Morocco has always been a crossroad between Africa, Middle East and Europe. The country is fascinating at its most, from the scents and sounds that fills the medinas of Fes and Marrakesh to the astonishing spectacle of sceneries and landscapes. South along Morocco’s Atlantic Coast, you will be accompanied by a sea breeze that massages the ramparts of amazing cities like Essaouira, Casablanca, Asilah and the capital city of Rabat.
If you are looking for mountain sceneries, then Morocco is the vacation destination for you. Proud summits rise from the Rif into the Middle Atlas and on into the bizarre contours of the High Atlas. The terrain is best for trekking the quiet mountain trails through Berber villages and pastures of colorful flowers.
The Sahara also announces its presence in Morocco with perfectly sculpted seas of sand. The solitude of the Sahara is ideal for contemplating why Morocco has such a reputation. The answer is pretty simple – there is no place on earth quite like it.
There is definitely no shortage of major attractions in Morocco. The country has a strong sense of culture and a long and ancient history. The hot, white sands of the desert are a direct contrast to the flowing cool blue waters of the beaches while the green fertile valleys are in opposite with the browns and whites of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains. The country is romantic and mystifying and its no wonder that Morocco is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Africa.
There is a never ending list of Moroccan attractions and tourist spots for travelers to enjoy. You really need to do your homework to ensure that you make the most of your travels in this vast and varied country. The main starting points are the more popular cities such as Marrakesh, Fes, Tangier and Casablanca. You can see the usual hodgepodge mixture of medina, bazaars and riads in these places. All these things are an essential part of the Moroccan experience and should not be missed.
When to Travel
Morocco is at its best during mid-March which is spring time. The country is blossoming and fertile during these months followed by autumn from September to November when the heat of summer has been eased. But don’t ignore the extremes of summer heat and winter, particularly in the High Atlas where the snowcapped summits persist from November to July.
If you are travelling during winter months, it is recommended to head south but be prepared for bitterly cold nights. The Rif Mountains are commonly misty and wet in winter and early spring.
Also, aside from the weather, the traditional Muslim month of fasting and purification called Ramadan should be taken to consideration. This is because most establishments like restaurants and cafes are close during the day and business hours are reduced.
Cuisine and Drinks
The Moroccan cuisine has often been reputed to be some of the best in the world, with its varied dishes bearing the country’s Arabic and colonial influences. Unfortunately as a tourist, you will be limited to a handful of dishes served in most restaurants and cafés. Moroccans can eat their traditional food and dishes at home so it is likely that the restaurants will serve foods foreign to Moroccans. Apart from modern cities, Moroccans do not generally eat out so choice is limited to international fare such us Indian, Chinese and French cuisine.
The staple food of Moroccans and probably the best-known is the couscous made of semolina grains and steamed in a colander-like dish. Most Moroccans encourage the tradition of serving couscous on Fridays. The dish can also be served together with stew or tagine, or mixed with meat and veggies. Restaurants offer variations of tagine from chicken tagine with olives and lemon, fish or prawn tagine in a spicy tomato sauce to honey-sweetened lamb or beef.
For popular pastries, the pastille is one delicacy that Moroccans love. It is made of layering thin pieces of flakey dough and between is spiced meat filling (often chicken or lamb but mostly pigeon) and layers of almond-paste filling. The dough is wrapped into a plate-sized pastry that is baked and sprinkled with powdered sugar.
Snacks and fast food also crowd the streets of Morocco. For budget watchers, rotisserie chicken shops are available where you can get a quarter chicken served with French fries and salad. There are sandwiches stuffed with different fillings topped with French Fries and some mayonnaise too.
As a predominantly Muslim country, alcohol is also available in Moroccan restaurants, bars, supermarkets and liquor stores. Most common are Casablanca beer, Flag Special and Stork. Any traveler will be offered mint tea at least once a day. This is one customary act of Moroccans and it will be polite to accept. Before drinking, look straight into the eyes of the host and say “bi saha raha”. It means enjoy and relax and any local will surely be impressed with your manners.
Popular Sights of Morocco
Marrakesh - As the capital of south, Marrakesh has been the epicenter of Moroccan tourism. The place was once the hub of camel caravans but as Moroccans have been craving for modernism, Europeans arrived dreaming of old houses in the medina. It has transformed the place while upholding the exotic touch of the city.
Tangier - Tangier has been the face of Morocco to the world for a number of years. The city has a rich history due to the historical presence of many civilizations and cultures. The place was attributed an international status by foreign colonial powers making it a tourist destination for many Europeans and non-Europeans alike such as Americans and Indians. The nightlife here is vibrant, the population is cosmopolitan and the cultural vibe is legendary.
Essaouira - The laid-back atmosphere, modest accommodation, artistic ambience, soothing sea breezes and picture- perfect sceneries make Essaouira an excellent choice for a relaxing trip.
Fes- Marrakesh can be Morocco’s center of tourism and foreign diplomats might place their embassies in Rabat, but the people of Fes know deeply in their hearts that their city is the ‘real’ center of Morocco. As the oldest of the imperial cities, Fes is the core and symbolic heartbeat of the country. It became the country’s religious and cultural center, shaped by each of the great dynasties.
Green which is the color of Islam is also the color of Fes as reflected on its building’s tiles and doors. It never ceased to be the capital of the north. The city continues to act as a barometer of common sentiment: Morocco’s independence was born in this place and when strikes or protests occur, the people of the city are at their most vocal disposition.
The medina of Fes el-Bali (Old Fes) is the largest living Islamic medieval city in the world. Your first visit can truly be an assault to the senses. Restaurants, shops, mosques, dye pits and tanneries crowd the winding alleys and covered bazaars coupled with a riot of sounds, sights and smell.
This is a disguised, independent city where life moves to centuries-old traditions – a city that does not easily reveal its true self. In time, visitors begin to have a glimpse of what was hidden behind anonymous walls and understand the rich culture and spirituality that is truly Fes.
Water Sports - For those whose heart is into water sports, Morocco will give you some taste of entertaining water activities. Accommodations near the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts offers a wide range of activities from surfing, windsurfing, canoeing, sailing and yachting, scuba diving, waterskiing and rowing.
The country also offers some aerial sports like parachuting, gliding, aviation, parachute gliding and hot air ballooning. These sports are offered in quite a few aeroclubs across the country.
Other Activities- Other sports that tourists might enjoy doing are golf and tennis playing. Golf has become a passion for Moroccans just years after it was introduced in the country. There are major competitions held in the country that attracts golfers all over the world. Courses can be taken in Tangier, Fes, Rabat, Casablanca and other major cities. On the other hand, tennis is played in clay courts in the country and is available in major resorts.
Motorsports are also becoming popular when Morocco started hosting some of the greatest international competitions like Atlas Rallies and Paris-Dakar. There are wide selections of challenges with the country’s thousands of kilometers of tracks. The most famous is “The Friendship Raid” which is open for motor bikes and four wheel drives.
Morocco’s currency is in Dirham and ATMs are now a common sight in Morocco. Most ATMs accept MasterCard, Visa, Maestro, Cirrus, Electron and InterBank systems. Main tourist centers also accept major credit cards and are widely accepted but with a 5% surcharge from Moroccan businesses.
Traveler’s checks like Visa, Thomas Cook and American Express can be accepted for exchange by banks. Note that Canadian, Australian and New Zealand dollars are not quoted in banks and are not usually accepted.
Bargaining and tipping is also an essential part of Moroccan market. Any service can merit a tip and a few dirhams for a service eagerly done can make life a lot easier. Tipping can be 5-10% among restaurants and a stack of coins is also important for the payment of taxis, guides and tips. It is a good thing to load up in a bank as a start when you arrive in the country so you are well prepared for your travel.