Just an hour by ferry from Spain, Morocco in North Africa, is a completely different world for most western tourists. Morocco travel is a journey deep into the past, natural wonders, colorful markets, adventures, cosmopolitan cities like Casablanca and Rabat, and the country’s culture, which is deeply traditional, despite years of Spanish and French colonial rule. Fes is probably the most beautiful city in the Arab world. It goes back to medieval times. Head out to the Rif and Atlas Mountains to meet tribal Berber people. Explore the hidden treasures, visit the ancient sites. The Mediterranean coast and empty sands of the Sahara present a beautiful landscape.
Visiting Morocco is sure to be a rewarding experience. It will be eye-opening, colorful, chaotic, giving you a sensory overload. Visit Rabat, Casablanca, Marrakech, Fes, Meknes, Ouarzazate, and Tangier depending on the time you have. You will come back with an experience to share. Many tourists will only scrap its surface, visiting the laidback Atlantic resorts. But there is a lot to see and do in the interiors of the country as well.
Morocco is a country of 35,740,000 people (2017), most of them Arabs and Berbers. You will also find European cultural influences. Spread over 274,460 square miles or 710,850 square kilometers, Morocco is a North African country bordered by the Mediterranean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, and Algeria. The southernmost point of Gibraltar in Europe is just 16.09 kilometers or 10 miles from Morocco.
Morocco – Quick Facts
- Official Name – Kingdom of Morocco.
- Size – About the same as California, USA.
- Currency – Moroccan Dirham (MAD)
- Time Zone – UTC+1
- Phone Code – +212
- Languages – Arabic, French, and Berber. Many speak English, mostly in the tourist areas.
- Capital – Rabat
- Largest City – Casablanca
- Electricity – Double round pin plug for 220 volts AC, 50- hertz.
- Popular Foods – Pastilla, tajine, harira. Chicken is popular.
Medina – Section of the city in North Africa, typically walled with many maze-like, narrow streets. Souk – Marketplace. Hamam – Bathroom or bath. In North Africa, the hamams go back to the Roman times.
Top 8 Reasons To Visit Morocco
1. Mountains, Desert – The landscape is diverse. Rif and Atlas Mountains offers many pleasures. On the base is a rugged coastline with caves, forested hills, and waterfalls. Take a 4×4 camel ride to reach the depths of the Sahara. Take the sandy road to visit a desert village. Camp in an oasis to spend the night and wake up to a glorious sunrise over the dunes.
2. Ancient Medinas – You will find some of the most exciting cities of Africa in Morocco. Explore the winding maze at Fez, enjoy the streets of Marrakesh, and join the trail of traders and nomads to visit the ancient heart of the country. Kasbahs protect Morocco’s medinas in the rocky deserts.
3. Beaches – The country has a long beachfront with the Atlantic and Mediterranean. Stunning views at many places. Very good facilities in Asilah, Agadir, Tangier, El Jebha, Casablanca, and El Jadida. Water sports in some places.
4. Imperial Cities – Meknes, Rabat, Fez, and Marrakesh have been at some time the capital of Morocco. There are mosques, churches, museums, and palaces. Take a guided tour to get a glimpse of the country’s rich history.
5. Architecture – Huge cultural diversity. See the traditional riads, rich palaces, and majestic mosques. Many buildings having traditional tile work (zellige), woodwork, archways, plasterwork, and decorative carvings. See the ornate geometric patterns. You will find the best examples of Moorish and Islamic architecture in the country that will captivate you.
6. Traditional Life – Morocco is often a modern society now, but the country retains its past, which is tied to the Middle East, Europe, and Saharan Africa. Berber and Arab people give it a distinct identity. Hear prayers from mosques beside hip hop from a café, side by side. There are a hundred sounds and faces.
7. Food – The cuisine is famous for its originality and outstanding flavor. Spices and herbs will greet you everywhere as you explore the souks. There is seafood along the coast. In Rabat and Marrakech, you will have a fusion of international and traditional cuisine.
8. Souks & Shops – Browse the markets and shops in all the cities endlessly. The biggest markets are at the main square of Fez and Jemaa el-Fnaa Marrakech. Pick from spices, pottery, jewelry, woven rugs, traditional clothing, paintings, and leather goods. You will find snake charmers and street dancers in the souks.
Morocco Travel – The 4 Zones
Geographically, the country can be divided into 4 zones –
- The Coast
- Cities in the plains
- Atlas and Rif Mountains
- Desert and oases
You should at least spend 10 days in Morocco, but to fully and truly appreciate the country, you will need about a couple of months,
|The Coast||Atlantic and Mediterranean. Many of the good beaches are around Tangier in the north and also at El Jadida in the south.|
|Cities||Marrakesh and Fes are both outstanding cities. These great imperial capitals, largely medieval, retain their charm. Casablanca is more relaxing.|
|The Mountains||Hike the Atlas to reach Djebel Toubkal, the highest peak in North Africa. It is an easy summer trek for many. The Atlas is beautiful, while the Rif is craggier.|
|Desert||Bordering Algeria, this is the pre-Sahara, mostly rocky. The oases at Erfoud, Zagora, and Tinerhir offer classic images.|
Best Cities and Towns in Morocco
Tangier – Port city on the Strait of Gibraltar. Palaces and museums housing many artifacts. Moorish-style architecture. Caves of Hercules, old city, beautiful beaches, lighthouse.
Casablanca – Commercial hub and port city. Mauresque architecture. French colonial legacy. Mosques, medina, beachfront, Central Market, old Portuguese citadel, minaret.
Marrakesh – Bustling city with a vast medina. Many mosques, gardens, and palaces. A walled medieval city that goes back to Berber times. Mazelike alleys with souks or market places. 12th-century Moorish minaret.
Fes – Also called Fez, a northeastern city, the cultural capital of Morocco. Walled medina having medieval architecture. Old-world atmosphere. Vibrant souks. Mosques, palatial buildings with elaborate courtyards, museums, hills. Traditional homes with ornamented mosaic tiles.
Chefchaouen – Also called Chaouen, this city is in the northwest in the Rif Mountains, next to the Jebel Bouhachem Nature Reserve. An old town with stunning blue-washed buildings. Cobbled lanes. 15th-century fortress with a dungeon. Museum, minaret.
Essaouira – Port city on the Atlantic. An old town with 18th-century ramparts. Old brass cannons. Beautiful ocean views. It has a popular beach for kitesurfing, windsurfing, surfing.
Rabat – It is smaller in size than Casablanca or Marrakesh, but Rabat on the Atlantic coast is the capital of Morocco. It is located beside the Bouregreg River. French and Islamic colonial heritage. The city has an 11th-century fortress, mosques, a 12th-century minaret, towers, mausoleums, gardens, museums, medina.
World Heritage Sites in Morocco
There are 8 UNESCO World Heritage sites in Morocco.
1. Fez Medina – Fes el Bali at the city of Fes is the oldest walled part of the city. Founded between 789-808 AD, this is the first site to make it into the list.
2. Meknès – City in north Morocco, it has arches, gates, mosaic tiling, and mausoleum. This is the Versailles of Morocco.
3. Volubilis – Roman city partly excavated. Close to Meknès. Ancient capital of Mauretania. Stunning mosaics.
4. Tetouan – Impressive medina. Andalusian overtones.
5. El-Jadida – Old city with Portuguese walls.
6. Essaouira – Medina and seafront ramparts from the 18th century.
7. Djemma el-Fna – Marketplace and square in the medina quarter of Marrakesh. A ‘masterpiece of oral and intangible heritage’ – UNESCO.
8. Ksar of Aït Benhaddou – Impressive mud brick architecture.
Morocco Travel Visa
All tourists need a valid passport. However, residents of these countries don’t need a visa for 90 days –
Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Bahrain, Canada, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Chile, Croatia, Indonesia, Ireland, Malaysia, Japan, Kuwait, Macau, Mali, New Zealand, Mexico, Oman, Peru, Senegal, Singapore, Qatar, Romania, Philippines, Russia, South Korea, UK, USA, UAE, Venezuela, and Schengen countries.
- Apply early because sometimes the visa may not arrive on your travel date.
- Apply at the Moroccan consulate or embassy in your country.
- A visa is normally for 3 months.
To apply –
- Filled out application form
- 4 passport size photos (within 6 months)
- Valid passport (must have minimum 1 black page)
- Fee (only by postal order)
- Hotel reservation and flight ticket (photocopy)
Best Time To Visit Morocco
The best time to visit Morocco is between April and May, and also between September and November. It will be warm and nice this time of the year. There will be fewer tourists as well, except in the coastal regions or the hills where you can meet many hikers, especially in the Atlas Mountains.
Summer – June to August. Very hot in the day, particularly in the south close to the desert. Most visitors are only along the coast.
Winter – December to February. The winter is mild, but the evenings can become cold. Marrakesh, the temperature can go down to -3°C or 27F. There will be heavy snow in the Atlas Mountains. The coastal regions will be wet.
Spring – This is between April and May, which is good for hiking in the Atlas. September to October is the fall, another good time for hiking. Summer is best for the coast.
Click this link for more information on the weather and seasons in Morocco.
Morocco is a Muslim country, but it is not dry. You will find alcohol in restaurants, bars, grocery stores, and clubs.
Morocco Travel Budget – How to Save Money
Morocco is relatively cheap. Many however stay at expensive riads, eat fancy foods, and end up spending too much. Follow these tips to save money –
|Food||Go to the street stalls. A meal in a restaurant can cost ($3 USD, which is 30 MAD, but the street stalls can be even cheaper. You can have barbecued corn, sausages, delicious kebabs, sandwiches, and roasted chicken. Go to the medina and eat at the local markets.|
|Transport||Public transport is not as good as the western world. Take a taxi, but negotiate the price before. There are no set prices.|
|Faux Guides||There will be false guides in the medinas. Say no and move away. They charge more than what you have to pay.|