Morocco

An exotic fusion of Southern Mediterranean, Arabic and African influences, Morocco is an enticing combination of ancient cities and Roman ruins, sweeping deserts and centuries-old medinas, mosques and minarets, winding alleyways and vibrant markets, gorgeous beaches and rugged mountains. The Imperial Cities of Fes, Marrakech, Meknes and Rabat have all had a stint as the national capital and are liberally studded with attractions, including a plethora of ancient architecture, museums and souks (markets). The coastal city of Casablanca boasts one of the largest mosques in the world, while Tangier, on the Mediterranean coast, features some beautiful bays and sandy coves. Visitors can look forward to sampling exotic Berber cuisine, sipping on a fresh cup of coffee or a mint tea at a streetside cafe, hike Toubkal - North Africa’s highest peak or enjoy camel trekking in the desert.

Atlas Mountains

 

Taking up most of Africa’s north-western corner, the Atlas Mountains extend for roughly 2400 kilometres across Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, reaching to over 4000 kilometres above sea level at their zenith, Toubkal Mountain. The Atlas range is exceptionally scenic and known for the many rare and endangered plants and animals occurring there, some of which are found nowhere else on earth. Visitors can explore some of North Africa’s most remote villages tucked away in the deep valleys of the rugged range, hike and bike through the spectacular scenery or visit the impressive kasbahs of Ouarzazate, Tifoultoute, Telouet and the magnificent Ait Ben Haddou, one of Morocco’s most photogenic buildings.

 

Marrakesh

 

Situated to the north of the foothills of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains and fringing the famed Sahara, the bustling UNESCO-listed city of Marrakesh is an enchanting travel destination in Morocco. It’s easy to lose all sense of time in Marrakech, with its maze of narrow alleyways scattered with donkey carts, snake charmers, castanetists, acrobats, story-tellers, dancers, water-sellers and potion vendors to entertain. If you don’t find all of these as you journey through the winding streets of the ‘Red City’, you will be sure to find them and much, much more at its famous markets. Marrakesh is home to the largest traditional Berber market in Morocco and one of the busiest squares in the world, known as Djemaa el Fna. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit this square in the evening as it transforms into an enormous, open-air restaurant.

 

Chefchaouen

 

Hidden high up in the Rif Mountains of northeastern Morocco, Chefchaouen is a relatively large historical town known for the striking, variously hued blue-washed buildings of its picturesque Medina. Visitors can look forward to wandering along narrow, cobblestone streets lined with leather and weaving workshops and an array of historical monuments. Must-see attractions include the town’s waterfall which lies to the east of the Medina; the ruins of an old mosque on a hill behind the waterfall; and the shady main square of Uta el Hammam, which is home to the red-walled casbah, a 15th-century fortress and dungeon displaying ethnographic and art exhibits. This charming town also serves as an ideal base for travellers eager to explore the traditional villages and dramatic mountains of the spectacularly scenic surrounding area.

 

Rabat

 

Rabat and its twin city, Sale, overlook the Atlantic Ocean from their location at the mouth of the Bouregreg River. This enchanting city serves as Morocco’s capital and features fascinating Islamic and French-colonial architecture and landmarks. It is also a popular tourist destination, with a rich historical and cultural heritage, a long coastline with beautiful rocky and sandy beaches, an ecologically diverse countryside, wonderful hiking trails and a vibrant city centre with lush, green parks. Visitors can explore the city, relax on the unspoilt beaches and visit the 12th-century seaside kasbah of Udayas.

 

Ouarzazate

 

At the intersection of the Dades and Draa Valley lies the relaxed Moroccan town of Ouarzazate. Surrounded by some unbelievably picturesque terrain, the town is characterised by the red-glowing kasbah at Ait Ben Haddou, the snowcapped High Atlas Mountains, and the spectacular Sahara Desert with its rolling dunes, vast canyons and deep gorges. These exotic backdrops have served as the location for a slew of Hollywood movies which have turned this once sleepy town into Morocco’s version of Hollywood. The town is a popular stopover point for tourists on their way to the Sahara. Its palm-fringed boulevards are lined with grand palaces, bustling souks, old adobe buildings and film studios. Its an ideal location for hanging out at one of the many charming cafés, sampling some delicious local Moroccan cuisine and perhaps even spotting one of the many celebrities who frequent this fascinating North African city.

Zagora

 

Resting at the foot of the Zagora Mountain, Zagora is a small town in the Draa-Tafilalet region of southeastern Morocco. This dusty desert outpost is centrally located, making it an ideal base for exploring the spectacularly scenic Sahara Desert and the beautiful Draa River Valley. The town has long served as a popular trading point offering visitors a range of convenient amenities. The town is also known for its array of restaurants and cafes, and for its lively regional souq which takes place bi-weekly on Wednesdays and Sundays. Don’t miss the annual Moussem festival of Moulay Abdelkader Jilali, which celebrates this much-loved Sufi Saint and attracts large numbers of visitors from around the world.

 

Asilah

 

 

Asilah is an idyllic, fortified seaside town on Morocco’s Atlantic coast. The photogenic town is famous for its gorgeous Portuguese colonial medina, its wealth of extraordinary public art, and an array of good swimming and surfing beaches nearby. Asilah also offers a fantastic, flourishing culinary scene, boasting some of the most flavoursome tortillas, paellas and riojas in the area. Must-see attractions include the Palais de Raissouli, a remarkable palace with beautifully decorated interiors; the pristine 15th-century ramparts and gates surrounding the medina, and numerous breathtaking sacred buildings including a diversity of mosques and churches. The town is a true art lover’s delight with its magnitude of wall-art along its winding cobbled streets and numerous excellent art galleries such as the Centre de Hassan II Rencontres Internationales.

 

Skoura

 

Resting on the banks of the seasonal Amerhidl River, in the Ouarzazate Province of Morocco, the town of Skoura is a beautiful palm-grove-lined oasis. Skoura boasts a multitude of Moroccan castles, vibrant souks, and lush palm, olive, fig, and almond groves. Skoura is set within the scenic Dades valley, which is also known as the ‘Valley of a Thousand Kasbahs’. This flourishing oasis is set in beautiful surrounds, which include the Atlas Mountains and vast open landscapes providing spectacular views. Visitors can look forward to visiting a wide selection of impressive sites including: the Marabout Sidi M’Barek, a magnificent pre-Islamic Muslim shrine; and the 17th-century Amerhidl Kasbah, a high-walled crenellated fortress known to be the largest kasbah in Skoura and one of the largest in Morocco. Other Kasbahs which are popular with visitors include: the Dar Ait Sidi el-Mati Kasbah, as well as the spectacular Amar and Ait Ben Abou Kasbahs.

 

Boumalne Dades

 

Boumalne Dades is located in southeast Morocco’s Tinghur Province, at 1500 metres above sea level in the High Atlas Mountains. It is a spellbinding destination – a city of terracotta buildings set between rugged red cliffs, palm oases and fields of crimson wildflowers. The city’s scenic beauty is matched by its cultural intrigue – it has a rich heritage that includes its traditional art, music and adobe architecture – some of which has remained virtually intact over several centuries. A hiking trail leads between the Dades Gorge and the Rose Valley and is a wonderful way to experience the area’s ancient palaces and forts, Berber villages and spectacular scenery.

 

Asni

In Morocco within the region of Marrakech-Tensift-Al Haouz you will find the small town of Asni, also known as ‘The Land of the Amethyst’, for its rich deposits of this semi-precious stone. Located about three hours south of the country’s capital city, Sabat, in the Imlil valley at the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains the region offers a myriad of cultural, adventure and nature activities. Visitors can enjoy the area’s pristine valleys and ancient villages through day trips, hiking and camping excursions, as well as walking or cultural tours. Roughly an hour’s drive away you can marvel at Mount Toubkal, part of the Atlas Mountains, and the highest mountain of both Morocco and North Africa, standing at an altitude of 4165 metres. If you happen to be around on Tuesdays and Saturdays, don’t miss the lively farmer’s market in the nearby village of Tahanaout for a true glimpse into local life.

 

Saidia

 

Dotting the Moroccan coast, Saidia is set in the province of Berkane. Dubbed the ‘Blue Pearl’, this sleepy little seaside town is famed for its pristine beach. In the summer months, Saidia springs to life filling up with Moroccan and international visitors. There are many attractions and activities to look forward to such as relaxing on the sandy beach and swimming in its balmy waters. Those looking for more of a thrill can enjoy jet skiing and a host of other watersports. Other highlights include deep-sea fishing in the nearby Cap de l’Eau Bay, exploring dive wrecks, sailing lessons and soaking up the Mediterranean sun. Don’t miss a visit to the Moroccan-style Medina Saidia, offering visitors an excellent array of shopping opportunities.

 

 

 

 

Oualidia

 

Situated between the two cities of Casablanca and Marrakesh, the resort town of Oualidia wraps around a spectacular seawater lagoon fringing the Moroccan coastline. Oualidia is an excellent spot for surfers to catch some waves and offers visitors a wide range of other water activities including windsurfing, canoeing, kayaking, and fishing trips. Visitors can spend a relaxing day on the spectacular sun-drenched beach, spot a variety of migratory birds resting and feeding in the glittering lagoon such as flamingo, storks, egrets, and warblers; and during the months from August to October, whales can be seen frolicking off the coast.

 

Casablanca

 

Fondly known by locals simply as ‘Casa’, the capital of Morocco is the industrial, economic and cultural heart of this remarkable country, as well as its most cosmopolitan, liberal and progressive city. While most visitors overlook Casablanca in favour of Morocco’s more popular and exotic tourist areas, this sprawling metropolis has plenty to offer the discerning traveller and has many hidden historical and cultural gems just waiting to be discovered. The city is famous for its spectacular Art Deco and Moorish Revival architecture, constructed during the Colonial Period. Explore the Old Medina, a tiny, ancient, walled village; visit the impressive King Hassan II Mosque; discover the ornate rooms, masterfully tiled floors and intricately carved wooden ceilings of the Hispanic-Moorish Mahkama du Pacha; or simply watch the world go by at one of the many ocean-view cafes along the waterfront boulevard.

 

Essaouira

 

Favourably situated on a vast sweeping bay on the southwest coast of Morocco with long stretches of glorious, golden-sand beaches, the historical town of Essaouira is one of the country’s premier tourist attractions. The town is set against a picturesque backdrop of lush, wooded hills and a patchwork of small fields which become covered in a kaleidoscope of colourful wildflowers in springtime. Known for its bustling fishing harbour dotted quaint white and blue houses and its lovely, souk-filled medina, there is plenty to keep you blissfully engaged in this popular seaside town. The strong Atlantic wind provides perfect conditions for kitesurfing and windsurfing. With good winds for most days of the year, Essaouira is a watersport enthusiasts paradise. Despite its popularity, the town has managed to retain its old-world charm and is an ideal place to embrace the laid-back lifestyle of the locals and escape the hustle and bustle of city life in a remarkably beautiful setting.

 

Ait Ben Haddou

Set along the former caravan route between Marrakech and the Sahara, Ait Benhaddou is a popular tourist destination in the Ouarzazate province. This ancient Moroccan village is a traditional mud-brick city edging the High Atlas Mountains. It has featured in many Hollywood movies including Lawrence of Arabia, Jesus of Nazareth, Jewel of the Nile, Gladiator and thanks to the Hollywood touch ups through the years, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is well preserved. It is a ‘ksar’ which means fortified village and served as a convenient stopover for hundreds of caravans of camels following the renowned trans-Saharan trade route. Visitors can wander the ancient alleyways, view the traditional architecture, and visit the Granary perched at the top of the hill. Don’t miss the opportunity to view the Mausoleum of Ben-Haddoun at the foot of the hill on the opposite side of town and soak up the breathtaking views.

 

Merzouga

 

Situated on the edge of the Sahara Desert, close to the Algerian border, the small Moroccan village of Merzouga serves as the gateway to the Erg Chebbi, an expanse of impressive dune fields. Merzouga is a Moroccan desert dream destination for visitors who come here to explore the sensational surrounding landscape. This remote village provides an excellent base for visitors to explore the Erg Chebbi, which stretches twenty-eight kilometres from north to south and seven kilometres across. The area offers a fantastic selection of activities including: taking a camel safari through the desert; watching a magical sunrise of sunset over the rolling dunes; immersing yourself in traditional Moroccan culture in the heart of the village on a village tour; or visiting the seasonal salt lake of Dayet Srji, home to an array of desert and migratory birds. Don’t miss the golden 150-metre-tall Grande Dune de Merzouga, known to be the tallest dune of the Erg Chebbi.

 

Boumalne Dades

 

Boumalne Dades is located in southeast Morocco’s Tinghur Province, at 1500 metres above sea level in the High Atlas Mountains. It is a spellbinding destination – a city of terracotta buildings set between rugged red cliffs, palm oases and fields of crimson wildflowers. The city’s scenic beauty is matched by its cultural intrigue – it has a rich heritage that includes its traditional art, music and adobe architecture – some of which has remained virtually intact over several centuries. A hiking trail leads between the Dades Gorge and the Rose Valley and is a wonderful way to experience the area’s ancient palaces and forts, Berber villages and spectacular scenery.

 

Fes

 

Morocco’s second-largest city and the country’s former capital, Fes (Fez) is an exotic mix of Arabic architecture, ancient alleyways, calls to prayer and colourful markets; all mixed in with a good dose of modern culture. Home to the venerated Karaouine Mosque, which dates back to 859 AD and incorporates an Islamic university, and to the country’s most hallowed shrine, the Zaouia Moulay Idriss II; Fes is regarded as the spiritual seat of Morocco. Music lovers should try to synchronise their trips with the annual Festival of Sacred Music, one of the highlights of the city’s cultural calendar showcasing diverse performances of spiritual and religious music; while those with a penchant for shopping can browse the mesmerizing colourful markets selling an exquisite array of silver, leather and other handicrafts up for grabs.

Tangier

 

 

Also known as Tangiers or the ‘Gateway to Africa’, Morocco’s seaside city of Tangier is vibrant and atmospheric, with gorgeous beaches, sinuous souks, rich culture and a lively nightlife. Major attractions include the Medina (old city) and its picturesque squares, the Grand Socco and Petit Socco; the Kasbah (the former sultan’s palace and museum) with its magnificent collection of artefacts; and of course the beaches and bays, which are popular for sun-worshipping, swimming, yachting, jet-skiing and kite-surfing. Tangier’s cultural buzz is growing ever stronger, boasting pretty, bustling corniches; many new businesses; and a bright new marina and TGV line to Casablanca. Hoteliers, restaurateurs and boutique owners have brought a fresh feeling to the area, while historic libraries and interesting bars keep the city’s bohemian old-world charm intact.

 

Agadir

 

Resting in the foothills of the Anti-Atlas Mountains, on the southern coast of Morocco, the city of Agadir serves as the capital of the Agadir-Ida Ou Tanane Province and a gateway to the Sahara Desert. This modern city is famous for its sun-soaked sandy beach, featuring a seaside promenade fringed by an array of popular cafes, restaurants and bars. The beach stretches for 10 kilometres across the crescent-shaped bay and boasts fine-grain sand and clear, calm waters which are ideal for swimming. Agadir attracts large numbers of all-inclusive holidaymakers, who flock to the city to enjoy the contemporary Moroccan culture and the many outdoor activities on offer. These include, among others: scuba diving, surfing, tennis, jet skiing, golfing, and horse riding down the beach.

 

Agafay Desert

 

Located just one hour’s drive from Marrakech, in the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, the Agafay Desert is an unspoilt, tranquil retreat. Best known for its undulating dunes, hidden canyons and epic views of the majestic Atlas Mountains, the Agafay Desert makes for the perfect day trip from the lively souks and buzzing streets of Marrakech. Visitors can look forward to visiting a traditional Bedouin village, enjoying a tour into the heart of the desert, camping under the stars, sampling delicious Moroccan cuisine, and exploring Lake Takerkoust, a manmade lake fringing the desert. Other popular activities include quad biking tours, jet skiing, swimming, stand up paddle boarding, horse riding, hiking, and mountain biking.

 

Meknes

 

Situated in the heart of Morocco, the impressive imperial city of Meknes boasts a unique blend of Islamic and European architectural styles. It serves as an important economic hub within the Meknes Prefecture. It is the quieter neighbour of Fez with more of a laid-back-faded-grandeur feel. The city is surrounded by monumental walls and features ancient ornate gates, palatial buildings, and winding narrow medina streets. Meknes is set within a beautiful landscape of rich cedar forests, the Middle Atlas mountains and the rich oasis of Tafilalt. Visitors can look forward to exploring the remnants of the Imperial city including: the spectacular Bab el- Mansour, a large gate adorned with beautiful zellij mosaic tiling which crowns the entrance of the former Imperial city; the Mausoleum of Sultan Moulay Ismail, exhibiting magnificent courtyards and fountains; and the ruins of Heri es-Souani, a vast structure once used for stables and storage. Don’t miss the ancient marketplace and square of Pl el-Hedim.

 

Erfoud

 

Situated at the foot of the Grand Atlas Mountains in southern Morocco, the French-built frontier town of Erfoud serves as the gateway to the Sahara Desert. With its low, dusty, red buildings occupied by businesses, banks, supermarkets, restaurants and mechanics, Erfoud makes a convenient stopover on the journey heading south to Merzouga from Fez or Meknes. Must-see attractions include: the main gate into the medina, designed in the typical Almohad style; the vibrant souk, with its array of goods such as souvenirs and fresh produce; and the surrounding Saharan Dunes, which can be explored by 4×4 or camel.

 

Erg Chebbi Desert

 

Situated in the vast desert region of the Saharan Morocco, dividing Morocco and Algeria, Erg Chebbi is one of two Moroccan ‘ergs’, which are a sea of dunes. What it lacks in size- compared to the deserts of Algeria, Libya and Namibia- it makes up for in its extraordinarily scenic golden landscape. The dunes of Erg Chebbi span over 30 kilometres and rise up to 160 metres. Merzouga is the tourist centre of Erg Chebbi, where the camel trips into the desert depart from. Visitors can look forward to staying overnight in a desert oasis called a Moroccan bivouac, camel riding or quad biking through the sea of dunes and watching the dunes change colour as the sun sets.

 

El Jadida

 

Situated to the south of Casablanca in the Doukkala-Abda region, El Jadida is a port city originally built as a fortified Portuguese colony on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. This city is a registered UNESCO World Heritage Site as it showcases the influence of Moroccan and European cultures displayed in the town’s Renaissance architecture. EL Jadida transforms into a busy resort in summer as it is a popular holiday destination with Moroccan families. Relax in one of the many cafes along the palm tree-lined promenade and soak up the laid back atmosphere of this beautiful Moroccan city. Don’t miss the 16-century Portuguese medina, and the nearby resort of Mazagan with its magnificent stretch of beach, spa, casino and golf course.

 

Moulay Idriss Zerhoun

 

Moulay Idriss Zerhoun, located in northern Morocco on the lush foothills of Mount Zerhoun, is one of the country’s most sacred sites. It was here, in 789 AD, that a new dynasty was born with the arrival of Moulay Idriss I – a descendent of the revered Prophet Muhammad who is regarded by many as Morocco’s true founder. It is a picturesque city of pink and white buildings, mosques and slender lanes. Just a 15 minute walk from town you will find the ancient ruins of a Roman city, as well as two Roman baths built to capture the water of mineral-rich hot springs. Moulay Idriss Zerhoun is at its most culturally resplendent during the summer religious festival – a feast of music and dance.

 

Sidi Ifni

 

This oceanfront city in southwestern Morocco, Sidi Ifni is an evocative mix of blue and white buildings, sandy beaches and laid back culture. It was only relinquished to Morocco by the Spanish in 1969 and the weathered but stately art deco architecture is a lasting legacy of its colonial rule. A series of beaches fringe the coast, attracting visiting surfers with their powerful Atlantic rollers, while the cliff top restaurants overlooking the coast provide a superb setting in which to enjoy a traditional Moroccan meal. Six kilometres from the city lies the jewel in the area’s crown – the eight-kilometre long Legzira Beach, with its two natural red-rock arches.

 

Tissint

 

Tissint is found in southeast-central Morocco, in the Souss-Massa region. This small town lies near Tata (about 70 kilometres southwest), deep into the sparse Sahara desert, and is also the site where a meteorite fell in 2011. Tissint is a quiet, off-the-beaten track destination, which offers a few hotels and accommodation options – including a remote desert camp amidst the spectacular rock formations. Be sure to check out the Ecole des Sciences de la Religion centre, as well as the meteorite site. Outside of Tissint, Tata (a more established base from which to explore the region), offers tours and excursions into the rocky, dramatic Anti-Atlas Mountains, such as those run by Atlas Trek Shop (Aztat Treks) – who can arrange both guided hikes and camel treks into the desert and mountains.