From the high mountains and the never-ending deserts to the serene Atlantic Ocean, Morocco seems to be a puzzle when seen from afar. It is only once you visit the country that you realize that everything fits just as it should.
Fun fact: apart from France and Spain, Morocco is the only country in the world to have a coastline touching the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.
A historically independent country (unlike most other African nations), Morocco has a long and rich history of its own. It is the country’s history, culture, and coastlines that have led to a booming tourism industry over the past few decades. The government itself sees tourism as a major shot in the arm when it comes to sources of foreign revenue and has hence made several provisions to ensure the ease of traveling and visiting for tourists coming from all parts of the world. If you have just landed in Morocco or are planning a trip to this splendid country, here is a cheat sheet for you!
The places you can’t miss
The city of Chefchaouen is the best proof of the fact that a city doesn’t need huge ancient or modern architectural marvels to look beautiful. The sky-blue painted streets of the city give it a stunning look. Located in the Rif Mountains, the views from the city are nothing short of majestic. This city is an ideal place for those looking for an easy-going and relaxed outing. Just strolling around in the streets, shopping at random stores and stalls, and enjoying the scenic beauty of the Rif Mountains would make for a wonderful day.
2. The city of Fes / Fez
Dubbed as the cultural capital of Morocco, Fes can leave you asking for more irrespective of how many days you spend in the city. Unlike many other major tourist cities in the world, Fes has closely held on to its soul without feeling the need to ‘modernize’ itself; this is where the charm comes from. Over the past decade or so, Fes has emerged on the world map and has seen tourists coming in the thousands to get a piece of the city. Boasting one of the largest car-free zones in the world, the city is also home to the University of Al Quaraouiyine, the oldest continuously functioning university in the world. The major attractions in the city include the Tissa Horse Festival, Zaouia Moulay Idriss II, the Weaver workshops, the Merenid Tombs, and the tanneries.
3. Fes tanneries
Among the most intriguing spots to visit in the country, the tanneries in old Fes churn out some amazing leather products. Operating since the medieval era, these tanneries are an indispensible part of the country’s heritage. The best views of the tanneries can be had from the shops selling leather products in the old city. Just tell your local guide that you wish to see one of the tanneries and he will do the rest (partly because it will earn him a commission from the shopkeeper!).
P.S. These tanneries may (almost all the time) stink, but that doesn’t take away one bit from an amazing experience of witnessing the workers in action.
4. The city of Marrakech / Marrakesh
Marrakech is the flag-bearer of Morocco’s tourism industry for obvious reasons. Literally meaning the ‘Land of the God’, the city of Marrakech lies near the foothills of the serene Atlas Mountains. A close proximity to the Sahara Desert and the Atlas Mountains gives the city an amazingly contrasting landscape. The city is essentially divided into 2 parts: the modern and European-like district of Gueliz (the new town) and the historical heart of the medina. While the old city is filled with narrow pathways and lanes, Gueliz has an array of high-end stores, modern hotels, restaurants, and much more. Some of the must-visit places in the city include the Palmeraie, Djemaa El-Fna, and the Koutoubia Mosque.
5. Majorelle Garden in Marrakech
Majorelle Garden is a botanical garden housing an archaeological museum that contains some of the most exquisite pieces of Islamic Art in the region. Designed by Frenchman Jacques Majorelle, the garden remains one of the most-visited places in the city. The special colors used in the buildings, an impressive collection of cacti, a host of beautiful mountain scenes, and several amazing bird species that make their way into the garden every year make it a visitor’s delight.
The general admission price for the garden and the museum are 70 MAD (7 USD) and 30 MAD (3 USD) respectively. The prices are reduced for Moroccan citizens who can show ID. You can visit the gardens alone, without paying for the museum as well.
6. Djemaa el-Fna in Marrakech
A visit to this place can be much like visiting a movie set. While a few snake charmers, tooth pullers (claiming to cure your toothache!) and self-proclaimed ‘doctors’ occupy the place in the morning and afternoon, this place turns into a carnival at dusk. Storytellers, artists, entertainers, fortune tellers, musicians, and everyone that would give you a feeling of being at a carnival is present. A couple of rooftop terraces give you an option to relax and catch your breath. Beware of the pickpockets or they may spoil your entire evening! Visit this place for an experience like no other!
P.S. Don’t take the fortune tellers too seriously!
7. Bahia Palace in Marrakech
Bahai Palace is the result of 14 years of work of some of Morocco’s most-renowned artists of that time. This palace was built with one single aim in mind – to make it the ‘greatest palace of all times’. Meaning ‘the beautiful’ when translated to English, Bahai Palace and the intricate artwork it holds is a treat for the eyes. Housing a 2-acre (0.8-hectare) garden, 150 rooms, and a huge courtyard, the palace was built in Moroccan and Islamic styles by the craftsmen who were brought in especially from Fes.
The palace is open from 8 am to 5 pm throughout the week with an admission fee of 10 MAD (1.12 USD).
8. Koutoubia Mosque
The largest mosque in Marrakech, the Koutoubia Mosque translates into the ‘Mosque of the Booksellers’. According to legends, the original mosque was made by the Almohads architects but it wasn’t inline with Mecca (the most holy Islamic city, located in Saudi Arabia) and was taken down only to be rebuilt in the form of Koutoubia Mosque in the 12th century. The mosque gets its name from the hundreds of booksellers who sold their books near the base of the mosque. At 77 meters (252.6 feet) high, this Sunni mosque is easily the most recognizable landmark in the city.
9. Saadian Tombs in Marrakech
Though only rediscovered in 1917, these tombs were constructed sometime in the end of 16th century. Standing on a burial ground, these tombs have a great historical significance attached to them. Many prominent citizens and royals of yesteryear were buried at this site. Their rediscovery is a story in itself. They were rediscovered in 1917 as part of a French aerial survey, and have since been restored to their glory days. Visit for the amazing artwork on the interiors, honeycomb muqarnas (decorative vaulting), and the imported Italian Carrara marble.
P.S. Don’t miss out on the decorative plasterwork in the chamber of 12 pillars. It was done using pure gold!
10. Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca
The largest mosque in Morocco and one of the biggest in the entire world, the Hassan II Mosque boasts a minaret standing at 210 meters (689 feet) tall, the tallest in the world! At the top of the minaret is a laser that is directed towards Mecca, the holy city of Muslims. Standing on a platform over the Atlantic Ocean, this mosque is open to non-Muslims as well, who may take a guided tour. A part of the floor is made of glass, allowing visitors to virtually stand over the ocean! The other special attractions include Turkish-style fountains and baths downstairs.
11. City of Casablanca
Home to one of the busiest international airports in Morocco, Casablanca is where most visitors begin their journey in Morocco. With a number of hidden gems, the city has a European touch to its architecture. The medina district holds many experiences for visitors who aren’t shy of going around the packed lanes of the city. The city’s central plaza, the Corniche beachfront district, and the Cathedral du Sacre Coeur are some of the biggest attractions in the city.
Was the movie inspired by the city? Why don’t you find out yourself!
12. The city of Rabat
Unlike most other Moroccan cities, Rabat isn’t always running. A welcome break from the hustle and bustle of cities like Fes and Marrakesh, Rabat boasts some of the most stunning colonial architecture in the world. Boulevards filled with palm trees give a leisurely laid-back look to the city. The capital city of Morocco, Rabat offers a handful of tourist attractions including the most significant museum in the country, the Mausoleum of Mohamed V, and the Royal Palace. Situated right at the brink of the mighty Atlantic, this is the kind of city you miss after you leave.
Fun activities in Morocco
13. Visit a traditional hammam
Having a hammam (bathhouse) experience in Morocco is akin to visiting the Eiffel Tower while traveling in Paris! The hammams are as much about the cleansing of the body as they are about the local culture of Morocco. Almost all hammams have separate rooms or timings for men and women (don’t expect a communal / mixed-gender hammam in Morocco).
There are a few things to keep in mind while visiting a hammam. Though the country stands at the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, water is scarce here. Splashing water around while in the hammam isn’t, therefore, the best way to please the locals. Many locals strip completely naked when visiting a hammam. Keeping your bikini bottoms on is generally fine, but don’t be surprised if you are the only person trying to cover their modestly! A usual hammam experience with a massage can cost you around 10 MAD (1 USD). Of course, there is no upper limit if you are looking for luxury!
14. Go surfing
When you are this close to the ocean, it would be a crime not to take out your surfboard and ride the waves. Home to some of the best surfing points in the world, Morocco provides numerous surfing options. The Taghazout area has a number of ideal surfing areas. It is easy to find instructors and guides in the area who will assist you well, even if you aren’t a pro at surfing. The beginners’ packages with a single night stay in a camp, surfing, and other activities can cost anywhere between 80 USD (775 MAD) and 110 USD (1,065 MAD), depending upon the season’s rush.
It is hard to picture Morocco as a skiing destination since the country is associated more with sand than snow. But, however surprising it may seem, Morocco receives its fair share of snowfall throughout the year, making skiing an exciting option for adventure seekers. Most of the skiing options in the country are in the High Atlas Mountains. Two of the most famous ski resorts are Jebel Mischliffen and Oukaimeden. Skiing equipment is easily available for rent. As long as you don’t expect a vertical slope and experiences only seen in movies, you will have a good time!
16. Learn to cook traditional Moroccan food
Learning to cook traditional Moroccan food is such a craze among visitors that many hotels in the city have started to offer cooking lessons to their guests. While most of the hotels impart basic training, if you are looking for a fully-fledged Moroccan cooking experience, you can also go for one of the several culinary tours offered in the country, which put special emphasis on the local food. Here’s a tip – If you can’t tolerate spices, you should avoid stepping into a Moroccan kitchen!
17. Eat tagine
Before you Google it, let us tell you that tagine isn’t any particular cuisine! Anything eaten in a tagine dish (a deep plate covered with a conical lid) is termed as tagine! There are a wide variety of tagines on offer, including the ones made of different fruits and different meat combinations. The most widely-available one is with chicken and French fries. Notably, tagine is eaten collectively from one single dish kept at the center of the round dining table. It is mostly served with bread, which is also commonly used as a fork and spoon in Morocco! Don’t worry, it is not as difficult as it may sound right now!
18. Have dinner at Djemaa el-Fna
If you are looking for a leisurely and sophisticated dining experience to let off some steam, this might not be the best option for you! However, if you are willing to walk around to explore the innumerable stalls and dishes on offer, your dining experience will be like nothing before. With so much going around and so much on offer, this place can seem maddening at the first sight, but it is one of the most gripping experiences on offer for tourists. Watch out for the orange juice, merguez, chicken skewers, sausages, and the ‘melt in the mouth’ kebabs!
19. Camp in the Sahara Desert
For many, the Sahara Desert is the foremost reason behind visiting Morocco. Marrakech is filled with tour operators offering desert tours of varying durations (mostly 1 - 3 nights). Most of the online photos of the sand dunes that excite you are of Erg Chebbi. A single-day tour would most probably take you to Zagora Sand Dunes only, which aren’t as impressive as the former. The drive from Marrakech to the Sahara Desert is long with many pit stops, each giving you a different experience to relish and cherish.
Be ready to ride a camel once you reach the arid desert!
20. Trek in the Rif Mountains
With no deep gorges or sky-high peaks, the northernmost mountain range in the country is an ideal trekking destination for those who aren’t pro at it. The ideal time to plan a trekking trip would be from March to June. The weather can be unbearable in the summer months, while the months between November and March can be slightly colder than your comfort level will like. The base of the mountains lies in Chefchaouen. Many travelers who aren’t keen on trekking also plan a visit to the city just to enjoy the picturesque views of the mountains from the hotel window!
21. Todra and Dades Gorges
The usual question is whether to go to the Todra Gorge or the Dades Gorge. But we would suggest you make time for both adventures. While the scenic beauty of the Dades Valley is said to be more than that of the Todra Valley, the latter’s gorge is more dramatic. Activities such as climbing and horse riding are offered at both places. Also, while Todra is nearer to the city, reaching Dades Gorge will require a drive of close to 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) so you would need to leave quite early to reach before the sunset and get the best views on offer.
The museums worth visiting
22. Dar Si Said Museum in Marrakech
The effortless amalgamation of old and new is the high point of this amazing museum. The museum is a prime example of the thriving regional art in the country. One of the biggest attractions of the museum is the 1002 - 1007 AD chest belonging to a Spanish Umayyad Caliphate’s chamberlain. Also on display are varied carpets coming from different parts of the world. While some are made of textiles, leather is used in others to give them a royal look. Don’t overlook the exquisitely designed window frames and doors!
23. Maison de la Photographie (Photography Museum) in Marrakech
Boasting an amazing collection of old black and white photographs of Morocco from the 1910s (or even earlier), this museum is a pleasant surprise for visitors. The admission fee is about 40 MAD (4 USD). Apart from the 4,500+ collection of photos, another special attraction is a full-color Morocco-based documentary shot in 1957!
Here’s another reason to make a visit to this place: located right in the middle of Marrakech, it also houses a rooftop café!
24. Douiria Mouassine in Marrakech
If you are an admirer of great architecture, this is probably a place you would want to visit. The administration makes special efforts to attract visitors by organizing live events and music shows in the premises. The engravings on the walls were done by a French painter, Delacroix, when he visited the country in the 1840s. Having a mystical charm to it, this place is an ideal get away from the hustle and bustle of Marrakech and its ever moving life.
P.S. There might be some ongoing renovation works, so it would be advisable to enquire before buying the entry ticket!
25. Marrakech Museum of Photography and Visual Arts
Launched in the year 2012, the MPVA exhibits some of the best North African, Moroccan, and global contemporary and lens-based arts. One of the most interesting places to visit in the city, the Museum of Photography and Visual Arts is well-known for spellbinding exhibitions. The authorities also organize frequent events for children, giving them a chance to express themselves on the big stage. Other attractions include workshops on varied subjects ranging from street art to film-making.
Are you ready to go from the hottest deserts to the biggest oceans and to the most amazing mountains?
Morocco can easily be called a country of extremes. From the sand dunes of the great Sahara Desert to Ifrane, the place which records the lowest temperature in Africa and the Arab world, the country has innumerable experiences to offer to its visitors. Apart from the ones mentioned above, the Draa Valley, the Atlas Mountains, Agadir, Tangiers, Essaouira, and the fishing ports are also worth visiting if you wish to complete your Moroccan trip in its true sense.
Before you book your tickets to this truly amazing destination, here are a few tips:
• Visit the country in the spring since the extreme weather can be punishing
• Keep some change in your pocket to tip guides, drivers and others. This would make your experience much easier!
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