When you think of Morocco, what images come to mind? Is it shopping at a bustling colourful souk? Riding a camel in the middle of the desert? Or is it discovering the amazing and intricate architecture that sits around almost every corner? No matter what images come to mind, this North African country is one of those exotic destinations that will pull you in and leave you utterly speechless.
What I found most surprising about Morocco was how incredibly diverse the geography was. From sea to mountains, and from desert to lush green vegetation; I felt like I was dropped in a land of varied extremes. With so much to experience in this relatively small country (I am from Canada so everything is small to me!) here is my list of my top 8 places to see or things to do while traveling in Morocco:
1 Take a tour of the Magnificent Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca
I started my Moroccan adventure in Casablanca – Morocco’s largest city. The highlight for me was most definitely the impressive Hassan II Mosque. This mosque was completed in 1993 and was estimated to have cost as much as $800 million. It is said that there were over 6000 Moroccan master craftsman and artisans who worked on the project and nearly all the materials are from Morocco with the exception of the white granite columns and chandeliers from Venice. The sheer size of this structure is so massive that it can literally fit France’s Notre Dame inside. Its minaret is a whopping 60 stories high and what also makes this Mosque so interesting is that it has a glass floor that is open to the ocean below. The Mosque is open to all Muslims at daily prayer times and can easily hold 105,000 worshippers at once. Non-Muslim visitors may enter the mosque on guided tours Saturday to Thursday (closed Fridays) at 9:00, 10:00, 11:00 and 1400. * These times may change particularly around Ramadan.
2. Navigate your way through the complex labyrinth of Fes’ medina
If you are up for a navigational challenge (or nightmare), wandering Fes’ medina is just the place for you! The souks and markets are a melee of action where locals and tourists jostle for space within the narrow alleyways. The medina is very much like a treasure hunt because at every twist and turn I found myself stumbling upon amazing sights. One of these sights is the University of al-Qarawiyyin. According to UNESCO and Guinness World Records it is the oldest existing, continually operating university in the world. The building itself is awe inspiring with so many intricate carvings and mosaics.
Although visiting Fes’ leather tanneries can be a tad on the smelly side, it really is another must-see stop. Skins are brought in, cleaned, treated and dyed all in one location. Ask a local where to go so that you can climb to a roof top and get a birds-eye view of the tannery, as it really is an interesting photo opportunity. Spending an afternoon shopping and exploring this medina is definitely an experience that I highly recommend, however my biggest suggestion is perhaps having a local guide show you the ropes as the maze of streets can be quite confusing.
3. Ride a camel through the Sahara Desert
A trip to Morocco is definitely not complete without a trek through the Sahara on the back of a camel. The place where I started my excursion is the desert town of Merzouga. This little town has so much character and made me feel like I was transported to another time in history! The buildings look like clay figures, the roads are merely sand and the temperature is scorching hot!
Joining an overnight excursion into the Sahara is a must. Camels may not be the most comfortable mode of transportation, but they definitely provide you with the full Moroccan experience. Trekking over massive dunes with the orange sand whistling past transports you into a fairy tale. On my excursion the Berber People took me to a Bedouin camp where they sang traditional songs and cooked us amazing food.
Read about my adventure where I fell off the camel and nearly saw my life flash before my eyes!
4. Stay overnight at the foot of the gigantic Todra Gorge
Located in the eastern part of the High Atlas Mountains is the Todra Gorge. To get there you will drive through lush green Berber villages until you feel like the earth is slowly swallowing you. A 300m deep fault splits the orange limestone into a ravine and at certain points it is just wide enough for a river and single file trekkers to squeeze through. Guest houses are dwarfed in between the gorge’s walls and looking up to see the crack of light creep through the top truly made me realize how small I really am in this massive world of ours.
5. Visit a an authentic Moroccan Kasbah
Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city of Ait Ben Haddou is probably the most amazing Kasr in all of Morocco (a Kasr is a fortified village or a group of Kasbahs). It sits in a valley near the foothills of the Atlas Mountains, just 30km from Ouarzazate. It is believed that this town was established in 757 and its founder, Ben Haddou still lies buried in a tomb behind this spectacular city. This gigantic fortress is so distinct that even Hollywood has taken to Ait Ben Haddou and uses this wonderful place as a film location for many of its blockbuster hits. Recently Game of Thrones has been filming here calling it Yunkai the Yellow City. Other hits include The Gladiator, Black Hawke Down and of course Lawrence of Arabia just to name a few.
6. Relax and unwind at the seaside town of Essaouira
Situated on the Atlantic coast, Essaouira has been a trading post since 5th century BC. The fortress walls, built by Sultan Mohammed III in the 18th century are still lined with Dutch cannons and the medina is full of rich Berber character. This is yet another Game of Thrones filming location because it has such an attractive look and yet it is not overrun by tourists. I found shopping in Essaouira far more enjoyable than its bigger neighbor of Marrakech. There is just as much variety with much less pressure from the shop owners. The medina is full of cute cafes, bakeries and even museums to pass your time. Essaouira was one of my favorite places in Morocco and I definitely could have easily spent a few more days wandering around and discovering more.
7. Don’t miss the phenomenon of goats balancing in tree branches
Don’t forget to keep your eyes locked on the trees as you leave Essaouira and especially on route to Agadir. This is where I was able to see goats perched high in the Argania tree. Grown exclusively in Morocco, the Argania is a rare species of tree that produces a fruit that attracts goats to its branches. Goats will climb precariously onto the thorny branches to eat the fruit and while this alone may attract a photo or two, traditionally the byproduct is what locals are really after. Once the goat digests the fruit and nut, locals would gather the feces to extract clumps of seeds; these were then pressed to create the now popular and sought-after Argan oil. Although this key ingredient is found in many beauty products sold world-wide, I am told that goats are kept away from the trees until the end of harvest. In order to keep up with the high demand farmers now pluck the argan seed straight from the tree.
8. Experience the hubub of Marrakech
Probably the most popular and talked about destination in Morocco is the bustling city of Marrakech. There is so much to see and do that some people come to Morocco and never leave the city. Visiting the iconic Jemaa el Fna Square is a great starting point. There is so much going on in the square that the best view is sitting on a rooftop café and watching from above. If you are like me you will definitely be entertained by watching the tourists get caught up in the charade of locals trying to earn that extra buck.
A few safety tips to keep in mind while in the square and other busy parts of the city:
- Keep your valuables near your body as pickpocketing is pretty common
- Don’t be afraid to barter as most prices are set much higher than their value – shop keepers are expecting this
- If you take a photo of a ‘performer’ in the square expect to tip them approximately 10 Dh
Looking for a tour that best suits you?
My experience around Morocco was with G Adventures. They are a great company if you are looking for small group tours. Check out all the tours that they have to offer at G Adventures
If you are looking for something that is not part of an organized group and has a little more flexibility, I highly recommend using Moroccan Guides Travel. Moroccan Guides Travel was started by Noureddine (‘Nour’) Ingrioui over 4 years ago.
He is originates from the Atlas Mountains and has been an active part of the tourism industry since 2005. Because of his in depth knowledge of his country and countless hours spent as a tour guide he is definitely an expert in his field. He believes that travel is the best way to learn about a country, its culture and its people, and that by exploring the world; we are able to break down walls and preconceived ideas. In less than 4 years since he has started Moroccan Guides Travel he has built a strong reputation for his company and has been acknowledged by such reputable companies as Trip Advisor. If you are looking for a custom made tour that you can enjoy at your own pace check out all that Moroccan Guides has to offer at Moroccan Guides Travel
Here are a few Moroccan Guides Travel day trips that start in Marrakech:
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