If watching Casablanca left you with a lump in your throat, then a trip to Morocco should definitely be on your bucket list. Situated on the North West coast of Africa just across the narrow Straits of Gibraltar from the southern tip of Spain, its proximity to Europe along with its inimitable style and culture make it a popular destination.
Morocco has a dramatic variation in landscape across the country, with snow capped Atlas Mountains to the north, fertile plains near its western Atlantic coast, remarkable mountains, and the Sahara desert at the edge of the Anti-Atlas to the south and east.
Best Time to Visit Morocco
Similar to its landscape, Morocco’s climate varies widely – the north is Mediterranean and the south is subtropical while the sea and mountains help to maintain a pleasant climate.
Morocco has approximately 330 days of sunshine per year. It has hot and dry summers, with daytime temperatures ranging from 33 to 42º C. Winters are milder, with temperatures hovering around 16 to 23º C.
The best times to visit Morocco are spring (March to May) and autumn (September to October), when the weather remains extremely agreeable.
Getting Around Morocco
Morocco is well networked and offers several options for getting around.
There are airports at Marrakech, Rabat, Fes, Tangier, Agadir, Tetouan and Casablanca, apart from a few other cities.
Trains in Morocco are comfortable, reliable and reasonably priced. The state-owned network, ONCF is an excellent option for travel between major cities. All train stations have clear signs and displays in Arabic and French to help you find your way around.
Supratours is a bus company owned by ONCF, to cover the areas east of the Atlas mountains and south of Marrakech, which are not connected by rail. Buses and city cabs connect seamlessly to intercity trains. Tickets for combined train and bus journeys can be bought in a single package called “Rail & Route”.
Major Moroccan cities have large car rental agencies. Driving around is pretty simple as the roads are usually clear and easily navigable, but petrol prices can be steep. Carry your international driver’s license and buy your own motor insurance – you’re good to go.
Shared taxis are usually big Mercedes Benz cars carrying a maximum of 6 passengers. They operate on a wide variety of routes and are much quicker than the public buses. You can flag down a taxi anywhere along the road. Fares between cities are fixed and quite reasonable.
Buses are the cheapest, and link to every corner of Morocco. You can buy your tickets at the bus terminals. Intercity buses are privately run. The three major bus companies in Morocco are – CTM whic covers the whole country, SATAS which mainly plies south of Agadir and Supratours.
Cities in Morocco
Morocco has traditional imperial Islamic cities. The quaint central medina (old town) of each city is typically still walled-in and is the historical part of these cities. A typical feature of the medina is a minaret-tipped mosque, around which are open-air markets with cafes and street entertainment. The Ville Nouvelle, or new city built around the old heart, is the modern part with distinctive colonial influence.
Rabat on the Atlantic coast has been the capital of Morocco since 1912 and is its second largest city. It is a perfect blend of tradition and modernity, Islamic and European culture. The medina inside the Almohad ramparts is a pleasurable place to stroll around. You can get some great handicrafts and Moroccan food at the medina market. The Hassan Mosque, built in 1184, is a famous landmark and close by is the mausoleum housing the King’s ancestors.
The Kasbah des Oudaias on top of the cliff is a striking fortified city offering gorgeous views. Take a stroll around the kasbah and visit the oldest mosque in town.
Chellah or Sala Colonia, to the south of Rabat, is an ancient Roman site with crumbling ruins and a beautifully landscaped Chellah gardens with a sanctuary that was used for royal burials.
The Ville Nouvelle of Rabat has some pretty colonial architecture.
Marrakech, the former capital, is a truly fascinating and artistic imperial city with beautiful, traditional buildings. Its souks, or markets offer a captivating peek into the life of the locals. Take a walk through the streets of the old town, taking in the magnificent medieval buildings and romantic gardens. The ancient square of Djemma El Fna at the heart of the city, keeps the crowds amused with regular entertainment ranging from rhythmic drumbeats, to aerial acrobatics, magicians and snake-charmers, amidst women offering henna tattoos. The towering Koutoubia Mosque minaret is visible from the square and worth a visit.
The National Festival of Folk Art held annually in Marrakesh in summer is a week-long event with performances by traditional dancers, musician and other entertainers. A highlight of Morocco’s cultural calendar, this celebration is not to be missed.
Fes, often called the Heart of Morocco, is a former capital and one of its oldest cities. Fes el-Bali, the medina (Old Fes) is one of the largest living medieval cities in the world today and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has an intricate network of 9400 twisting alleys, where you can shop for the finest leather and hand-craftwork among the many bazaars.
Fes is also home to the world’s oldest university, Qarawiyyin.
A short distance from Fes are the largest and well-preserved Roman ruins in Morocco at Volubilis. The origins of Volubilis can be traced back to 2nd and 3rd centuries AD though excavations reveal that Carthaginian traders discovered the site.
Casablanca is a sprawling metropolitan port city with a Moroccan heart and cosmopolitan appeal. It may not be the most romantic city in Morocco, but is worth a short stay for the large Hassan II Mosque. The mosque, second largest in the world, has a French exterior with Moroccan interiors.
The medina is small and typical. You can spend some time on the beach at Ain Diab Plage.
Tangier has a remarkable Mediterranean flare, with close connections to Spain. The influence of French colonization in the first half of the 20th century can be seen here, contrasting against the fortified Kasbah at the top of the city’s medina.
Ait Benhaddou is the most exotic and best-preserved kasbah in the entire Atlas area. A ksar or traditional earthen brick city along intricate lanes on the lower slopes of the High Atlas, it is a remarkable example of southern Moroccan architecture and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The red walls of the kasbahs, fortresses and village squares glow in the orange light of sunset and present a breathtaking sight. It provides a gorgeous backdrop for film shootings, and has been one of the locations of quite a few flicks, such as Lawrence of Arabia.
Morocco has a lot more if you have the time – the whitewashed buildings in the coastal resort of Essaouira, or the market town of Tata in the Sahara – you will find plenty of reasons to return to Morocco.
Desert in Morocco
To the south and east lies the Sahara, the world’s largest desert, which is lined with a few streams and oases, with some desert vegetation and fauna typical of the landform.
Take off on an incredible adventure that begins in the Saharan settlement of Merzouge, from where you can ride a camel on a safari out into the sand dunes and spend a night in the desert.
Mountains in Morocco
Morocco has several fantastic mountain ranges with a variety of foliage, many of which get covered in snow during winter.
The Atlas Mountains form the major range, divided into the High Atlas, Middle Atlas and Anti Atlas. The High Atlas is the highest range, with Jabal Toubkal stretching to 4,165 metres. The Middle Atlas reaches 3,350 metres and the Anti Atlas does not reach higher than 2,531 metres, but it still has some very rugged landscape. At the foot of the High Atlas is the alluring and fragrant Valley of Roses, which gets blanketed by blossoms in season. The Rif Mountains on the north-eastern edge of the Atlas mountains are made up of steep cliffs near the Mediterranean coastline, where the terrain is rugged.
The Chefchaouen Mountains in the north east have two peaks – Jebel Meggou at 1625 meters above sea level, and Jebel Tisouka with a mosque on top at 2050 meters.
The charming Sarho Mountains to the south west of Marrakech is a popular winter trekking. It is a remote area with volcanic monoliths, green plateaus, canyons and tiny Berber settlements.
The Oregano Mountains to the south of Agadir are covered with oregano and fill the valley with aroma. At the top of these mountains are two caves used by goats for shelter. The pink, rocky Tafraoute Mountains to the south east of Agadir are picturesque and a draw for travelers.
The Setti Fatma at the end of the Ourika Valley in Marrakesh has seven beautiful waterfalls, breathtaking views and long trails for hardened hikers.
Morocco is vibrant, fascinating, colorful and dramatic. Come here for the cities, the markets, the landscapes and the culture. And you’ll find it difficult to leave.