Morocco is situated at the westernmost part of North Africa. The country’s landscape is quite diverse with coastlines, mountain ranges, forests and deserts. To the north of Morocco lies the coastal area on the North Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, to the south is the Western Sahara, in the central area lies the mountain ranges of the Atlas mountains and in the east, Morocco shares the border with Algeria. The coastal plains in the central and northern region are the most populated areas of Morocco as the soil is fertile and perfect for agriculture.
Morocco’s population is predominantly from either Arab or Berber descent. The country has been home to many cultures through the centuries like Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Arabs, Jews and Moors from Spain, Portuguese and French. All these civilisations have given Morocco it’s rich culture and architecture. Now you can witness a smooth blend between the old Moroccan cities and the new modern cities. Cities like Casablanca and Rabat are famous for their medians along with the newly constructed modern architecture. Other famous cities of Morocco are Marrakech, Fes, Agadir, Essaouira, Ouarzazat, Chefchaouen and Tangier. There are several places to visit and appreciate in these cities. To help you get an idea and plan your trip to Morocco , we have highlighted some of the popular places and tours for your reference.
Marrakech is one of the best places to stay to cover the gems of Morocco. It is situated near the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara desert, giving you an opportunity to plan both day trips and multi-day trips to these locations. The city itself is home to a number of historic sites that are not to be missed. During the Marrakech city tours you can see the some of the popular places like Jemaa el-Fna Square, the Old Medina, Souks, Koutoubia Mosque, Jardin Mojorelle, Bahia Palace, Ali Ben Youssef Medersa and many more historic sites. Some of the tours from Marrakech covering places outside of the city are as below.
The Atlas Mountains form a stark contrast to the desert background
The Atlas Mountains are the greatest mountain ranges in North Africa. Its runs between three countries, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia from southwest to northeast of these Maghrib countries spanning 2000 kms. They divide Morocco in two major part, the northern plains and the pre-Sahara. The valleys are inhabited by the Berbers and are home to North Africa's most remote villages. During your tour to the mountains you can visit some these villages to get a feel of the true Berber lifestyle and culture.
The highest peak in the Atlas Mountains is Jebel Toubkal located in the Toubkal National Park. During peak winters, the peaks are capped with snow, making it a hot tourist destination for skiing. Mountain treks are organised all through the year, ranging from a day to 3 days.
The day tours generally include visit to three popular valleys; Asni Valley, Oukaimeden Valley and Ourika Valley and the Kik plateau. The Asni valley is famous for its fruit orchards with the spectacular view of the peaks of Atlas Mountain. Oukaimeden Valley is home to the traditional Berber villages built from adobe and stones. It also has the highest altitude ski resort in Africa. And the most famous is Ourika Valley, for its river and numerous waterfalls. The tour usually includes a visit to the typical Berber house either for lunch or for some Moroccan tea and cake. You can opt to walk, drive or take a mule to certain places during your tour. Some operators also offer camel ride, quad biking and hot air balloon rides.
A tour of the Atlas Mountains in Morocco. Photo by Michiel
The multi day tours are generally trekking tours which start and end at Imlil valley. You meet your guide and mule here. The trek goes through number of Berber villages where you get an opportunity to interact with the locals and learn more about their way of living. Most operators arrange for tea and meals in these villages. Each day you trek for about 4-5 hours passing through forests, valleys, passes, rivers, waterfalls and plateaus, giving you a stunning view and feel of the entire Atlas mountain ranges. Some of the places where you could take a overnight pitstop are Tinzert, Tacheddirt, Tinghourine, Tamsoult and Toubkal where you stay in local Berber homes, refuges or tents. Some of the other places that you would be seeing or passing through are Ouirgan Valley, Azzaden River and valley, Tazaghart Plateau, biggest waterfall in the Toubkal region, Aguelzim Pass, Mount Toubkal, Tizi n’ Tamatert, Ikkis, Oudit Pass and Mzik pass. You can customize and plan your trek based on fitness level and time at hand.
Another popular day tour or multi-day trip is to Dades Valley and Todra Gorge. Dades Valley is situated in the middle of the High Atlas Mountains and one can reach the valley through Ourzazate. The valley is also known as the “Valley of a Thousand Kasbahs” as there several Kasbahs located here. It is also home to one of the largest Oases. As you move further into the Dades Valley you can reach the Dades Gorge and the Todra Gorges which were carved by the Dades River. The Todra Gorges is the largest canyon in this region and attracts a lot of serious climbers and hikers. Getting here and the trek itself is not very difficult, making it one of the recent popular tourist destinations. You can plan to stay here overnight in the hotels located at the mouth of the gorge or if the weather permits you can spend the night in the open underneath the overhanging cliffs.
A desert tour camel ride in Merzouga, Morocco. Photo by Antonio
As Marrakech is located near the Sahara desert, there are several tours and excursions that to explore the mighty Sahara desert of Morocco. Again these can be day trips or multi-days trips exploring further into the desert by 4X4 drive or by foot or camel trek. Camel treks are the USPs of most of the desert tours. It is not only fun but also a way to experience the traditional way of travelling by the locals. You can enjoy the picturesque sand dunes and watch the sunset and sunrise while sitting on one those sand dunes. Camping in the Nomad tents in the middle of the desert underneath the open skies is also an experience in itself. Some of the popular tours are to the dunes of Erg-Chebbi which starts from Merzouga, Erg Chigaga (or Chegaga) via Mhamid, short trips to the desert of Zagora or day trips to Agafay Desert. During your tour you would get a chance to get up close with the local Berbers and the Nomads to know more about their lifestyle.
Some of the multi day tours covering Erg-Chebbi would also take you to Tizi n’ Tichka Pass, Kasbah of Aït Benhaddou and Ouarzazate, palm groves of Skoura and the famous Kasbah Amridil, valley of roses in Boumalne du Dadès or El Kelaa M'gouna, the Dadès Valley where the Dades Gorge and Todra Gorges are located, Rissani, Agdez and valley of Draa.
As Erg Chigaga is located quite further into the desert. It's about 8 hours from Marrakech to reach the desert town of Mhamid, by road. On the way you pass through the scenic Draa Valley and Zagora. After staying overnight at Mhamid the trek to the magnificent sand dunes begins the next day. As Erg Chigaga is not easily accessible, it's less crowded and seems rather untouched.
Essaouira in Morocco is one of the most picturesque cities in the world. Photo by Caroline
Essaouira is a city situated in the Atlantic coast, around 190 Kms from Marrakech. As this seaside city is very close to Marrakech you can plan a day trip to explore Essaouira. You could also opt for an overnight stay in a traditional Riad. In Essaouira visit the beaches and the famous port, the Medina, the former Mellah (Jewish Quarter), the Scala and the Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdallah Museum and the souks which are famous for woodcrafts, jewelry and fish. The most popular beach is the Sidi Kaouki beach renowned for windsurfing and kitesurfing. On your way to Essaouira or way back you can visit the Argan Oil cooperative where the Argan trees stand tall and the unique tree climbing goats can be found.
Fès is one of the ancient imperial cities located by the Atlas Mountain in Morocco. It is home to the oldest continuously functioning university in the world, University of Al Quaraouiyine founded in 859. Fes is also famous for its Medina called Fès el Bali, a UNESCO world heritage site which is believed to be the largest urban pedestrian areas (car-free) in the world. The city is known for its well preserved culture and heritage in the Arab world. You can experience the same by exploring the Old Medinas, mosques and souks in Fes and also visit the other two sections of Fes i.e Fez el-Jdid and Ville Nouvelle. Fez el-Jdid is considered the new part of Fes which is still a hundred years old influenced by the jewish civilisation. Ville Nouvelle is actually the most recent part of Fes developed in the 20th century under the French Protectorate era. It is where the Moroccan government ministries are located. The airport and the train station too is located in this part of the city.
Worker in a tannery in the medina of Fez, Morocco. Photo by Antonio
City tours of Fes are the best way to orient yourself to this ancient city. The tours generally cover places like the old Medina where you enter through the colourful blue and green gate called Bab Boujloud. Navigate through the narrow winding lanes of the medina leading to the souks and the largest tanneries in Africa. Other major attraction in Fès el Bali is the Al Quaraouiyine university and mosque, Moulay Idriss Mausoleum, Medersa Bou Inania, Medersa al-Attarine and Fondouk el-Nejjarine (wood museum). Fez el-Jdid’s major attraction is the Mellah - the Jewish quarters where you can see the old Jewish architecture and cemetery. You should also make a visit to the Batha Museum and the Merenid Tombs located on the hill above Fes, where the Sultans from the Merenid dynasty lay in peace. The view of the city from here is breathtaking.
Fes is also accessible to the Sahara desert resulting in many day trips and multi day trips being offered by the tour operators. Other places where you can take a day trip from Fes are Meknes, Moulay Idriss, Voubilis/ Walili and Chefchaouen.
Casablanca is the biggest city in Morocco and the most important port city in western Morocco. It is the commercial capital and the most cosmopolitan cities of Morocco ensuring a perfect blend of the authentic old parts of the town and modern dwellings. The city might not be very famous for the being the best place to experience the Moroccan lifestyle and culture but it does have some hidden gems worth spending your time on. Most famous is the Hassan II Mosque situated along the coast, partly in the sea. Other places that you should visit are Museum of Judaism, Place Mohammed V, Cathedral du Sacre Coeur, La Corniche and some of the modern gems like Morocco Mall, Rick’s Café and SKY28, Twin Center.
Casablanca is generally used as a transit point by the tourist before they depart on their trip to discover Morocco to places like Marrakech, Rabat and Fes. There day trips too available from Casablanca to these cities and we cover more details on Casablanca tours in this article .
Chefchaouen, a visually unique city in Morocco. Photo Credit
Chefchaouen is Morocco’s most picturesque towns located in the Rif Mountains. Many visitors visit the city on a day trip from cities like Fes, Tangier and Tetouan. The cities unique blue buildings with mountainous backdrop makes it a place worth visiting. Walk through these blue and white houses inspired by the jewish inhabitants, located in the medina. You can also visit Ras el Maa, the waterfall to the east of the medina. On a hill behind the waterfall, the ruins of the Jemaa Bouzafar mosque is located. Visit the kasbah where the old prison, tower and garden can be viewed as well as the Kasbah museum which houses the artefacts from Chefchaouen. You can just relax and enjoy the view of the mountains at the central square of the city called Plaza Uta el-Hammam. If you plan to stay in Chefchaouen you could get adventurous and trek the Rif mountains.
Tangier is located in Northwestern Morocco off Cape Spartel where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean. This port city is the entrance point to Morocco for the Europeans as its just 2 hours away from spain by ferry. The city is considered one of the most modernised cities in Morocco and is the second most important industrial centre. The city also has rich history due to the presence of many cultures starting from the 5th century BC. The Kasbah that is now mostly converted into private residence or hotels is a place one should definitely visit to see the old structures. You can enter the Kasbah through the Bab Haha gate and explore the interiors by foot. Visit the Kasbah Museum located in the former sultan's palace of Dar el-Makhzen and enjoy the panoramic view of the entire city and the ocean from the Kasbah as it's the highest point in the city. The Medina of Tangier formed of labyrinthine lanes leads you to the old structures influenced by Moorish- and Andalusian-styles. Most of the shops are located in Rue Les Almohades selling furniture, jewelry, ceramics, fabrics and spices. The main attraction of the Medina is the Grand Socco. This square separates the old medina and the new city. You can visit the American Legation Museum, the first American property outside of America located in the southeast corner. East of the square is the Grande Mosque which was built as a church in 5th century and then converted into a mosque in the 8th century. What makes this place unique and historical is that it was again converted into a church and back again to a mosque.
The cave of Hercules in Tangier, Morocco. A resting place for Hercules, the Legendary Hero of Greek Mythology. After killing all his enmities, including Antaeus, Hercules came here and founded a city named Tingis (Tangier) in honor of his mother
When in Tangier, visiting the beaches is a must. They are known for their cleanliness and attracts a lot of tourists. Other major attractions in the outskirts of the city are Cape Spartel and Cave of Hercules. Cape Spartel marks in the northwest tip of Africa and is where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean. The lighthouse situated here amplifies the beauty of this place. Below Cape Spartel is the Cave of Hercules. It has two opening, one on land from where you can enter the cave and one from the sea. It is part natural and part man-made cave. The sea opening is known as the “the Map of Africa” which is the man made opening. The cave was made as a result of rock mining by the Berber people to make Milestones.
You can also plan day trips from Tangier to nearby cities like Asilah,Larache, Ceuta, Melilla, Chefchaouen, Fes and Tetouan.
Amidst all the sightseeing do stop by to relish the local Moroccan cuisine especially from the carts and stalls in the medinas. You must try the Tagine generally made of beef, meat pie called Pastilla, heavy soups Tanjia and Harira, deep-fried potato cakes - Makouda, Mechoui - lamb dish slow cooked in an underground over, freshly baked breads and the most familiar couscous. Sea food is famous in the coastal regions. Sip on the fresh and refreshing orange juice available almost all across the country and the famous mint tea. Happy Travelling!