Morocco Vacation Guide
With over 40 000 years of history, ruled by seven dynasties with a brief colonial interlude, Morocco is indeed a coveted territory by cultures of the past and tourists of the present. When visiting Morocco, the past can never be ignored as its magnificent buildings testify to the multi-faceted past of the land. Along with other aspects, here are our recommendations according to the major areas in Morocco.
The Kingdom of Morocco is located in North Africa with a landmass of approximately 710,850 km² and a population of almost 33 million. Its rich history and exoticism draw many to the country every year. Morocco is a Muslim country in which the tenets of Islam are practiced in all aspects of daily life. Therefore, it is important that the visitor possesses decorum and practice discretion. This includes ensuring one is dressed modestly, avoiding blatant consumption of alcohol in public and restraining oneself from any overt public displays of affection.
The climate in Morocco is generally dry with small amounts of rain expected between November and March. However, it is important to know that temperatures and weather conditions do vary drastically based on where you are. The summers can reach very high temperatures while it is much better at higher altitudes. The winters will cause the mercury in thermometers to drop drastically as well. Hence, it is best to go during spring (mid-March-May) or Autumn (September – November).
Being the capital of Morocco, Rabat is the largest city after Casablanca and is known for its ancient buildings; some of which date right back to the 12th century. For a start, why not visit the Oudaïa Kabash. As an introduction to the area, you will be first greeted by its city walls as well as its gate, Bab Ouaïïa a, which are prime examples of military architecture in the 12th century. Within the city, stop by the Musée des Ouadaïa and admire their collection of folk art and craft. Another sight to catch would be the Prayer Hall of El-Atika Mosque which dates back to the 1150s.
Outside of Oudaïa Kabash, a major attraction would be the Mausoleum of Mohammed V. This grand monument is commissioned by Hassan II in honor
of his father, Mohammed V who is the father of Moroccan independence. This majestic building presents the finest materials and intricate architecture. Another main attraction would be Musée Archéologique and its collection of precious artifacts from Roman, Islamic, Pre-Islamic and even Pre-Historic cultures. The medina in Rabat makes a great retail retreat after a day of sight-seeing with its assortment of leather goods, local crafts, and carpets.
Northern Atlantic Coast
The North Atlantic Coast runs between Salé and Tangier. While it is not a city in itself, it does offer some interesting sights. Nature lovers would definitely want to take a walk in the Forest of Mamora and admire the remaining oak trees of a devastated forest. Alternatively, they might consider taking a boat trip at Moulay Bousselham to observe species of birds such as herons and flamingos. History buffs would definitely appreciate Lixus which is an ancient Roman site set to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Casablanca is definitely the place to go if you ever wondered how architecture from the art-deco era looks like. Areas around Places des Nations Unies and Boulevard Mohammed V are fantastic places to take a stroll and be inspired by the architecture.
However, aside from its architectural heritage, Casablanca’s crowning glory would be the Hassan II Mosque which is the second-largest mosque in the world. This grand building is admired not only for its size but for its extravagance in design and materials. The architectural features are impressive and would be in an architect’s notebook for inspiration. After being in awe of this building, a stroll around the old and new medinas may land you with some interesting crafts and gifts to take home.
South Atlantic Coast
As with the several coastal areas in Morocco, the South Atlantic Coast does offer an interesting experience for everyone. The sporty tourist would definitely enjoy hiking around Imouzzer des Ida Outanane which is adorned with beautiful waterfalls and argan trees. Additionally, one should also consider surfing at Oualidia. The culture vultures among you must definitely stop at El-Jadida to understand how the Portuguese influenced that part of Morocco. And Essasouira impresses the visitor with her medina as well as sights of the harbor.
Tangier’s reputation in drawing various writers and painters from all over is certainly the biggest reason why you should visit. Like most writers, you may want to take a break at Café de Paris for some tea and people watching. Another good place to visit when you are there would be Kasbah where you can admire the colored tiles of the Kasbah mosque or visit the Dar el-Makhzen palace. Also, do not forget to drop by the Fondouk Chejra where you can purchase fabrics. Lastly, if you would like just a day out in the sun, Tangier does host a few beaches around the area. However, please be mindful that Morocco is a Muslim country and conservative should be the only principle when it comes to swimsuits.
Being the oldest city and named as a World Heritage Site, Fés certainly draws many with its various mosque and medersas that boasts architecture dating back to the 14th Century. Places such as Bou Inania Medersa, El-Attarine Medersa and Karaouiyine Mosque are some of the buildings that you just need to see when you are in the city. For those who are interested to see the process of treating animal hides, head on down to the Tanners’ Quarter where you will see several tanneries and another workshop. The Musée Dar el-Batha is another interesting place that you would want to visit with its collection of ceramics, craftwork, and manuscripts.
Meknès & Volubilis
Mekenès is definitely known for its amazing architecture and the mastermind behind it is Moulay Ismail. One can appreciate the architecture at places like Bab Mansour el-Aleuj, Dar el-Makhzen or even pay homage to the man himself at the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail. Art lovers can finally appreciate the finest of Moroccan art at Musée Dar Jamaï and take a pleasurable stroll in the Andalusian garden that is there. For some retail therapy, the souks do offer a wide variety of crafts and goods. For those who are interested in Roman history, Volubilis offers extensive sits of its ruins and one can certainly appreciate the architecture and infrastructure of a Roman city.
Being part of the spice route in times past, it is no wonder that the souks are the soul of this city. To soak in the atmosphere, a walk through Place Jemaa el-Fna is a must where you will be greeted by various store vendors, snake charmers, and other entertainers. For Islamic architecture that dates back to 1147, visit the Koutoubia Mosque and admire its intricate details in the infrastructure of the mosque as well as its minaret. Another beautiful feature of this city is its gardens such as Menara, Aguedal and Majorelle where pleasure walks will allow one to relax. For those who are interested in the culture of the city, visit Dar Si Saïd Museum as it showcases some of the best workmanship that Morocco has to offer.
Like an old sage, Morocco has many insights to offer the visitor of its long history and vibrant culture. All it requires the visitor to do is to take time to explore, learn and admire this interesting country.
Best of Morocco
Any traveler planning to visit Morocco will definitely be overwhelmed by its sheer size and things to do. Therefore, here are our picks of the best sites to help you with the planning of your trip.
Best Islamic Architecture
If there is something that Morocco does not lack, it would be its inspiring architecture from a different era. As such, if you are in the country, visiting the Mausoleum of Mohammed V (Rabat) is a must to witness how highly regarded the father of Moroccan independence is. Also, a visit to the second largest mosque, the Mosque of Hassan II (Casablanca), is a must regardless of your religious inclination due to its intricate and majestic design. Finally, the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail (Meknès) is another good site to visit to pay respects to the man who was behind the city of Meknès.
Best Ancient Sites
For those who are interested in Roman history, a visit to Volubilis and Lixus (Northern Atlantic Coast) is a must with relatively well-preserved ruins. From these ruins, one is able to make out the infrastructure of a Roman town and be awestruck by the fact that they are standing in the area which has lasted for thousands of years.
Best Outdoor Sites
Any adventure-seeking visitor would definitely appreciate Cascades d’Ouzound (Middle Atlas) with its stunning sights of the waterfall as well as macaque monkeys. For hiking enthusiasts, a trip to Imouzzer des Ida Outanane (Southern Atlantic Coast) would definitely not disappoint with its surroundings of waterfalls and argan trees. In addition, one could not possibly say that one has visited Morocco if they did not take camel rides over the Erg Chebbi dunes.
Ancient history buffs will appreciate Musée Archéologique (Rabat) for its collections of ancient artifacts. To see the craftsmanship of times past, Dar Si Saïd Museum (Marrakech) and Musée Dar el-Batha (Fés) are not to be missed the showcase of some of the finest workmanship. As for those who want to know more about Moroccan art, head on down to Musée Dar Jamaï (Meknès) and there is also an Andalusian garden for you to take a leisure stroll as you mused about the artworks that you have just seen.
Best Souks (marketplace)
What is traveling without buying some souvenirs back for your loved ones? For a start, you can drop by Fondouk Chejra (Tangier) which is packed with weavers’ workshops. The souks in Fès and Place Jemaa el-Fna (Marrakech) are bustling places where you can shop for the local crafts and other knick-knacks to complete your shopping list. Furthermore, souks are also fantastic places to mingle with the locals and to soak up the atmosphere of the marketplace.
Food in Morocco
The local cuisine of a country acts as a gastronomic history book as one can tell trade routes and cultures that have influenced her. Local Moroccan cuisine would hint at its Arabic as well as the various influences from Berber and Bedouin tribes. It is no wonder that the locals are proud of their colorful and delicious culinary heritage. To help you out with your culinary search, here are our picks sorted according to the major cities in Morocco.
Whether you are craving for couscous or Tagine (slow-cooked stew), you can count on Dar El Batoul (7 Derb Jihar) to satisfy you with its traditional Moroccan fare and décor which will make you feel like one of the locals from the moment you walk in. For those who are in need of a meal after sightseeing, try Dinarjat (6 Rue Belgnaoui) which is located in the Medina and near to various attractions. Operating in a 17th-century residence, dinners can appreciate its sense of history while dining in its luxurious setting. A nice alternative for those who are strapped for cash would be Zerda (7 Rue Patrice Lumumba) which offers live music and a great menu of Moroccan and Jewish specialties.
For those who prefer European fare, places such as L’Eperon (8 Avenue d’Alger) and La Mamma (6 Rue Tanta) are good for its French and Italian grub respectively and are sold at affordable prices to boot.
Aside from its fame due to the film of the same name, Casablanca also offers a wide variety of restaurants that would cater to any budget. For a start, L’Étoile Marocaine (107 Rue Allal Ben Abdellah) is a cozy place to dine as its traditional local food provides a homely feeling to any diner. El-Mounia (95 Rue du Prince Moulay Abdellah) and Restaurant du Port (Port de Pêche) are also great pit-stop for local food and for those who would prefer alfresco or waterfront dining respectively.
As a nod to its colonial past, Casablanca offers a variety of restaurants serving French cuisines such as Au Petit Pucet Bar (86 Boulevard Mohammed V), Le Point du Jour (27 Rue Belloul Mohammed) and Dawliz (Boulevard de la Corniche). These restaurants offering an interesting range of French fare with Dawliz having the Atlantic Ocean as its backdrop.
For a selection of French and Moroccan food, head on down to Les Alizés (26 Rue de la Sqala) and Villa Maroc (10 Rue Abdellah) which provides great ambiance and great food as well. Seafood lovers will definitely have to try Harbour (Essaouira Harbour) in which one can enjoy the freshest seafood while fishermen out at sea bringing in their day’s catch.
What makes Negresco (20 Rue du Mexique) and Le Coeur Tanger (above Café de Paris, 1 Rue Annual) stand out from other Moroccan restaurants are its characteristic setting. The former transports you to the 1920s, when the city draws a hotchpotch of artistic talents in its heyday, while the latter is situated above an iconic café which was a meeting place for a host of famous people and even spies during WWII. In terms of the food, both serve an excellent selection of traditional food with the added benefit of vegetarian options offered by the latter restaurant.
For a traditional fix, you should check out places such as Al Ambra (47 Route d’Immouzer), El Firdaouss (10 Rue Gengfour), Palais Tariana (Talaa Kbira) which offer affordable and delicious fare at the same time. To cater to oriental tastes, Fés offers restaurants such as Wong (Jnan Moulay Kamel, Vietnamese and Italian cuisine), and Yang Tse (23 Rue Erytheria, Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine). For those who prefer a good old pizza and pasta, Vittorio (21 Rue Brahim Roudani) and Scoozi (12 Rue du Train) are the places you would want to visit.
If you are in the Red City and want to try local food, Marrakech offers a trio of great choices: La Bagatelle (103 Rue Yougoslavie), Le Morocain (232 Avenue Mohammed) and L’Mimouna (47 Place des Ferblantiers). For something traditional with a twist, you should visit the food stalls at Place Jamma el-Fna where you can taste skewered meat and fish on grills. What is most important is that it is a great place to soak in the local atmosphere.
For those whose culinary motto is “Viva Italia”, Pizzeria Venezia (279 Avenue Mohammed V) and Les Terrasses de l’Alhambra (Place Jamma el-Fna) are the places that you might want to consider having your pasta or pizza.
With so much to offer at every turn, any visitor to Morocco will be able to indulge in a long and colorful culinary heritage which will inform one of the history and culture that will spice up any travel experience.
Shopping in Morocco
With a history that dates back over a millennium, one can expect Morocco to have a long heritage that is influenced by religion, its neighboring countries as well as the colonial rulers. As such, Morocco is a treasure trove for any shopper as it offers crafts and goods whose traditions go back a long way.
From leather to metalwork and jewelry, Morocco offers a fine selection of crafts for all price ranges. The best part about purchasing these crafts is that you are allowed to bargain in order to get the best price possible.
Regardless of which of the major cities you are visiting (Oujda, Tanger, Fès, Rabat, Marrakech, etc.) be sure to check out their Centre Artisanal. Here, you will find all sorts of craftwork, curios and accouterments for any shopping list.
For antique lovers, Morocco has loads to offer. Places like Galerie Tindouf in Tanger, 64 rue la Libertié and The Mysteries of Fès in Fès, 53 Derb Bin Lemssari offers a range of antiques that would add an exotic touch to your homes.
As a note of caution, it is worthwhile to do some research into what you are looking for. This is due to some occasional cases that some vendors may claim the goods sold dates back more than it should be as a cause to raise the price.
Carpets and Rugs
Of all the crafts and workmanship that Morocco is known for, one of their finest products would be the carpets and rugs. With its fine needlework and intricate designs, Moroccan carpets are definitely a fine work of art and should be the centerpiece of any living room.
To tick rugs off your shopping list, you should try Souk el Houdz in Tetouan. The Riffian women in this Berber market sure do not disappoint with the selection of woven goods. Another good place to go to would be Tissage Berbere in Fès, 4 Derb Taouil which offers a nice range.
As for carpets, Palais de Fès in Fès, 16 Boutouil Karaouiyne is the place not to be missed as you can take your time to select carpets, sip mint tea with the Karaouinye Mosque as your backdrop. If you are in the Marrakech area, La Porte d’Or, 115 rue Souk Semmarine is a good choice for all your carpeting needs.
Woodwork, Metalwork, Porcelain and Furniture
If you are looking for brass and metalwork, Chez Benlamlih in Fès, 75 Talâa Kebira is not to be missed as the owner’s father was once commissioned to work on the royal palace gates. This is definitely a testament to the quality of the workmanship that is provided. If you are in Essaouira, head on down to Galerie Mogador, 3 rue de Yemen where you will find furniture and bracelets that are quite popular with the Parisians and Milanese.
Finally, if you require an intricate vase for flowers, Coopérative Poterie de Tamgroute in Tamgroute is the shop that you are looking for. The traditional workmanship and tools used to make your pots will surely brighten any room and add an ethnic twist to your home.
Souks or markets are good alternatives to fulfill your shopping needs. Farmers and people from all walks of life congregate once a week at a particular square to sell all sorts of stuff. Aside from shopping, Souks are a great way to experience everyday life in Morocco. Hence, one should check out where is the souk held and on which day of the week as such information differs from city to city.
In the midst of all the retail excitement, one should be mindful of a few things. While one has to bargain in order to get a good deal out of the overpriced offers, it is important that one should only offer a price that one is able and willing to pay for. Offering a particular price and later not buying the particular item when the price is agreed upon may land you in some difficulties with the vendors. Also, it is most important not to accept anything that you did not pay despite being the impression that it is a sample or a gift. You may find yourself accused of stealing and in an incredibly awkward and troublesome.
Finally, if you are shopping with a certified guide, you will find yourself paying more for the items as the guide will get a commission for bringing you to a particular store. Aside from these precautions, Morocco has certainly much to offer in the retail arena and it is well worth the time to navigate through the streets and maze-like vicinities just to shop.
While the crime rate is low, travelers will often face a few problems when walking along the streets of Morocco. For a start, it is very common to have locals following you around and offering you to be your guide. As such, it is important to engage a proper tour guide and if you ever face such an encounter, a continuous and firm decline of their offer will do the trick.
These “guides”, who are unemployed, will often makeup stories and bring you to places where they can earn commissions from certain vendors. Failure to decline them will result in the allegation of you not paying for their services in bringing you around despite you finding your own way there by yourself. There may be times when they get too insistent. If this happens, seek help from the police or walk towards a crowded area. In addition, never accept free gifts or samples from vendors as they may accuse you of stealing it as a means of extorting money from you.
As for women, traveling alone is highly discouraged as one will be taunted and harassed on the streets. This is especially so for Caucasian women due to the misconception that one is “available”. To deal with this, do not make any eye contact or pay attention to them. If the taunts get out of line, approach the police immediately.
Finally, drugs such as Kif (dope), which is prevalent around the Rif mountains, are illegal. Therefore, if you are unsure of the product, refrain from buying it. If you are driving, it is advisable not to pick hitchhikers up because if it is found on one person, everyone in the car will be arrested.