the third century BC. Its prominence grew from the first century onwards as a Roman trading post and administrative centre on the south-western border of the empire. Situated on 40 hectares and with 2.6kms of walls surrounding the site, the city featured main roads, public monuments and thermal baths. It prospered and expanded rapidly in the second century when the forum, basilica, capitol and triumphal arch were constructed. A number of stately homes were also built at this time and feature well-preserved mosaics floors that remain in situ. We continue to the holy city of Moulay Idriss, an important pilgrimage site founded by the great-grandson of the prophet Mohammed who introduced Islam to Morocco in the eighth century. We visit his tomb and explore the winding streets of the compact town where we also have lunch in a Moroccan guesthouse. Overnight Fes (B, L)
Saturday 3 April: Ifrane
After a leisurely start this morning we depart for Sefrou, a picturesque town on the edge of the Middle Atlas. Sefrou was home to Morocco’s largest Jewish community as evidenced by the outward facing balconies encountered on our walk through the medina. We continue higher into the mountains to the alpine village of Ifrane, our stop for this evening. The afternoon is free to enjoy our mountain chalet accommodation. Overnight Ifrane (B, L, D)
Sunday 4 April: To Erfoud
Today we make the 400km journey to Erfoud with stops on the way to stretch our legs and enjoy the changing scenery. After time to freshen up, dinner is in the hotel this evening. Overnight Erfoud (B, L, D)
Monday 5 April: The Sahara
Today we venture into the Sahara, transferring from our coach to 4WD drive vehicles for a spectacular drive through the sand dunes of Erg Chebbi. Our trip into the desert wouldn’t be complete without a camel ride over the dunes that extend to the Algerian border and beyond. We visit the ruins at Sijilmassa, an important staging post on the trans-Sahara trade route from the 8th to 14th centuries. After a break for lunch, we visit the Moulay Ali Cherif Mausoleum, built in honour of the founder of the Alawite dynasty in Morocco, and spend some time in the dilapidated medina at Rissani. Overnight Erfoud (B, L)
Tuesday 6 April: Todra Gorge
We depart for Tinerhir and stop at Todra Gorge. A deep fault carved out of the limestone by the river has created a spectacular ravine of towering rock walls up to 160 metres high. The flat path running alongside the river allows us to stroll through the chasm and admire the different colours created by the light on the rock surfaces. We have lunch at one of the restaurants lining the gorge before continuing to Boulmane Dades. Overnight Boumalne Dades (B, L, D)
Wednesday 7 April: Ouarzazate
Departing by coach, we travel to Ouarzazate and visit the Taourit Kasbah built in the 19th century by the Glaoui clan who controlled the major caravan southern routes to West Africa. Parts of the former palace remain in ruins but we can visit the reception rooms, harem rooms and kitchens that have been restored with assistance from UNESCO. Overnight Ouarzazate (B, D)
Thursday 8 April: To Marrakesh
Today we travel to Marrakesh, stopping firstly at the fortified city or Ksar of Ait Benhaddou. The city is made up of six Kasbahs and is a great example of the clay architecture found in the region. The well preserved old town has been abandoned by the families that once lived here, and has been used as the setting for several films such as Lawrence of Arabia and Gladiator. We then travel into the High Atlas Mountains, traversing the hairpin bends of the Tiz n’Tchika pass and arriving in Marrakesh in the afternoon. Overnight Marrakesh (B, L, D)
Friday 9 April: Exploring Marrakesh
Our tour through the medina commences at the Bab Agnaou or Black Gate which leads us into the Saadian Tombs. Saadian Sultan, Ahmed El Mansour built the tombs in the 16th century using the finest local artisans and imported Italian Carrara marble, elaborate plasterwork and pure gold. The opulent tombs were walled up when the Alawite dynasty came to power and lay undiscovered until 1917. Continuing through the Mellah, or Jewish quarter, we come to the Dar Si Siad. The former palace now houses the Museum of Moroccan Arts, showcasing regional craftsmanship. Winding through the narrow alleyways past craft shops and ornamental doorways, we enter the famous Djemaa el-Fnaa, Marrakesh’s main square. We visit the Ali Ben Youssef Medersa, a 14th-century Islamic school whose large courtyard and ablutions pool, zellij tiles and abundant decorations are reminiscent of the Alhambra Palace in Granada. We visit the enchanting Jardin Marjorelle, designed as a living work of art by French painter, Jacques Marjorelle. The garden of exotic plants and rare species acquired over 40 years fell into disrepair following the artist’s death in 1962 until it was saved from destruction by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé in 1980. Dinner this evening is in a beautifully restored riad with traditional musicians and a belly dancer. Overnight Marrakesh (B, D)
Saturday 10 April: Marrakesh – Free day
Today is at leisure to further explore the delights of Marrakesh. Overnight Marrakesh (B)
Sunday 11 April: To Essaouira
We depart this morning for the Atlantic Coast and the harbour town of Essaouira. We explore the busy port area where fishermen tend to their nets and sell the catch of the day and walk over the ramparts of the Skala Bastion lined with brass cannons with views over the sea and into the medina. Our walking tour continues through the 18th-century walled medina, an excellent example of European military architecture in Northern Africa. Later this afternoon we gather in the hotel’s beachfront bar and restaurant for drinks as we watch the sun set into the Atlantic. Overnight Essaouira (B, L)
Monday 12 April: Essaouira
Today is at leisure to relax, swim in the Atlantic Ocean or further explore the medina for some final purchases. Overnight Essaouira (B)
Tuesday 13 April: El Jadida to Casablanca
Departing Essaouira this morning, we travel along the scenic coastal road stopping at the old Portuguese town of El Jadida for lunch. An important trading post, the Portuguese built a fortress here to protect their ships. After lunch we visit the ramparts of the original port, see the Church of the Assumption, the vaulted cistern and the Grand Mosque which also acted as a lighthouse. Returning to Casablanca, we gather this evening for a farewell dinner in a French restaurant. Overnight Casablanca (B, L, D)
Wednesday 14 April: Depart Casablanca
There is a transfer to the airport this morning for passengers who have booked their flights with Academy Travel. (B)
An educator and practicing archaeologist, who works both in Jordan and with Aboriginal sites in Australia.
Ben Churcher is an archaeologist who works both in the Near East, as well as with Aboriginal archaeology in Australia. He has a strong personal interest in history and archaeology, primarily of the Muslim world, but not exclusively. Ben holds the position of Field Director at the University of Sydney’s archaeological excavations at Pella in Jordan.
Ben holds a BA (Hons) from the University of Queensland and a Dip. Ed from the University of Sydney. In 1983, Ben received a travelling grant from the Alumni Association at the University of Queensland to participate at the excavations at Pella in Jordan and he has been involved in archaeology ever since.
In between digs, Ben worked as a secondary teacher for five years at both public and private high schools and in 1993 he brought together his love of teaching and archaeology by founding Astarte Resources, a company producing and distributing educational resources specialising in history. While running Astarte Resources, Ben has been involved with adult education lecturing on a range of historical subjects and graduate teaching duties at the University of Canberra in their cultural heritage degree.
Since 2002 Ben has worked extensively in Aboriginal archaeology in Australia, working with a small firm undertaking heritage assessments and management. This work has taken him from western NSW, into the Snowy Mountains and onto the coalfields of the Hunter Valley.
Ben has continued his association with the excavations at Pella in Jordan throughout this time and he has participated in most seasons of excavation at the site. This work has involved excavating most major Near Eastern periods from the prehistoric Natufian period, through to the Islamic period.
Ben is a life member of the Near Eastern Archaeology Foundation at the University of Sydney and he currently sits on the board of the Foundation.
Ben has also travelled widely beyond the destinations to which he takes tours, has taught English in Japan for six months and has sailed on a dhow to Zanzibar. The consequence of this experience is that Ben is an adept traveller, unfazed by what the world may throw at him, and someone who has managed to amass a lot of information from various places and time periods that he is only too happy to impart.
Ben led his first tour to Jordan and Syria in 1993 and has gone on to take travellers to an eclectic range of countries including Mali, Morocco, Egypt, Turkey, Greece, Iran, Central Asia, China and Mexico. The common thread has been Ben’s interest in global history and the interconnections between both historical periods and cultures. How these interconnections are expressed in architecture, religion and governance is an abiding interest of Ben’s.
We asked Ben, what do you think clients get from travelling with you?
“I feel the people I travel with enjoy the way I can place great sweeps of history into context for them. On tour people often want to know what was happening elsewhere while such and such a building was being constructed. Fortunately I can use the experience I’ve built up over the years to answer such questions and then tie the particular culture we are looking at into the broader picture so that it links with things already known by the people in the group.”
Hotels have been carefully selected for comfort and location.
Casablanca, Sofitel Tour Blanche Hotel (3 nights)
Rabat, Riad Kalaa 1 night)
Fes, Sahrai Hotel (4 nights)
Ifrane, Michlifen Hotel (1 night)
Erfoud, Xaluca Tombouctou (2 nights)
Boulmane Dades, Xaluca Dades (1 night)
Ouarzazate, Dar Chamaa (1 night)
Marrakesh, Riad el Cadi (3 nights)
Essaouira, M Gallery (2 Nights)
What is included in the tour price?
Unless otherwise stated in the itinerary, our tours include the following:
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Where appropriate, taxis or public transport are also used for short distance travel on some tours
All accommodation in hotels or apartments as stated in the itinerary
Breakfasts, lunches and dinners specifically stated as included in the itinerary
Drinks at welcome and farewell meals. Other meals may not have drinks included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
Tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required and when stated as included
Tours begin either at the arrival airport or the first hotel, depending on the itinerary. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel and arrive before the tour commences, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers.
What is not included in the tour price?
Our tours do not include the following:
Return international/domestic air travel unless those flights take place during the tour
Special taxes and airport levies that can only be paid in cash at the destination. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Travel insurance. We require all participants to have comprehensive travel insurance. A typical policy for one of our tours will cost from $160 upwards, depending on your age, pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the overall length of your trip
Lunches and dinners not specifically mentioned as included in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity