One of North Africa’s most popular destinations famous for its bustling cities, incredible history and pristine desert landscapes, Morocco borders the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea and is distinguished by its Berber, Arabian and European cultural influences, each group has contributed to the rich traditions that can be observed in the country today. With bustling cities, inviting coastlines, impressive mountain ranges and pockets of ancient unchanged lands, there is something in magical Morocco for everybody.
Attractions in Morocco
Offering an endless supply of experiences, Morocco has four imperial cities namely Marrakesh, Fes, Meknes, and Rabat, the country’s capital. Although a modern city at first glance, Rabat has several interesting historical attractions such as the Kasbah of the Oudaias, the old medina, and the Hassan Tower. The gleaming Royal Mausoleum is also well worth a visit.
Marrakesh, known as the red city, is famous for its old medina, numerous souks, ancient palaces like Badi Palace and Bahia Palace and the striking Koutoubia Mosque. The lively Djemaa el-Fna is at the heart of the city. The former capital of Fes has plenty of impressive architecture, though it is perhaps best known for its large tanneries and for being home to one of the oldest universities in the world. Morocco has beaches along both the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, including Tangier and Agadir with the most popular beaches such as Essaouira and Taghazout popular with lovers of water sports and surfing.
Morocco’s Atlas Mountains have three separate ranges: High Atlas, the Middle Atlas, and the Anti Atlas. Each offers a variety of hiking experiences for people of all skill levels. The vast and arid Sahara Desert is the world’s largest hot desert and there are several places in Morocco from where you can begin expeditions with experienced operators to trek by foot, cross by hardy camel or venture in by 4×4. Camping trips are particularly popular here.
In Casablanca visit The Hassan II Mosque, the largest mosque in Africa and the 5th largest in the world, it can accommodate as many as 25 000 people. It is intricately detailed with a minaret that rises 210 m into the sky.
Popular with photographers and Instagrammers, Chefchaouen or the Blue City is found in the Rif Mountains of northwest Morocco. Known for the striking, blue-washed buildings of its old town where leather and weaving workshops line its steep cobbled lanes. In the shady main square of Place Outa el Hammam is the red-walled Kasbah, a 15th-century fortress and dungeon, and Chefchaouen Ethnographic Museum. The octagonal minaret of the Great Mosque rises nearby.
Shopping in Morocco
Morocco is a wonderful place for those seeking out a bargain or keepsake from the lively souks found in medinas across the country. Among the most popular items is Argan Oil which is produced in Essaouira, the only place in the world where argan trees grow. Babouche slippers, either adorned with sequins or made from soft leather with round or pointy-toed, are as comfortable as they are trendy. Original hand-blown glass from Casablanca, including traditional green glass teacups. Colourful Berber baskets, increasingly popular as breadbaskets in Riads and restaurants and ideal for brightening up any home. Another excellent buy is a selection of spices from the local Marrakech shops, including cumin, cinnamon, allspice, ginger and more.
Transportation in Morocco
Visitors to Morocco are spoilt for choice in terms of ways to get around with options ranging from travelling by bus, hiring a car or making use of Morocco’s extensive train network – one of the best in Africa. Long-distance buses are also a good option if your chosen destination is not on the train route. Generally, bus travel is comfortable albeit a little slow, with air-conditioning on most routes, and WiFi on some.
You’ll find that most Moroccan cities have grand taxis and petit taxis. The larger ones have shared vehicles that travel long distances, while the petit taxis work in much the same way as metered taxis anywhere else in the world. Make sure the meter is working before you accept a ride or negotiate your fare in advance. Should you opt to rent a car, Morocco’s road system is in good condition, although distances between major towns is significant.
Accommodation in Morocco
From lavish five-star hotels to rustic tented mountain camps, Morocco offers accommodation to suit all budgets and comfort levels, with many travellers opting to stay in traditional Moroccan accommodations known as Riads which are located in the medinas of many cities. High-end hotels include the likes of the Mandarin Oriental, Marrakech and La Mamounia in the heart of the pink city. In Essaouira, try Villa Anouk Hotel, and in Oualidia, the coastal village between Essaouria and Casablanca on a protected natural lagoon, La Sultana. The sleepy sister hotel to La Sultana Marrakech, it occupies a prime perch on Morocco’s wild western coast, flanked by protected birdlife and sandy surf beaches.
Hotel Sahrai is recommended in Fez, with The Sofitel Rabat Jardin des Rose near the Royal Palace where King Mohamed VI lives and home to a beautiful Andalusian garden with over 3000 roses, the preferred option in the capital. Located on the beach of Fnideq, 15 kilometres from the city of Tetouan, is the Banyan Tree resort with spectacular views of the Mediterranean and exceptional resort living offered in the sumptuous 8 private villas. In Casablanca, try Le Casablanca Hotel for some real old city spoils.
Flying into Morocco
While there may currently be no direct flights from South Africa to Morocco, you will find easy connections to Casablanca on Emirates, Qatar and South African Airways, from there Royal Air Maroc, Morocco’s National carrier services all domestic airports. Alternatively, you can opt to fly with a European airline such as Lufthansa, KLM or Air France into Marrakech, Tangier, Fez or Rabat. With 25 domestic airports within Morocco, internal flights are a breeze.
My preferred spots in Morocco
In Casablanca don’t miss a visit to Rick’s Café, unequivocally as the best gin joint in town. Designed to recreate the bar made famous by Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in the legendary 1942 movie, it has passion and political espionage imprinted on the beautifully restored courtyard-style mansion that hugs Casablanca’s old medina wall.
From Marrakech drive out into the Atlas Mountain, passing remote villages with their modestly tilled land, to enjoy ink-black coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice. Beyond the evocative Kasbahs and city-fortresses, visit the UNESCO-recognised Aït Benhaddou. Established in 757, this traditional fortified village was established on an ancient caravan route between the Sahara Desert and Marrakesh. It is also where loads of movies have been shot – from Gladiator and Alexander to Game of Thrones – so may seem oddly familiar.
Morocco is a place of culinary indulgence and delight. Traditionally Moroccan cooking combines the desert nomad’s diet of mutton, vegetables and dairy produce, but over the centuries it has incorporated southern European, sub-Saharan African and French influences. Try the briouats, deep-fried parcels of flaky pastry containing spiced meat, fish or cheese as well as Harira, a thick, creamy soup based on lamb and pulses that is often served as a starter. To top it all, the flat, round traditional khubz bread is totally addictive.
- Capital: Rabat
- Currency: Moroccan Dirham. A freshly pressed orange juice at the market will set you back about R15.
- Language: The official languages are Arabic and Berber, English is widely spoken in the cities.
- Weather: The best time to visit is during spring (March to May) or autumn (September to October) when the weather is warm. Winter sees snow and cold temperatures, and summer dry heat. The coastal regions can be enjoyed year-round.
Read my other blog posts on Morocco.