An Insiders Top 10 Places to visit in Morocco
Morocco, North Africa. What does that conjure up in your mind? Endless desert dunes and camels? Yes, but you may be surprised to know that it is also incredibly green and fertile with agriculture, forests, waterfalls, snow capped mountains, oases and about as diverse as a country could get.
For those who have yet to come, for those that have been and understand, and for those who need no reason. These are the places I recommend you visit in Morocco.
Marrakech for me is the heart of Morocco; from here you have many opportunities and options. The old Medina with its souks full of artisans, ancient and not so old superb monuments and delightful colourful gardens. Great street food and atmosphere, and a soul that speaks to you from old and deep in the earth. It’s a crazy city, colourful, aromatic, bustling and vibrant. Marrakech is the gateway to the south and the road to go north. It´s the way to the coast, the route for the mountains and to the deserts beyond.
The High Atlas Mountains, majestic stunning and full of hidden secrets for you to discover. South of Marrakech, a hiking and trekking paradise for groups and families alike. All the year round there is something to experience. Visit villages like Imlil on your way to climb Mount Toubkal, the lakeside village of Lalla Takerkoust with its weekly souk, or the spectacular Azzadan and Imenane Valleys. These mountains are home to many small Amazigh villages with their secluded valleys and hidden gems.
The Middle Atlas Mountains are a nature lover’s playground. Lakes, forests of huge cedars, volcanic plateaus, waterfalls, and Morocco´s little Switzerland. Deep snow in the winter makes it an international ski resort and a hikers dream in the late spring and early summer. The great cedar forests in the Ifrane National Park are home to the Barbary Monkeys. Lakes full of huge mirror carp are wonderful retreats for fishermen, bird watchers, for horse riding, and for artisan lovers there are superb crafts.
The Ourika Valley, even though it is so well publicised I still recommend this because it has so much to offer for a day out from Marrakech. If you only had one day I would go, why? It is beautiful all year round, it has saffron farms, organic farms, gardens, riverside restaurants with great local food, waterfalls, Berber houses to visit, you can go on a camel ride, horse ride, and if you continue to Oukaimeden you can go skiing. That is only some of what there is to see and do.
The Draa Valley. This oasis full of date palms carves its way to the desert dunes of Chegaga through Tamnougalt, Agdez, Zagora and M´hamid. Tamnougalt is a fascinating old Kasbah, once a Jewish settlement with an even older Mali history. Situated on the caravan route it was once a major caravanserai, a meeting and trading place for desert nomads. Parts of it have been restored and some families still live there. Stop here for an interesting guided tour by one of the locals and a delicious lunch.
The Dades Valley. Slow down the pace, step back into another world and enjoy unforgettable sights, sounds, colours and encounters. This is the heart of the south of Morocco, home to more than a thousand kasbahs in varying states of splendour. This valley is also home to the Damascus rose, prized for its precious oil and used in cosmetics and beauty products. Visit dramatic gorges and crazy rock formations and enjoy an amazing adventure touring or trekking across this region.
Essaouira and Asilah, two of the most charming coastal medinas on the Atlantic seaboard. With their vibrant blue doors and street art, their array of fish and seafood, their great music and sandy beaches, they provide a great respite from the inland vistas and heat during the summer months. Essaouira is an eclectic mix of Portuguese, Spanish, and Moorish architecture. Its history talks of the black slaves who brought the amazing rhythmical Gnawa music which is celebrated in its annual World Music Festival.
Chefchaouen or Chaouen as it is often called by the Moroccans is a very popular tourist destination, it offers many locally made handicrafts not available anywhere else in Morocco and is most easily distinguished by its blue painted houses and streets. The city was founded in 1471 as a small fortress which still exists today, to fight the Portuguese invasions of northern Morocco. In 1920 the Spanish seized Chaouen to form part of Spanish Morocco and was returned after the independence of Morocco in 1956.
Fes is amazing, it´s the second largest city in Morocco, it has two old medinas: Fes el Bali and Fes Jdid. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and considered the largest car free urban area in the world. It has the worlds´ oldest university still in use today, and it was founded in 859 by a woman. Fes has a massive amount of artisans skilled at many different crafts and working in very small spaces. The medina has a labyrinth of some 9000 streets and it is essential to go with a guide the first time as there is no way to find your way as maps are not very accurate.
The Sahara Desert is a must if you come to Morocco. Whether you reach it via the mighty Draa Valley and Zagora to M´hamid el Ghizlane or the Dades Valley to Merzouga, each route will offer its own rewards. For the best adventure though, you need to go off road. This is the region where the ultimate test of skill and navigation brings international drivers practicing for the Dakar Rally, and these are the old routes. This is where you really see the diversity of the landscapes and experience the remoteness.