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Visitors forge an immediate and lasting captivation with the romance and mystery of Morocco. It’s an instantaneous, whirlwind love affair, alive with a riotous rainbow of color and scented by the perfume of the spice market. Technically an African monarchy, Morocco’s proximity to Spain lends it a European sophistication that perfectly complements the Middle Eastern exoticism and Berber traditions that are found in spades here. So blended are the cultures that the polyglot Moroccans—generous, kind, and abundantly hospitable—are apt to change languages in mid-sentence. In so many ways, this is a true crossroads of culture.
Morocco is the land of a thousand kasbahs (the word for a town), which are also known as medinas. They have high walls, narrow alleys, and can be dizzying in their unmappable complexity. Within the residences, or riads, couscous is a Friday night tradition (a perfect preparation can take all day!) and the terraces were made for lounging at sunset. On the streets, the place to see and be seen is at one of the hundreds of tiny cafes. Sip a sweet mint tea and watch the world go by … if you relax and close your eyes momentarily, you can imagine that you’ve slipped back in time. Fawning and pampering are in low supply at the public baths, but those who go, swear by them. Stock up on some black olive oil soap at the market and let yourself be steamed, lathered, and pummeled into heavenly cleanliness.
Getting from point “A” to “B” in Morocco is an ever-improving prospect, thanks to ongoing recent developments in the arena of public transportation. For those who relish a luxurious, old-fashioned manner of getting around, there is no better way to travel than on a train with a first-class ticket. Your seating companions will share stories, advice … even their lunch. People listen when you talk here. Time will whisk away with the miles, with little regard for deadlines, appointments, or schedules. It’s the desert way of life. Come to Morocco, and let it carry you away!
Top Morocco Sights
Casablanca is Morocco’s largest and wealthiest city. It is the home of the Hassan II mosque, notable for being one of only a handful open to non-Muslims. It is a stunning monument to faith, featuring impressive zellij (mosaic tiles), and details of intricate stucco and carved cedar. The Art Deco architecture remains breathtaking almost a century later—eminent amongst the buildings in this style is the 1930s Cathedrale Sacre-Couer. The 1918 facade of the Central Post Office is another stylish sight with its construction of round and rectangular shapes. As a port city, life bustles in Casablanca. Recent economic development has led to the building of several lovely boutique hotels, reaffirming the city’s status as the country’s cosmopolitan center. You can catch a bite at Rick’s Cafe, a detailed recreation of the famous film’s iconic eatery. The view of the Old Medina is excellent, and the piano player performs—of course!—“As Time Goes By” every night.
The spiritual and cultural heart of Morocco beats in Fez, the oldest imperial city. Fez wears its age proudly, like a shining jewel in an antique setting. It is the largest city with no cars in the world, and to visit occasionally feels like having divined the secret of time travel. You’ll lay your head at night in a hotel hundreds of years old. No visit to Fez is complete without a visit to the old medina, the labyrinthine city center that dates back to the medieval period and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. There are no maps, and no way to explore but to lose oneself in the maze-like alleys of hagglers, hustlers, and souks. View the tanneries, and purchase some hand-dyed leather goods! The historic Jewish quarter is also scenic and popular. You can charter a camel trek to the nearby desert, or catch a coach to the stunning Roman ruins of Volubilis. Fez is also home to a burgeoning foodie culture, so eat up!
The weathered pink buildings and orange trees of Marrakech beckon to visitors. The Ali Ben Youssef Museum is a big draw, home to exquisite art and architecture, as is the Palace de la Bahia. The beauty of the Majorelle Gardens is not to be missed, either. You have the chance to visit an authentic Berber village just outside town. Delicious honey, argan oil (great for the hair), and traditional woodcrafts are the best souvenirs. The city itself is home to luxury riads offering entertainment straight out of Arabian Nights—belly dancers, snake charmers, and fire-eaters enthrall visitors! Alternately, saddle up a camel and book an overnight bedouin sleepover. When in town at night time, stop by the Djemaa El-Fna medina to soak up the vibrant, cacophonous carnival atmosphere. Dance to the drum beats, get a henna tattoo, and enjoy the sights!
Edgy, atmospheric Tangier is the artistic capital of Morocco, and has been so for over one hundred years. Home of authors, rock stars, and eccentrics, something bohemian in Tangier has long called to those with a creative soul. The city’s accessibility from Paris has historically attracted those who fancy a bit of adventure, and visitors today can expect the same. An annual jazz festival pays tribute to the local music scene, and the nightlife is bold and dynamic. The seaside location welcomes sunbathers and beachcombers—check out the Grottes d’Hercules, where the legendary hero was said to rest after his labors. Sip your tea and spill your secrets at one of the cafes with an ocean view: the overhanging jacaranda and hydrangea tell no tales. The medina is lively and noisy, bursting with great food and tchotchkes for sale.
The Andalusian walls of Rabat have protected the Moroccan capital for almost a thousand years. Deeply-ingrained, rich tradition is contained behind those battlements of red and ochre, a stronghold of culture. Here you will find Chellah, an ancient settlement established by the Carthaginians, plundered by the Romans, and then gone to the birds … literally. In spring, the air comes alive with birdsong from atop the crumbling towers. The Royal Palace is not open the visitors, but still an imposing and majestic sight. The Old Medina is your stop for every delicious treat you can imagine: luscious pain au chocolat, fresh salads, steaming lentil soup, and bowls of beans. The Ouidaia Kasbah is where you will find numerous small cafes, all with exceptional ocean views, and handicrafts can be found at the Rue des Consuls, historic home of foreign diplomats. At nighttime, Rabat comes to life. There are hip clubs and eateries, live music, and plenty of places to chat with friend or watch a football game. The towns of Asilah and Larache are also popular with visitors and located quite nearby.
Surrounded by mountains on one side and the desert on the other, Ouarzazate is smaller, a bit more isolated, and quieter than most other major Moroccan destinations. At the same time, “Ozzywood” is tremendously captivating! It gained that name with its notoriety as a major filmmaking location. You’ve seen the sandscapes of Ouarzazate in such classics as "Gladiator," "The Mummy," "The Last Temptation of Christ," and, more recently, "Game of Thrones." As the Hollywood of Africa, there’s some serious star power going on … but it’s nothing on what you’ll find up in the sky. From town you can take a camel ride out for an overnight stay in the Sahara beneath the sacred palm groves. With no light pollution, you’ll see the heavens more clearly than ever before in your life. You can also request a quad bike and enjoy a rollicking ride over the dunes! Beyond the glitz and glamour—artificial or natural—Ouarzazate’s core is deeply traditional. Few places elsewhere in Morocco turn out as good a traditional tagine meal, for one. The Berber kasbahs remain intact, the most celebrated of which is Kasbah Ait Benhaddou, a protected Unesco World Heritage Site.
|Primary Airports: Mohammed V International Airport (CMN), Menara International Airport (RAK), Ibn Batouta International Airport (TNG|
|Government: Constitutional Monarchy|
|Currency: Moroccan Dirham (MAD)|
|Population: 32,726,000 (2006 est.)|
|Language: Arabic, Berber dialects, Spanish, French|
|Electricity: 220V/50Hz (European plug)|
|Time Zone: UTC|
Morocco Travel Reviews
My Short Visit to Morocco
While spending time with friends in Nice, we decided to embark on a short trip to Morocco.
Without planning, we flew the next morning from Nice to Casablanca. Once arriving in Casablanca, we found a moderately-priced hotel close to the historic King Hassan II Mosque. A tour of the Mosque was a delight with its ornate and lavish interiors. The Mosque was most brilliant at night, with spectacular lights showcasing the world’s tallest minaret in the world.
After strolling through Casablanca and enjoying local culture, art and architecture, we had a fabulous meal at the famous Rick’s Café, featured in the movie “Casablanca.” Although expensive, we dined on fresh seafood, fried eggplant and a variety of Moroccan dishes. One of the highlights Rick’s was listening to the piano player, playing classics including “As Time Goes By.” We then went to the Corniche neighborhood to experience the hectic nightlife.
The next morning we took a short train ride to the city of Rabat, located on the Atlantic Ocean. We found Rabat to be less crowded than Casablanca. We visited the Hassan Tower and the famous Archaeological Museum before exploring the three gates to the city. We shopped at many local souks, purchasing traditional Moroccan scarves and brightly-colored slippers.
We then took a train from Rabat to our final destination, Marrakech, located in the foothills of the majestic Atlas Mountains. We found a hotel in the Medina, the historic section of the city then set out on a walking tour. One of our favorite places was the Jemad el-Fnaa, the world-famous square in the centre of the city. The square comes alive at night with performances by dancers, acrobats and musicians.
Although our trip to Morocco lasted only four days, we missed many of the sights. We are planning a two-week vacation in Morocco in the near future.
Excellent food, Miraculous Scenery, Great People
I was in Morocco for about 5-6 months for a study abroad program in Rabat. I stayed with a local family in the old part of the city and got super good at charades because I didn't speak Arabic (at all) or French (well). Here is what I can tell you: The food is delicious, but if you're having a hankering for something traditionally Western, it's pretty easy to find. Eat all of the couscous. ALL OF IT. You will never find anything that comes close to the perfection of how Moroccans make their Friday couscous. We used to have heated arguments about who's host family made it the best. Conclusion: IT WAS ALL THE BEST. If you're female, you will receive a lot of unwanted comments and attention. I had the luck of traveling with a male companion when I was there and that definitely helped. Moroccan mint tea is absolutely wonderful, but - fair warning - they put about a gallon of sugar in it. I didn't realize this until I saw my host mother brewing it one day. So. Much. Sugar.
Chefchaouen is one of the most beautiful cities you will ever visit. It is also surrounded my hash fields (no joke). Take that to mean what you want. Wander the medina kadima of Fes for an authentic market experience. It is huge. You will get lost. Just roll with it. Don't be fooled by the vendors in Marrakesh. They will try to rip you off (and probably succeed). If you take the train, splurge and ride in first class. It's worth it. Drink a lot of Moroccan orange juice. It's sold everywhere on the streets and it is wonderful, however, bring your own glass. Orange juice vendors would frequently ask for our water bottles to sell to tourists. Essaouira is a little European beach town with a bunch of older white tourists. This should in no way deter from going because it is beautiful. I went horseback riding on the beach for low low price $15. Granted, my horse was difficult and unruly, but I still got to canter through waves, so...
When in Casablanca, I highly recommend that you pick up some Casablanca beer (drink Casablanca beer - it's good) and then watch the movie Casablanca. It'll be a very meta experience. Also, Rick's Cafe does exist, although they do not play As Time Goes By on repeat so the experience is somewhat dulled. In truth, Casablanca is probably the ugliest city I visited while in Morocco. We went there because you could find really bad Mexican food (do not eat the Mexican food) and watch Western movies.
And, if you can, go to the Sahara Desert (because IT'S RIGHT THERE) and ride a camel. Then, at night, walk away from the lights of where ever you are staying and look up because you will never see so many stars in your entire life. It's amazing.
Finally, don't go see a belly dancer. It is in no way an authentic Moroccan experience. It's designed for tourists who have seen Aladdin too many times. That is not you. And it is not Morocco.