Morocco – Rivers, Mountains & Deserts

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11 Day Multi-Sport Adventure

$3995

per person based on double occupancy

Dates:

Available Upon Request

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Deposit: $1000 Meeting Place: Marrakech  Gateway City: Marrakech or Casablanca
River Rating: III+  Age Range:  13-75

The Kingdom of Morocco is a country rich in beauty, culture and history. The gateway to Africa, Morocco is a country of incredible diversity and yet this civilization has remained unchanged for centuries. Here you’ll find epic mountain ranges, ancient cities, remote rivers, sweeping deserts and warm hospitality.

Morocco is a storied country, that has, over the centuries, woven its ties to Sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and the wider Middle East into whole cloth. Its mixed Arab and Berber population forms a strong national identity, but an increasingly youthful one, taking the best of its traditions and weaving the pattern anew – from the countryside to the city, from the call to prayer from the mosque to the beat of local hip hop.

From Saharan dunes to the peaks of the High Atlas mountains, Morocco could have been tailor-made for our travelers. Lyrical landscapes carpet this slice of North Africa like the richly colored and patterned rugs you’ll lust after in local cooperatives. The mountains offer breathtaking night skies glistening in the thin air, outstanding views and clear rushing waters. On lower ground, there are rugged coastlines, waterfalls and caves in forested hills, and the mighty desert.

This trip is full of contrasts and gives travelers a wonderful insight into the rich culture and dizzying scenery. Our adventure includes a river journey that allows you to experience a part of Morocco many never see. Camel riding, sleeping in a Berber village, exploring the Atlas Mountains, ballooning over Marrakech – we’ve rolled it all into a one multi-sport adventure during the best weather of the year. From the splendor of the Sahara to the pristine beaches of its coastline, from beguiling markets and souqs to the diverse aroma of Moroccan spice, this trip is a feast for the senses.

 


 

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Itinerary at a Glance

  • Explore Marrakech’s museums, kasbahs and souqs
  • Travel to the Atlas mountains (with mountain biking opportunities)
  • Raft the rollercoaster rapids of the remote Ahansel River
  • Visit Lake Bin El Ouidane
  • Ride camels and bivouac in the Sahara Desert
  • Indulge in luxury lodgings and spas
  • Experience live entertainment, culture wonder and Moroccan cuisine
  • Go ballooning over Marrakech
  • Visit Erg Chebbi Auberge and Ait Benhaddou

 


What to Expect on the Morocco –  Rivers, Mountains and Deserts Trip

Day One

Flights generally arrive into Marrakesh or Casablanca and then you’ll connect to Ouarzazate where a ROAM representative will meet you and take you to our hotel (Riad Ksar Ighnda) at the World Heritage site, Ait Benhadou. After you are settled, it’s off to explore this incredible medina, which has been featured in many Hollywood films. Tonight we’ll meet for a welcome dinner and go over the plans for our adventure.

Day Two

After a hearty breakfast, we’ll board our vehicles bound for Merzouga on the edge of the Sahara. Upon arrival we’ll load into 4×4’s and whisk across the desert to take an awesome camel ride or hike into the dunes. We’ll watch an incredible sunset before heading to our Berber village for a feast and evening under the stars.

Day Three

Today you will get a unique insight of Saharan Bedouin life with options for more camel trekking and sand boarding. The scenery is outrageous and the photo opportunities endless.  Tonight we’ll dine in a nomad village and meet a number of wonderful families. We’ll have a traditional Moroccan dinner with live entertainment.

Day Four

Today we  travel from Merzouga to Dades to explore the markets in Rissani and Erfoud (including some unique fossil shops). Tonight we’ll stay in deluxe resort with a great pool and lounge area.

Day Five

Trans Atlas crossing  – we’ll take  stunning drive over the Atlas Mountains to our five-star hotel on the banks of Lake Ouidane. Depending on our arrival time, there may be an opportunity to sea kayak on the lake. In any event, the lavish rooms, pool and spa facilities will make for a relaxing evening before our river adventure.

Day Six

After a decadent breakfast,we will take a beautiful drive into La Cathedrale where we’ll meet the river guides, enjoy lunch and float down to our first nights camp at Tilouguite. Our expedition down the Ahansel River provides some fun class III+ whitewater that is suitable for all abilities and first-timers. The rafts provide access to smaller villages and kasbahs that very few tourists ever visit. Rafting an average of 4-5 hours per day allows us to experience scenic canyons and fun technical whitewater but still allows time to explore and/or relax in camp. Overnight the banks of the Ahansel River.

Day Seven

Today will be a fabulous day of whitewater rafting as we challenge rapids such as Wee Stinky, Rock the Kasbah, and Son of Kasbah. There will also be a wonderful hike up to a working kasbah, complete with a hand operated olive press, before stopping for the night in our gorgeous canyon camp. At times, the experience will feel surreal as you are floating crystal clear waters on the edge of the the Sahara, tackling the best whitewater Morocco has to offer.

Day Eight

Arguably one of the highlights of the trip, today we’ll raft through three incredible gorges and down to Lake Ouidane where we will meet a boat to transfer us back to the Widiane Hotel.  A decadent night of dining is well deserved and the pool and hot tubs a welcome reprieve for tired rafting muscles!

Day Nine

It’s a 3-hour drive back to Marrakech and its exciting markets and museums. On a clear day we can see Jebel Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa. Once at the hotel, you’ll have plenty of time to shop, watch snake charmers, visit a museum and enjoy a lively and entertaining meal in the heart of the market.

Day Ten

Today we have choices for mountain biking, a sunrise balloon ride over the city or visiting beautiful museums. Tonight we’ll have an exquisite dinner at one of our favorite haunts. Overnight Marrakech.

Day Eleven

After breakfast take a taxi to the airport and flight home or onward to other adventures in Fez or Casablanca.

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Accommodations

On this trip the accommodations will almost be as diverse as the Moroccan countryside. From Riad to resort, riverside tent to deluxe spa and of course a night under the stars in the Sahara, you will be immersed in a wide array of lodgings and experiences to remember.

 


 

About the Region

 

Morocco is intriguingly situated at the triple junction where the African continent, the expanding Atlantic Ocean and the Alpine Collision Zone all meet, resulting in a highly complex and fascinating geology. The variety of Morocco geology also presents a wide range of climactic conditions. Much of Morocco’s landscape is mountainous with slopes that gradually transition into plateaus and valleys. The Atlas mountains dominate the central part of the country, while the Rif mountains make up the northern edge.  Jebel Toubkal is the highest point of Morocco at 13,664 ft (4,165 m), and is also the highest peak of the Atlas mountains. The southeastern region of the country is blanketed by the Sahara Desert, the world’s third largest desert at over 3,600,000 square miles (9,400,000 sq. km). In contrast, significant sources of water of Morocco come from the Atlas Mountains and flow into the Mediterranean Sea.

Our trips start in Marrakech, a vibrant eclectic city that offers a plethora of amazing experiences and places to explore in Marrakech and we’d be delighted to craft you some extra days before or after your trip.  Here’s the top attractions:

Djemaa El Fna

Think of it as live-action channel-surfing: everywhere you look in the Djemaa el-Fna, Marrakesh’s main square, you’ll discover drama in progress. The hoopla and halqa (street theatre) has been non-stop here ever since this plaza was the site of public executions around AD 1050 – hence its name, which means ‘assembly of the dead’. By mid-morning the soundtrack of snake-charmer flutes has already begun, but the show doesn’t kick off until sunset when restaurants fire up their grills, cueing musicians to tune up their instruments.

Unesco declared the Djemaa el-Fna a ‘Masterpiece of World Heritage’ in 2001 for bringing urban legends and oral history to life nightly and although the storytellers who once performed here have since given way to acrobats, musical performers, and slapstick comedy acts, Djemaa’s nightly carnival continues to dazzle. Berber musicians strike up the music and Gnaoua troupes sing while henna tattoo artists beckon to passers by and water-sellers in fringed hats clang brass cups together, hoping to drive people to drink. This is a show you don’t want to miss and it’s a bargain too. Applause and a few dirhams ensure an encore.

The square’s many eclectic exhibitions are not without a darker side though; you are very likely to see monkeys, kept in cages throughout the day, led around on chains for entertainment, and some of the practices of the plaza’s snake charmers are ethically questionable, to say the least.

Bahia Palace

Imagine what you could build with Morocco’s top artisans at your service for 14 years, and here you have it. The salons of both the petit riad and grand riad host intricate marquetry and zouak (painted wood) ceilings while the vast grand courtyard, trimmed in jaunty blue and yellow, leads to the Room of Honour, with a spectacular cedar ceiling. The harem offers up yet more dazzling interiors with original woven-silk panels, stained glass windows and rose-bouquet painted ceilings.

The floor-to-ceiling decoration here was begun by Grand Vizier Si Moussa in the 1860s and embellished from 1894 to 1900 by slave-turned-vizier Abu ‘Bou’ Ahmed. In 1908 the palace’s beguiling charms attracted warlord Pasha Glaoui, who claimed it as a suitable venue to entertain French guests. They, in turn, were so impressed that they booted out their host in 1911, installing the protectorate’s resident-general in his place.

Though today only a portion of the palace’s eight hectares and 150 rooms is open to the public, there’s still plenty of ornamental frippery on show. While admiring the tranquil grand courtyard with its floor laid in white Carrara marble, remember this is where people waited in the sun for hours to beg for Bou Ahmed’s mercy. Bou Ahmed’s four wives and 24 concubines all lived in the lavish interiors of the harem’s small salons.

Saadian Tombs/Al Mansour

Anyone who says you can’t take it with you hasn’t seen the Saadian Tombs, near the Kasbah Mosque. Saadian Sultan Ahmed al-Mansour ed-Dahbi spared no expense on his tomb, importing Italian Carrara marble and gilding honeycomb muqarnas(decorative plasterwork) with pure gold to make the Chamber of the 12 Pillars a suitably glorious mausoleum.  Al-Mansour played favourites even in death, keeping alpha-male princes handy in the Chamber of the Three Niches, and relegating to garden plots some 170 chancellors and wives – though some trusted Jewish advisors earned pride of place, literally closer to the king’s heart than his wives or sons. All tombs are overshadowed by his mother’s mausoleum in the courtyard, carved with poetic, weathered blessings and vigilantly guarded by stray cats. Al-Mansour died in splendour in 1603, but a few decades later Alawite Sultan Moulay Ismail walled up the Saadian Tombs to keep his predecessors out of sight and mind. Accessible only through a small passage in the Kasbah Mosque, the tombs were neglected by all except the storks, until aerial photography exposed them in 1917.

Jardin Majorelle

Other guests bring flowers, but Yves Saint Laurent gifted the Jardin Majorelle to Marrakech, the city that adopted him in 1964. Saint Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé bought the electric-blue villa and its garden to preserve the vision of its original owner, landscape painter Jacques Majorelle, and keep it open to the public. The garden began cultivating in 1924 and thanks to Marrakshi ethnobotanist Abderrazak Benchaâbane, the psychedelic desert mirage of 300 plant species from five continents continues to be preserved. Even if you’re not that into plants, come here to visit Majorelle’s art deco studio, home to the Musée Berbère, which showcases the rich panorama of Morocco’s indigenous inhabitants through displays of some 600 artefacts. By far one of the country’s most beautifully curated museums, the collection includes wood, leather and metalwork, textiles, musical instruments, religious trappings, and a display of the various regional traditional dress. Best of all is the mirrored, midnight-black octagonal chamber displaying a sumptuous collection of chiselled, filigreed and enamelled jewellery that reflect into infinity beneath a starry desert sky. From the museum you exit into the boutique with its handsome coffee-table books and pricey souvenirs: Majorelle blue slippers, perfume and pillows embroidered with YSL. Another museum, dedicated to Yves Saint Laurent, is due to open within the gardens in late 2017.

Ali ben Youssef Medersa

‘You who enter my door, may your highest hopes be exceeded’ reads the inscription over the entryway to the Ali ben Youssef Medersa, and after almost six centuries, the blessing still works its charms on visitors. Sight lines are lifted in the entry with carved Atlas cedar cupolas and mashrabiyya (wooden-lattice screen) balconies, while the courtyard is a mind-boggling profusion of Hispano-Moresque ornament: five-colour zellij walls, stucco archways, cedar windows, and a marble mihrab (niche in a mosque indicating the direction of Mecca). Founded in the 14th century under the Merenids, but fully kitted-out with its exuberantly ornate decoration in 1565 in the Saadian era, this Quranic learning centre was once the largest in North Africa, and remains among the most splendid.

The medersa (theological college) is affiliated with nearby Ali ben Youssef Mosque, and once 900 students in the 132 dorms arranged around the courtyard studied religious and legal texts here. Despite upgrades with its 19th-century renovation, the Ali ben Youssef Medersa gradually lost students to its collegiate rival, the Medersa Bou Inania in Fez, but even today – long after the students finally left – this old seminary still exudes magnificent, studious calm.

Central Souqs

The lanes that spool north from Djemaa el-Fna sum up this old caravan city’s charm. Scents of cumin and grilled meat intermingle in alleyways where shafts of sunlight strike through palm-frond roofing and hawkers bid you hello in 10 languages. Throw away your map and go get lost in the helter-skelter for a while.

The Musée de Marrakech exhibits a collection of Moroccan art forms within the decadent salons of the Mnebhi Palace. The central internal courtyard, with its riot of cedar archways, stained-glass windows, intricate painted door panels and, of course, lashings of zellij tile work, is the highlight, though don’t miss the display of exquisite Fez ceramics in the main room off the courtyard. Both the Palace Kitchen area and Palace hammam host much simpler interiors.

The palace was once home to Mehdi Mnebhi, defence minister during Sultan Moulay Abdelaziz’s troubled reign (1894–1908). While Minister Mnebhi was away receiving a medal from Queen Victoria, England conspired with France and Spain to colonise North Africa, and autocrat Pasha Glaoui filched his palace. After independence, the building was seized by the state and became Marrakesh’s first girls’ school in 1965. It was only after a painstaking restoration in 1997, by the Omar Benjelloun Foundation, that the palace swung open the doors to the masses as the Marrakech Museum.

Bab Debbagh Tanneries

The acrid smell assaulting your nose announces your arrival in Marrakesh’s tannery area. You’ll find tanneries scattered on either side of Rue de Bab Debbagh – generally with touts stationed at the gates, offering tours for a tip. The best time to come is in the morning when you’ll usually be able to see tanners at work, transforming leather hides into a rainbow of hues. It’s hard, dirty work and dangerous too, now that natural dyes have been eschewed for chemical colours. In exchange for a tip, you’ll usually also be offered to see a view of the tanneries from above, from one of the houses near the Bab Debbagh gate. The views are definitely worth it, but be aware that many of the ‘houses’ are actually leatherware shops and touts can be pushy. Don’t feel pressured into having to buy something if you don’t want to.

 Maison de la Photographie

When Parisian Patrick Menac’h and Marrakshi Hamid Mergani realized they were both collecting vintage Moroccan photography, they decided to open a photography museum to show their collections in context. Together they ‘repatriated’ 4500 photos, 2000 glass negatives and 80 documents dating from 1870 to 1950; select works on view here fill three floors, organized by region and theme, and include a rare, full-colour 1957 documentary shot in Morocco. Most works are edition prints from original negatives, and are for sale. Afterwards, head up to the rooftop terrace for a coffee or pot of tea. If you’re heading to Ourika Valley, be sure to check out their second venture, the Ecomusée Berbere.