Morocco: Main Sights
North Africa's Arabian Arcadia
You won’t have to look far for something to do and see in Morocco. Your main problem will be trying to fit everything in, as Morocco offers a variety of different things to see and do – for people of all ages and every taste and interest. Explore the tree-clad Atlas mountains, relax on its miles of unspoilt beaches, or wander in the vibrant and colourful souks of its ancient cities. The attractions of Morocco are just too numerous to mention, but here are some of the world class attractions and sights that Morocco has to offer.
Larache: Northern Coast
In Larache you will find a Spanish ambience that remains from colonial days. Larache is a summer resort that is very popular with Moroccan emigrees. Wander through its streets of whitewashed houses, with their blue doors. Relax and take in the town's historically close connection to the sea, or just enjoy its miles of unspoilt sandy beaches. You will find Larache is a wonderful place to get away from the hustle and bustle of life, where men and women, perhaps unusually for Morocco, mix freely, especially in the evenings. Larache's long, clean, tree-sheltered beach is very popular through the summer months with Moroccans, returning for holidays from Europe. The beach is a great location for sunbathing, being very wide. However, the tides here can be dangerous, but there are plenty of lifeguards who blow their whistles if you should start to swim out too far. Why not visit the old Spanish Prison, which is now the town's archaeological museum? Its small collection includes Roman coins and other relics from the nearby ruins of Lixus, which is also worth a visit. The view from the Spanish Prison is stunning, especially at sunset, overlooking the Loukos river and the hills of Lixus. Although the old city of Larache is not large, you will find it easy to get lost in its twisting roads. Unlike other Moroccan towns however, you will not be at risk from people hustling you. The centre of the town is the Place de la Liberation, which is a square containing a palm garden. You will find plenty of places to relax in the many coffee shops and restaurants that line the square. All in all, you will find Larache's old city a wonderful blend of vibrant colours: pink, yellow, green, blue.
Essaouria: Southern Morocco
Originally known as Mogador, Essaouria is one of the most charming and picturesque cities in the whole of Africa. Its quaint, natural beauty and distinct and characteristic culture make it one of Morocco's biggest tourist attractions. In Essaouria, you will sample the sights, smells and sounds of what life was like in medieval Morocco. This walled city is now one of Morocco's finest examples of medieval planning and architecture. You will find in Essaouira a unique blend of the diverse influences of Portuguese, French, and Berber cultures. Not that Essaouria is simply a living museum, today it is at a commercial cross-roads, connecting the Saharan mainland with the continent of Europe as well as with the rest of the world. The city can be reached easily by both train and road.
Agadir: Nothern Coast
If you are interested in a beach holiday, then Agadir is the destination for you. However, if you are looking for old Morocco, then this popular destination will not be for you, because the city was rebuilt after a major earthquake 1960. Agadir has a wonderful and wide beach, which is bordered by many hotels and other tourist attractions. If you find the beach in Agadir too crowded, then there are plenty of more secluded ones within a 50 mile radius of the city, in places such as Aghroud, Sidi Rbat, Tifnit, and Imessouane. Agadir is also one of the most important fishing ports on Morocco's northern coast. Among Agadir's many other attractions are its very large market, called Souk Elhad, which sells everything from food to souvenirs. There is also a reconstruction of its old style Medina, which is built from traditional materials. If you are interested in Berber culture, than you should take a look at the Museum of Berber Arts. This small folk museum has displays of traditional Berber carpets, costumes and other artefacts from 19th century Morocco. Children will love La Valle des Oiseaux, which is a small zoo that contains a varied collection of birds, including ostriches. It also has a large birdcage with a tunnel you can walk through to obtain close up view of flamingoes, ducks, and other aquatic birds. When you are tired and hungry from all of the sightseeing, you can relax and unwind in one of Agadir's excellent restaurants, many of which specialise in various cuisines, ranging from authentic Moroccan to French Moroccan fusion.
Tangier: Northern Coast
Tangier is a romantic location, which was in years gone by the haunt of artists, beat poets and writers. They came to Tangier in search of adventure and the exotic. Nowadays, Tangier is the gateway to Africa for many travellers and tourists. Cruise ships often dock at its port on their way from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. It is also at the end of the rather short hour's journey by ferry from Spain. The city has some wonderful beaches, but can be overlooked by tourists, on their way to the Rif or Atlas mountains, or Marrakesh and other cities. This is a shame, because Tangier has a fascinating history. If you have time you could explore its lovely old Medina, or perhaps enjoy the local beaches. Although Tangier doesn't have quite the charm it did in the 1940's and 1950's when you could rub shoulders with the likes of Truman Capote, Paul Bowles and Tennessee Williams, if you spend some time there, and ignore the tourist touts, it will definitely grow on you.
When you first arrive in Asilah, you might be mistaken into thinking you were in Greece, because you will be surrounded by whitewashed houses, their outlines broken only by a few blue wall paintings or doors. Asilah is a favourite location for artists, and walking around the town you will find them and their work everywhere. The town of Asilah has worked hard in recent years to attract visitors and tourists, principally through different festivals. The best of these is perhaps the one that takes place every August, where local artists and musicians put on a wonderful show. This is one reason why best time to visit Asilah is in the summer. You can also explore Asilah's town walls, which were built by the Portuguese in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Its ramparts are in wonderful condition, which is partly the result of extensive modern restoration work. Two more relics from the Portuguese era are the main gates into the Medina, called the Bab El-Kasaba and the Bab el-Homar. The El-Homar is decorated with the faded royal arms of Alfonso 5 of Portugal. Also worth seeing is the Palace of the Riffian bandit Raisouli, which was completed in 1909. The construction of this building was made possible through forced labour and the heavy taxation of local people. These draconian measures were so effective that the Palace was completed within a year. Raisouli's main occupation was kidnapping and holding people to ransom. In the event, he was so successful in this that he became governor over most of north-western Morocco.
Meknes shares the ancient charm of Marrakesh and Fez, yet is smaller and not quite as bustling. No visit to Meknes would be complete without visiting its wonderfully preserved Medina, which is filled with souks that are impossible to navigate without a guide. In Meknes' Medina, you will see the traditional way in which shops are laid out in Morocco, with similar types of shops and professions all grouped together in one area. Meknes has large areas known as qissariya, which are covered markets. The quality of workmanship here is generally far better than you will find elsewhere in Morocco, and the prices some of the best too. You should be able to find some real bargains, if you are visiting Meknes and you are good at haggling! The Imperial City of Meknes was built by the powerful Moulay Ismail in the 17th Century and is a showcase of Moroccan architecture complete with huge gates and impressive carvings. Moulay Ismail ruled Morocco for 55 years until his death in 1727, a reign sufficiently long to enable him almost to complete the Imperial City, a feat that challenges the finest architecture anywhere in the world. The City was built by tens of thousands of, mainly Christian, slaves who were kidnapped from European villages as far north as Iceland by Moroccan pirates. Many of them worked and died to complete its more than 50 palaces, 20 gates and a city wall that is almost 30 miles (45 kilometres) long. Despite its enormous size, the Imperial City can be explored in about a day. Nearby are the Roman ruins of Volubilis, which are also well worth a visit.
It seems that the city of Fez still lives in the Middle Ages. As you arrive in the city, and begin to walk around, your senses are divided between beautiful sights, intricate sounds and pungent smells. Your arrival seems to be not only to a new place but the end of a journey in time of about 1,000 years. The modern world has barely impinged upon this busy Moroccan city where the labyrinthine warren that makes up the medieval Medina (Old City) is crowded with donkeys carrying merchandise to and from the souks, through the crammed alleyways, overshadowed by minarets, where the smell of the tanneries permeates the air. A visit to Fez is an exotic, fascinating experience for European visitors.
Marrakesh is not only a fantastic city, it is also epitomises the Morocco that once was, but which still survives in many ways today. In the old city, or Medina, which is mostly coloured pink, has streets that are too narrow to allow cars. This has made the Medina a magnet for tourists who are searching for the "real" Morocco. Even so, the many tourists that come here all through the year have not managed to spoil the character of Marrakesh. In fact, tourism has probably helped to preserve one of the greatest examples of the Morocco of bygone years. Marrakesh is also just as popular with Moroccans themselves, as they come from all over the country to visit. The most interesting tourist areas of Marrakesh are located inside a small area, that starts in the north with the souks and continues through to the town square of Jemaa l-Fna. Here you will find people crowded around storytellers, snake charmers and musicians. Just south of the square is the tower of the Koutoubia Mosque, which is visible from practically anywhere in Marrakesh. Going beyond this, lie the Menara gardens, which is considered by young Marrakeshians to be the most romantic place in the town. These are the main tourist sights in Marrakesh, but it is also worth visiting the many examples of sights left by the Europeans and Americans who fell so much in love with Marrakesh that they erected their palaces and gardens there.
Hiking in the Atlas Mountains
The High Atlas is the highest mountain range in North Africa, with the peak of Toubkal stretching to over 12,000 feet (4,165 metres) above sea level. High Atlas mountains contain extremely impressive mountain biking trails, hiking trails and they provide wonderful settings for taking photographs. The peaks of the Atlas force the clouds to yield heavy and frequent rainfall. It is no surprise then, that there are many fertile valleys, surrounded by rivers and waterfalls in the region. These breathtaking mountains are not to be missed! These mountains are the highest in the area, but if they seem a little daunting, then the Middle Atlas, which reaches heights of over 10,000 feet (3,350 metres) and the highest peaks of the Anti Atlas a mere 7,000 feet (2,531 metres) may be more to you liking. That said, the High Atlas has walks to suit all abilities, but mules and horses are also available in the villages if riding suits you better than walking. The villages in the High Atlas are small, but thriving, and they are home to the Berber tribes-people, who are enduring, hospitable and very friendly. Villages in the Atlas often have stylish Moroccan accommodation for tourists and there is generally no shortage of skilled and proficient guides available.
Tinerhir and Todra: Eastern Morocco
Tinerhir is in eastern Morocco and lying about 9 miles (14 kilometres) from the Todra Gorge. There are two villages on either side of the Todra Gorge which in itself is one of Morocco's most popular destinations, with Todra on the northern side of the Gorge, and Tinerhir on the eastern side. Although both villages look very similar in terms of scenery and architecture, they differ in the lifestyles of their inhabitants and in how each village is run. Tinerhir is actually a mixture of of the old and the new, consisting of a few traditional settlements that surround a modern Moroccan town at the centre. While the settlements are prime examples of traditional and old ways of living, the town itself is modern, boasting of all kinds of modern amenities. Visiting the settlements is a fascinating experience. You will see ancient styles of house and the traditional system of agriculture and irrigation that has remained unchanged for over 100 years. Traditional houses are made mainly from mud, but have iron windows and doors. The pale colour of the houses contrasts with the surrounding countryside, consisting lush green vegetation and the shifting light and shade the surrounding mountains throughout the day. You will find a wide range of accommodation in Tinerhir, with hotels of all standards, from basic to luxury. Most of these are in the town centre. There are also good restaurants that offer cuisine to suite many different tastes. However, there are not so many bars and nightclubs. Tinerhir has good road links to Quarzazate and Rachidia, as well as other cities in Morocco and buses and taxis are frequent.
Watching the sun rise or set over the sand dunes of Merzouga could be one of the most spectacular experiences you have on your trip to Morocco. The sand dunes are called the Erg Chebbi and they are said to be some of the highest dunes in Morocco, at about 480 feet (160 metres). If you are not impressed by Merzouga's sand dunes, then you will be by the desert wildlife. Bird-watchers will be enthralled with what they see. In spring, a lake (Serji) forms near Merzouga which attracts pink flamingos and other rare birds that stop there during the spring migration. The desert is also the habitat of many desert reptiles and mammals. Merzouga is an excellent base from which to explore the desert. A camel trip, for a couple hours, is a great way to see the dunes. For those who are used to getting saddle-sore, or are up for the ultimate adventure, there are two to ten days desert tours by camel. Whilst guides are easy to find (in fact, they will look for you!) it’s usually better to ask at your hotel for a reliable one, as they can be quite aggressive in this part of Morocco. If you think watching the sun set over the dunes is impressive, then taking an overnight excursion over the dunes is even better. You will see wave upon wave of sand dunes at sunset as you ride your camel, whilst the experience of eating supper around a desert camp-fire cannot be surpassed. In the morning, you can watch the sunrise from Algerian border as it catches the dunes.
Chefchaouen (sometimes called Chaouen) is situated in the heart of Morocco's Rif Mountains. It is a wonderful place in which to relax, and is stunningly beautiful. Its streets, and most of the buildings in the old part of town (the Medina), are painted a brilliant sky blue colour. The main square in the Medina is lined with cafes that are usually full of locals and tourists, who mingle freely. The colour of Chefchaouen's buildings contrasts majestically with the mountains, which you can see at the end of every cobbled street, rugged and majestic. Added to this, the clear mountain light just adds a magical touch to the place. It is little surprise then that Chefchaouen is a favourite destination for backpackers (and it's not just the readily available supply of hashish!), it also has very affordable accommodation.