The Kingdom of Morocco is overwhelming (of the good variety), dazzling, magical and a visit to this North Western African country will be a magnificent wonder for all your senses. Here are 10 top reasons why Morocco just has to make your bucket list (and pronto!)
1. The diversity
One of the greatest things about Morocco is just how particular the food, language dialect, dress and architecture is according to the region. Owing to its colonial past, you will find that Spanish is woven into the Arabic dialect in the North of Morocco, while French is interspersed in the rest of the country and ethnically Moroccans are very diverse with Berber, Arab, Andalusian or African heritage. Each region has a particular sound and type of folksong- whether it’s Issawa in Fez, or Gnawa further down south, prepare your ears for some pretty unique sounds.
You will find rich terracotta and red buildings in Marrakesh, beautiful blue hues in Chefchaouen and yellow painted structures in Meknes. Even taxi colours vary according to the city you are in (interesting tidbit: Fes operate red taxis, Tangier drive blue taxis and Marrakesh has yellow taxis). Essentially, you are in a country that is rich in culture and tradition and depending on how much you travel within Morocco, you will get to experience both subtle and bold regional differences.
2. The architecture
The architecture in Morocco is rich, vibrant and has a strong mix of African, Andalucian and Islamic influences. Zellij tilework, courtyards, geometric designs, minarets and domes are all hallmarks of Moroccan architecture and you will notice this immediately, not just from the mosques and building structures but also from people’s homes. A visit to Morocco is also not complete without a trip or stay in a traditional riad- you could very easily spend an afternoon lounging through the interior rooms and forget the hustle and bustle of the souks just outside.
3. The Landscapes
I have spent a lot of time in Morocco, both in childhood and as an adult, but I always marvel at just how different the landscapes are throughout the country-there is always something new to see and I can’t stop going back! The country is surrounded by both the Atlantic and Mediterranean seas so beaches are a-plenty. The Atlas Mountains make for a great trek as well as a few other well-known spots (see point number 8), and the greenery in the country is fresh and lush with the Ourikka Valleys and the city of Ifrane being great examples.
In the winter months, you can go skiing and the Sahara desert makes for a wonderful trip to camp under the stars. Depending on if you want a family centred, adventurous or calm and peaceful break-Morocco has it all as truly a country of contrasts.
4. The food and drink
Credit: Katie Bordner
I am yet to find Moroccan food that tastes exactly as it does anywhere else but in Morocco itself. Moroccans are a hospitable people and they pride themselves on the food they cook which can only be described as tender, mouth-watering and full of flavour. There is nothing like delving into a communal plate (per family) of cous-cous on a Friday post-Duhr-prayers, eating freshly baked bread and dipping it into organic argan oil and trying all the varieties of side salads and tagine dishes.
Drinking copious amounts of mint tea –‘Atay’ is also a must, you just can’t get enough of the sweet stuff. There is an art form of pouring the tea too, namely the higher the point it is poured from, the frothier the drink. Orange juice is also delicious and found across the country but a top tip is to ensure the vendor makes you a fresh glass there and then.
5. The public transportation
One of the most important things while travelling is being able to get around. Morocco has a cheap to reasonable taxi service for both internal city and external out of city trips and there is also a good coach service. The country also operates on two types of taxi services- petit taxi for up to 3 passengers and grande taxi for 6 passengers (yes you heard right- two passengers at the front!) The train service is also very good and you can use these to travel between regions at a comfortable pace. Top tip is to always go for 1st class seats- the price difference is not that much different and you will be guaranteed a seat! The best thing about travelling across cities are the views- so you still get to take in the sights while making your journey to the next destination.
6. The Medinas
What is a visit to Morocco without spiralling through the endless narrow alleyways and streets. You could spend countless days walking through the souks and still not have seen it all.
Credit: Kristal Dale
I recently spent some time in Fez, and 6 hours in the old medina wasn’t enough to even cover a fraction of it! The old medina of a city is a combination of residential housing, food market and souks where you can purchase everything from metal work, copper, herbs, material, and leather to carpentry. Plan for at least a day of getting purposely lost amidst the labyrinth and maze of streets.
7. The UNESCO sites
Morocco has 9 UNESCO sites to its names, and it is not hard to understand why with age-old history and cultural symbolism. In no particular order:
- The historic City of Meknes(1996) which was founded initially as a military settlement in the 11th century and as a result, is surrounded by fortified high gates and walls.
- The Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou(1987) which is a fortress in the region of Ouerzazate and is made up of many small villages. The clay architecture is truly a wonder and you may be able to recognise the site from famous films like Gladiator!
Credit: Ben Douglas
- The Medina of Essaouira (formerly Mogador)(2001) which is a very small coastal town that boasts great seafood and a strong Portuguese history.
- The Medina of Fez(1981) which is culturally seen as the spiritual capital of the country and a labyrinth of streets to fill your days.
- The Medina of Marrakesh(1985) or ‘the city of red’ with a bustling djmaa el fnaa square and a dream garden (Jardin Majorelle) loved by Yves Saint Laurent himself.
- The archaeological site of Volubilis(1997) which holds well preserved ruins of an old Roman trading centre.
- The Medina of Tétouan (1997) which has a rich element of cultural diversity and Spanish links.
- The Portuguese City of El Jadida (Mazagan)(2004) which was initially built as a fortified colony in the 16th century and still holds Portuguese buildings like the Church of the Assumption.
- Rabat, Modern Capital and Historic City: a Shared Heritage(2012) which is the capital city of Morocco with strong contrasts of old and new, tradition and modernity.
8. The hidden (and less known) treasures
There is so much more to Morocco then just Marrakesh. While I think a visit to the city of red is still a must, I feel that a lot of tourists miss out on the real beauty of Morocco by not extending their trip to other spots.
There is just so much more to explore from the beautiful blue city of Chefchaouen in the north, the pristine waterfall Akchour as part of the national park of Talassemtane, the Ourikka valleys just outside of Marrakesh, clean and green Ifrane in the centre of Morocco, the city of Saidia in the east of the country, the coastal town Martil to soak in the Mediterranean or Mehdia beach to take in the Atlantic ocean sights. The options are endless- so venture out!
Credit: Singa Hitam
9. The festivals
Depending on the year, you can catch a lot of awesome festivals in the country- which means lots of food, entertainment and joy! Famous ones include the Gnaoua world music festival in Essaouaria, the Cherry festival in Sefrou, the world sacred music festival in Fes and the international film festival in Marrakesh.
Definitely try and catch a Fantastia show, which is a traditional horse-riding event and involves charging horsemen (and women) along a straight path at the same speed firing in the sky with a gunpowder gun. An incredible spectacle!
10. The atmosphere
Where else can you see goats (almost levitating) off trees, visit berber women who make pure argan oil from the argan nut, experience a rich hammam (spa-moroccan style) with age-old organic products, get lost in a maze of incredible streets, escape from numerous but harmless touts and drink your weight in mint tea. The country is overwhelming, dynamic, chaotic and for all the good reasons. What are you waiting for?