Morocco has long lured travellers to its old cities, sweeping deserts and bustling souks. This ancient kingdom is known for its diverse landscape, spectacular architecture, unparalleled cuisine and, most of all, the warm hospitality of its people.
From the golden dunes of the Sahara desert to the winding alleys of mountain villages, Morocco has a lot to offer the curious and adventurous visitor. Here are the top cultural experiences and unique adventures that will make your trip to this exotic country a memorable one.
1. Spend a few days with the Berbers of the Atlas Mountains
Trekking along the Atlas Mountains offers a great insight into rural life in Morocco. Berber villages of mud-built houses stem from the heart of valleys and extend over deep-red hills, while herds of mountain goats can be seen perched on the rocky slopes, grazing away to their heart’s content.
Immerse yourself in the rural culture and traditions of Morocco by spending a few days with the Berber community. Some local tour operators provide tailored excursions to the High Atlas Mountains
, where you can visit a farmer’s market, have lunch with a local family and sleep in a typical Berber home.
TIP: While hiking in the mountains you are bound to come across a few stranded huts selling freshly-squeezed orange juice and tribal ornaments. If the long trek makes you peckish, the makeshift restaurants at these ‘pit stops’ usually serve bountiful salads, lentil soups and the famous tajine.
2. Conquer Mount Toubkal
The highest mountain in North Africa at 4167m, the expedition to the summit of Toubkal should only be attempted if you’ve recently pushed your training level beyond the gym membership. It is a do-able, but a rather challenging climb. The ascent can take up to 6 hours on the final day, depending on your level of fitness. The trail weaves along rocky and gritty terrain, and in some areas the slopes can be quite steep. It is a physically-demanding trek, but the feeling you get once you find yourself standing on top of North Africa is priceless.
Staying at a mountain refuge means you have to step out of your comfort zone for a couple of days. The sleeping quarters are usually crammed, accommodating at least twenty visitors in a small, confined room. It is highly recommended that you take your own sleeping bag just in case the refuge doesn’t provide blankets.
TIP: The best time to attempt Mount Toubkal is between September and November as the unrelenting summer heat would have abated by then. Autumns in Morocco are generally mild. You are still likely to encounter some strong gusts as you advance towards the summit. Make sure to pack thermal and waterproof gear – the temperature can drop below zero and rain showers are unpredictable.
3. Explore Morocco’s natural gorges and ancient kasbahs
Morocco boasts diverse, yet equally panoramic landscapes. A day’s drive away from the lush green fields of the High Atlas Mountains takes you through arid moors and barren hills. The rugged scenery becomes more dramatic as you approach the Todgha Gorge, a canyon of golden-brown limestone. The sheer, smooth cliffs reach a height of 160 metres on each side, resulting in a dwarfing experience for anyone strolling through the gorge.
Along the trans-Saharan trade routes in southern Morocco stand the crumbling ruins of ancient fortified towns, known as kasbahs. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the ksar of Ait Ben Haddou in Ouarzazate is one of Morocco’s most well-preserved and majestic kasbahs. Ait Ben Haddou has starred in many screen productions, including Lawrence of Arabia, Jesus of Nazareth, and Game of Thrones.
TIP: While you can take a day trip to Ait Ben Haddou from Marrakech
, I highly recommend doing a 3-day desert tour, starting from Marrakech and ending in Erg Chebbi (including stops at the Rose Valley and the kasbahs).
TIP: While you can take a day trip to Ait Ben Haddou from Marrakech, I highly recommend doing a 3-day desert tour
, starting from Marrakech and ending in Erg Chebbi (including stops at the Rose Valley and the kasbahs).
4. Sleep in the desert
The majestic dunes of Erg Chebbi in Merzouga rise up to 150m, and they are among the most accessible Saharan dunes in Morocco. Camel trekking is a popular tourist activity in Morocco, but not many are willing to sleep in a desert tent in freezing temperatures.
TIP: Make sure to wake up very early to watch the sun rising over the sand dunes.
5. Visit the the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca
Casablanca is the business and economic capital of Morocco, and for this reason it is often overlooked by tourists, despite being home to one of the largest and most beautiful mosques in the world. The Hassan II Mosque was built in 1993 to commemorate the former king’s 60th birthday. Its minaret is the tallest in the world at 210 metres, and it is the only mosque in Morocco that is open to non-Muslims.
TIP: Whilst you’re in Casablanca, treat yourself to dinner at Rick’s Cafe
; a lovely restaurant inspired by the bar in the movie classic Casablanca.
6. Experience the magic of Marrakech
Spice up your trip by venturing into the hustle and bustle of Marrakech’s spellbinding market. It is quite easy to get lost in the maze of the Medina, but it’s a great way of getting out of the main tourist spots in the city. The souks of Marrakech display a spectrum of vibrant colours. There are about 18 souks in Marrakech, all exhibiting different trades; pottery, ceramics, leatherwork, jewellery, carpentry, copperwork, and of course, traditional cuisine.
In the evening, numerous food stalls begin to crop up in Djemaa el-Fna square, while street performers start getting ready for a long night of entertainment. The snake charmers are usually the main attraction, but the square is also shared by storytellers, fire jugglers, Berber musicians and the occasional card reader.
TIP: For a truly immersive experience, pair a market tour with a cooking class
, where you learn how to prepare the famous tagine using ingredients bought from the market.
7. Hike up to the Setti Fatma waterfalls
If you want to escape the chaos of Marrakech for a day, go on a trip to the lush green valley of Ourika
. This beautiful Berber village is a popular resort among locals, but remains a bit off the tourist radar. There are restaurants located on both sides of the river up until the end of the road.
You can hike through the valley and visit the local Berber market, or if you’re felling a bit more adventurous, you can walk up the path to the Setti Fatma waterfalls and enjoy breathtaking views of Ourika (and later have lunch by the river).
8. Chill out in Essaouira
Essaouira will steal your heart. This old port city on the Atlantic Ocean has a very laid-back vibe. During the hippie hype of the 60s and 70s, Essaouira was a famous destination among music artists, including Jimi Hendrix, Cat Stevens and Bob Marley. In fact, the city still boasts a lively music scene. Its Gnaoua World Music Festival draws thousands of people every year to celebrate four days of jazz, rock and contemporary world music.
Essaouira’s medina gets its old-world charm from its harmonious blend of Moorish and European-style buildings huddled within 18th-century fortress walls. Make sure you also check out the fishing port where dozens of blue-painted boats are kept, and where fishermen unload their fresh catch to be sold at the local fish market.
TIP: Spend more than a day in Essaouira to truly absorb the charm and atmosphere of the city. Essaouira is just an hour’s drive from Marrakech, but I highly recommend spending a night or two in Essaouira rather than taking a day trip from Marrakech.
9. Get lost in the alleys of Chefchaouen
You have probably seen countless pictures of this photogenic blue city on Instagram. In recent years, Chefchaouen has become one of the most popular attractions in Morocco, and it’s totally worth the hype. Spend a day wandering through the twisting streets of the old town (with your camera, of course), exploring secret alleys and mingling with the locals.
You might also end up doing a spot of shopping while you’re in Chefchaouen – the narrow alleyways of the medina are lined with shops selling hand-made goods, including colourful rugs and crockery.
10. Go back in time in Fez and Meknes
Fez is one of the best-preserved medieval cities of the Arab world. Packed with architectural wonders and historic buildings, including the stunning Al-Attarine Madrasa and the The University of al-Qarawiyyin (the oldest university in the world), the medina of Fez
takes you back in time. Another not-to-miss attraction in Fez is the 11th century tannery, where men stand knee-dip in pits containing a mixture of water, limestone and pigeon droppings to dye the hides of camels.
The neighbouring city of Meknes is smaller and quieter than Fez, but still worth a visit. A former capital of the kingdom of Morocco, Meknes is mostly famous for the Roman site of Volubilis and the majestic gate of Bab el-Mansour.
TIP: If you want to get off the beaten path for a couple of days, head to the less popular towns of Moulay Idriss and Bhalil, both of which are just a short drive away from Fez and Meknes.
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