Morocco: Splendors of the Berber South

Discover the wealth of Berber culture found in the towns and villages of Morocco's far south, which have survived for thousands of years.

Country Information

Morocco

Morocco: Splendors of the Berber South Inspired Expeditions

(Countries Visited)

Morocco


(Interest Type(s))

Adventure Travel

,

Recommended


(Tour Length)

12 Days


Tour Highlights

Starting at: $8,250

“Not many journeys that offer Morocco focus on areas outside of the famous Imperial Cities, the Sahara, or, maybe, the Rif Mountains.  What many of even the savviest of travelers do not realize is that there is a wealth of diverse Berber culture in the towns and villages of Morocco’s far south.  These ancient and distinctive societies have survived for thousands of years, and yet they are often overlooked.  And I think that’s a great loss for the traveler who yearns for authentic connections.  And now, there are some unique, wonderful properties in Taroudannt and Souss-Massa National Park that make this a fantastic adventure – both luxurious and off-the-beaten path.”   Ashish Sanghrajka, President

  • Travel far off the beaten track to explore the Berber culture in depth in the villages and towns of the High Atlas Mountains and the Ante Atlas Mountains
  • Discover some of Morrocco’s oldest cities such as Casablanca, Marrakech,  Essaouira and Taroudannt, known as the Grandmother of Marrakech
  • Learn firsthand about ancient methods still in use day as they have been for millennia such as the Berber women who produce the prized argan oil from the argan tree, known here as the Tree of Life
  • Visit the remote Souss-Massa National Park, primarily a bird sanctuary, home to pink flamingos, three of the four Moroccan colonies of the rare and endangered Northern bald Ibis, glossy ibis, marbled duck as well as oryx, addax, jackal, Algerian hedgehog, African wild cat, gazelle, ostrich, leopard lizard, weasel, red fox and a variety of reptiles and rare amphibians
  • Enjoy stays at traditional raids and distinctive small hotels

 

 

Day 1:  Arrive Casablanca, Morocco / Marrakech     (3 hour drive)
Welcome to Morocco!  Upon arrival at Casablanca’s Mohammed V International Airport you will be met by your private, licensed, national guide and driver, and taken to visit the amazingly beautiful Hassan II Mosque, which is the second largest mosque in the Islamic world after the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca.  From here, travel south on a three-hour drive to the Berber imperial city of Marrakech and your charming riad.  After checking in, you will set out on a brief familiarization excursion of this cosmopolitan city in a horse-drawn carriage to see the famous ramparts and monuments of this garden city, including the delightful Majorelle Gardens and Museum belonging to the late fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent.  On to the Medina via the dramatic Almohad Koutoubia Mosque (entrance is prohibited to non-Muslims), one of the major architectural triumphs of the Berber Almohad Dynasty.  Returning to your riad, you dine at the restaurant, outside in the courtyard or on the roof terrace overlooking the ancient city with the High Atlas Mountains as a backdrop.  Riad El Fenn – Colonnade Room (D)

Day 2:  Marrakech
After a leisurely breakfast, you venture into the Kasbah and Mellah (once the Jewish Quarter) to the lavishly-decorated Saadien Tombs.  This is the ancient cemetery of the shorfa, the descendants of the Prophet Mohammed.  Proceed to the late 19th-century Dar el Bahia Palace built for the black slave Si' Ahmed Ben Musa and the Dar Si Said Museum, which houses both traditional and contemporary exhibitions of Moroccan arts and sculpture.  You will also explore the Bert Flint Museum, which displays the massive collection of art, weapons, and furniture of the famous Dutch anthropologist.  Then visit the 14th-century Ben Youssef Medersa, one of the most beautiful buildings in Marrakech that housed the Islamic equivalent of a monastery, and the Almoravid Dynasty Koubba (the oldest building in Marrakech).  Your next stop is the Marrakech Museum of Art and then the labyrinth of narrow covered alleyways of the famous souqs, finishing your journey with a lunch overlooking Djmaa el Fnaa Square.  Riad El Fenn – Colonnade Room (B,L)

Day 3:  Marrakech / Imlil / Marrakech     (75 minutes each way)
Today you drive south across the Haouz Plain with its olive-groves and citrus-tree orchards.  As you start to ascend into the High Atlas valleys, you pass through the Berber town of Tahanaoute before winding your way up past the Moulay Brahim Gorges and into the high valleys.  Pass under the little town of Zaouiat Moulay Brahim perched on a cliff overlooking a oued, a seasonal river.  You pass small, scratch-farmed irrigated plots clawed from the mountain sides, some of which are centuries old.  Disocver Berber hamlets of Imi Ourghlad, Tinifine, Aguerssioual and Taddart carved out of the mountainside.  At the village of Imlil, stop for a refreshing glass of mint tea.  Then set out on a trek, either on foot or on a mule, up to the Berber village of Aroumd.  Another five miles brings you to hamlet of Sidi Chamharouch beside a small waterfall and stream.  This village is a place of pilgrimage to devout Muslims who come to the Marabout’s shrine (forbidden to non-Muslims).  It is said to be a pre-Islamic relic.  You can take a break for a picnic lunch within full view of Jbel Toubkal, at 13,672 feet the highest peak in the Maghreb.  Then, you travel down the other side of the valley back to Imlil and return trip to Marrakech.  Riad El Fenn – Colonnade Room (B,L)

Day 4:  Marrakech / Tizi N’Test Pass / Taroudannt     (6 hour drive)
The road you take today is one of the most spectacular drives in Morocco.  Passing through the Berber market town of Asni, you drive through the green Ouirgane Valley with the red clay hills along the river N’Fis.  You will visit the roofless shell of the 12th-century mosque of Tin-Mal, which Marrakech’s Koutoubia and many other mosques in Morocco are modeled after.  Travel the Tizi N’Test, a road that cuts through the mountains via a series of switchbacks over the pass to the tip of the Saharan side of the mountains as it descends into the Souss Valley.  It is still only one car and a half wide in places, with 1,500 feet cliffs common.  With no barriers, the road is traveled only during daylight hours.  Once through the pass, you descend to the Chleuh Berber town of Taroudannt and your hotel.  La Gazelle D’Or – Bougainvillea Pavilion (B,D)

Day 5:  Taroudannt
Long before Marrakech was built, Taroudannt was known as the Grandmother of Marrakech.  Explore one of Morocco’s oldest towns, beginning with the magnificent ramparts, which lead you to the Place Assaraq and the nearby bustling souqs.  Then, you will go to see Berber women producing prized argan oil., which is the time-honoured way for Berber women to make money.  The nutritional oil has been used for thousands of years in couscous, salads and dipping bread as an alternative to olive oil.  And, it is popular today throughout Europe and parts of the U.S., used for massage, hair and nail care.  La Gazelle D’Or – Bougainvillea Pavilion (B,D)

Day 6:  Taroudannt / Tafraoute     (3 hour drive)
Set out towards the Atlantic Ocean, and then turn southeast with a backdrop of the Anti-Atlas Mountains, passing verdant oases and dark, jagged hills and the scattered hamlets of the Ameln Berbers, one of Morocco’s most ancient tribes.  Pass through the village of Aït Baha, where the road starts to wind into the mountains beneath spectacular ochre peaks of the Jbel Tikwayne (6,285 feet) to the dramatic village of Troulit dominated by an ancient Kasbah.  This is the domain of the Illalen, a group of 18 tribes who command the mountain plateau.  You pass through the Tizi n’Taraktine, at 5,000 feet, into the beautiful Ameln Valley to the heart of the Anti-Atlas Mountains.  You reach the town of Tafraoute and your Kasbah-like hotel on a hill overlooking the town the surrounding mountains.  Please note while this hotel is not a five-star hotel, what it lacks in polish, it makes up for in authenticity.  This property is the best in Tafraoute.  The views from and around the town are staggering for this Berber village sits in a kind of amphitheatre in a small palm oasis surrounded by rose-colored quartzite boulder formations and studded with date palms and almond trees.  Ahouach Berber music and dance are performed each night.  Hotel Les Amandiers - Junior Suite (B,D)

Day 7:  Tafraoute – Ameln Valley
Today, you travel in a 4x4 vehicle to explore Ameln Valley and a string of villages surrounded by spring-fed gardens at the foot of Jbel Lekst, a jutting ridge of pink granite.  This is the land of fiercely independent tribes, “Lords of the Atlas”, whose traditions and ways still hold sway.  These Berbers present us with a fascinating insight into a way of life lost to the rest of North Africa.  All six tribes share a common mythology that recalls a golden past when they were once but one prosperous, united people made rich by the profits of the Tamdoult silver mine, which was buried in an earthquake.  You visit La Maison Traditionnelle, a private museum that preserves an undisturbed traditional interior complete with grindstones, water holders, cooking equipment and the like.  The layout of the house includes a guest room with separate entrance, animals’ quarters and a summer terrace for sleeping.  With your driver and guide, you can spend as much time as you wish exploring the valley’s many distinctive hamlets and villages before returning to Tafraoute and your hotel.  Hotel Les Amandiers - Junior Suite (B)

Day 8:  Tafraoute - Ait Mansour Gorges     (75 minutes each way)
The Anti-Atlas present you with some of the most spectacular scenery in Morocco:  towering peaks stand, lush fertile oases and lunar-like landscapes.  Today’s travels take you again into Berber country and the heart of the southernmost Anti-Atlas Mountain Range to Aït Mansour Gorge, one of the highlights of this beautiful region.  It boasts one of the finest date palm oases in Morocco.  You pass through dramatic countryside dotted with villages such as Agard Oudad, famous for its pink houses at the foot of a bizarre outcrop of granite rock known as “Napoleon’s Hat.”  Here, some of the gigantic boulders were painted in 1984 by Belgian artist, Jean Verame, as an expression of landscape art.  Continue on to Taghaout at the entrance to the gorges.  Near here you’ll see the 12th century remains of ancient Tarhat, a fortified village and agadir perched on the lip of a sheer rock cliff face.  In your 4x4, you drive down into this palm-tree lined gorge with huge craggy golden pink cliffs, past more small towns before ending in Ukas Tazougaghte.  Here are some fascinating and incredibly well preserved prehistoric carvings of gazelles, an elephant-like mammoth, and of some that resemble cows and monkeys.  Hotel Les Amandiers - Junior Suite (B)

Day 9:  Tafraoute / Kerdous / Tiznit / Souss-Massa National Park     (4 hour drive)
Depart the Berber regions of Morocco for the more mixed cultures of Berber and Arab as you drive west up through the Anti-Atlas mountains through the Col of Kerdous (3,610 feet), to the Berber town of Tiznit.  The town is enclosed by ramparts four miles long and 26 feet high and feature 29 towers and five traditional Alaouite Sultanate Dynasty fortified gates.  At the northern gate of Bab Targa, you get a great view over the lush oasis and a natural spring.  You see the exterior of the Great Mosque and its unusual minaret punctuated by a series of small wooden stakes.  Continue to your hotel, the Ksar Massa, in the Souss-Massa National Park, some 35 miles south of Agadir on the wild and pristine Atlantic Ocean coast.  The remote Souss-Massa National Park is known as a bird sanctuary.  Souss-Massa National Park was created in 1991 to protect a variety of bird species, particularly pink flamingos.  Its main conservation importance, however, it is home to three of the four Moroccan colonies of the rare and endangered Northern Bald Ibis.  The birds share their surroundings with oryx, addax, jackal, Algerian hedgehog, African wild cat, gazelle, ostrich, leopard lizard, weasel, red fox and a variety of reptiles and rare amphibians.  Ksar Massa (B,D)

Day 10:  Souss-Massa National Park / Agadir / Essaouira     (3 hour drive)
This morning, travel north to the resort city of Agadir.  This ancient city has witnessed the comings and goings of Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Mauretanian Berbers and the Romans.  Visit the ruins of the Kasbah on the hill.  Enjoy panoramic views the commercial port, fisherman’s port, six miles of extensive sandy bay and the city’s main avenues.  You also see the verdant Souss Valley, the distant Anti-Atlas Mountains and of the stark savagery of the Tichka Plateau.  Continue to Essaouira, the ancient city of Mogador, and considered as one of the best anchorages of the Moroccan coast.  A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is today a charming artists’ town with its old port and cannons overlooking the fishing fleet, and its narrow alleyways of the Medina, On arrival, check in to your riad to freshen up before taking a walk around this enchanting town with your guide.  You will visit the Medina, the fishermen’s port and the Mellah.  You can opt for a dip in the ocean, or to visit Jimi Hendrix’s “Castle Made of Sand.”  Riad Dar L’Oussia - Junior Suite (B)

Day 11:  Essaouira / Safi / El Oualidia / El Jadida / Casablanca
Travel north along the Atlantic coast to Safi, also known as Little Jerusalem, the capital city of the Doukkala region.  This is one of the most handsome of Morocco’s coast cities.  You may notice the green-tiled roofs, green being the color of Islam.  Those tiles are made here and can also be seen throughout the ancient monuments of Morocco.  Continue north along the Atlantic Ocean via Cap Beddouza to the seaside resort town of El Oualidia on the legendary Barbary Coast on the Atlantic.  You will see a hilltop Kasbah built in the 16th century.  At the foot of the hill, there are the ruins of the once-elegant summer palace of Sultan Mohammed V (grandfather of the current King Mohammed VI).  Its steps descend to within a few feet of a lagoon.  It has stunning panoramic views of the lagoon and the distant narrow breach into the Ocean.  After lunch, drive to El Jadida.  Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this is a small, delightful coastal town with several three-meter-thick bastions that were destroyed in 1769 by the Portuguese when they left Morocco.  Your first stop is the old fortress, which protects an ancient structure, the misnamed ‘Portuguese Cisterns.’  Built much earlier by the Romans to store grain, the Portuguese used them to keep fresh water.  They were rediscovered by accident in 1977 by a Jewish spice merchant.  At Porto do Mar, Sea Gate, visit the communal bakery, and continue on a short walk to the Bastion of St Sebastian, site of the old prison compound where the Tribunal of the Inquisition took place.  Proceed to the Mellah, or Jewish Quarter, to see an early 19th century synagogue, which has the Star of David beneath a Muslim crescent on the wall.  During a short tour at Azemmour, discover an ancient natural port and Dar el Baroud bastion, with its now-ruined kasbah.  Begin the final
eg of your journey to the White City of Casablanca and your hotel.  The afternoon is free to take a stroll around the hotel precinct, or shop the nearby old Medina and Souq with your guide for some last-minute shopping.  Le Royal Mansour Meridien - Royal Club Room (B)

Day 12:  Casablanca / Depart
After breakfast, and in accordance with your flight schedule, you will be transferred to Casablanca’s Mohammed V International airport in time for your flight home.  (B)

Land price, per person, double occupancy:  $8250

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