Morocco

MOROCCO TRAVEL GUIDE

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Morocco, a North African country bordering the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea, is distinguished by its Berber, Arabian and European cultural influences. Marrakesh’s medina, a mazelike medieval quarter, offers entertainment in its Djemaa el-Fna square and souks (marketplaces) selling ceramics, jewelry and metal lanterns. The capital Rabat’s Kasbah of the Udayas is a 12th-century royal fort overlooking the water.

 

The very mention of the name ‘Morocco’ is enough to fire up the imagination about all things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, all places exotic and exciting. Morocco has held a fascination for travellers since the days when the olive-skinned hordes of Berber merchants decided to make this country on the northern African coast their home for all time to come.

 

Morocco is a beautiful and diverse country that has something for every traveller – amazing natural beauty, flora and fauna; a colourful history and present; exquisite craftsmanship in its mosques and madrasas; vibrant cities; intriguing folk festivals and traditions; and an ever-ready smile for visitors.

 

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Morocco

Africa - North

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MOROCCO QUICK FACTS

  • Capital: Rabat
  • Currency: Moroccan dirham (د.م MAD)
  • Area: 446,550 km²
  • Population: 36,03 million (2018)
  • Language: Arabic and Tamazight (official), French and Spanish are often the languages of business
  • Religion: Muslim 98.5%, Christian 1.3%, Jewish 0.2%
  • Electricity: 220V, 50Hz (European plug)

 

WOMAN TRAVELLERS TO MOROCCO

Prior to marriage, many Moroccan men might have had little opportunity to meet and get to know women outside their family – a major reason why Western women receive so much attention. Frequent unwanted looks and comments can come as something of shock to first-time visitors and the constant attention can be extremely wearing. You will have to develop a thick skin and ignore the hassle and it's worth keeping in mind that low-level harassment rarely goes any further. Don't feel the need to be polite - no Moroccan woman would put up with behaviour like that. Dark sunglasses make it easier to avoid eye contact. If someone won't leave you alone, look for families, a busy shop, or a local woman and don't be afraid to ask for help.

 

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MOROCCO PUBLIC HOLIDAYS

  • 11 January, Independence Manifesto Day
  • 1 May, Labour Day
  • 23 May, National Day
  • 9 July, Youth Day (Aid Chebab)
  • 30 July, Feast of the Throne
  • 14 August, Reunification Day
  • 20 August, Revolution of the King and the People
  • 21 August, King Muhammad’s Birthday
  • 6 November, Anniversary of the Green March
  • 18 November, Independence Day

Business openings and work schedules may be significantly affected by Islamic holidays and festivals.

FESTIVALS IN MOROCCO

  • Gnaoua and World Music Festival - Essaouira overflows every year (late June), for the celebrated Gnaoua and World Music Festival, a four-day extravaganza with concerts staged at venues including the beach and Pl Moulay Hassan.
  • Fès Festival of World Sacred Music - This festival (May/June), brings together music groups and artists from all corners of the globe, and it has become one of the most successful world music festivals around. Based on the idea that music can engender harmony between different cultures, the festival has attracted big international stars in the past.
  • Moussem of Sidi ben Aïssa - One of the largest moussems in Morocco takes place on the eve of Moulid at Meknès' Mausoleum of Sidi ben Aïssa, outside the medina walls, in celebration of the Aïssawa Sufi brotherhood. It’s a busy and popular festival with fantasias (musket-firing cavalry charge), fairs, singing and dancing. The dates change each year as they're fixed by the Islamic lunar calendar.
Morocco
 

BEST TIME TO VISIT MOROCCO

Morocco has a diverse climate in accordance with its varied geography, ranging from desert conditions to alpine conditions in the highlands. The interior of the country experiences seasonal temperature variations, with average temperatures of 25-30°C in the summer and less than 15°C in the winter. Temperatures in the coastal regions range between 22-25°C in the summer (July-September) and 10-12°C in the winter (January-March). The wet season lasts between November and March, affecting only northern Morocco. Morocco also experiences the sharqi (chergui) winds, which are hot, dusty winds from the Sahara.

 

Spring (around April and May), is perhaps the best overall time, with a summer climate in the south and in the mountains, as well as on the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts. July and August, the hottest months, can be wonderful on the coast, however, while in the mountains there are no set rules.

 

  • November to March - Marrakesh and the south are popular at Christmas and New Year, but the north of the country can be chilly and wet.
  • April & October - Spring sandstorms in the Sahara and persistent rain in the north; popular elsewhere.
  • May to September - Discounts in accommodation and souks. Domestic tourism keeps prices high on the coast, where this is considered a shoulder season.

 

Winter can offer perfect days in the south, though desert nights can get very cold – a major consideration if you’re staying in cheaper hotels, which rarely have heating. If you’re planning to hike in the mountains, it’s best to keep to the months from April to October unless you have some experience of snow conditions.

 

Weather apart, the Islamic religious calendar and its related festivals will have the most seasonal effect on your travel. The most important factor is Ramadan, the month of daytime fasting; this can be a problem for transport, and especially hiking, though the festive evenings do much to compensate.

 

MOROCCO WEATHER SYNOPSIS

Morocco has a diverse climate in accordance with its varied geography, ranging from desert conditions to alpine conditions in the highlands. The interior of the country experiences seasonal temperature variations, with average temperatures of 25-30°C in the summer and less than 15°C in the winter. Temperatures in the coastal regions range between 22-25°C in the summer (July-September) and 10-12°C in the winter (January-March). The wet season lasts between November and March, affecting only northern Morocco. Morocco also experiences the sharqi (chergui) winds, which are hot, dusty winds from the Sahara.

Morocco

MOROCCO TOURIST SEASONS

Most destinations have different times of the year when they’re more or less popular with tourists. 

Peak Season

Shoulder Season

Off Peak Season

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SPORT & ACTIVITIES

SNOW SPORT IN MOROCCO

Morocco is home to Africa’s highest ski resort, with a ski season from December to March or April, depending on snowfall.

HIKING & CYCLING IN MOROCCO

You can enjoy outdoor activities in Morocco throughout the year. June to September can get extremely hot and December to February can get a little chilly!

The rugged and beautiful Atlas Mountains stretch over 1,500 miles, from the West Coast of Morocco all the way to Tunisia. This mountain range is home to Jebel Toubkal, North Africa’s tallest peak at 13,671 feet. You can hike all year round, but the best time is from April to May.

Torda Gorge is one of the most recognized in the world and has become very popular with travellers looking to hike the canyon. It’s a challenging hike but if you’re looking for something truly different and in Morocco, don’t miss out on this.

BEACH OPTIONS IN MOROCCO

Morocco has some beautiful beaches, and you can find suitable beach weather all year round. The best beach weather is from May to September, but you can just head South, to places like Dahkla, during the winter months.

SURFING IN MOROCCO

Morocco is extremely popular among surfers. The best time to go is during the winter months when the waves are bigger and more consistent, and the air and water temperature is mild. Head to Taghazoute, the most popular surf town, to catch some waves and browse the surf shops.

KITESURF IN MOROCCO

The wind blows in Morocco all year round, allowing you to wind or kitesurf any time. The most consistent winds for kitesurfing is from April to September. Conditions are suitable for both beginner and advanced riders. The waves are biggest from October to December, while you'll find smaller swells from June to August.

For more details on kite surfing in Morocco expand this section!

 
 

HEALTH RISKS IN MOROCCO

Be aware of possible health risks in 

Morocco

Yellow fever - The yellow fever virus is found in tropical and subtropical areas of Africa and South America. The virus is spread to people by the bite of an infected mosquito. There is no medicine to treat or cure an infection. To prevent getting sick from yellow fever, use insect repellent, wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, and get vaccinated.

Zika Virus - Zika is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects. There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika.

Malaria - Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease caused by a parasite that commonly infects a certain type of mosquito which feeds on humans. People who get malaria are typically very sick with high fevers, shaking chills, and flu-like illness. Although malaria can be a deadly disease, illness and death from malaria can usually be prevented.

Dengue - Dengue is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. About one in four people infected with dengue will get sick. For people who get sick with dengue, symptoms can be mild or severe.

For the latest travel health notices and recommended precautions click

MOROCCO TRAVEL COSTS

It doesn’t cost a lot of money to travel Morocco. Where travellers go wrong is when they eat Western meals, fancy food, and stay in expensive riads. If you avoid doing that, you can enjoy the best of Morocco at an affordable price.

 

MOROCCO TRAVEL TIPS

  • Eat from street stalls – It’s extremely easy to eat well cheaply in Morocco as for just a couple of dollars, you can indulge in delicious kebabs, sausages, barbecued corn on the cob, hot roasted chicken, and huge sandwiches, among many other tasty options.
  • Negotiate cab fare – Always negotiate and agree on a price before you get into the taxi. You’ll need to bargain hard at times.
  • Watch out for fake guides – Faux guides will linger in the medinas and offer you tour services. Be forceful in saying no and keep walking away quickly. The best way to avoid Faux guides and touts is to avoid eye contact and ignore them, this will generally discourage them as they will try to invest their time in bothering another more willing tourist.
  • Be careful of thieves – Petty theft, mostly involving wallets, watches, and cameras, is prevalent in the crowded medinas around the country so stay alert and keep your valuables out of sight.
  • Don't drink – Although drinking is frowned upon in the country, you can still find plenty of places that allow you to drink. Just avoid drinking altogether during your visit and save.
  • In general, do not accept the services of people who approach you. Never be afraid to say no.

 

GETTING AROUND MOROCCO

  • AIR - National carrier Royal Air Maroc is the main domestic airline. All flights are via its hub at Mohammed V International Airport, Casablanca. Flying is relatively expensive but may be worth it if you are pushed for time.
  • BUS - Buses are the cheapest and most efficient way to travel around the country. They are generally safe, although drivers sometimes leave a little to be desired.
  • TRAIN - Morocco’s excellent train network is one of Africa’s best, linking most of the main centres. Trains are reasonably priced and preferable to buses where available. Trains are comfortable, fast and generally run to their timetables. The ONCF (Office National des Chemins de Fer) runs the network.
  • CAR - The main road network is in good condition. Road surfaces are good but roads are very narrow, in most cases only one narrow lane in each direction. Driving safely in Morocco takes practice and patience but can take you to some really beautiful places.
 

SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF MOROCCO

For many travellers Morocco might be just a short hop by budget airline, or by ferry from Spain, but culturally it’s a much further distance to travel. On arrival, the regular certainties of Europe are swept away by the full technicolour arrival of Africa and Islam. It’s a complete sensory overload.

 

  • Djemaa el-Fna - Witness the endless spectacle of Morocco's most dynamic city, Marrakesh.
  • Fez - Lose yourself in the maze-like charms of this medieval city, replete with sights, sounds and smells.
  • Essaouira - Laze by the sea in Morocco's coolest and most evocative resort.
  • High Atlas - Trek deep into a world of stunning scenery and isolated Berber villages.

 

MEDITERRANEAN COAST & THE RIF

Caught between the crashing waves of the Mediterranean and the rough crags of the Rif Mountains, northern Morocco is one of the most charming parts of the country.

 

  • Tangier, the faded libertine of a port that links Africa and Europe, has shed its shady past to enjoy a rebirth as fashionable Moroccan Riviera with a cultural life buzzing in a way it hasn't done since the 1950s. Tangier is the starting point for most visitors arriving by ferry from Spain.
  • Beautifully perched beneath the raw peaks of the Rif, the charming pastel blue medina of Chefchaouen deserves its reputation as a magnet for travellers, while Tetouan boasts the food and architecture of the Spanish protectorate era.

 

ATLANTIC COAST

This windswept coast is home to Morocco's cultured capital, Rabat, and its economic hub, Casablanca. The region is bookended by Asilah and Essaouira, famed for their medinas and surrounding beaches.

 

  • Rabat (Morocco’s political and administrative capital), may seem somewhat short on top-drawer tourist attractions, but it compensates with plenty of charm. The ville nouvelle's palm-lined boulevards are clean, well kept and relatively free of traffic – a blessed relief for those who have spent time in Casablanca. There's a clean central beach, an intact and evocative kasbah, and an attractive walled medina that is far less touristy than those in other large cities.
  • Though not as atmospheric as other Moroccan cities, Casablanca is the best representation of the modern nation. This is where money is being made, where young Moroccans come to seek their fortunes and where business and the creative industries prosper. The city's handsome Mauresque buildings, which meld French-colonial design and traditional Moroccan style, are best admired in the downtown area.

 

See the below map for more details and points of interest - or download KML / GPX

 

WESTERN SAHARA

After crossing the rocky and forlorn expanses of the hammada (stony desert) south from Tarfaya, the Western Saharan city of Dakhla is an appealingly relaxed destination. A constant feature is the cobalt intensity of the Atlantic Ocean, softened here by palm trees, a pleasant oceanfront esplanade and a shallow island-studded lagoon. It’s a very lonely 500km drive from Laâyoune (more than 1000km from Agadir) through endless hammada, and Dakhla is actually closer to Nouâdhibou (Mauritania) than any Moroccan city. Occasional roadblocks on the fringes of the desert reinforce this is a disputed region, despite what is indicated by the Moroccan flags shifting in tropical breezes.

 

 

IMPERIAL CITIES & THE MIDDLE ATLAS

Several important cities have taken root here, including ancient Fez, Meknès and the Roman city of Volubilis. Heading south, the low-rise Middle Atlas mountains come into play. Oak and cedar forests create refreshing pockets of woodland and easy hiking terrain, connecting the dots between Berber hill towns and villages.

 

  • Fez is a supremely self-confident city with a historical and cultural lineage that beguiles visitors. In the Medina (Fès el-Bali) donkeys cart goods down the warren of alleyways as they have done since medieval times, and ruinous and dilapidated pockets loom around every corner - although a government drive to restore the medina to its former glory is spurring changes. The Chaouwara tanneries are one of the city’s most iconic sights (and smells), offering a unique window into the pungent, natural process of producing world-class leather using methods that have changed little since medieval times.
  • Meknès is quieter and smaller than its grand neighbour Fez, and feels rather overshadowed - receiving far fewer visitors than it should. It’s more laid-back with less hassle, yet still has all the winding narrow medina streets and grand buildings that it warrants as an imperial city and one-time home of the Moroccan sultanate.

 

CENTRAL MOROCCO & THE HIGH ATLAS

Marrakesh is the queen bee of Moroccan tourism but look beyond it and you'll find great trekking in the dramatic High Atlas, and spectacular valleys and gorges that lead to the vast and empty sands of the Saharan dunes.

 

  • Marrakesh’s old heart still beats strongly enough, from the time-worn ramparts that ring the city to the nightly spectacle of the Djemaa el-Fna that leaps from the pages of the 1001 Nights on the edge of the labyrinthine medina. The hoopla and halqa (street theatre) has been nonstop here ever since this plaza was the site of public executions around AD 1050 – hence its name, which means ‘assembly of the dead’.
  • Ksar Aït Benhaddou is a UNESCO-protected red mudbrick ksar (fort) 32km from Ouarzazate. With the help of some Hollywood touch-ups, it seems frozen in time, still resembling its days in the 11th century as an Almoravid caravanserai.
  • Shape-shifting over 28km from north to south and reaching heights of 160m, the majestic Erg Chebbi dune near Merzougamay be modest compared with the great sand seas of Algeria, Libya and Namibia, but it is extraordinarily scenic.
  • Erg Chigaga is not a single dune but an awesome stretch of golden sand sea some 56km southwest of M'Hamid. It is the largest sand sea in Morocco, snaking along the horizon for 40km and bordered to the north and south by mountain ridges.

WHAT TO PACK FOR MOROCCO

 
Morocco

WHAT TO EAT IN MOROCCO

The food you find in Morocco is likely to be fresh, locally grown and homemade. Consequently, Moroccan cuisine is often reputed to be some of the best in the world, with countless dishes and variations proudly bearing the country's colonial and Arabic influences. Unfortunately as a tourist through Morocco, especially if you're on a budget, you'll be limited to the handful of dishes that seem to have a monopoly on café and restaurant menus throughout the country.

 

LOOK OUT FOR:

  • Tagine (or tajine) - a spicy stew of meat and vegetables that has been simmered for many hours in a conical clay pot (from which the dish derives its name). Restaurants offer dozens of variations including chicken tagine with lemon and olives, honey-sweetened lamb or beef, fish or prawn tagine in a spicy tomato sauce.
  • Kaliya - This popular Berber contribution to Moroccan cuisine is a combination of lamb, tomatoes, bell peppers and onion and served with couscous or bread.
  • Bastella - A dish considered a delicacy is made by layering thin pieces of flaky dough between sweet, spiced meat filling (often lamb or chicken, but most enjoyably pigeon) and layers of almond-paste filling. The dough is wrapped into a plate-sized pastry that is baked and coated with a dusting of powdered sugar.
 

LGBTQ IN MOROCCO

Homosexual acts (including kissing) are illegal in Morocco, and carry a potential jail term of up to three years and/or a fine. Moroccan authorities have recently shown an increased tendency to prosecute. For travellers, discretion is the key in most places. Avoid public displays of affection.

 
Morocco
 

WHERE TO STAY IN MOROCCO

Auberges are found in the country or in rural small towns, and are built in the traditional mud (kasbah) style, many with wood burning fireplaces and salons or roof terraces for taking meals. Auberge are very comfortable, small and usually family run and owned.

 

Riads or Dars - In Marrakech, Essaouira, Fes or anywhere there is a medina (old city), small hotels renovated from old houses are called riads or dars. These are often small (about 6 rooms or less), clean and charming, often with to a lovely walled garden where breakfast is served on an inner patio or up on a roof terrace. Dars are usually too small to have a swimming pool, but riads may have what is called a plunge pool to cool off in during summer months. Some are in former merchant houses or palaces and may have large opulent rooms and gardens. These are ideal places to stay in Morocco, and can range in price from budget to splurge depending on size and amenities.

 

Gîtes d'étape are simple country inns and hostel style places, where mountain trekkers can grab a hot shower, a good meal, and have a roof over their head for one night.

 

The cheapest budget hotels are usually located in the medina. These hotels can be very basic and may often lack hot water and showers, while others will charge you for a hot water shower. Newer, cleaner and slightly more expensive budget and mid-range hotels are sprinkled throughout the ville nouvelles.

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