Celebrated American novelist (and first female Pulitzer prize winner) Edith Wharton once wrote: ‘to visit Morocco is still like turning the pages of some illuminated Persian manuscript, all embroidered with bright shapes and subtle lines’.
Morocco certainly offers a dazzling and exotic travel experience. Exploring medieval kasbahs (fortresses) and bustling medinas (old city centres), shopping in ancient souks (markets) and staying in traditional riads (courtyard homes) are all part of the appeal of this north African kingdom.
With its close proximity to Europe and unique cultural identity, Morocco was a magnet for classic literary types like William Burroughs and Tennessee Williams, along with artists, musicians and film stars. The diversity of dramatic landscapes across the country is another part of the allure, with mountains, desert, snow and sea all within a few hours of each other.
Here are ten top things to do in Morocco.
Mount your trusty camel and venture into the Moroccan Sahara, where you can spend the night in a desert camp. Each hotel in the access town of Merzouga has its own camp, ranging from basic to luxe (so you can play Goldilocks and pick the one that is ‘just right’ for you). For an otherworldly experience, watch the sun set and rise without another soul in sight or explore the sand dunes with only moonlight to guide you.
The Dades Valley makes for a good pitstop on the journey between the Moroccan Sahara and bustling Marrakech. At times the valley seems to be a wall of red, only broken here and there by an unexpected patch of greenery. The presence of these lush oases in the middle of such an arid landscape at first seems incomprehensible, but the Moroccans have cleverly set up an irrigation system to ensure there is at least some fertile territory in the Dades.
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Marrakech is undoubtedly the biggest highlight of any visit to Morocco. It’s the country’s fourth largest city and its cultural hub. The red walls that surround the medina were constructed around the 12th century and historical highlights abound inside.
The medina is a sprawling web of souks that radiate out from the main square of Jemaa el-Fnaa. At night, the square comes alive with temporary food stalls. However, after gorging yourself on couscous, tagines and skewered meats throughout your trip, why not tempt your taste buds with a wider range of options in this most cosmopolitan of Moroccan cities? Cool Cafe Clock in the Kasbah does a renowned camel burger, while Zwin Zwin Cafe in the heart of the medina is an oasis of smoothies, salads and wraps, served on a tranquil terrace above the chaos. A great find for vegetarians is Earth Cafe, which offers tasty veggie burgers, spring rolls and filo pastry parcels. Henna Cafe does henna art at fixed prices, and tasty fare.
The Hassan II Mosque is a commanding structure, set right on Casablanca’s spectacular oceanfront. The attention to detail and the sheer size of this modern religious monument make it worthy of a visit. Be sure to cover your shoulders and knees as a sign of respect.
Even if you’ve navigated the sprawling medina of Marrakech, you’ll quickly realise that the Fes version is an entirely different prospect! Here you’ll enter a maze of narrow alleyways and winding paths so perplexing that most visitors enlist the services of a local guide. There are tantalising sights around every bend. Don’t miss the tanneries — they might smell bad but they also produce an amazing array of leather products in every colour of the rainbow.
Chefchaouen is known as the blue city, and its buildings have a remarkably uniform colour scheme. While some locals may find the architectural and design regulations a little oppressive, the traveller will discover mesmerising photo opportunities at every turn.
The size of the historical site at Volubilis is extraordinary (42 hectares or thereabouts). The partially excavated ruins of the Berber and Roman city date back to the 3rd century BC. You’ll marvel at a time when things were certainly built to last. The archeological dig is ongoing and there are always new wonders being recovered. Access the site from the regional hub of Meknes.
Kasbahs became a household name in the West thanks to the Clash song, but to Moroccans they have traditionally meant fortresses or citadels. The Ait-Benhaddou Kasbah is one of the best known and features an impressive collection of clay brick fortifications.
Riads are the quintessential accommodation experience for travellers to Morocco and you should definitely stay in one on your trip. From the outside they don’t look anything special, but inside you’ll find a world of intricate mosaics, luxuriant fabrics and natural light illuminating the central courtyard. You can expect attentive service and an extravagant breakfast, before you depart your riad’s protective walls to be swept up in the frenzied energy outside.
After all of your travels you deserve some pampering, and in Morocco there’s no better place to get some rest and relaxation than a hammam. Hammam simply means bath, but in reality the process is quite involved. You’ll progress from a hot dry room to a hot steamy room, to a bathing room for your treatment, then to a resting room to take tea and perhaps conclude with a massage. Seriously, who could refuse?
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of ten top things to do in Morocco? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
Samantha Wasson is a Sydney-based freelance writer and former educator. She lived in Vietnam for three years and has travelled extensively in Asia, Europe and the United States, with a brief sojourn in Africa. Travel highlights to date have included studying German in Freiburg, volunteering at an elephant rehabilitation project outside Chiang Mai, and travelling by motorbike through the Mekong Delta. A lover of literature and travel, Samantha subscribes to Augustine of Hippo’s observation that ‘the world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page’.