Morocco is a heady mix of languages, cultures, religions, ancient traditions and modern sensibilities. It conjures up images of mint tea and tagine, date plantations and minarets, labyrinthine medinas and pungent spice stalls. Jimi Hendrix, Jack Kerouac and Winston Churchill were all drawn to this enticing North African nation, which continues to pique the interest of curious minds today.
One of the more liberal countries in North Africa, Morocco’s biggest drawing card is Marrakech, a giddying and grandiose city that Winston Churchill described as “simply the nicest place on Earth to spend an afternoon.” This sentiment rings true for many travellers today.
Each city has a distinctively different character. Tangier, in the north, is the gateway to Africa, and is characterised by its white-washed buildings, sandy beaches and burgeoning cultural scene. Further down the coast lies cosmopolitan Casablanca, the faded coastal town of Essaouira and the lively beach resort of Agadir, favoured by sun-seekers and surfers. Inland lies spell-binding Fez, with its dusty souks, high-sided streets and maze of stunning riads (traditional houses built around a central courtyard).
The blend of ancient and colonial architecture that characterises Morocco’s main cities makes them beautiful propositions: Marrakech, Essaouira, Fez and Tetouan are all on UNESCO’s World Heritage list and are home to an increasing collection of cultural attractions. And when sightseeing begins to pall, visitors can retreat to a traditional hammam, sample the country’s delectable cuisine or barter for bargains in the souks.
Beyond the cities, awesome landscapes await. Carving Morocco in two are the Atlas Mountains, home to the monumental gorges of Todra and Dades, the palmeries of Tinerhir and the beautiful Berber city of Ouarzazate. You can even ski. Then there’s Merzouga, famous for camel-trekking and birdwatching, and Toubkal, North Africa’s highest mountain.
The epic waves of Western Sahara prove an adventure too far for most travellers, alas. Government forces continue to occupy this disputed territory, even though Moroccan sovereignty is not recognised by the United Nations. The issue remains a sensitive subject, tread carefully.
When To Go
Morocco is classed as a year-round destination, depending on the sports and activities that you want to undertake. The country has a mild climate and boasts some of the sunniest days annually in the world. The desert in the south can become quite unbearable in the summer months, so a visit in April and May or October through December ensures preferable temps there. If you plan to come to the High Atlas Mountain region of Morocco, there can be some rain and much snow at altitude from November to March. Many tourists arrive during the school and college holidays in July and August, when accommodation can be next to impossible to find (certainly at an affordable price). A visit in the spring or autumn/fall clinches the countries best weather in all the regions.
– Don’t try to hike in Morocco alone; the crisscrossing mule tracks and lack of any common language out in the mountains is sure to get you stranded. Book a tour guide through your tour operator before you come.
– Make sure you seek permission before taking a photo of people. Most people won’t mind as long as you ask. It’s polite and shows that you respect their beliefs and culture.
– Travelling to the south of Morocco in the summer will leave you sizzling, even at night. Come when the desert winds have calmed and evening temperatures
– Try not to give children money or candy. If you feel the need, pencils and pens might be OK but remember that the children will just keep asking others when they come. It’s a terrible circle. Instead, play soccer with them and interact with them if they invite you to their house. A sip of tea is a gesture that gets you a long way in this traditional country.
– Mount Toubkal ascent
– High Atlas Mountains circuits
– Central Atlas trek with Jebel Mgoun
– The Imperial Cities Tour
– M’Goun Valley
– Rif Mountains
– Ahanssel River
– Middle and High Atlas Trek
– Ziz Valley and Draa Valley
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
There are nine World Heritage Sites in Morocco, all cultural properties;
– Medina of Fez
– Medina of Marrakesh
– Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou
– Historic City of Meknes
– Archaeological Site of Volubilis
– Medina of Tétouan (formerly known as Titawin)
– Medina of Essaouira (formerly Mogador)
– Portuguese City of Mazagan (El Jadida)
– Rabat, Modern Capital and Historic City