Information on Treks and Locations

This section provides more information on all of Legend Treks' destinations and the Treks themselves. Don't hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.

Learn about Peru

Peru is legendary among world travelers looking for exciting new experiences. Stunningly endowed in both natural and man-made attractions, the country offers much more than you can ever hope to take in: charming Andean highland towns with colonial architecture, remote jungle lodges in the Amazon basin, soaring snow capped mountains and volcanoes, a 2,000 mile Pacific coastline, and, of course Machu Picchu and the stunning legacies of the Incas and other sophisticated pre-Columbian civilizations. Peru is a place of brilliant hand-woven textiles and exuberant celebrations, exotic animals, and fascinating peoples. It is a country bursting with opportunities for memorable treks and outdoor adventure.

Peru is a country in western South America. It is bordered on the north by Ecuador and Columbia, on the east by Brazil, on the southeast by Bolivia, on the south by Chile, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean. Peru covers 496,193 square miles. With about 29 million inhabitants, Peru is the fourth most populous country in South America. The main spoken language is Spanish, although a significant number of Peruvians speak Quechua, the language of the Incas. The population is multiethnic, including Amerindians, Europeans, Africans and Asians. This mixture of cultural traditions has resulted in a wide diversity of expressions in fields such as art, cuisine, literature and music. The word Peru is derived from "Biru", the name of a river near the Bay of San Miguel, Panama, in the early 16th Century. When that area was visited by Spanish explorers in 1522, it was the southernmost part of the New World yet known to Europeans. Thus, when Francisco Pizarro explored the regions farther south, they came to be designated Biru or Peru. The Spanish Crown gave the name legal status in 1529, designating the newly encountered Inca Empire the province of Peru or New Spain. Under Spanish rule, the country adopted the name Viceroyalty of Peru, which became Republic of Peru after the Peruvian War of Independence.

The earliest evidence of human presence in Peruvian territory has been dated to approximately 9,000 B.C. The oldest known complex society in Peru and the Americas, the Norte Chico civilization, flourished along the coast of the Pacific Ocean between 3,000 and 1800 B.C. In the 15th Century the Incas emerged as a powerful state which formed the largest empire in pre-Columbian America. Andean societies were based on agriculture using techniques such as irrigation and terracing; camelid husbandry and fishing were also important. Organization relied on reciprocity and redistribution because these societies had no notion of market or money. In 1532, a group of 185 conquistadors, led by Francisco Pizarro, defeated the Inca King Atahualpa, and imposed Spanish rule. Ten years later the Spanish Crown established the Viceroyalty of Peru which included all of the South American colonies. Viceroy Francisco de Toledo reorganized the country in the 1570's with silver mining as its main economic activity and Indian forced labor as its primary workforce. Peruvian bullion provided revenue for the Spanish Crown and fueled a complex trade network that extended as far as Europe and the Philippines. However, by the 18th Century, declining silver production and economic diversification greatly diminished royal income. In response, the Crown enacted the Bourbon Reforms, a series of edicts that increased taxes and partitioned the Viceroyalty of Peru. The new laws provoked revolts, all of which were defeated. In the early 19th Century, while most of South America was swept by wars of independence, Peru remained a royalist stronghold. Independence was achieved only after the military campaigns of Jose de San Martin and Simon Bolivar. By the 1870 the country was heavily indebted and political infighting arose and plagued Peru for 30 years. During the 1980's and 90's Peru again faced considerable foreign debt, inflation, drug trafficking and massive political violence. Since 2000 Peru has tried to fight corruption while sustaining economic growth.

Peru is a presidential representative democratic republic with a multi-party system. Under the current constitution, the President is the head of state and government. He is elected for five years and cannot seek immediate reelection. He must stand down for at least one full constitutional term before reelection. The Peruvian government is directly elected, and voting is compulsory for all citizens aged 18-70. Peru is divided into 25 regions and the province of Lima. Each region has an elected government composed of a president and a council, which serves for a four-year term.

The Andes Mountains run parallel to the Pacific Ocean, dividing the country into three geographic regions. The "costa" (coast), to the west, is a narrow plain, largely arid except for valleys created by seasonal rivers. The "sierra" (highlands) is the region of the Andes; it includes the "Altiplano" as well as the highest peak of the country (22,205 ft.). The third region is the selva (jungle), a wide expanse of flat terrain covered by the Amazon rainforest that extends east. Almost 60% of the country's area is located within this region, giving Peru the fourth largest area of tropical forest in the world. Peru's economy has experienced significant growth in the last 15 years. In 2008 the per capita was US $8,594; 30% of its total population was poor, including 12.6% that is extremely poor.

After Brazil and New Guinea, Peru has the largest number of uncontacted tribes in the world. Peru is a multiethnic country formed by the combination of different groups over five centuries. Amerindians inhabited Peruvian territory for several millennia before the Spanish Conquest in the 16th Century. Their population decreased from an estimated 9 million in the 1520's to around 600,000 in 1620, mainly because of infectious diseases. Spaniards and Africans arrived in large numbers under colonial rule, mixing widely with each other and with indigenous peoples. After independence there has been a gradual European immigration from England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain. Chinese arrived in the 1850's as a replacement for slave workers and have since become a major influence in Peruvian society. Other immigrant groups include Arabs and Japanese. Peru's racial structure can be classified as 45% Amerindian, 37% mestizo (mixed Amerindian and Europeans), 15% European. Almost like a continent in miniature, Peru will astound you with its diversity. Peru is an epic fantasy land.

The Trek to Peru


We plan our treks during the months of April, May, and June. During these months there is little chance of rain. During the day you can expect blue skies most of the time. Since Peru is close to the equator, and very high up, the sun can be very strong so always bring sun screen cream, a hat and sunglasses. It is comfortable to trek in shorts and T-shirt. However, when the sun goes down, the air can get cold very quickly, so always have a warm sweater, and long pants close at hand. You also need a good 4-season sleeping bag at night and a warm jacket, wooly hat and scarf.

The scenery can be fairly dry and brown during this period with not much activity in the fields apart from gathering in the harvest and drying it. This is the time for the people in the villages to relax and enjoy some of the many festivals. Which brings us to one of the main reasons we love this time of the year... festivals. Cusco explodes with joyous celebration of both its Amerindian roots and Christian influences during festivals, which are crowded but splendid times to be in the city. Inti Raym: the fiesta of the winter solstice (June 24, but lasting for days before and afterward), is certainly the star attraction. It's an eruption of Inca folk dances, exuberant costumes, grand pageants and parades, including a massive one that takes place at the stately Sacsayhuamin ruins overlooking the city. Inti Raym: is one of the finest expressions of local popular culture on the continent. It's a faithful reenactment of the traditional Inca Festival of the sun. It culminates in high priests sacrificing two llamas, one black and one white, to predict the fortunes of the coming year. Cusco's carnival week, with lots of music, dance, and processions of its own, is part of the buildup for Inti Paymi. Early Junes Corpus Christi festival is another's momentous occasion, with colorful religious parades featuring 15 effigies of saints carried through the city and events at the Plaza de Armas and the cathedral (where the effigies are displayed for a week). Semana Santa, or Easter week (late March or April) is an exciting traditional expression of religions faith, with stately processions through the streets of Cusco.

In early May, the Fiesta de las Cruces (Festival of the Crosses) a celebration popular throughout the highlands, is marked by communities decorating large crosses that are then delivered to churches. Crucifix vigils are held on all hilltops that are crowned by crosses. Festivities, as always accompanied by lively dancing, give thanks for bountiful harvests.

April-June is also a great time to trek in the highlands. It is the dry season (also the fall season, since Peru is the southern hemisphere.) We avoid the peak tourist months of July and August.



Lima once ranked as the richest and most important city in the Americas and was considered to be the most beautiful colonial settlement in the region. Founded in 1535 by the greatest conquistador, Francisio Pizarro, his "City of Kings" quickly became the center of power and trade for the entire American vice regency that stretched from Quito to Santiago. Lima was home to some of the America's finest baroque and Renaissance churches, palaces, and mansions, as well as the continent's first university founded in 1551. When Spain created a rival vice regency in Rio de la Plata, which subsequently grew rich from silver mines, Lima quickly fell into decline. An earthquake decimated the city in 1746, leaving 4000 people dead and few buildings standing. Today the capital of Peru is a sprawling, chaotic metropolis. Lima demands some effort to sift beneath the soot and uncover the city's rewards, especially when such extraordinary treasures hover over the horizon in the Andes mountains. If you skip Lima, you'll miss a vital part of what Peru is today. With a population of more than eight million- about one-third of Peru's population- and as the seat of the national government and the headquarters of most industry, Lima thoroughly dominates Peru's political and commercial life. The old "centro" is slowly being spruced up, and the refurbishing of classic colonial buildings have made the historic part of the city more welcoming to visitors. The city's art and archaeology museums serve as perfect introductions to the rich history and culture you'll encounter elsewhere in the country. The Museo de la Nacion traces the history of Peru's ancient civilizations, and the Rafael Larco Herera Museum houses the world's largest private collection of pre-Columbian art. We will also tour colonial Lima, dine at a great criolo (Creole) restaurant and browse the country's best shops. You just might come away from Lima pleasantly surprised, if not completely enamored of the city.


Cusco is the continent's oldest continuously inhabited city, and the hub of the South American travel network. The city attracts travelers who come not just to visit a unique destination but also to experience an age-old culture very different from their 21st Century way of life. One could easily spend a week just in and around the area. Inca-built stone walls line most of the central streets and you don't have to go far to see other major Inca ruins. It is a city steeped in history, tradition and legend. It is the storied capital of the Inca Empire and gateway to the imperial city of Machu Picchu. The city is much more than a mere history lesson, it is also surprisingly dynamic, enlivened by throngs of travelers who have transformed the historic center around the Plaza de Armas into a mecca of sorts for South American adventurers. Cusco looks and feels like the very definition of an Andean capital. It's a fascinating blend of pre-Columbian and colonial history and contemporary "Mestizo" culture. The Incas made "Q'osqo" (meaning "navel of the world" in Quechua) the political, military and cultural center of their empire. Cusco was also the empire's holy city, and the epicenter of the legendary Inca network of roads connecting all points in the empire We will always have a trek to Peru in June, for during that month, the city is packed for Inti Raymi, the celebration of the winter solstice and the sun god, a deeply religious festival that is also a magical display of pre-Columbian music and dance. Spectacularly cradled by the bold southeastern Andes mountains that were so fundamental to the Inca belief system, Cusco sits at a daunting altitude of 11,000 feet. The air is noticeably thinner here than in almost any city in South America. Cusco's beautiful natural setting, colorful festivals, sheer number of sights - unparalleled in Peru- and facilities and services organized for travelers make it the top destination in Peru and one of the most exciting places in South America.

The Sacred Valley of the Incas (The Urubamba Valley)

The Sacred Valley is a relaxed and incomparably beautiful stretch of small villages and ancient ruins spread across a broad plain and rugged mountain slopes northwest of Cusco. The magnificent Inca ruins found from Pisac to Ollantaytambo and beyond- some of the finest not only in Peru, but also in all of the America's - are testaments to the regions immense ceremonial importance. The Incas built several of the empire's greatest estates, temples and royal palaces between the sacred centers of Cusco and Machu Picchu, positioned like great bookends at the south and north ends of the valley. Through the valley rolls the revered Rio Urabamba, a pivotal religious element of the Inca's cosmology. The Incas believed not only that the flow of the Urubamba was inexorably tied to the constellations and the mountain peaks, but also that the river was the earthbound counterpart of the Milky Way. With the river as its source, the fertile valley was a major center of agriculture production for the Incas. The valley continues to serve as a breadbasket for Cusco, providing grains, peaches, avocados and much more. We will linger in the valley, even staying a couple nights in its villages in order to thoroughly appreciate the valley's charms.


The pretty Andean village of Pisac lies at the eastern end of the valley. The town is prized principally for its hugely popular Sunday artisan market. Pisac deserves to be more widely recognized for its splendid Inca ruins, which rival those of Ollantaytambo and even Machu Picchu. Perched high on a cliff is the largest fortress complex built by the Incas. The commanding distant views from atop the mountain, over a luxuriously long valley of patchwork fields, are breath taking.


A tongue twister of a town- the last settlement before Aguas Calientes and Machu Picchu- this historic and lovely little place at the northwestern end of the Sacred Valley is affectionately called Ollanta by locals. Plenty of outsiders fall in love with the town and the town which was oh-so-quiet just a few years ago, is now firmly on the tourist trail. Despite its quick transformation, though, Ollantaytambo is still one of the most enjoyable places in the Sacred Valley. The scenery surrounding Ollantaytambo is stunning: the snowcapped mountains that embrace the town frame a much narrower valley here than at Pisac, and both sides of the gorge are lined with Inca stone "andenes", or agricultural terraces. Most extraordinary are the precipitous terraced ruins of a massive temple-fortress built by the Inca (King) Pachacutec. Below the ruins, Ollantaytambo's old town is a splendid grid of streets dating to Inca times and lined with adobe brick walls, blooming bougainvillea, and perfect canals, still carrying rushing water down from the mountains.

Machu Picchu

The site of Machu Picchu, the fabled "lost city of the Incas", is South America's greatest attraction, one that draws ever-increasing numbers of visitors from across the globe. The Incas hid Machu Picchu so high in the clouds it escaped destruction by the Spaniards. It is no longer lost, of course you can zip there by high-speed train or trek there along a 4-day trail- but Machu Picchu retains its unequaled aura of mystery and magic. Countless glossy photographs of these stone ruins, bridging the gap between two massive Andean peaks and swathed in cottony clouds, just can't do it justice.

Invisible from the Urumba Valley below, Machu Picchu lay dormant for more than 4 centuries, nestled nearly 8,000 feet above sea level under thick jungle and known only to a handful of Peruvians. Never mentioned in the Spanish chronicles, it was seemingly lost in the collective memory of the Incas and their descendants. The ruins unearthing, though, raised more questions than it answered. Experts still argue about the place Machu Picchu occupied in the Inca Empire.

Was it a citadel? An agricultural site? An astronomical observatory? A ceremonial city or sacred retreat for the Inca King? Or some combination of all of these? Adding to the mystery , this complex city of exceedingly fine architecture and masonry was constructed, inhabited, and abandoned all in less than a century. That's one version. When you walk the terraces and admire the complex architecture, you cannot believe the theory that it could have been built in such a short time by a culture of such low technological sophistication. They did not have the wheel and no beasts of burden larger than a llama. One thing is certain: Machu Picchu is one of the world's great examples of landscape art. Steep terraces, gardens, and granite and limestone temples, staircases and aqueducts seem to be carved directly out of the hillside. The Incas obviously chose the site for the immense power of its natural beauty. They, like we, must have been in awe of the snowcapped peaks to the east: the rugged panorama of towering forested mountains and the sacred cliff of Pautkus to the west; and the city sitting gracefully like a proud saddle between two huge "cerros", or peaks. It remains one of the most thrilling sights in the world. At day break, when the sun's rays creep silently over the jagged silhouette, sometimes turning the distant snowy peaks fiery orange, and then slowly with great drama, cast brilliant light on the ruins building by building and row by row, it's enough to move some observers to tears and others to squeals of delight. Legend Treks offers you the option of reaching this wonder of the world by train or Inca Trail trek.

Learn about Mali

Mali, officially the Republic of Mali, is a land locked nation in Western Africa. Mali is the seventh largest country in Africa, bordering Algeria on the north, Niger on the east, Burkina Faso and Cote d'Ivoire on the south, Guinea on the southwest, and Senegal and Mauritania on the west. Its size is just over 478,839 sq. miles (about the same as South Africa) with an estimated population of 13 million. Its capital is Bamako.

Mali consists of eight regions and its borders on the north reach deep into the middle of the Sahara, while the country's southern region, where the majority of inhabitants live, features the Niger and Senegal rivers. The country's economic structure centers around agriculture and fishing. Some of Mali's natural resources include gold, uranium and salt. Mali is considered to be one of the poorest nations in the world. Mali occupies the heart of a territory that once supported Africa's greatest empires and is rich with historical resonance.

Present-day Mali was once part of three West African empires that controlled trans-Saharan trade: the Ghana Empire, the Mali Empire (from which Mali is named), and the Songhai Empire. In the late 1800's, Mali fell under French control, becoming part of French Sudan. Mali gained independence in 1959 with Senegal, as the Mali Federation. A year later, the Mali Federation became the independent nation of Mali. After a long period of one-party rule, a 1991 coup led to the writing of a new constitution and the establishment of Mali as a democratic, multi-party state. The official language is French. Outside of Bamako, the primary language is Bambara. Mali has one time zone, seven hours ahead of New York. The currency is the west African CFA franc. About half the population lives below the international poverty line of US $1.25 a day. An estimated 90% of Malians are Muslim (mostly Sunni). Islam as practiced in Mali is moderate, tolerant and adapted to local conditions. Relations between Muslims and practitioners of minority religious faiths, are generally amicable. The constitutions establishes a secular state and provides for freedom of religion, and the government largely respects this right.

Mali faces numerous health challenges related to poverty, malnutrition, and inadequate hygiene and sanitation. Mali's health and development indicators rank among the worst in the world. In 2000, only 62-65% of the population was estimated to have access to safe drinking water and only 69% to sanitation services of some kind. In 2001, the general government expenditures on health totaled about US $4 per capita.. Medical facilities in Mali are very limited outside of the capital city, and medicines are in short supply. Malaria and other anthropod-borne diseases are prevalent, as are a number of infectious diseases such as cholera and tuberculosis. Mali's population also suffers from a high rate of child malnutrition and a low rate of immunizations.

Public education in Mali is, in principle, provided free of charge and is compulsory for nine years, between the ages of 7 and 16. However, Mali's actual primary school enrolment is low, in large part because families are unable to cover the cost of uniforms, books, supplies, and other fees required to attend. In the 2000-01 school year, the primary school (age 7-12) enrollment rate was 61% (71% of males and 51% of females); in the late 1990's the secondary school (ages 13-18) enrollment rate was 15% (20% of males and 10% of females). The education system is plagued by a lack of schools in rural areas, as well as shortages of teachers and materials. Estimates of literacy rates in Mali range from 27-30% to 46.4%, with literacy rates significantly lower among women than men.

Malian musical traditions are derived from the griots, who are known as "Keeper of Memories". Malian music is diverse and has several different genres.

Mali's history has always been a story of its deserts and rivers. The lucrative trade routes of the Sahara once made the regions among the word's richest, and the Niger, one of the grand old rivers of Africa, is still the lifeblood of the country; to journey along its water (preferably on a slow boat to Timbuktu) is one of the continent's great adventures.

Not far from the riverbank, the extraordinary Falaise de Bandiagara rises up from the plains, and shelters one of West Africa's most intriguing peoples-the Dogon, whose villages and complex rituals still cling to the edge of rocky cliffs. If you visit one place in Mali, go to the Dogon Country. It's utterly unforgettable.

All of Mali is alive with a fascinating cultural mix of peoples, from the nomadic Tuareg people of the Sahara to the Niger fishing societies of the Bozo. As a result, every where you go there are fascinating ceremonies, world famous musical traditions with strong roots in the local soil, and traditional cultures as accessible to travelers as any you'll find in Africa.

The Trek to Mali

When Do We Go?

From November through March is the best time to visit Mali. The "alize" wind blows cooler air from the northeast, keeping daytime temperatures in the 80s…Malians refer to this period as the cold season! The "wet season" is from June through September and the hottest months are April to June. During November and December the level of the Niger River is high enough to allow us to take three-day river excursions from Mopti to Timbuktu.

Where do we go?


The city of Bamako, population 1.3 million, offers an intricate blend of the modern and the traditional, while maintaining an authentic African identity. Bamako is the capital of Mali, currently estimated to be the fastest growing city in Africa. Bamako is known as one of the best places in the world for music lovers and performers. Situated on the Niger, one of Africa's great rivers, which flows through Mali, the city was founded in 1640 but didn't really start to grow until the French colonial period began in 1898. Mali is a country of many tribal peoples, each with their own exuberant styles of clothing and jewelry, and there is no better place to see this colorful diversity than in the streets and markets of Bamako. Bamako has a large arts and crafts center where sculptors, weavers, leather workers, jewelers and metal workers exhibit their wares and display their skills. Another highlight is a visit to the Grand Marche, or "Great Market," where you can spend hours exploring the hundreds of stalls of carvings and cassettes, fabrics, beads, brass and gold. We will take a sunset cruise on the Niger and visit a Bozo fishing village in the center of the city and observe craftsmen hand building wooden boats using centuries old methods. With great restaurants, hotels and nightlife, the best museum in the region and a soundtrack provided by some of African's best music stars, Bamako has plenty of reasons to linger.


Segou was founded by the Bozo people in 1620. It is now Mali's second largest city and the former French colonial administrative center. There's something about Segou; strung out lazily along the riverbank, 120 miles east of Bamako. It has a languid slow-paced charm, and there's an unmistakable sense that it remains a village in disguise. It is a thriving community of artisans and fishermen. Segou has always benefited from trade with nearby commercial centers such as Djenne, Mopti, and Timbuktu. With its wide avenues, faded colonial buildings and nearby river excursions, it's a wonderful place to slow down and rest from life on the African road. We will stroll the riverbank, stopping to visit the pottery market and take an excursion across the river in a motorized pirogue (canoe) to visit a Bozo fishing village. Our hotel sits just back from the riverbank.


Mopti is an energetic river port at the confluence of the Niger and Bani rivers, between Segou and Timbuktu. The city lies on three islands linked by dykes: the new town, the old town and Bani. As a result it is sometimes known as the "Venice of Mali". The islands had long been inhabited, but Mopti was only founded in the nineteenth century as part of the Massine Empire. With French domination, Mopti became known for its egret feather industry. This important trading center is where tribes from all over Mali, including Bambara, Fulani, Moor, Bozo, Dogon and Tuareg, congregate to trade for salt, fish, rice, pottery and other goods. Mopti's harbor, built by the French at the beginning of the 20th century, is the center of activity in the town. Along the riverbanks, near the harbor, is a fascinating market full of huge slabs of marble-like salt, which is brought by camel caravan to Timbuktu and then by boat to Mopti. From there it is shipped to points throughout West Africa. The classic Sahel-style mosque, Misire Mosgnee, built in 1933, towers over the old town. When the river level permits, we will depart Mopti by private motorized pinasse for a two-night/three day journey to Korioume, the port of Timbuktu. It is the best way to appreciate the Niger, taking us slowly through the villages of the Niger's Inland Delta.


One of the most beautiful towns in West Africa, medieval Djenne was once a magnificent center of trade and learning. Today it is famed for its centerpiece, the "Sand Castle" Grand Mosque, a huge adobe structure, that dominates the entire town. It is an architectural masterpiece, the largest mud-built structure in the world. It is like a fairytale apparition. It provides Djenne with a backdrop to its huge, lively and colorful Monday market that has barely changed since the days when Saharan camel caravans brought salt across the sands to the city gates. On a stroll through the dusty streets you'll pass a few madrassas (schools where young children learn the Qur'an); there are more madrassas in Djenne than in any other town in Mali, which serves as a reminder of its days as a renowned center of Islamic scholarship. In the marketplace you will want to look for the gogolan; or mudcloth, for which Djenne is famous. We will visit Djenne on a day trip from Mopti.

Dogon Country (Pays Dogon)

Mali's stand-out highlight is exploring the homeland of the fascinating Dogon people arrayed above and below the huge Bandiagra Escarpment, which extends some 80 miles through the Sahel to the east of Mopti. The landscape is stunning and the Dogon are noted for their complex and elaborate culture, art forms and unique houses and granaries-some clinging to the bare rock face of the escarpment. In the 15th century, during the Muslim tide that swept through Africa, the Dogon people fled to the spectacular cliff formation of Bandiagara Escarpment to continue their ancient spiritual practices. They built fantastic villages at the base of the escarpment, terracing them up against the steep cliffs. Here they retained their independent way of life even during the colonial era under the French. Dogon houses are divided into a complex pattern dictated by inner compartments that represent the Dogon cosmos. Most villages are divided into two halves, signifying the original twin ancestors of Dogon cosmology. The villages are filled with temple-like structures and objects, symbols of Dogon beliefs. Dogon are highly artistic, as evidenced by the intricately carved doors on their granaries and the carved wooden masks they use in their fantastic "damas", the story of their ancestors. We will visit several Dogon villages as we hike and ride horses along the base of the escarpment. We will sleep in village "campements", one or multi-storied buildings encircling a courtyard. We will usually spend two nights and three days in Dogon country in order to fully appreciate this unique culture and fantastic landscape.


No trip to Mali would be complete without a trek to Timbuktu. Timbuktu, that most rhythmical of African names, has for centuries been synonymous with Africa's mysterious inaccessibility, with an end-of-the earth allure that some travelers just have to reach. It's also the name we all knew as kids, but never really knew where it was. This fabled city was once the brilliant capital of a powerful African empire. It was the meeting place for Niger River traffic and trans-Saharan overland caravans. Before sea routes were discovered, Timbuktu was the center of the trans-Saharan gold trade from the 7th to the 14th centuries, bringing gold mined in Ghana to Egypt and the Mediterranean and then to the capitals of Europe. Reports of gold-paved streets and opulent courts gave the city a legendary reputation in Europe. Little now remains of that glory, but the mosque, the market, the ancient doors of the houses, and the fascinating Tuareg people make Timbuktu a rewarding place to visit. In its glory days (the 16th century), more than 100,000 people lived here. Timbuktu has three of the oldest mosques in West Africa. The oldest, dating from the early 14th century, is Dyingerey Ber Mosque, a wonderful example of the Sudanic style of mud straw and wood architecture. The interior is a forest of 100 sturdy pillars. Sid Yahiya Mosque is named after one of the city's saints (it's said that 333 saints have lived in Timbuktu) and was constructed in 1400. Built (reportedly by a women) a century later than Sid Yahiya was the Sankore Mosque. It also functioned as a university, and by the 16th century was one of the largest schools of Arabic learning in the Muslim world, with some 25,000 students. A Sudanese proverb says "salt comes from the north, money from the country of the whites, but the work of God, knowledge, and the most beautiful legends come from Timbuktu." We will normally spend two nights in Timbuktu. You will have the option of spending one night in the desert, hosted by a Tuareg camp following a short camel trek.

Learn more about Morocco

Morocco is sensory overload at its most intoxicating, from the scents and sounds that permeate the medinas of Fez and Marrakesh to the astonishing sights of the landscape. Morocco- a captivating land of mud-brick casbahs, medieval medinas, and mythic charms. There is no place on earth quite like it. Morocco, officially the kingdom of Morocco, is a country located in North Africa, with a population of nearly 32 million and an area just under 173,000 sq. miles. It's capital is Rabat, and its largest city is Casablanca. It is bordered by Algeria to the east, Spain to the north and Western Sahara to the south. Morocco is the third most populous Arab country after Egypt and Sudan. The full Arabic name "al-Mamlaka al-Magribiyya" translates to "The Western Kingdom". Al-Magrib (meaning "The West") is commonly used. The Latiinized name "Morocco" originates from medieval Latin "Morroch", which referred to the name of the former Almoravid and Almohad capital, Marrakesh. The official language is Arabic. The second language is French. A large part of Morocco is mountainous. The Atlas mountains are located mainly in the center and south of the country. The Rif mountains are located in the north of the country. Both ranges are mainly inhabited by the Berber people. Morocco is the fifty-seventh largest country in the world.

Morocco's first-known inhabitants were Near Eastern nomads who may have been distant cousins of the ancient Egyptians. Phoenicians appear to have arrived around 800 B.C., and when the Romans arrived in the 4th Century B.C., they called the expanse of Morocco and western Algeria "Mauretania", and the indigenous people "Berbers", meaning "barbarians."

In the First Century A.D., the Romans built up Volubilis into a city of 20,000 (mostly Berber) people, but, fed up with the persistently unruly Berbers, the Roman emperor Caligula declared the end of Berber autonomy in North Africa in 40 A.D. But whereas the Vandals and Byzantines failed to oust the Romans from their home turf, Berbers in the Rif and the Atlas mountains ultimately succeeded through a campaign of near-constant harassment-a tactic that would later put the squeeze on many an unpopular Moroccan sultan. As Rome slipped into decline, the Berbers harried and hassled any army that dared to invade to the point where Berbers were free to do as they pleased.

In the second half of the 7th Century, the soldiers of the Prophet Mohammed set forth from the Arabian Peninsula and overwhelmed the peoples of North Africa. Within a century, nearly all Berber tribes had embraced Islam, although, true to form, local tribes developed their own brand of Islamic Shi'ism, which sparked rebellion against the eastern Arabs. By 829, local elites had established an Idrissid state with its capital at Fes, dominating all of Morocco. Thus commenced a cycle of rising and falling Islamic dynasties.

France took control in 1912, making its capital at Rabat. Opposition from Berber mountain tribes was officially crushed, but continued to simmer away. Under increasing pressure from Moroccans and the Allies, France allowed Mohammed V to return from exile in 1955 and Morocco successfully negotiated its independence from France and Spain in 1956. Mohammed VI became king in 1999.

Morocco was the first nation to recognize the fledgling United States as an independent nation in 1777. In the beginning of the American Revolution, American merchant ships were subject to attack by the Barbary pirates while sailing the Atlantic Ocean. On December 20, 1777, Morocco's Sultan Mohammed II declared that the American merchant ships would be under the protection of the sultanate and could thus enjoy safe passage. The Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship stands as the U.S.'s oldest non-broken friendship treaty.

Today Moroccans cast their eye in many directions-to Europe, the economically dominant neighbor; to the east and the lands of Islam; and to the traditional Berber heartland. The result is an intoxicating blend of the modern and the traditional, the liberal and the conservative, hospitality, and the need to make a dirham. Away from the tourist scrum, a Moroccan proverb tells the story- " A guest is a gift from Allah". The public domain may belong to men, but they're just as likely to invite you home to meet the family. Keep your left hand firmly out of the communal dish and feel free to slurp your tea and belch your appreciation loudly.

In present-day Morocco, "jellabas" (flowing cloaks) cover the Western suits, turban jostle with baseball caps. European dance music compete with sinuous Algerian rai and mobile phones ring in the midst of perhaps the greatest of all Moroccan pastimes-the serious and exuberant art of conversation. An inherently social people, Moroccans have a heightened sense of mischief, love a good laugh and will take your decision to visit their country as an invitation to talk, drink tea, and perhaps buy a carpet, a very beautiful carpet, just for the pleasure of your eyes.

People of Arab-Berber descent make up almost 100% of Morocco's population, which is mainly rural (about 60%) and young (70% are under 30 years). Ninety-nine percent of Moroccans are Muslim. Muslims share their roots with Jews and Christians and respect these groups as "Ahl al-Ktep (People of the Book), Fundamentalism is mostly discouraged but remains a presence, especially among the urban poor who have enjoyed none of the benefits of economic growth. That said, the majorities of Muslims do not favor such developments and the popularity of fundamentalism is not as great as Westerners imagine.

Influenced by Berber, Arabic and Mediterranean traditions, Moroccan cuisine features a sublime use of spices and fresh produce. It would be a culinary crime to skip breakfast in Morocco. Sidewalk cafes and kiosks put a local twist on a continental breakfast with Moroccan pancakes and doughnuts, French pastries, coffee and mint tea. Lunch is traditionally the biggest meal of the day in Morocco. The most typical Moroccan dish is tajine, a meat and vegetable stew cooked slowly in an earthen-ware dish. Couscous, fluffy steamed semolina served with tender meat and vegetables, is another staple. Pastilla, a specialty of Fez, includes poultry (chicken or pigeon), almonds, cinnamon, saffron and sugar, encased in layer upon layer of very fine pastry. Mint tea, the legendary "Moroccan whisky", is made with Chinese gunpowder tea, fresh mint and copious sugar. Fruit juices especially freshly squeezed orange juice, are the country's greatest bargain. It's not advisable to drink tap water in Morocco.

Education in Morocco is free and compulsory through primary school (age 13). Nevertheless, many children-particularly girls in rural areas- still do not attend school. The country's illiteracy rate has been stuck at around 50% for some years, but reaches as high as 90% among girls in rural regions. Morocco has about 230,000 students enrolled in fourteen public universities. The university of AL Karaouine, in Fez, is considered the oldest continuously operating university in the world and has been a center of learning for more than 1,000 years.

The Trek to Morocco


We focus on planning our treks to Morocco in the spring, mid March to May. That's when Morocco is at its best. The days are clear and mild and the nights are cool. The country is lush and green. We avoid the summer months, June through August, when the heat can be extreme. Apart from the weather, the timing of Ramadan (the traditional Muslim month of fasting and purification), usually during September or October is another reason to avoid those months, as some restaurants and cafes close during the day and general business hours are reduced.



The medina of "Fez el-Bali" (Old Fez) is the largest living medieval Islamic city in the world. Fez is the spiritual heart of Morocco. It embodies all that is Morocco. If you could only go to one city to experience Morocco, Fez would be your choice. Nothing quiet prepares you for your first visit, which can truly be an assault on the senses. Its narrow winding alleys and covered bazaars are crammed with shops, restaurants, workshop, mosques, madrassas and extensive dye pits and tanneries- a riot of sights, sounds and smell. The ancient medina lies in a bowl created by the surrounding Zulagh Mountains. The city was founded during the 8th Century by Moulay Idriss, who lies buried deep within the medina at the shrine (zawiya) bearing his name. Today the old city houses some 187,000 people living within an area of approximately 1.5 square miles. The new city of Fez, built by the French during their Protectorate of Morocco, lies a few kilometer to the west and has the feel of a French provincial town, with its cafe's and wide boulevards. By contrast, the medina has tiny winding streets of cobble-type bricks, some alleys only just wide enough for a donkey to pass through. There is vehicular access only to the periphery of the medina. Explore on foot in a honey comb of twisting alleys of Arabic-Moorish architecture of blue-tiled facades, savor the scent of spices, orange blossoms, sizzling lamb kabobs and sweet honey cakes, and watch scenes unchanged in centuries, from donkeys laden with leathers bound for tanneries to children carrying boards of bread dough to communal ovens. Some of the finest Berber carpets in Morocco are found in this medina. During our visit, we will stay in a traditional home or riad, which has been transformed for use as a guest house.


Meknes is Morocco's third imperial city. It has a population of 680,000. It is often overlooked by tourist itineraries, but Meknes is worth getting to know. Quieter and smaller than Fez, its also more laid-back, less hassle, but still awash with the winding narrow medina streets and grand buildings befitting a one-time capital of the sultanate. The valley of the (usually dry) Qued Bou Fekrane neatly divides the old medina in the west and the French-built Ville Nouvelle in the east. Sultan Moulay Ismail made Meknes his capital in the 17th Century. To the south of the medina, Moulay Ismalil's imperial city opens up through one of the most impressive monumental gateways in all of Morocco, Bab el-mansour. A few steps from the gate, we will find Moulay Ismail's tombs, the grand Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail.


Volubilis is in the midst of a fertile plain about 18 miles north of Meknes. Volubilis is a romantic Roman ruin. Here you find the largest and best preserved Roman ruins in Morocco. Volubilis was Rome's provincial capital in Morocco, with structures dating to the Second and Third Centuries A.D. and an impressive array of stunning mosques.


Casa, as Casablanca is popularly known, is a city of incredible contrasts, offering a unique insight into modern Morocco. The sprawling European-style city is home to racing traffic, simmering social problems, wide boulevards, public parks and imposing Hispano-Moorish and Art Deco buildings that line the streets, their rundown facades in sharp contrast to Casablanca's modernist landmark, the enormous and incredibly ornate Hassan II mosque. Rising above the Atlantic, northwest of the medina, Hassan II Mosque is the world's third-largest mosque. It was built to commemorate the former king's 60th birthday. It's a vast building that holds 25,000 worshippers and can accommodate a further 80,000 in the courtyards and squares around it. It is one of a few mosques that non-believers are allowed to enter.


While Fez was the center of learning and culture, Marrakesh to the south was more of a Berber camp behind high walls. It was transient, colorful, and exciting, a sprawling country market set in the middle of a palm-fringed plain. As time passed, focus shifted from Fez to Marrakesh, filling the city with palaces, monuments, gardens and tourists. But through it all, the city stays true to its colorful roots. Stand in the middle of Djemma el Fna, the pulsating market square that anchors Marrakesh's medieval medina, and the whole world converges; snake charmers and scribes, henna vendors and henna-haired artists, all drawn to the Moroccan city's exuberance. The barely controlled chaos is as timeless and tireless as Marrakesh itself, and the former caravan trading post shows no signs of slowing down. The proof: a rousing club scene, a renovated industrial district, and a growing fashion for converting the medina's historic, courtyard-centered homes into chic "riad" guesthouses. After dusk the Djemma el Fna is fascinating- the performances, lights, and crowds. For the best vantage point, step back a bit and pull up a chair at one of the cafes lining the square, like cafe Argana, known less for its food than for its rooftop perch looking down on the frenetic, whirling scene below. If the medina's labyrinth of jewelry, leather, pottery, textile and spice suqs (markets) proves over whelming, steer straight to the carpet suq, where the variety and quality are amazing. Sit in a Jasmine-scented courtyard at the Museum of Marrakesh. You can feel how it simulates the private world of the medina's riad courtyards where the orange trees, cool fountains, shady palms, and the scent of jasmine create a sensual place. Sample authentic fare such as lamb with onion and tomato confit as well as pigeon folded in a crepe. Get steamed in a hamman, the Moroccan version of a steam room. From anywhere in the city you can see the 210 feet tall minaret of Marrakesh's most famous and most venerated monument, the Koutoubia Mosque, a classic example of Moroccan-Andalucian architecture. Long hidden from intrusive eyes, the area of the Saadian Tombs, alongside the Kasbah Mosque is home to ornate tombs that are the resting places of Saadian princes. Marrakesh has more gardens than any other Moroccan city, offering the perfect escape from the hubbub of the "souqs" and the traffic. The rose gardens of Koutoubis Mosque, in particular, offer cool respite near Djenaa el-Fna. We will stay in a wonderfully restored 19th Century riad around an elegant central courtyard complete with a tinkling fountain, a grand marble staircase, a hammam and attractive rooms decorated in Moroccan style. The bottom line- Marrakesh is truly unforgettable.

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