Country guides Africa
Morocco Travel Guide
Descriptions often fall short when attempting to encapsulate contemporary Morocco. An enchanting land full of mystery and wonder, travellers are sold on snake charmers, perfumes, and the call of the muezzin. The real Morocco is this and much more, a thriving modern country with a diverse people, an enchanting natural landscape and a complex history. Ten million travellers from all over the globe visit Morocco every year, making it one of Africa's top tourist destinations. The well-trodden paths through the country's bustling medieval medinas bear testament this. However, Morocco still resists the cheap thrills of mass tourism and its riches increase with each return journey.
Morocco lies just under nine miles (14.3km) from Spain across the Straight of Gibraltar, the only place where the Mediterranean Sea mixes with the Atlantic Ocean. The coming together of the two seas that lap Morocco's coast serves as a useful allegory for understanding its rich history. The country is an elaborate weave of Arabic, Berber, French and Spanish culture that has captivated the imaginations of travellers for the better part of the last millennium. It is this heady blend of old and new that makes contemporary Morocco thrive.
The main appeal for visitors to Morocco has always been its balance of the familiar with the exotic. Seaside cities such as Tangiers offer Mediterranean charm; inland Marrakesh thrums with vibrant souks where legendary fine Moroccan crafts are made and sold, and Moorish architectural wonders loom overhead. Casablanca is the economic centre of Morocco and plays host to an energetic business culture and international trade.
Beyond the cities, the real adventures await. In the Rif and High Atlas mountains, snow-capped mountains meet fertile valleys and bursting streams, and travellers can trek, kayak, ski and experience authentic Berber culture. In the south, the most western edge of the Sahara dominates the landscape, and adventurers can feel its might while journeying on camel-back or in a 4x4.
Best time to visit Morocco
Morocco has a varied climate with great differences in temperature across regions. The coastal regions are mild and temperate while the interior becomes increasingly extreme, giving credence to its title as a 'cold country with a very hot sun'. The best time to visit Morocco is in spring (mid-March to May), when the vegetation is lush and vibrant, or during the mild autumn period between September and October.
What to see in Morocco
-Visit Ait Benhaddou, a fairy tale ksar (fortified city) made famous by Hollywood blockbusters such as Lawrence of Arabia and Gladiator.
-Wander the medieval town of Chefchaouen. With its blue-rinsed buildings and charming, winding streets, it's one of the most photogenic places in all of Morocco.
-Head to Marrakech's Djemaa el Fna around sunset, and watch in awe as the evening circus of snake-charmers, fortune-tellers, acrobats and musicians brings the city to life.
-Visit the archaeological site of Volubilis, northern Africa's best-preserved Roman ruins, which are over 2,000 years old.
What to do in Morocco
-Explore the Moroccan sense-scape and take part in one of the many cooking classes held in the major cities.
-Bargain in one of Morocco's many souks (traditional market-places), where fantastic crafts, jewellery and souvenirs can be bought for great prices.
-Book a camel trek into the Sahara for an overnight stay, and marvel at the changing colour of the sand as the sun sinks over the horizon.
-Head to Oukaimeden, and confound friends back home with tales of skiing in Africa.
Getting to Morocco
There are cheap flights to Morocco available from a wide variety of British and American cities. Several low-cost European carriers offer flights, providing great deals, particularly during the low tourist season.
Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud, The Spider's House by Paul Bowles, The Sand Child by Tahar Ben Jelloun, and The Arch and the Butterfly by Mohammed Achaari.
Cheb Mimoun, Hanino, Lemchaheb, and Hassan Hakmoun.
Casablanca (1942), Hideous Kinky (1998), and Pegase (2010).
Mint tea, Flag Beer, and mahia (a locally distilled liqueur made from figs). Visitors should remember to avoid drinking tap water in Morocco. It's also best to stick to bottled water, and avoid ice in drinks.
Couscous (semolina grains), served with stew that has been cooked for hours in a tagine (an earthenware dish with a conical lid).
What to buy
Tagines, leatherware and jewellery (especially silver and turquoise items), Berber-crafted carpets and kelims, and products such as soap and cosmetics made from Argan oil.
What to pack
Visitors should take plenty of sunscreen along, even if travelling during the winter, and remember that Morocco's climate can be changeable, meaning it's best to have at least one warm jacket. Travellers should dress more conservatively than they might back home. Unfortunately, this is especially necessary for women.
What's on in Morocco
The Marrakech Popular Arts Festival (July) brings a myriad of colourful performances to public spaces around Marrakech. Morocco has also fashioned itself as a destination for internationally renowned music festivals such as Gnaoua, which takes place in late June and early July.
Did you know?
-Morocco is the world's largest exporter of hashish, and some estimate that this illicit trade brings in more money per year than tourism.
-The University of Al-Karaouine, located in Fez and founded in 859, claims to be the world's oldest university.
-Between 1922 and 1956, Tangier was an International City, ruled by representatives of eight different European countries.
A final word
Loud and colourful, beautiful and chaotic, Morocco is in many ways the ideal exotic holiday destination, tailormade for travellers with an adventurous spirit and a desire to immerse themselves in a rich and exotic culture.