Morocco’s tourist trail is certainly well trodden. The more intrepid traveller might think twice about visiting such a popular holiday destination, picturing exclusive hotels and pools that could exist anywhere else in the world. True, Morocco is frequented by those seeking a few days of sunshine, barely venturing outside of their suburban complex or resort. Nevertheless, for the more cultured or adventurous traveller, Morocco is absolutely not to be missed.
A crossroads between Europe, Africa and the Middle East, Morocco is home to a mesmerising, if chaotic, fusion of cultures. The madness of the medina and the tantalising smells of the souk exist alongside more cosmopolitan, European-inspired metropolises. Outside of the city, Berbers and Bedouins inhabit the vast desert and serene mountains, while the charming coastal towns are home to buzzing ports and quiet beaches.
Whether you’re an adventure seeker or looking for a more relaxed break, these top ten experiences ought not to be missed:
- Tourist behaviour in Marrakech
A favourite for tourists, and rightly so, Marrakech boasts a fabulous juxtaposition of old and new. Explore the busy medina during the day before retiring to the Ville Nouvelle for dinner and cocktails. Don’t miss the cacophony of the Jamaa el-Fna, where musicians and artisans congregate at nightfall. Expect to pay tourist prices, however, or simply save your shopping for Fes.
The overwhelming Jemaa el-Fna at dusk (image: Boris Macek)
- Escape the madness of the city in the Atlas Mountains
When you get tired of the hassle and the haggling, the Atlas Mountains provide the perfect respite from the chaos below. Check into a mountain Kasbah to surround yourself with stunning views and tranquillity (and slightly lower temperatures in summer). Don’t leave without venturing into a nearby Berber village for a somewhat less touristy insight into the lives of the locals.
Kasbah Bab Ourika, Atlas Mountains (image: hipmarrakech.com)
- Get lost in Fes medina
The medina is simply a maze (and that’s part of the experience). Don’t panic when you inevitably lose yourself in the tiny winding alleyways and streets – enjoy the unknown. Stumble across silver souks, tanneries and Berber pharmacies. You won’t leave without a bargain.
The world famous leather tanneries of Fes medina (image: mygola.com)
- Escape to tranquillity in a riad
Stunningly beautiful and easily accessible, riads achieve the seemingly impossible, providing peace in the midst of the madness. During low season you may find that you’re the only inhabitants of one of these romantic old palaces, with a roof terrace to yourselves in the heart of the medina.
Riad Salam, Fes (image: booking.com)
- Sample Meknes’ finest wine
A visit to Meknes is incomplete without a taste of the region’s famous wine. The locals insist that it’s shipped to France by the crate, then relabelled as French and marked up to extortionate prices… Indulge your inner sommelier (hangover free) with a bottle of Guerrouane Gris.
A vineyard in Meknes (image: Huffington Post)
- Tour the blue city of Chefchaouen
Almost a stone’s throw from Fes (alright, a two hour bus ride, but it’s totally worth it) is the famous blue city of Chefchaouen. Likely the most Instagrammed place in Morocco, this city in the northern hills is well worth its reputation. It is also a great stopping point between Fes and Tangier if you’re heading for the coast.
Chefchaouen (image: cntraveler.com)
- Lose yourself in the Sahara
Of course, one can’t say they’ve truly traversed Morocco without paying a visit to its legendary dunes. If you’re feeling adventurous, the vast Sahara desert offers camping, camel riding and dune bashing against a positively breath-taking background. It has also played host to Hollywood countless times (think Lawrence of Arabia and Spectre), allowing you to sample an, albeit politically incorrect, taste of Orientalist Arabia.
A caravan of camels crossing the Sahara desert (image: saharadeserttour.com)
- Explore the untouched coastline
It may not boast the pristine, white beaches you might expect of Eastern and Southern Africa, but Morocco’s Atlantic coastline is dotted with quaint towns and picturesque seaside villages. Favourites include the idyllic Essaouira and Asilah, where you can explore the old fortified towns whilst enjoying the fresh sea air. Alternatively, if you need a break from sightseeing, relax at a beachfront resort in Agadir.
The coastal town of Essaouira (image: The Guardian)
- Take in the rooftop views of Casablanca
Casablanca is not a famous tourist destination. In fact, many would not recommend spending more than a few hours in this commercial, rather European port city. Yet the combination of French, Spanish and North African influences give this city a unique vibe, while the impressive and vast cityscape are best enjoyed from a rooftop bar with a glass of Meknes red in hand (obviously).
Casablanca from above (image: soperlage.com)
- Visit the largest mosque in Africa
For Muslims and non-Muslims alike, the Hassan II Mosque is a marvel not to be missed. Perched on the edge of the sea, its glass floors, intricate Moroccan zelij and towering minaret epitomise the intriguing beauty of the Islamic world. Non-Muslims are not permitted to enter the mosque, but against the backdrop of the sky and the endless ocean, the exterior alone never fails to astound.
Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca (image: toeuropeandbeyond.com)