Ksar Aït Benhaddou, an old fortified clay village in Morocco.
Morocco beckons you to experience its rich history, landscape and culture. From romantic Casablanca to bustling Tangier, from the colourful markets to the serene desert, Morocco has something to offer for every traveller. Morocco is such a diverse country that it is possible to see snow in the Atlas mountains and even be able to be in the Sahara dunes, all in one day.
Here’s our run down of 12 must see places in Morocco during your holiday there.
Jemaa el-Fnaa, Marrakech. (Pic Credits: flickr )
Marrakech is possibly the second most important of Morocco’s four former imperial cities. The city gets its nickname “Red City” or “Ochre City” due to the various red sandstone buildings as well as the red walls of the city built by Ali ibn Yusuf during the 12th century.
Marrakech in Morocco is a cultural, religious, and trading center for Northwest and sub-Saharan Africa. Jemaa el-Fnaa is the main square and market place in Marrakesh’s medina quarter (old city) used by locals and tourists. It is the busiest square in Africa. During the day it is occupied by vendors selling juice and water in brass cups from traditional leather water-bags. And despite the protected status of these species under Moroccan law, snake charmer stalls can also been found there. Later in the day, the entertainment changes to Chleuh dancing-boys, story-tellers, magicians, and traditional medicines peddlers. At night as the number of people in the square increases, it is filled with dozens of food-stalls.
Fishing harbour, Essaouira. (Pic Credits: flickr)
Essaouira was formerly known by its Portuguese name Mogador. The fortress walls that still enclose part of the city has given it its modern name meaning “the little rampart”. Essaouira is located in the western Moroccan economic region of Marrakesh-Safi, on the Atlantic coast.
The bay at Essaouira has long been considered as one of the best anchorages of the Moroccan coast as it has a peaceful harbour, protected against strong marine winds. A broad sandy beach extends from the harbour south of Essaouira. The river Oued Ksob flows to the ocean here, and further south lies the archaeological ruins of the Bordj El Berod watchtower.
Essaouira remains one of the major fishing harbours of Morocco. It is also renowned for its kite-surfing and windsurfing and is known as the ‘Wind City of Africa’. Essaouira is also a center of argan oil production. The tree-climbing goats who are unique to the region have made the place a tourist attraction. It is an interesting sight to see as argan trees are the only type the goats climb.
Shades of blue, Chefchaouen.
Chefchaouen is a city situated just inland from Tangier in northwest Morocco. It was founded as a small kasbah (fortress) in 1471. Chefchaouen is the chief town of the province of the same name. The city often called Chaouen by locals, gets its nickname ‘The Blue Pearl Of Morocco’ as it is noted for its houses and buildings rinsed in shades of blue. This is definitely one of the must see places in Morocco. There are several theories as to why it is so. Some of them being that the blue keeps mosquitoes away or that Jews introduced the blue when they took refuge from Hitler in the 1930s, or that blue symbolizes the sky and heaven, and serves as a reminder to lead a spiritual life. However locals also say at some point in the 1970s they were mandated to be painted blue simply to attract tourists.
The Chefchaouen countryside is known to be one of the main producers of cannabis in Morocco which is why backpackers love it. Nearby is the Kef Toghobeit Cave – one of the deepest caves in Africa. Offering many native handicrafts that are not available elsewhere in Morocco, this city is a popular shopping destination.
Camel rides, Sahara Desert. (Pic Credits: wikimedia)
The Sahara Desert is the world’s largest hot desert and there are very few places on Earth that compare to its incredible landscape. Located on the western border, many travellers come to Morocco specifically for the desert experience of venturing off into the desert and spending a night under the stars.
Choose a hotel or riad in Merzouga as your base if you wish to explore the Sahara Desert during the day, and not spend the night in the desert. Don’t do a day trip from Marrakech or Fez, as both of these cities are located far from the desert. It would take almost a full day just to drive to the sand dunes. A two nights’ trip will allow you to do a lot more things – sand-boarding and camel trekking are day activities, and you can spend your nights singing, dancing, and stargazing. At a more relaxed pace you can fully immerse yourself in the traditional ways of the local tribes.
Bab el-Mansour gate, Meknes. (Pic Credits: wikimedia)
Meknes is one of the four Imperial or historical capital cities of Morocco with a harmonious blend of Islamic and European styles. It is an impressive city built in Spanish-Moorish style surrounded by high walls with great doors. Meknes, Morocco is named after a Berber tribe known as Miknasa which settled here in the 9th century but was originally from the Tunisian south. Meknes is located in the heart of Morocco and is made of two distinct centres with very different vibes – the old ‘medina’ with the city’s historic sights, and the new ‘ville nouvelle’ with big houses, modern cars and branded takeaways.
Bab el-Mansour gate is one of the more impressive tourist spots, not only for its size but its original green and white zellij tiles, marble columns and inscriptions from the Quran that run along the top.
It was completed in 1732 and named after the architect, El-Mansour. This is the main gate between the Medina and Imperial City of Meknes.
Ruins of Volubilis, Fez. (Pic Credits: flickr)
Fez is a city in northern inland Morocco, to the northeast of Atlas Mountains. It is Morocco’s second largest city after Casablanca. Fez has also been called the “Mecca of the West” and the “Athens of Africa”. The medina of Fez is believed to be one of the world’s largest urban pedestrian zones. The numerous madrasas, mosques, zawiyas and city gates constructed during the 13th to 15th century and which are still surviving today are considered the hallmarks of Moorish and Moroccan architectural styles.
The partly excavated ruins of a Berber city called Volubilis can be found on a shallow slope below the Zerhoun mountain. The University of Al Quaraouiyine founded in 859 is the oldest continuously functioning university in the world. The Chouara Tannery built in the 11th century is one of the oldest and largest tanneries in the world. Here barefoot workers tread skins in a grid of round stone wells or dyeing pits. While in Fez, also visit some of the famous mosques there – al-Hamra Mosque, Zaouia Moulay Idriss II, Andalusian Mosque and the Chrabliyine Mosque. Or take in the quiet surroundings and sweeping views of the city and countryside at the crumbling ruins of the Merenid Tombs.
Paradise Beach, Asilah. (Pic Credits: wikimedia)
Asilah is a fortified town on the northwest tip of the Atlantic coast of Morocco dating back to 1500 B.C. Its ramparts and gate works still remain fully intact. Asilah is now a seaside resort. Paradise Beach is a popular tourist destination in Morocco with its modern holiday apartment complexes. And the wealthy from Casablanca also have their weekend getaways here.
This town can be explored by foot in just a day. It has a charming souk and Thursdays is the market day. The old neighbourhoods are restored and painted white or adorned with inspiring artwork, providing a taste of Spain mixed with Moroccan traditions. The Church of San Bartolome is a private and closed church that still houses resident nuns. It is one of very few in Morocco that are allowed to ring the bells for Sunday Mass. The nuns there are usually more than happy to give you a little guided tour.
During your holiday there check out the music, arts or cultural festivals being held, some of which are on the international level.
Todra Gorge, Dades Valley. (Pic Credits: wikimedia)
Dades Valley, Morocco, stretches from the High Atlas Mountains in the north to the rugged Jbel Sarho in the south. Dades Valley is scattered with oases, palm groves and elaborate kasbahs (central part of a town or citadel) giving it the nickname ‘the Land of a Thousand Kasbahs’.
The valley is made lush and green by the Dades River which empties itself into Morocco’s largest river, the Draa. A variety of almond, fig, walnut and birch trees grow abundantly on the valley floor. This landscape offers a spectacular contrast to the earthen-coloured rocky formations rising from the valley floor. The southernmost gorges are known for extensive production of roses, used in the production of rose water.
Rock climbing is becoming increasingly popular in the area. There are the many hiking trails through the gorge where you get to admire the towering cliffs that rise nearly 1,000 feet above.
Todra Gorge is a dramatic gorge cutting into the mountainside forming one of Morocco’s greatest natural sights. It is best viewed in the morning hours, especially when the light first reaches the bottom of the canyon. Throughout the day based on the sun’s different positions the canyon colours continue to change. Take a chance and explore hidden canyons like the Gorge de Miguirne with its rock pools and swimming holes. While on your holiday there, put Dades Valley on your list of ‘must see places in Morocco’.
The Hassan Tower-Minaret and Mosque, Rabat.
Rabat is Morocco’s political and administrative capital. All foreign embassies in Morocco are located here making it one of the most important cities in the country.
The Andalusian gardens showcase fascinating exhibits and demonstrate Moroccan art and culture. It also houses the Palace Museum. At the National Zoo of Morocco-Rabat, you get the chance to see animals native to Morocco and the greater African continent. Chellah is the remains of the medieval fortified city. Explore the Roman and Islamic ruins there, from a bathing pool to a madrasa.
The Hassan Tower is the minaret of an incomplete mosque in Rabat, Morocco. Commissioned by Abu Yusuf Yaqub al-Mansur in 1195, it was intended to be the largest minaret in the world along with the mosque, as also the world’s largest. But when al-Mansur died a few years later, construction was stopped. The tower had reached only 44metres – about half of its intended height. The rest of the mosque was also abandoned with only the beginnings of several walls and 348 columns complete.
Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca.
Morocco’s most populous city Casablanca, is a city for those who want to feel like a local, rather than a tourist on their holiday. Here they can experience the present as well as learn about the past. Casablanca is where most visitors first land in Morocco.
The city has fascinating architecture from Art Deco to radically modern. Enthusiasts can go on architectural tours conducted there to see the diverse building styles.
The Hassan II Mosque is the largest mosque in Morocco. It is a testament to incredible craftsmanship that took as many as 10,000 artisans and more than seven years to complete the intricate masterpiece.
Ksar of Aït Benhaddou, Ouarzazate.
Ouarzazate is a city in the Drâa-Tafilalet region of south-central Morocco. Its name comes from a Berber phrase meaning “without noise” or “without confusion”. It is situated at an elevation of over 1,000 metres, in the middle of a bare plateau south of the High Atlas Mountains with the Sahara Desert to its South. This gives it its nickname ‘The door of the desert’. Ouarzazate is an important holiday destination in Morocco as its location makes it perfect to use as a base for excursions across the Draa Valley and into the desert.
The Ouarzazate area is also a noted film-making location with internationally acclaimed companies coming to make their films with Morocco’s biggest studios.
Ouarzazate is also often called ‘The Valley of the Kasbahs’ as it was once and incredibly wealthy region of Morocco. Aït Benhaddou is a ‘ksar’ or fortified village with half a dozen ‘Kasbahs’ or merchant houses and other individual dwellings still existing, and is a great example of Moroccan earthen clay architecture.
Tangier medina, Tangier.
Tangier is a major city in north-western Morocco. The city gets its nicknames “Bride of the North” and “Door of Africa” as it is located on the Maghreb coast at the western entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean.
Tangier is Morocco’s second most important industrial centre after Casablanca, but its economy also relies heavily on tourism. Seaside resort projects funded by foreign investments have been increasing. On a clear day the famous Rock of Gibraltar can be seen from the Bab HaHa Gate.
The Tangier medina contained by the walls of a 15th-century Portuguese fortress is a top attraction. The labyrinth of alleyways offer delights and treasures in its commercial souqs and gives glimpses of traditional living in its residential quarters.
So do you want to explore maze-like medinas and experience shopping in the local souqs? Would you like to ride a camel, drink tea with Berbers and see the desert? Are you interested in visiting the ancient ruins or just relaxing by the seaside?
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