Morocco, which literally translates to 'place the sun sets,' is one of the most beautiful lands in Northern Africa. Arabian influence is just one aspect of this country's eventful history, which includes Muslim, French and Spanish rules. As a result, the architecture, foods, and communities are as colorful and textured as their famous handwoven carpets.
Bordering the Atlantic Ocean in the west and the Mediterranean Sea in the North, Morocco has its share of sandy beaches and seaside villages. Sunbathing and surfing are common in the summertime, but a hike to the tallest mountain in Northern Africa grants another glimpse of this desert country's geography. A genuine experience of Morocco is not complete without a tour of the modernized cities and the bustling ancient medinas of Fes and Marrakesh.
Much of Morocco's appeal lies beyond the usual tourist destinations, and in specific cases, getting lost is half the fun.
Tajine refers to both the dish and the traditional earthenware pot used to slow-cook food over low heat. Originating in the Maghreb region of Northern Africa, Tajine is a savory stew made with tender meats or fish, and any combination of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and spices. Visit a tajine factory to observe the craft of making these beautiful vessels, and purchase a decorative pot while you're at it as a souvenir.
Any trip to Morocco will undoubtedly feature a journey through the bustling medinas. These are the oldest and most historic sections of a city, distinguished by a labyrinth of narrow lanes packed with dealers, foods, and pedestrians. These merchants are recognized for their aggressive bargaining tactics, but they have been known to drop prices considerably for confident tourists who can negotiate respectfully. Once you've found a souvenir you'd like, haggle the price down in increments; you'll want to aim for roughly one-third of the original asking price for the best compromise.
Maghrebi mint tea is an essential part of the lifestyle and culture in Morocco, usually consumed at all hours of the day. One way to enjoy this rejuvenating sweet green tea and spearmint infusion is to order a pot at a restaurant or local tea house. The best approach, however, is to befriend a Moroccan who will prepare and serve the tea as they sit with you and indulge in conversation. Shopkeepers and Berber villagers have been known to extend this hospitality to grateful travelers.
Located on Morocco's Atlantic coast, Legzira beach is known for its serene beaches and stunning natural formations. Years of erosion along the sedimentary rock cliffs have carved impressive shapes and gigantic arches out from the sections of stone jutting into the sea. Unfortunately, one of these magnificent natural arches collapsed in 2016, leaving only a pile of rubble and a single arch on the beach. Don't miss out on the opportunity to see these natural phenomena while they still exist; stay late or book a room in this lovely town to watch the cliffs glow red in the setting sun.
Overlooking the Atlantic Ocean from its secluded rocky perch is the magnificent Hassan II Mosque of Casablanca. This 22-acre complex partially juts out over the water, providing a naturally beautiful and serene backdrop for meditation and prayer. Non-Muslims are welcome to enter the structure for a fee, a rare occurrence, as this is the only mosque in Morocco to do so. Book a tour of the complex to learn more about the Islamic and Moorish influences on the building's architecture and design.
The University of Al-Karaouine, founded in 859, is the world's oldest and continuously operating higher education institute. Located in one of Fez's old medinas, this UNESCO-recognized site is not as ornate as newer mosques but still inspires awe and respect. Non-Muslims are forbidden to enter the mosque, so many travelers will be limited to photos at the front entrance. Most visitors don't mind; the lively city of Fez surrounding Al-Karaouine is in itself an ancient treasure to behold.
The energetic city of Fez maintains some relics from its glory days as Morocco's former capital. One of the most well-known is their centuries-old tanning district, which has served traders since the 11th century. Choura Tannery is the oldest of these; they continue to use the traditional method of treating leather hides with cow urine and pigeon dung, then dyeing them with natural colors. For a unique perspective of this ancient craft, befriend a local shopkeeper and ask for a tour of the rooftop terraces.
The small commune town of Tamri sits on the Atlantic shores of Northern Africa, near plenty of surfer-friendly beaches. This modest community is also home to one of the most peculiar sights on the continent: the tree-climbing goats of Morocco. These wild animals feast on ripening Argan fruit by climbing the trees and settling on upper branches for the duration of their meal. Watch for this amusing harvest during the summer months, and take home a bottle of Argan oil hand-pressed from the leftover seeds.
Morocco is full of colorful cities and deserts, but the High Atlas Mountain Range is an unexpected gem in this geographically diverse country. Ascending the peak of Mount Toubkal is a significant trek at over 12,000 feet of changing elevation; it's a good thing the non-technical climb has an established trail. As you near the summit, you'll come face to face with a significant population of indigenous Berbers and their quiet villages. These outposts are a haven for climbers, who often depend on the warm food and cozy accommodations to help them reach their destination.
The traditional mud-brick city of Ait Benhaddou is so recognizable you may have already seen it in a blockbuster Hollywood film. This old fortified village is the best-preserved Kasbah in Morocco and the most faithful representation of traditional Moroccan earthen clay structures. General entry is reasonably priced, but a few more dollars will get you a knowledgeable tour guide who may introduce you to families still living in the city. Spend the day taking photos, then compare them to scenes from films like Gladiator and Lawrence of Arabia, and the television series Game of Thrones.
An authentic experience of a city like Marrakesh or Tangier includes a nighttime stroll through the brightly lit marketplaces. If possible, you can get a guide who can lead you through a weaver's workshop or an artisan's studio. With the tourists gone and locals out in full force, you're bound to mingle with new friends while enjoying the sounds of traditional music.
The beach town of Essaouira was an important commercial center until the 19th century, but its relaxing vibe is what keeps this city on the map. The strong winds that make sunbathing impossible are a blessing for surfers and water sports lovers alike. Spend the day taking surfing lessons, then head to the fish market for the fresh catch of the day. In the evening, wander the winding streets of the old medina, where Orson Welles' Othello was filmed inside the city walls.
Chefchaouen is best known as the Blue City for its terraced, blue-rinsed buildings overlooking the landscape. While the scenery makes for some breathtaking photo opportunities, don't miss out on some of Chefchaouen's other rare treasures. The city is the only place in the world where you can find their colorful, handcrafted Riffi wool blankets. You can find them in a variety of bright colors, but the popular Blue Sky Blanket is most reminiscent of this dreamy town.
This complex of caves on the Northwestern coast of Tangier come with their fair share of mythological tales. Some say the Roman hero Hercules spent the night here before performing his fabled eleventh labor. Others insist this vast archaeological network was the route that Barbary Macaques took to the Rock of Gibraltar. Nonetheless, this system of natural and hand-carved caverns is an attraction you won't want to miss. Entrance into the caves is not expensive, but the time you'll spend wandering around is priceless.