Welcome to Morocco :
Morocco is a gateway to Africa, and a country of
dizzying diversity. Here you’ll find epic mountain
ranges, ancient cities, sweeping deserts – and
Mountains & Desert
From Saharan dunes to the peaks of the High Atlas, Morocco could have
been tailor-made for travellers. Lyrical landscapes carpet this slice of North
Africa like the richly coloured and patterned rugs you’ll lust after in local
cooperatives. The mountains – not just the famous High Atlas but also the Rif
and suntanned ranges leading to Saharan oases – offer simple, breathtaking
pleasures: night skies glistening in the thin air, and views over a fluffy
cloudbank from the Tizi n’Test pass. On lower ground, there are rugged
coastlines, waterfalls and caves in forested hills, and the mighty desert.
Morocco’s cities are some of the most exciting on the continent. Join the
centuries-old trail of nomads and traders to their ancient hearts, from the
winding medina maze of Fez to the carnivalesque street-theatre of the
Djemaa el-Fna in Marrakesh. In the rocky deserts medinas are protected by
kasbahs, on the coast by thick sea walls. But it’s not just a heritage trip, as
Morocco’s cities are forward-facing too, with glitzy new urban design in
Casablanca, Rabat and Tangier looking to the future as well as paying
homage to their roots.
Enjoying Morocco starts with nothing more strenuous than its national
pastime – people-watching in a street cafe with a coffee or a mint tea. Use the
opportunity to plan your next moves – hiking up North Africa’s highest peak,
learning to roll couscous, camel trekking in the desert, shopping in the souqs
or getting lost in the medina. Between the activities, you can sleep in
boutique riads, relax on panoramic terraces and grand squares, and mop up
delicately flavoured tajines – before sweating it all out in a restorative
Morocco is a storied country, that has, over the centuries, woven its ties to
Sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and the wider Middle East into whole cloth. Its
mixed Arab and Berber population forms a strong national identity, but an
increasingly youthful one, taking the best of its traditions and weaving the
pattern anew – from the countryside to the city, from the call to prayer from
the mosque to the beat of local hip hop. Morocco has a hundred faces and
sounds, all ready to welcome the traveller looking for spice and adventure.
Morocco’s Top 10 :
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 No 1. After
dinner, Djemaa music jam sessions get under way – audience participation is
always encouraged, and spare change ensures encores.
The Fez medina is the maze to end all mazes. The only way to experience it
is to plunge in head first, and don’t be afraid of getting lost – follow the flow
of people to take you back to the main thoroughfare, or pay a small boy to
show you the way. It’s an adventure into a medieval world of hidden squares,
enormous studded doors and colourful souqs. Remember to look up and see
intricate plasterwork, magnificent carved cedarwood and curly Arabic
calligraphy, while at your feet are jewel-like mosaics.
The High Atlas
Zaouiat Ahansal is the Chamonix of the eastern Atlas. Hemmed in by the
cracked and fissured summit of Aroudane (3359m), the valley is
characterised by kilometres of cliffs, soaring buttresses and dramatic slot
canyons. With the arrival of a paved road in 2013, this awesome natural
canvas is just beginning to attract attention. For rafters and kayakers the
valley is a green jewel where rafts whip between 8ft-wide limestone walls;
for climbers and trekkers the extreme topography and huge routes offer
ridiculous views and a thrilling sense of wilderness.
Steep and cobbled, the Chefchaouen medina tumbles down the mountainside
in a shower of red roofs, wrought-iron balconies and geraniums. The bluewashed
lanes enchant, making the town a photographer’s dream-come-true.
You could be content for hours just people-watching over a mint tea in the
cafe-packed main square, lorded over by a grand red-hued kasbah. Or amble
down the riverside walk, stroll to the Spanish mosque on the hill and even
venture into the surrounding Talassemtane National Park to explore the Rif
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 realisation: speed is overrated.
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 and Berber villages, and the looming mountains stage a twicedaily,
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 paint brush to some local boulders – with surreal results.
You can surf all along Morocco’s Atlantic coast, but the best place to catch
waves is Taghazout. It’s clear what floats the village’s board as soon as you
arrive: the usual cafes and téléboutiques are joined by surf shops, where
locals and incomers wax boards and wax lyrical about the nearby beaches.
On the same stretch of coast between Agadir and Essaouira, Tamraght and
Sidi Kaouki are also set up for surfing; further south, Mirleft is Morocco’s
newest surf destination, with an annual longboard championship.
Freshened by the endless Atlantic breeze, the old sea walls and gleaming
white medina of Essaouira help make one of Morocco’s most charming and
laid-back destinations. There are swish riads, the freshest seafood unloaded
from the small port, and a vibe that seamlessly blends an old visual arts
tradition with the active sea sports that the coast here is increasingly known
for. As any resident will tell you, Jimi Hendrix was a fan – and you soon will
Camel Trekking 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. But even if your
dromedary leaves you knock-kneed, you’ll instinctively find your way to the
summit of the dunes at nightfall. Stars have never seemed clearer, and with
good reason: at Erg Chigaga, you’re not only off the grid, but several days’
camel trek from the nearest streetlights.
Morocco has four old imperial cities. Rabat is the go-ahead capital,
Marrakesh has the tourist bling, Fez its epic medina, and Meknès…well,
Meknès is unfairly overlooked by far too many visitors. It has a wealth of
grand architecture, from the incredible grain stores of Heri es-Souani to the
imposing gate of Bab Mansour and the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail
(currently under restoration). Place el-Hedim is a mini Djemaa el Fna but
without the tourist focus, and it’s only a hop and skip away to the Roman
ruins at Volubilis.