Morocco Travel Guide, North Africa

Fes panorama, Morocco, north africa

Fes panorama, Morocco.

Visiting Morocco

The traveller’s mecca in 60s-70s, Morocco is still a fascinating mix of Islamic, Arab, African, and Berber cultures with a topping of France.
Throw in some pleasant cities, eye-boggling landscapes, colourful people, excellent beaches, good trekking, plenty of interesting shopping and there’s something for everyone.
Moroccans are mostly Muslim but not too obsessive about it, flights from the UK take no more than 3 hours and the time difference is negligible. Flights now go conveniently direct to Marrakesh as well as Casablanca.

Downsides

– Although local people are friendly, it sometimes seems that every male over 7 years old wants to be either your guide or take you to his brother’s shop.
– Some salesmen can be aggressive.
– Speaking French is not essential, but extremely useful.
– There are many great places out of the way for which you will need to hire a taxi or arrange your own transport.

Climate

Best Morocco weather: September-November, March and May (April often brings the famous African sirocco sandstorms to and from the desert).
OK: winter months, November-February, are generally fine and warm except in the north or up the mountains.
Worst: July, August. Up to and over 40C (104F) inland, though it can be the most pleasant time on the coast (unless the sea mist rolls in and obscures your southern beach! ) and high up the mountains.

Length of stay:
Min. worthwhile stay, not incl. flights : 5 days (Marrakesh & Draa/Ziz valley drive)
Recommended: 9 days – 1 month

Ramadan

During Ramadan most, if not all Muslims will neither eat nor drink during the daytime and consequently many cafes, restaurants and even shops may open only after sunset; public eating, drinking and smoking by tourists may upset the locals. In one Muslim country the only alcohol served to us during our visit was from a teapot  into tea cups in a first class hotel.

Furthermore service personnel may be missing, careless or irritable during the daytime.
The last day of Ramadan, known as Idd al Fitr, can be a wild time with much celebrating, depending on location.

Dates depend on the full moon rising in your location so they may differ by one day depending on where you plan to be.

In 2017 Ramadan will start on the 27 May and will continue for 30 days until the 25 of June.
In 2018 Ramadan will start on the 16 May and will continue for 30 days until the 14 of June.
In 2019 Ramadan will start on the 6 May and will continue for 30 days until the 4 of June.

Main attractions

***Marrakesh (aka Marrakech) is home to some terrific buildings (mostly pink), especially traditional riads, good museums and a great covered souk (market) – the best place to find good quality crafts in Morocco – but most of all Marrakech hosts Djemaa el Fna, the wackiest square in Morocco and probably in Africa, where assorted weirdos put on performances and in the evening food stalls serve excellent local cuisine. Marrakesh Pictures

**Fès is the oldest imperial city in Morocco and has the largest medina (old city) and souks in the world, with great old walls and gates. You have to get lost in this medieval maze of 10, 000 tiny streets to feel the city.
Another fine old city – Meknes, is a good day trip from Fès. Fès Pictures

***Sahara Dunes. Head past Erfoud (to Merzouga) or Zagora (to M’Hamid) to get to the dunes at the edge of the Sahara desert, and stay two or three days or more to get a real feel for the place. Sahara Pictures

***Drive the lovely Ziz Valley from Errachidia to Erfoud – then on to Merzouga and the Sahara desert. Or along the Dràa Valleyfrom Ouarzazate to Zagora and on into the desert.
Also driving between Errachidia and Ouarzazate (the Kasbah Route) with snow-capped mountains, valleys, oases, villages and kasbahs is magnificent. Visit the Todra and Dadès gorges. Road Pictures

***The Atlas Mountains. This high mountain range across Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia offers spectacular year-round trekking with stops in Berber villages and low-cost guides and porters. Toubkal National Park is especially popular with its High Atlas walks only a couple of hours from Marrakesh. From there hikes ranging from 1 day to 1 week and more can be easily organised.
Driving Errachidia – Marrakech through/beside the Atlas is also highly recommended; navigation is fairly easy, the roads are uncrowded and views spectacular.

**Essaouria. For a cool seaside scene try this pretty blue-and-white walled fishing port, rather than the over packaged Agadir. It’s relaxed but authetic and fronts a large, firm brown beach that is less than great for sunbathers and other inactive beach-goers due to a pretty constant NE wind, but much favoured by windsurfers, kitesurfers, sand-yachters and quad bikers. Get there via a spectacular road in a couple of hours from Marrakesh.

*Casablanca is a huge modern city with not much ethnic interest bar the biggest mosque in the world and the old quarter.

*Rabat, the capital and seat of government, is smaller than Casablanca and much more tourist-friendly though still not a must-see. It’s relaxed, hassle-free, has some worthy sights, fine architecture and masses of pleasant cafés.

*Tangier, Morocco’s main port and only an hour by ferry from Spain has a some interesting structures, a couple of not-very-clean beaches and a run-down old town but is useful as a transit point to the magic of the rest of Morocco.

This notorious desert stretching across North Africa is the size of the USA but only about 25% sand. The rest is composed of volcanic hills, rock and gravel plains and some vegetation which is home to around 300 species of bird and animals such as mongooses, snakes, jackals, hares, deer, foxes and even baboons.

Desert experiences are not to be missed. It’s easy enough to drive on hard packed sand/rock near to massive dunes and have a climb (and even picnic), though preferably try a camel for a couple of days including sleeping under the stars. Merzouga is a famously easy place to reach big dunes.

Activities

Trekking: Morocco’s High Atlas offers not only mountain views but due to the relatively high rainfall there are plenty of lush valleys, rivers and waterfalls too. Villages – many home to colourful Berber people – provide comfortable accommodation.
From half-hour walks to 3-10+ days treks or horse/mule expeditions can be arranged by guides based in the Ourika Valley and elsewhere.
For hiking Toubkal National Park, lakes, waterfalls and Mt Toubkal (in the High Atlas Mountains, just an hour or so drive from Marrakech) start from Imlil; to visit Berber villages try Tafrout as a base.
April-October is the best time for Morocco hiking.

Rock Climbing: the Todra Gorge, near Tinehir.

Ziplines: to try Africa’s longest flying fox, over ravines and tree tops but safe, head for Terres d’Amanar, 30 minutes drive from Marrakech.

Camel trekking: Can be arranged at the hotels in the desert area or tourist offices. Best time is Sep-Oct.

Driving: car rental is reasonable and available in most cities, driving is relaxing and some routes are amazingly beautiful. You don’t need 4 wheel drive. A small Renault will do fine.
Water sports: Resorts on the coast such as Agadir, Asilah.

Windsurfing and surfing: winds and waves are regular and especially potent around Essaouira and to south.

Skiing: Oukaimeden, 70kms from Marrakesh, is popular. Best December – March.

Beaches

The Mediterranean coast offers warmer, calmer waters than on the Atlantic side but cleanness may be a problem, such as on the beaches around Tangier.
Plage (Beach) Quemada near Al Hoceima (half way between Tangier and Algeria) is one of the best Moroccan Med beaches, tho’ inevitably crowded.

On the Atlantic coast waves and currents can be difficult and the water is always chilly but big, pleasant beaches are not hard to find though solitude – in season – is. e. g. just south of Tangier Grotte d’Hercule is clean and popular, as is Larache beach further down the coast.
Rabat and El Jadida both sport good beaches while calm and pretty friendly Essaouira port to the south is known for constant wind so loved by wind/kite surfers.
Agadir in the south sports big beaches, 300 days of sunshine a year and is the province of tour groups and monster resort hotels.
However, 20 miles+ past Agadir on the way to Tiznit are some stunning beaches visited by few (perhaps because there’s a distinct shortage of hotels around here). Sidi Rbat is arguably Morocco’s best beach.

Accommodation

Travellers who want to stay somewhere more authentic than a western hotel – there are some incredible luxury hotels in the country – could consider renting a riad. This is a traditional Moroccan house, inwardly facing, usually with no exterior view but ssome kind of daylight from above and with delightful tiling, fountains, gardens or even a swimming pool inside. Marrakech is a particularly good city to find superb riads for rental.
Visitors looking for good value, high quality places to stay in a spacious environment not far from the city could look around the foot of the Atlas Mountains where there is easy access to not only fantastic hikes and views but also getting to the Sahara desert is easier.
Otherwise there are many mid-level hotels available in addition to the simply spectacular five star palaces that cater to the lucky few who can afford a luxury Moroccan hideaway.

Festivals

June, Fes Sacred Music Festival – actually wacky world music. . .
June, Essaouria Festival of Music.
June, Marrakech Festival of Popular Arts, 10 days of arts attack.
Aug, Imilchil Engagement Festival, 3 days of Berber instant match-making.

For some precise dates, more suggestions and information see: Exotic Festivals

Hassle Avoidance

Moroccans can be lovely, hospitable people if you get the chance to know them. However. . . most offers of hospitality such as ‘come in for a cup of tea! ‘ – in regular destinations will result in a sales campaign. So don’t accept any.
– don’t trust what young men on the street tell you and don’t tell them where you’re staying.
– be very clear and firm about your needs; indecision and vagueness could lead to unwanted pressure.
– all sorts of tricks are used to develop a relationship that will lead to sales, from the simple ‘where are you from’ to ‘could you tell me what this says’. Best to reply distantly to greetings and nothing more. . .
Sad, isn’t it? But Morocco really is worth the hassle and non-sales people are relaxed, friendly and generous!

Anti-tout language

Carpet sellers and similar can be a total pain and you need to learn to handle them to enjoy your Morocco experience. This boisterous, pushy approach is actually a Marrakchi characteristic and not just a way of tormenting tourists! So, like children, treat them firmly but without losing your temper:
Look briefly at them and forcefully say ‘La! ‘ (no) or ‘La, shookrun‘ (no, thank you). Then there’s ‘Mish eise hagga‘ (I don’t want anything’) for the linguists.
If you’re getting on well with a Moroccan say ‘al hamdou lillah‘ (praise God) when you/he mention something positive, or ‘Inshallah’ (God willing) when you discuss the future e. g. “See you tomorrow Hamed. Inshallah. ” He will be delighted!

Women

The hassle-factor for lone females or even pairs can be tough. Do wear very conservative clothing, certainly not tank tops or short skirts and preferably long everything, plus a headscarf.
Stay with crowds and away from solitary low-light areas.
Essaouira beach has a problem with large groups of rampant teenage boys.

Electricity:
127/220v 2 round pin plugs (like France)

Visas:
A 3 month permit is available on arrival to citizens of the EU, USA, Australia and New Zealand.

Food:
Traditional Morocco food is nourishing though a little dull, with couscous (semolina) the national dish, served with stews of lamb, chicken and vegetables.
Main towns, like Fes, have lots of international restaurants at reasonable prices.
Alcohol is freely available tourists.

Languages:
Arabic mainly, a lot of French and a fair amount of English in tourist areas.

We have seen this country also spelled as Moorocco, Morrocco, Morooco, Moroocco, Moroccoo!

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