How to see the best of this North African gem.
From the rugged Atlas Mountains to the laidback surfing beaches, Morocco is a country full of spectacular delights. Get lost in the souks, ride a camel through the desert, and indulge in traditional cuisine–in this magical part of the world, all your wanderlust dreams can come true.
Mount a dromedary camel to explore the undulating orange dunes and abandoned kasbahs of the desert, a magical region immortalized in film and fiction. Camel rides are also available in Marrakesh (near the Menara Gardens) and on Essaouira beach if your itinerary doesn’t include the desert.
Sip Mint Tea and Watch the World Go By
Make like a local and install yourself on a cafe terrace for a fortifying mint tea and a dose of people watching. Tea (sometimes called Berber whiskey) is the essential social lubricant in Morocco and this sugary sweet pick-me-up is used to welcome visitors and seal deals.
Appreciate Koranic Scholarship at Ben Youssef Medersa
In the 16th century, the Saadian Sultan Abdullah al-Ghalib rebuilt this 9th-century madrasa as the largest Koranic school to rival Imam Fassi’s madrasa in Fez. The visual impact is evident in the expansive main courtyard and exquisite tile mosaics. It’s one of the best-preserved historic sites in Marrakesh.
Discover Moorish History at the Kasbah des Oudayas
Built by refugees fleeing persecution in Moorish Andalucia, the Kasbah occupies a quiet spot on the banks above the Bou Regreg river. Wander the crumbling Andalucian gardens now home to many families of street cats, and sip a mint tea and admire the views from the terrace as you imagine the Barbary pirates of old setting off from Salé across the river.
Shop the Souks
Haggle for handmade rugs, leather, silver, and pottery crafted in ancient artisan workshops over endless cups of sweet mint tea. Wend your way through the narrow labyrinth of medina passages and squares. This must-do experience thrills, entertains, and sometimes overwhelms even the most seasoned traveler.
Go Camping (or Glamping) in the Sahara Desert
For a once-in-a-lifetime experience, escape into the world of the Berber nomads and explore these windswept Saharan dunes stretching 19 miles and rising to 820 feet. Select an overnight tour to stay in a Bedouin tent in the Erg Chebbi or Erg Chigaga desert wilderness. Sleep beneath the stars and wake to spectacular sunrises.
Visit a Berber Village
In many ways, life for semi-nomadic Berbers in the mountains and deserts of Morocco is not much easier today than it was for their forefathers. Morocco’s indigenous people take great pride in their way of life and are incredibly hospitable to passing visitors, where you can witness bread being baked in outdoor ovens and the lifestyle of families living close to nature. Many tour operators combine lunch or tea with a Berber family with a one day trek or a visit to a local market. Try Ecotourism et Randonnées in Essaouira or SheherezadeVentures for the Sahara.
Trek the Mountains of the High Atlas
For spectacular vistas and fresh air, the High Atlas is a perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of urban Morocco. North Africa’s tallest peak, Djebel Toubkal, rises to nearly 14,000 feet and is only a two-day climb, best done in late summer. Amateur hikers with guides follow less strenuous but equally rewarding routes through rural Berber villages and rocky paths. Head to the Ourika Valley for a variety of outdoor adventure—it’s a justifiably popular region to hang glide, ski, or ride mules to hidden waterfalls and tranquil hilltop gardens. The popularity of such outdoor pursuits has really escalated in Morocco in recent years, with world-class operators such as Epic Running offering memorable training camps and excursions.
INSIDER TIPSome 40 miles southwest of Bin el Ouidane lake, the majestic succession of waterfalls known as Cascades d’Ouzoud water falls plunge into the canyon of Wadi el-Abid 330 feet below, surrounded by native Barbary apes. It is a natural wonder not to be missed.
Explore the Old City of Fez el-Bali
Step into a time warp in this 9th-century medina, the world’s most active medieval city. With culturally important fondouks, riads, medersas, mosques, and palaces dating back 1,000 years filling the 9,500 alleyways, it’s no surprise Fez el-Bali is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Catch a Wave
WHERE: The Atlantic Coast
The coast between Agadir and Essaouira is famous for watersports. Head to Taghazout for surfing, Moulay Bouzerktoun (north of Essaouira) for windsurfing, or Essaouira for kite surfing. Equipment can be hired at all beaches and on calm days, stand up paddle boarding is also possible.
Spot Goats in Trees
The Southern Atlantic region of Morocco is the only region where the argan tree, famous for the cosmetic and culinary properties of its nut oil, grows. Commonly known as ‘Berber gold’ for the income the oil has brought to local communities, argan nuts are also a favorite of goats. Along routes in the region, you’ll spot goats in trees, feasting on the nuts.
INSIDER TIPThe goats on the Marrakesh-Essaouira road are typically staged for tourists and the goatherders expect payment for photos.
Attend a Moroccan Music and Culture Festival (like Essaouira's Gnaoua World Music Festival)
One of the best ways to experience the rich heritage of Morocco is to participate in a local event. Head to Kelaâ M’Gouna in the Dadès Valley in May; it’s home to the country’s largest rosewater distillery plant. Each spring, the small oasis village celebrates the flower harvest. In early June, enjoy the chants, lyricism, and intellectual fervor of international musicians, Sufi scholars, and social activists at the World Sacred Music Festival in Fez. In late June, the traditions of Gnaoua music, a blend of African and Berber song and dance, are celebrated in the seaside resort village of Essaouira. Experience the Imilchil Berber marriage feast in autumn. In December, the Marrakech International Film Festival is the hottest spot for international celebrity sightings. The all-important Eid al-Fitr (Feast of the Fast Breaking) showcases Moroccan tradition with three days of joyous celebration at the end of Ramadan.
Get Pampered at a Hammam
Getting scrubbed and steamed at a local hammam does wonders for the weary. Whether you choose a communal public bath or private room in an upscale spa, this traditional therapy of brisk exfoliation and bathing using natural cleansers has promoted physical and mental hygiene and restoration for centuries. Public hammams are clean and inexpensive. Le Royal Mansour and the Astana Spa in Marrakesh are exceptionally luxurious spots to experience this special cultural ritual. If you do opt for the public baths, rather than the private luxury option, be advised that scrubbing can prove abrasive and often rather intimate.
Learn How to Make a Moroccan Tagine
Start by purchasing your meat, vegetables, and spices in the souks and then learn to make a wonderfully aromatic tagine in the cone-shaped pot of the same name. Good places to learn are Cafe Clock in Marrakech or Fez, or Khadija’s Kuzina and Madada in Essaouira.
Instagram the Blue Town of Chefchaouen
Founded in the 15th century by Spanish exiles, the village of Chefchaouen, in the foothills of the Rif Mountains, is widely considered to be one of Morocco’s most picturesque places. Relax beneath verdant shady trees on the cobblestoned Plaza Uta el-Hamman and wander the steep Andalusian passageways, where buildings bathed in cobalt and indigo hues blend with terra-cotta-tiled roofs, pink-scarved women, violet blossoms, and ocher-and-poppy-red wool carpets to create a vibrant canvas of color.
Visit the Hassan II Mosque
One of the largest mosques in the world covers almost a million square feet and holds up to 25,000 people. Two-thirds of the building is over the sea, where the minaret’s light beacon shines 20 miles towards Mecca. It ranks as the country’s most exceptional representation of Moroccan artistry for its ornate carved stucco, zellij tile work (a type of mosaic), and onyx-and-marble details.
Visit Roman Ruins
Easily combined as a day trip from Fez or Meknes, or with an overnight stop in the historical town of Moulay Idriss, Volubilis is a well-preserved and impressively large site of Roman ruins. Marvel at intricate mosaics and majestic columns, but take a hat and sunscreen—there isn’t much shade.
Relax in a Riad
Spend a night in mosaic splendor in your choice of countless riads. Forgo a hotel room and head for a room with authentic charm in one of these hidden gems, most often found in a city’s medina. There isn’t necessarily air-conditioning, the pool might only be the size of a bathtub, and breakfast most likely is served on the roof, but you’ll experience the magic of bygone Morocco, complete with fretwork screens, sumptuous upholsteries, and cool tiled floors.