Morocco Travel Guide – part I
Morocco is one of Africa’s most popular destinations and with good reason. With long beaches, fortified fishing ports, lush oases and the High Atlas Mountains, its coasts and countryside offer plenty to interest travelers. Throw in the imperial cities of Fez, Meknes and Marrakesh with their superb examples of early Islamic architecture, and you’ll understand why Morocco is a great travel destination.
Here are the most important cities and tourist destinations not to miss when traveling to Morocco which will give you a taste of the country’s highlights:
Agadir – Agadir is all about the beach! The town is a nice example of modern Moroccan design, but not much in the way of history or culture. Take the local bus for a few cents and go 2 or 3 villages North. The beaches are much better there and there are no burglars at all.
Amizmiz – With one of the largest Berber souks in the High Atlas Mountains every Tuesday, Amizmiz is a popular destination for travelers looking for a day trip that is easily accessible (about an hour) from Marrakech.
Asni – Starting point for treks into the High Atlas Mountains.
Casablanca – This modern city by the sea is a common starting point for visitors flying into the country. If you have the time, both the historical medina and the contemporary mosque (the second largest in the world) are well worth an afternoon.
Chefchaouen – A mountain town just inland from Tangier full of white-washed winding alleys, blue doors, and olive trees, Chefchaouen is clean as a postcard and a welcome escape from Tangier.
Essaouira – An ancient sea-side town newly (re)discovered by tourists. From mid june to august the beaches are packed but any other time and youll be the only person there. Good music and great people. Nearest Coast from Marrakech.
Fez – Fez is the former capital of Morocco and one of the oldest and largest medieval cities in the world.
Marrakech – Marrakech is a perfect combination of old and new Morocco. Plan to spend at least a few days wandering the huge maze of souqs and ruins in the medina. The great plaza of Djeema El Fna at dusk is not to be missed.
Meknes – A modern, laid back city that offers welcome break from the tourist crush of neighbouring Fez.
Ouarzazate – Considered the Capital of the South, Ouarzazate is a great example of preservation and tourism that hasn’t destroyed the feel of a fantastic and ancient city.
Rabat – The capital of Morocco; highlights include a 12th-century tower and minaret.
Rissani – This small oasis town lies near the northwest edge of the Sahara.
Tangier – Tangier is the starting point for most visitors arriving by ferry from Spain. An enigmatic charm which has historically attracted numerous artists (Matisse), musicians (Hendrix), politicians (Churchill), writers and others (Malcolm Forbes)
Taza – At the Medina the more “touristic” sights of Taza are located: the Great Mosque (“Jemaa el-Khebir”), the Medersa Bou Abul Hassan, the Andalusian Mosque and the souks with the “Jemaa es-Souk”, the Market Mosque.
Tetouan – Capital of the North of Morocco, has very beautiful beaches and is the gateway to the Rif Mountains.
Other destinations in Morocco are:
The Atlas Mountains – Visit the Atlas Mountains in summer for a day long hike or a week of trekking.
Merzouge – From this settlement at the edge of the Sahara, ride a camel into the desert for a night among the dunes and under the stars.
Taroudannt – A market town in Southern Morocco about 45 miles inland from Agadir.
Moroccan cuisine is often reputed to be some of the best in the world, with countless dishes and variations proudly bearing the country’s colonial and Arabic influences. Unfortunately as a tourist through Morocco, especially if you’re on a budget, you’ll be limited to the handful of dishes that seem to have a monopoly on cafe and restaurant menus throughout the country. Apart from major cities, Morocans do not generally eat out in restaurants so choice is generally limited to international fare such as Chinese, Indian and French cuisine.
Do not forget to try the traditional cuisine:
– Tagine, a spicy stew of meat and vegetables that has been simmered for many hours in a conical clay pot (from which the dish derives its name) is probably the best known Moroccan meal.
– Couscous made from semolina grains and steamed in a colander-like dish known as a couscoussière is the staple food for most Moroccans. It can be served as an accompaniment to a stew or tagine, or mixed with meat and vegetables and presented as a main course.
– A popular Berber contribution to Moroccan cuisine is kaliya, a combination of lamb, tomatoes, bell peppers and onion and served with couscous or bread.
– A popular delicacy in Morocco is Pastilla, made by layering thin pieces of flakey dough between sweet, spiced meat filling (often lamb or chicken, but most enjoyably pigeon) and layers of almond-paste filling. The dough is wrapped into a plate-sized pastry that is baked and coated with a dusting of powdered sugar.
– Moroccans often elect to begin their meals with warming bowl of harira (French: soupe moroccaine), a delicious soup made from lentils, chick peas, lamb stock, tomatoes and vegetables.
– Soup is also a traditional breakfast in Morocco. Besara, a thick glop made from split peas and a generous wallop of olive oil can be found bubbling away near markets and in medinas in the mornings.
As a deeply Muslim country, Morocco is mostly dry, as a liberal country alcohol is available in restaurants, bars, supermarkets, hotels and discos. Make no mistake, many Moroccans enjoy a drink although it is frowned upon in public places.
As a rule, do not drink tap water at all in Morocco, even in hotels, as it contains much higher levels of minerals than the water in Europe.
Any traveller will be offered mint tea, or as locals like to call it ‘moroccan whiskey’, at least once a day. Even the most fincanically modest Moroccan is equipt with a tea pot and a few glasses. Although sometimes the offer is more of a lure into a shop than a hospitable gesture it is polite to accept. Before drinking look the host in the eye and say ‘bi saha raha’. It means enjoy and relax and any local will be impressed with your language skills.
On the other end of the budget scale, HI-affiliated youth hostels can be found in the major cities (dorm beds from around Dh 50) while the cheapest budget hotels (singles from around Dh 65) are usually located in the medina. These hotels can be very basic and often lack hot water and showers, while others will charge you between Dh 5 and Dh 10 for a hot water shower. Never fear, because a public hammam is bound to be close by.
Newer, cleaner and slightly more expensive budget (singles from around Dh 75) and mid-range hotels that are sprinkled throughout the ville nouvelles.
Many hotels, especially those in the medina have delightful roof terraces, where you can sleep if the weather’s too hot. If you don’t need a room, you can often rent mattresses on the roof from Dh 25.
For those looking to camp, almost every town and city has a campground, although these can often be some way out of the centre. Many of these grounds have water, electricity and cafes. In rural areas and villages, locals are usually more than happy to let you camp on their property; just make sure you ask first.
In the following parts, we will offer more information about each tourist destination.