Morocco Travel Guide
Thanks to the movie Babel Morocco is back in the limelight thirty years after Marrakech was on the hippie trail. This exotic and charming country offers extreme contrasts in both natural beauty and culture. The great imperial cities of Marrakech, Fez and Meknes have medieval qualities, and offer visitors a unique insight into the country’s history. There are extraordinary art collections, fascinating markets and squares filled with snake charmers and storytellers, as well as the world’s most imfamous hash. There really is something here for everyone, from deserted sun-baked beaches and centuries-old medinas through to great shopping and off-piste desert driving.
Why You Should Go
What’s Cool: Exploring the different imperial cities, the amazing Aït Benhaddou Kasbah, the huge Hassan II mosque, beautiful and deserted beaches, spectacular mountain ranges, Saharan oasis and the lively Djemaa el-Fna, hanging out in Marrakesh, trekking in the Atlas mountains.
What’s Not: Persistent faux guides and touts hanging around the tourist areas, pick-pockets in the medinas, unwanted attention paid to western women, lack of toilet paper in many of the facilities and dangerous drivers on the country’s roads.
When to Go
Morocco’s weather varies considerably, not just with the seasons, but also geographically. The beach resorts are popular year-round as the summers are hot and winters mild. Rainfall is usually moderate around Casablanca and becomes progressively less as you head south to the Sahara Desert. Inland, the Atlas Mountains receive heavy snowfalls during the winter, which can restrict travel. At lower levels, the temperatures can be very hot, although the humidity is quite low.
Getting There & Away
There are international flights from various European cities and North America to Casablanca, and regular charter flights to Agadir. Ferry connections from Spain to the port of Algeciras are frequent and the journey takes about 2 hours. There is a crossing to Tangier from the small port of Tarifa, on the southernmost tip of mainland Spain. The best way of getting around is by train and the services are comfortable and fast, and offer one of the best opportunity for making friends – or enemies. There is a line that links Marrakech and Tanger via Casablanca and Rabat, and a small branch line goes to Oujda. Domestic flights are provided by Royal Air Maroc but you will need deep pockets if you want to get around by air.
Health & Safety
There are no particular inoculations needed for a trip to Morocco. Take the normal precautions with food and drink bottled water not the mineral-rich tap water, which could have you stationed next to a toilet for a few days. Women should avoid walking alone as they are likely to attract unwanted attention in the form of hissing, whispers and offers of free sex. If you hear ‘what’s your size baby?’ just ignore it and keep walking; sunglasses and covering up help too. Moroccan toilets; bring your own toilet paper and expect the worst. Faux guides and touts hang around tourist areas looking for unsuspecting visitors. If you don’t want to use their services, then avoid eye contact as they can be very persistent. Sure, plenty of people come for the dope, but be careful who you buy from or what you buy for that matter; you could end up spending your holiday money on a baksheesh or a night in smoking lawn clippings.
Food & Hospitality
Morocco has a well-developed tourist industry and there are over 100,000 hotel beds to cater for visitors. Many of the high-end chain hotels can be found in the Ville Nouvelle regions of all major cities, while good guesthouses are abundant throughout the town and city areas. For budget travelers, there is a choice of youth hostels offering cheap dorm beds. Moroccan cuisine is excellent and reflects the country’s colonial and Arabic influences, but some towns have a limited number of restaurants, as locals seldom eat out. And even when you find a town that has a selection of eateries, the menus are invariably identical. Anti-monarchy comments or using your left hand won’t make you any friend’s at the dinner table.
One week is the minimum you can spend here to enjoy some of the attractions.
Two or three days enjoying the beaches around Agadir
Four days exploring the medinas and medieval buildings in Marrakesh and Fez
Two days in the cosmopolitan city of Casablanca.
Three days trekking in the Atlas Mountains and exploring the Berber villages
Two days in the pre-Sahara and a camel ride in the oasis.
Marrakesh: the former capital is a cultural hotpot and is well-known for its markets and festivals. With a stunning backdrop of the snow-capped High Atlas Mountains, it is one of the most popular places to visit in Morocco, don’t forget your long hair and rizla papers.
Fez: explore the maze of winding streets and be sure to visit the medina of Fez el-Bali, one of the largest living medieval cities in the world.
Aït Benhaddou: now under UNESCO protection, this is one of the best-preserved kasbahs in the region and has featured in as many as 20 films.
Hassan II mosque: the third-largest religious monument in the world, holding up to 25,000 worshippers and 80,000 more in the esplanades around it. It was completed in 1993 and took 10,000 craftsmen five years to build.
Djemaa el-Fna: the square is lively throughout the day, but at dusk, you can witness one of the most amazing scenes you will likely see anywhere. Snake charmers, jugglers, musicians, storytellers and acrobats fill the square.
Shopping: one of the largest markets in the world is in the old part of Fez – Fez El Bali. Look out for some wonderful handicrafts, carpets, rugs and ornate metalwork.
Golf: the sport has become very popular in Morocco, partly because of the international success of King Hassan II. Some of the best courses are found at the Royal Dar es Salaam Golf Club in Rabat.
Trekking: the mountain ranges provide some excellent trekking and walking opportunities. Many companies sell organized trips which are available year-round.
Skiing: one of the few places you can ski in Africa, there are a handful of small resorts here which will appeal to those with a sense of adventure. Don’t expect anything like European standards.
Pony treks: a number of companies provide pony treks in the Middle Atlas from February to April. Camel riding is also available in the Sahara Desert area in the southwest.
Surfing: Morocco has some excellent surfing, best enjoyed late autumn through March. Agadir has numerous good breaks and uncrowded beaches.
Festivals & Events
There are some good festivals throughout the year in Morocco, with the best ones including:
April: Wax Lantern Festival in Sale is a picturesque event that honors the town’s patron, Sidi Abdallah Ben Hassoun - the patron saint of travelers.
June: Gnaoua and World Music Festival in Essaouira features musicians and artists from all over the world and is a mixture of traditional Moroccan and world music.
June: National Festival of Popular Arts in Marrakech showcases traditional arts such as dance, song, theater and poetry.
November: Green March Day commemorates the day in 1975 when unarmed Moroccan civilians marched into the Western Sahara area to reclaim it from Spain.