Horsepower: Berber riders in Marrakech
Q: If you wanted a little culture, a little nature, and a little adventure but only had a week, where in Morocco would you go? I would like to cover a lot of territory.
Sally Bentley, Portland, Oregon
A: If you start in Marrakech, you can access mountains, beaches and Berbers in a one-week triangle that includes Essaouira and Tafraoute. It's a faster paced trip than I'd normally recommend, but if your goal is to cover a lot of terrain, it's doable.
First stop: Marrakech. Actually, you could satisfy all three of your requirements if you never slept outside this city. Culture practically oozes out of the red clay walls of the Djemaa el-Fna, the central square where you'll find everything from herbal apothecaries to Berber acrobats. Nature and adventure come in the form of day (or multi-day) trips to the surrounding desert or the Atlas Mountains. There's no shortage of guides to take you trekking, on foot or by camel.
Next up: Essaouira, an almost entirely tour bus-free beach town, and a windsurfer's paradise. Beachfront outfitters rent decent gear. And if you'd rather watch the whitecaps from the sand than fight them in the surf, they can arrange horseback rides along the coast.
Last stop: Tafraoute, a nondescript village best used as a jumping-off point for hikes to nearby Berber communities, mountain bike rides in the hills, and rock climbing excursions. Satisfy your cultural needs by taking the one-mile walk from town to a centuries-old carving of a gazelle, or the longer walk to some boulders that were painted shades of blue by a visiting Belgian artist in the mid-1980s and have since become Tafraoute's most famous landmark.
Keep in mind, however, that Morocco is one of those destinations where specific itineraries almost always give way to spontaneous adventures. It's best approached with a skeleton of a plan and an open mind.