Did you know that Morocco is full of tranquil beaches, craggy mountains, ancient kasbahs, and traditional Berber communities?
If you want to see the real Morocco, pack your sunnies and your swimsuit and head south along the highway. From Marrakech or Casablanca, drive southwest to Agadir and follow the coast, stopping to soak up deserted beaches, explore caves, paraglide off mountains, or snap photos of ornate mosques–whatever you do, it’s yours to do (mostly) on your own. Rent an RV–this is camper country–or a regular car (or even a scooter!) and ready your defensive driving skills. Morocco is a land of interpretive right-of-ways and roundabouts, so no Sunday driving in the cities. Zigzag Camper does a lot of the work for you, or AutoEurope is a reputable rental company. Make sure you plan ahead–English is not widely spoken and paperwork can often be finalized in French.
Up for the adventure but less enthused about the planning? Intrepid Travel, a small group adventure company, offers a brilliant spin on the route. Not only do they offer carbon-neutral trips to underrepresented locations, they hire local guides to host small groups–a huge advantage if you don’t speak Arabic. There’s no skimping on the classic highlights and plenty of time to adventure on your own. It’s like doing your own thing but with a safety net and no stress about planning.
Fuel up and head out–once you’ve seen your share of the souks and the spas, it’s time to hit the road. It’s no more than a three-day drive along the coast to Guelmim, and you can easily spread out that time with lazy beach hangs, long afternoons in the surf and sun, and beautiful morning hikes through the Anti-Atlas mountains. Activities to consider along the way: surfing, paragliding, spelunking, cliff jumping, scooter riding, and hiking. Plan to photograph shepherds with goats and sheep, argan trees, an abundance of cacti and agave, natural rock arches, west coast sunsets, and mosques. You’ll find Arabic, French, some English, and surprisingly, Spanish speakers across this land.
WHERE: Paradise Valley
Truly an oasis, this lush green valley filled with turquoise pools all but begs you to jump in and swim. Cut through the canyons and follow the stream down to natural swimming holes and myriad waterfalls surrounded by argan and palm trees as well as various cacti. Cliff jump if you dare, or simply soak up the sun and beauty from the warm rocks. Wear comfortable shoes to hike around for stunning views or laze by the water with a picnic. Give yourself at least half a day to explore.
This charming surf town has major hippie vibes. Sign up for an easy lesson in surfing, stand-up paddleboarding, or kayaking, or wander the colorful town for Instagram opportunities and friendship-meet-cutes with locals. Taghazout is a great place to stop for a meal and a cup of famous Moroccan mint tea, and spend the afternoon at the beach.
Agadir is quickly building a reputation as a tourist destination, and there are plenty of options for lodging. Ready to be out of the car? Try the all-inclusive experience at ClubHotel Riu Tikida Dunas, or get a royally affordable experience at Atlantic Palace. Agadir is a perfectly pleasant town, but since original infrastructure was lost in an earthquake in 1960, the more recently built establishments don’t offer the old-world charm Morocco has in spades. Head out in the morning.
WHERE: Tizourgane Kasbah
A kasbah in Morocco is a fortress intended as a standalone “city” where a group of people could live and store their grain. Tizourgane Kasbah is particularly stunning granary that dates back to the 13th century and has been restored into a beautiful guesthouse and restaurant. Stop for a meal and take in the view of the Anti-Atlas Mountain Range from the expansive valley. Sample traditional tajine (meat and vegetables cooked in a shallow earthen pot from which its name derives), couscous (served with a side of broth and eaten soup-y), and traditional Moroccan and salads (often an array of a la carte vegetable sides). Explore the Kasbah’s twisty paths past unique doors leading to former homes, photograph the beautifully adorned stone mosque, and take tea in a traditional Berber Moroccan living room.
WHERE: La Maison Traditionelle
In the village of Oumsnate in the Ammeln Valley, a Berber man, Ahrass Abdeslam, living a traditional life, has chosen to open two floors of his home to the public at La Masion Traditionelle, or as it’s colloquially known, The Berber Museum. The criminally undervisited area–“We’ve maybe had 40 travelers visit this year,” said Abdeslam in March 2018–showcases life from another time, with tools, instruments, and other items preserved from Abdeslam’s grandparents. Hike the craggy ridges of the Anti-Atlas mountains through the “town” of Oumesmat, with traditional housing carved into the hills that dates back to the 12th century. Don’t miss the stepped farms and ingenious irrigation systems of the hardworking people who have lived in these mountains for a thousand years.
While technically outside of the town center, Auberge Kasbah Chez Amaliya is a great spot to stay the night. With a lovely patio and pool and wonderful hosts, Chez Amaliya has a homey B&B feel. Looking for something stylishly authentic? Check out El Malarha, with its modern kasbah aesthetic and higher quality rooms. Stop by Ait Mansour Gorge and check out Belgian painter Jean Veran’s Painted Rocks, which are exactly as they sound.
Stock up on the handmade goods and gorgeous crafts made by locals in Tiznit. It’s time to try your hand at haggling, and you won’t be disappointed by the quality of items you’ll find. Leather sandals and slippers are made right before your eyes in every color and style. Silverware and jewelry for sale are masterfully designed, so get ready to practice your negotiation tactics: ask for prices in a few stalls to get a general idea of price, aim lower than you’d like to pay, shoot for a reasonable compromise, and don’t be afraid to walk away. But the quality of materials and handcraft will be beyond anything you might run find in artisanal shops of the cities, so don’t be afraid to splurge, either.
WHERE: Natural Arch, Legzira Beach
The beach of Legzira is famous for its naturally occurring red rock arches on the beach. Formed over thousands of years due to erosion from wind and water, the incredible formations have punctuated the beach with incredible vistas. In September of 2016, one arch, approximately 60 feet wide, collapsed into the beach. Fortunately, the remaining arch, approximately 90 feet wide, still stands in perfect view for photogenic sunsets. The beach is remarkably sparse in shoulder season, allowing you to capture the best shot of the gorgeous stone formation. Grab a mint tea at one of the many plastic beach chaired cafes and enjoy the beach to yourself.
WHERE: Sidi Ifni
You’ve finally made it to your resting spot, Sidi Ifni, where the sleepy coastal town welcomes you warmly and invites you to stay awhile, so post up at Logis la Marine for art-deco beachfront views or Maison Xanadu for a more standard (read: perfectly accommodative but without bells and whistles) stay. Here is a perfect place to go to a Hamman, curl up on the beach with a book, take a surf lesson, and watch the sun dip into the ocean each night. Give yourself a few days to unwind in paradise in Sidi Ifni, which prides itself as a relaxation haven for Moroccans looking to get away from the bustle of the city and enjoy the beauty of the coast.
Guelmim, or The Gateway to the Desert, is as literal as it’s named. Prepare yourself for a trip south to the Sahara, or drop your car and hop a flight back north to Casablanca, Fez, or Tangier. Don’t miss the camel market while you’re in town, held every Saturday at daybreak and witness the Tuareg, or “Blue Men of the Desert” do their trading. These locals get their blue skin tint from indigo pigment that bleeds from their garments, which is pounded into cloth rather than boiled to save the water (this is the desert, after all).
So drop off your wheels and pick up your camel or check in for your flight, prepare yourself for crowds–whether your headed north or south, you’ve just seen a section of Morocco that most tourists miss.