Morocco is an exotic gateway to Africa; its mountains, desert, and coast are populated by Berbers and nomads, and its ancient medina lanes lead to souqs and riads.
Djemaa el-Fna Street Theatre Circuses can’t compare to the madcap, Unesco-acclaimed halqa (street theatre) in Marrakesh’s main square. By day, ‘La Place’ draws crowds with astrologers, snake-charmers, acrobats, and dentists with jars of pulled teeth. Around sunset, 100 restaurant stalls kick off the world’s most raucous grilling competition. ‘I teach Jamie Oliver everything he knows!’ brags a chef. ‘We’re number one…literally!’ jokes the cook at stall number one. After dinner, Djemaa music jam sessions get underway – audience participation is always encouraged, and spare change ensures encores.
Fez Medina The Fez Medina is the maze to end all mazes. Don’t be surprised if you get so lost you end up paying a small boy to take you back to familiar ground. But don’t be afraid, because getting lost is half the point: blindly follow alleys into hidden squares and souqs, with the constant thrill of discovery. Treat it as an adventure, follow the flow of people to take you back to main thoroughfares, and experience the excitement of never quite knowing what’s around the next corner.
High Tea in the High Atlas Thirsty? Hot? Cold? Carpetless? In Morocco, mint tea is the solution to every critical condition. In Berber villages hewn from High Atlas mountainsides, vertiginous valley views and wild mountain herbs add extra thrills to Morocco’s hallowed teatime traditions. Trekkers bound for North Africa’s highest peak, Jebel Toubkal, should factor in time to accept friendly offers of tea starting at Armoud. This hilltop village is a couple of hours from Marrakesh and a 30-minute hike from Imlil, but all that seems centuries away inside a traditional ighrem (stone and earth house), sipping tea with wild absinthe while the family goat bleats in the courtyard.
Camel Trek in the Sahara When you pictured dashing into the sunset on your trusty steed, you probably didn’t imagine there’d be quite so much lurching involved. Don’t worry: no one is exactly graceful clambering onto a saddled hump, and the side-to-side sway of a dromedary in motion only comes naturally to Saharawis, belly dancers and genies. The rest of us novices cling on comically, knock-kneed and white-knuckled, until safely over the first dune. But as rose-gold sands of Erg Chebbi rise to meet fading violet-blue Saharan skies, grips on the reins go slack with wonder – and by moonrise, Timbuktu seems totally doable.
Drâa Valley Kasbah Trail Roads now allow safe, speedy passage through the final stretches of ancient caravan routes from Mali to Marrakesh, but beyond the rocky gorges glimpsed through car windows lies the Drâa Valley of desert-traders’ dreams. The palms and cool mud-brick castles of Tamegroute, Zagora, Timidarte, and Agdz must once have seemed like mirages after two months in the Sahara. Fortifications that housed gold-laden caravans are now open to overnight guests, who wake to fresh boufeggou dates, bread baked in rooftop ovens, and this realization: speed is overrated.
Tafraoute The Anti Atlas’ main town, Tafraoute has a jumble of pink houses and market streets with extraordinary surroundings. The Ameln Valley is dotted with palmeraies (palm groves) and Berber villages, and the looming mountains stage a twice-daily, ochre-and-amber light show. With a relatively undeveloped tourist industry despite the region’s many charms, it’s a wonderful base for activities including mountain biking and seeking out prehistoric rock carvings. As if the granite cliffs and oases weren’t scenic enough, a Belgian artist applied his paintbrush to some local boulders – with surreal results.
Surfing You can surf all along Morocco’s Atlantic Coast, but the best place to catch waves in Taghazout. It’s clear what floats the village’s board as soon as you arrive: the usual cafes and tèlèboutiques are joined by surf shops, where locals and incomers wax boards and wax lyrical about the nearby beaches. Taghazout’s happy mix of villagers and surfers is more refreshing than a dip in the ocean. On the same stretch of coast between Agadir and Essaouira, Tamraght and Sidi Kaouki are also set up for surfing.
Anti Atlas Trekking A sunburned granite range leading to the Sahara, the Anti Atlas remains unexplored compared with the High Atlas. The star attraction for trekkers is the quartz massif of Jebel L’Kest, the ‘amethyst mountain’, which you can walk to through the lush Ameln Valley. More farming villages and crumbling kasbahs are found around Jebel Aklim, another of the excellent trekking possibilities in this area of blue skies and Berber shepherds. The landscape has enough variety, from palm-filled gorges to brooding, volcanic Jebel Siroua, to justify multiple treks.
Sidi Ifni Shhh! Don’t tell your traveling friends, but this formerly Spanish seaside town a camel ride from the Sahara, is every bit as dilapidated, breezy and magical as well-trodden Essaouira. You can walk to the stone arches at Legzira Plage, or just explore the blue-and-white backstreets of one of southern Morocco’s most alluring hang-outs. The best time to appreciate the art-deco relics – more reminiscent of Cuba than Casa – is sunset, when the Atlantic winds bend the palms and fill the air with a cooling sea mist.
Assilah Medina Art In a refreshing take on graffiti, large expanses of walls in Assilah medina is adorned with colorful murals. In July every year, artists both local and foreign are invited to contribute to the Assilah Festival by painting the walls. Some murals, like those near the El-Khamra Tower or the lookout at the Koubba of Sidi Mansur, are huge. But you might turn a corner of the medina and spot a small corner down an alleyway that’s been brightly decorated.
Fès Festival of World Sacred Music From humble beginnings this festival, held every June, has become a major player on the world-music festival scene. It’s easy to understand why – the organizers work hard to bring in big names, and the city buzzes with visitors, and spin-off events and happenings. Many of the highlights are the unexpected – free public concerts and musical gatherings of Sufi brotherhoods that take you deep into the night.
Moulay Idriss This holy town cresting two hills is a whitewashed gem. For years, foreigners were barred from spending the night here, but recently there’s been a mini-boom in local families opening their homes up as guesthouses, allowing you to get away from the nearby cities and drop your pace a gear. Tour groups only ever stop here for an hour during the day, so catching the sunset over the town and watching the locals promenade from the cafes on the main square are real treats.
Volubilis The long grasp of Roman North Africa stretches back to grab you at Volubilis, with its triumphal arches and dazzling array of mosaics. The setting, in the rolling countryside just north of the Middle Atlas, is superb. History continues to play out in the landscape here as well – turn your head from the Roman olive press to nearby Moulay Idriss, where presses still continue to produce some of the finest olive oil in the country.
Figuig At the end of a long road and hard against a closed Algerian border, Figuig isn’t really on anyone’s route to anywhere. But in many ways, that’s the point. Make the effort to get here and you’re surprised by one of Morocco’s truly secret corners, one of its most charming oasis towns, with mudbrick kasbahs and swathes of palm trees as far as you can see. There’s little to do but chill out and explore, and feel like you’re discovering somewhere new and special.
Chefchaouen Medina Tear yourself away from the laid-back joints on the square to explore one of the best little medinas in Morocco. Climb up cobbled streets to discover tiny bluewashed lanes, massive studded doors and all the trappings of medina life: women in Riffian pompom hats selling vegetables on street corners; the hammam; the communal oven; and the mosque. Emerge at the top at Ras el-Maa to watch the sunset over the medina from a cafe. Best of all, this medina is small enough that you won’t get horribly lost.
Taroudannt With views of both the High Atlas and Anti Atlas, this Souss Valley trading centre (Click here)is known as Little Marrakesh, offering a medina and souqs without the big-city hustlers. Day-trippers from Agadir will certainly find it charming. The town’s red-mud ramparts are unique, changing colour according to the time of day. Circle the 7.5km perimeter by foot, bike or horse-drawn calèche, then return to the medina through one of the gates. After the sunset glow fades from the walls, the town is a relaxing, everyday place with some good restaurants.
Moonlight Dune Hikes in Erg Chigaga Even if you’ve never been to Erg Chigaga before, you’ll instinctively find your way to the summit of the dunes at nightfall. Sun-dazzled eyes gladly adjust to the clear moonlight, and bare feet soon find their footing along the rippled ridges. Soft sand catches any stumble, and as you reach the crest, you can hear the Sahara singing in the night winds. Stars have never seemed clearer, and with good reason: at Erg Chigaga, you’re not only off the grid but two and a half hours by 4WD or a couple of days by camel from the nearest streetlight.
Casablanca’s Architectural Heritage If anyone tells you there’s nothing to see in Casablanca (Click here) except the Hassan II Mosque, they haven’t looked up. Dating from the early 20th century when Casa was the jewel of the French colonies, a wealth of Mauresque and art-deco buildings can be found in the downtown areas, with rounded corners, tumbling friezes of flowers and curved wrought-iron balconies. Some buildings have been cared for while others are shamefully neglected. The Casablanca walking tour ( Click here ) showcases most of them.
Activities in morocco
Morocco is arguably Africa’s top trekking destination: walking between Berber villages in the High Atlas is a classic travel experience, the kind you will rave about for years to come. However, with the country’s diverse terrain, numerous other activities are on offer. Birdwatching enthusiasts, golfers, cyclists, climbers, riders and spa devotees will all find options to challenge, excite and relax. Another bonus: whether you’re skiing, surfing or camel trekking, between activities you can enjoy the wonderful Moroccan culture and hospitality.
BIRDWATCHING Morocco is a birdwatcher’s paradise. A startling array of species inhabits the country’s diverse ecosystems and environments, especially the coastal wetlands. Around 460 species have been recorded in the country, many of them migrants passing through in spring and autumn, when Morocco becomes a way station between sub-Saharan Africa and breeding grounds in Scandinavia, Greenland and northern Russia. Other birds fly to Morocco to avoid the harsh northern-European winters. A pleasant time for birdwatching is March through May, when the weather is comfortable and a wide variety of species is usually present. The winter is also a particularly active time in the wetlands and lagoons.
Organizing a Camel Trek
Travelers with lots of time can organize a guide and provisions in situ. This benefits the local community and counters the trend towards young guides leaving home to look for work in the more popular tourist centers. M’Hamid is probably the most hassle-free of the main desert gateways, although the choice is wider at Zagora and Merzouga. Try to get recommendations from other travelers. It’s quicker and easier, involving less negotiations and waiting, to organize a trip in advance – either through an international tour operator or a company based in Ouarzazate or Marrakesh.
Trekking in morocco
Trekking in Morocco was once the preserve of dedicated climbers, and a few intrepid amateurs, en route to the top of North Africa’s highest peak, Jebel Toubkal (4167m). Things have changed: there are now treks for all times of year and levels of fitness; treks to test the fittest athletes and those where you can have your bags carried, arrive to find your lunch laid out for you and sleep in luxury. Morocco is blessed with some of the world’s most dramatic and beautiful mountains, many of which see few travelers while others remain unexplored by foreigners.
The broad range of climates is also a blessing for trekkers. When December snows make Jebel Toubkal impossible to trek, Jebel Sarhro, closer to the Sahara on the southern side of the Atlas, is passable. When the summer sun makes the Rif too hot to trek, it also melts the snow off Toubkal, enticing crowds to the summit. As trekking in Morocco has grown in popularity, so have the options available. You could buy a package, including flights and transfers, guides and food; or turn up at the trailhead, hire a guide and mules, and head off into the Berber heartland. Whichever you choose, trekking is often the highlight of visits to Morocco.