Morocco Travel Guide

Morocco

Travel & Tourism

One of Africa’s most popular destinations, Morocco is a country rich in diverse cities, fantastic cuisine, and spectacular sites. The two main cities, Casablanca and Fès, have different feels and scenes, but they’re both perfect places for strolling aimlessly and getting lost in sights, sounds, and smells. Want to spoil yourself? Have a massage. Feeling adventurous? Go trekking in the mountains. Many of Hollywood’s biggest movies have been filmed in the desert regions of Morocco, so make sure to check them out, too.

Travel around the country is fast and comfortable, thanks to well-maintained train lines. As Morocco is the premier tourist enclave in North Africa, it’s worth spending as much time there as possible; if you can manage one to two weeks, do so, and pack in as much as you can.

What to Do in Morocco

1. Spa Time: What’s a better way to pamper yourself than to spend time at the spa? Morocco is famous for its hammams, bathhouses modeled after Turkish or Russian baths. First take a steam bath: an assistant covers you with black soap and exfoliates your skin with a rough glove. Then comes a relaxing oil massage. Finally, you are doused in refreshing water. While a few high-end hotels have their own hammams, many are located throughout Morocco. Ask your hotel staff for their recommendation for a good hammam.

2. Trekking in the Atlas Mountains: With some of the most magnificent mountains in northern Africa, Morocco is a great place to go hiking or mountain trekking. The best place to depart on your trek is either Marrakech or the village of Imlil. For more-serious climbers, Imlil is the starting point for heading for the summit of Jebel Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa. A trek through the Atlas Mountains brings hikers into close proximity to old Berber villages and stunning mountain environments. We very highly recommend hiring a guide, no matter the intensity of your hike in the mountains: a guide will be able to educate you about your surroundings as well as ensure your safety in the unfamiliar territory.

3. Sahara Desert: The world’s largest desert covers approximately one-fourth of Africa and is partly located in Morocco. The landscape is beautiful and dotted with old casbahs, Berber villages, and sand dunes. We recommend visiting Ouarzazate, a desert town where famous desert scenes of many movies have been filmed, as well as the magnificent Drâa Valley. A number of travel companies lead multiday desert tours. Visit a tour agency in any large city, or ask your hotel staff for their recommendation of a reputable tour company.
It is very important that you travel with caution if you enter the western Sahara region, owing to the region’s contentious land claim dispute. This is not an area to tour casually. If you are planning to visit the western Sahara region, please make sure you travel with a reliable organization.

4. Hassan II Mosque: Located in Casablanca, the Hassan II Mosque is one of the world’s largest mosques. It covers approximately 22 acres, including a section built over the Atlantic Ocean. Designed by the French architect Michel Pinseau, the mosque represents traditional Moroccan architecture but with interesting modern additions, such as heated floors, an earthquake-proof foundation, and a retractable roof. It also has lights that shine from the minaret toward Mecca every night.

5. Fès el-Bali: Classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981, Fès el-Bali is the walled, Old Town section of Fès. First inhabited in the ninth century, it has ancient architecture and vehicle-free streets that will have you feeling as if you were living in a different era. Here you will find artisans, the souq (market), hammams, and numerous places to drink tea or have a bite to eat. Because more than 9,000 twisting alleys wind through the town, we recommend hiring a guide to show you through the area. If you are looking for souvenirs, choose a new belt or purse from one of the many leather tanneries that have been in operation since the town’s earliest days.

6. Djemaa el-Fna: While visiting Marrakech, spend some time in Djemaa el-Fna, a marketplace square located in the Old City. With its many food stalls (try the orange juice), snake charmers, storytellers, and people selling all sorts of items, the square is a great place to take pictures and buy souvenirs. Visit the square once in the morning, and come back again at night to see the changing array of vendors and musicians.

7. Volubilis: Constructed in the second or third century A.D., Volubilis is the best-preserved Roman town in Morocco. The ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and make for a magnificent day trip. Among the best sights are the awe-inspiring floor mosaics and the Roman pillars that still stand all over the site. Have your camera ready, as the site is also an ideal place to watch the sun rise and set.

8. The Blue City: Tucked into the Rif Mountains a few hours away from Fès is Chefchaouen, “the Blue City.” The city is famous for its blue walls and doors, and the architecture is a photographer’s dream come true. Throughout the town, you will see craftsmen weaving blankets and woodsmen carving away. Do not be surprised if someone invites you in for some tea; this city is known for its hospitality. It is a great place to buy souvenirs and support the local craftsmen.

9. Golfing: Morocco has numerous golf courses; the Royal Dar es Salaam Golf Club in Rabat is considered one of the finest golf courses in the world. There are beautiful courses in most of the major cities, too, including Casablanca, Fès, Marrakech, and Ouarzazae. We recommend asking your hotel staff for recommendations of nearby golf courses.

10. Aït Benhaddou: Another one of Morocco’s many UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Aït Benhaddou is Morocco’s best-preserved ksar, a Berber village that consists of connected buildings situated in the side of a hill. To see the fortified city cut out of the hills and made entirely of earthen materials is remarkable. Take the opportunity to walk through the ancient streets and marvel at the skill necessary to build such a massive and beautiful town.

11. Legzira Beach: A beautiful stretch of beach along Morocco’s southern Atlantic coast, the rocky Legzira Beach is known for its red cliffs and natural stone arch. Although one magnificent stone archway unfortunately collapsed, there is still another remaining beautiful arch to admire.

12. Bab el-Mansour: One of the most beautiful monumental gates in the entire nation, Meknes’s Bab el-Mansour is adorned with striking tilework and decorative calligraphy. Built in the 1730s, it was the main gateway between the city’s old medina and the former royal capital.

13. Ouzoud Waterfalls: Situated close to the village of Tanaghmeilt in the High Atlas Mountains, Ouzoud Waterfalls is a large series of cascades that are surrounded by reddish-coloured cliffs and green valleys. Visitors can walk along paths lined by olive trees to reach the bottom of the 600-metre falls.

14. Bahia Palace: A stunning palace in Marrakesh, Bahia Palace dates back to the late 19th century. The large complex has many rooms, as well as gardens and courtyards. With a name that means “Brilliance”, it’s little surprise to find marvellous decorative details on the walls, ceilings, floors, and doors all throughout the former palace.

15. Hercules Cave: Steeped in myths and legends, Hercules Cave in Tangier sits above the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean. The entrance to the cave displays a number of traditional items and artefacts. Go down the steps and admire the small interior waterfall, rock formations, and statues.

When to Go

The most popular time for tourists to visit Morocco is the summer, July and August, when it is very hot and dry. If you want to avoid the heat and the massive number of tourists, September through October and April through June are your best bets. It can be cold and wet during the winter (November through March), especially along the coast and in the hills, so we don’t recommend going then, unless you like layers and rain gear. The climate varies throughout the country, so be sure to check the weather forecast for the specific regions you are planning to visit.

Be sure to note when Ramadan falls as you plan your trip. Many restaurants and public facilities are closed during the day for the duration of the holiday.

In terms of arts and music events, the TANJazz Festival takes place in Tangier, the Gnaoua World Music Festival is held in Essaouira, and Marrakech has its Festival of Popular Arts.

Getting In and Around

Visas: Entering Morocco is a simple procedure: you need to ensure that your passport is valid for at least six months past the date of your departure from Morocco; no visa is required for a visit shorter than 90 days. If you plan on staying longer than 90 days, you will need to apply for a visa extension and provide a legitimate reason.

Transportation: If you are flying into the country, you will likely land at Mohammed V International Airport, just outside of Casablanca. There are also international airports outside of Fès (Fès Airport), near Tangier (Ibn Batouta Airport), in Marrakech (Ménara Airport), and east of Salé (Rabat-Salé Airport).

For a more scenic trip, ferries run between Morocco and the Mediterranean coast of Europe. If you have time to kill, take one of the buses that operate between Morocco, France, Spain, Germany, and Italy.

The most efficient way of traveling between major cities in Morocco is by train. Traveling between the main cities takes a few hours, but the compartments are generally comfortable and you can find food carts selling snacks.

All the major cities have reliable taxi systems; these cars offer the quickest and cheapest way to get around. Determine your fare with your cabbie beforehand, as these vehicles are usually not equipped with meters. There are also metered, private taxis around the major cities.

Numerous bus lines run between and throughout cities. Tickets are cheap, and the routes can be very convenient for touring the cities. Ask your hotel staff about the local bus routes.

Mobile Phones: If your mobile phone uses the GSM 900 system (standard with European mobiles; most American and Canadian phones run on the 850/1900 system), then you will be able to use it in Morocco. However, we recommend buying or taking along a cheap SIM card-–enabled phone and buying a local SIM card.

Safety and Security

Concerned about your safety as you plan travel to Morocco? We at Africa.com, together with our friends, family and colleagues, travel extensively throughout the continent. Here are the resources we consult when thinking of our safety in Morocco:

• UK Government Morocco Travel Advice Guidance

Africa.com comment: Very timely and frequently updated. Perspective assumes that you ARE going to travel to Morocco, and seeks to give you good guidance so that you understand the risks and are well informed.

• U.S. State Department Travel Advisory on Morocco

Africa.com comment: Can sometimes be considered as overly conservative and discourage travel altogether to destinations that many reasonable people find acceptably secure. On the other hand, they have the resources of the CIA to inform them, so they know things that the rest of us don’t know. See what they have to say about Morocco.

Local Advice

1. With Algeria, Mauritania, and the Atlantic Ocean as neighbors, Morocco is the westernmost country in northern Africa. It is divided into 16 regions, with Casablanca, the country’s most populated city, located in the Grand Casablanca region, and the country’s capital, Rabat, located in the Rabat-Salé-Zemmour-Zaer region.

2. The currency of Morocco is the Moroccan dirham.

3. There are numerous news outlets in Morocco. Some of the better-known newspapers are Al-Anbaa, Le Matin, Al-Massae, Assabah, L’Économiste, and Telquel.

4. The official language of Morocco is Moroccan Arabic. French and Spanish are commonly spoken, too, and Berber, Morocco’s indigenous language, consists of three dialects: Tachelhit, Central Atlas Tamazight, and Tarifit.

5. Smoking is prohibited in public places, but it is allowed in designated locations.