Morocco is a stunning country in Saharan North Africa, comprising the continent’s most northwesterly shores and closest land to Europe. Its northern peninsula reaches up to Spain, with the Strait of Gibraltar – bounded by Tangier and Gibraltar – being one of the most important maritime routes in developed civilization. Morocco’s unique placement on the banks of global commerce has made it a vibrant multicultural country, with so much more to see and do than even a season of backpacking could possibly cover. Still, decisions have to be made. On your next adventure to this cradle of culture, how should you organize your trip? Read further this essential travel guide about Morocco for more information and impressions!
Most of the tourists that visit Morocco just focus on the most popular tourist destinations in the country. These destinations are undoubtedly interesting and attractive, with high geographical, historical, and cultural value. But to understand and explore Morocco in depth, you need an overall view of the whole country.
So, in general, Morocco occupies a land that consists of three main geographical zones. First, the country has a long coastline with the Atlantic Ocean, and through the Strait of Gibraltar- with the Mediterranean Sea. Large plains, hills, and low mountains are located along this coastline, They gradually turn into the two main mountain ranges- Rif and Atlas Mountains
Atlas is the main backbone of Morocco, stretching from the southwestern end of the country to Tunisia. And Rif Mountains is a lower and shorter mountain range that connects the Strait of Gibraltar with the Atlas. Finally, behind Atlas is the beginning of the vast lands of the Sahara.
Seacoast and the hilly lowlands
In general, this is the coastal area of Morocco. Here you can focus mainly on two types of destinations: cultural-historical sites, and beaches. Among the first type are the largest cities in the country- Rabat, and Casablanca, as well as gems like Tangier and Tetouan.
The coastline is very long, and, as one can expect, there are a lot of beaches and other coastline formations. Among the beaches, I can mention Asilah Beach, known for its cultural events in August, and Safi, the surfing capital of Morocco, one of the best surfing places in the world.
Atlas and Rif Mountains
This is the most spectacular part of Morocco, full of gems to discover. Here you can see the most authentic sites of history and culture. Among them, we must mention the Medieval cities of Fez and Meknes in the north, and the colorful Marrakech in the south. And of course, we should not skip Chefchaouen- the town of blue, one of the most beautiful towns in the world!
And if you are more adventurous, go and explore the natural beauty of the mountains! There are a lot of hiking and biking routes that can take you to the land of fairy tales- through authentic Berber villages, scattered in the valleys, wild gorges, waterfalls, and peaks. Here, in the southern Atlas is the highest peak in Morocco- Mt.Jebel Toubkal (4167 m). Reaching its top is challenging but greatly rewarding.
Morocco is located at the edge of the Sahara. Let’s remember what Sahara is- it is not just one whole large desert, but a large system of deserts and arid stony, and mountainous areas, occupying most of Northern Africa. In fact, most of the Sahara consists of such areas, rather than sand deserts. Fortunately, although the Saharan portion of Morocco is not too large, it still presents a sand desert.
The best starting points for exploring the sand desert of the Sahara are Merzouga and M’Hamid. From here, you can go camel riding, on a 4×4 wheel vehicle tour, or even trekking, enjoying the best of the dune scenery, with an opportunity to dive into the local nomad life and adventures.
This is a former Spanish territory, located south of Morocco (you can see it on the map, looking like another country). But from 1975, Morocco annexed most of its territory. Today, its western part, including the coastline officially belongs to Morocco, while the rest- the eastern deserted portion is a separatist entity, called Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, almost inaccessible to visitors.
But the Moroccan part of Western Sahara presents some interesting sites worth visiting. Among them are El Aaioun and Dakhla- coastal cities with exotic local culture and nice seacoast with some beaches. And again, here is Sahara- if you want to see desert landscapes, Western Sahara is a great place.
History and culture of Morocco
How did modern Morocco form into what is today? It is a land with a long and rich history. The main population consists of Berbers who lived here for thousands of years. They have passed through various periods, receiving influence from many civilizations- Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs (who brought Islam), Spaniards, French, and more.
All of these peoples have ruled over the territory of Morocco, but the local Berbers also have created their own kingdoms and empires. Anyway, this long history, combined with the local geography, gradually formed the modern culture of Morocco and its population- a unique combination of ancient authentic culture with the modern world and its civilization.
This can be seen in many tourist destinations all over the country. The historical remains consist of Roman ruins, Medieval castles, and a lot of artifacts exposed in the historical museums. But the amazing thing is that you can see life as it has been centuries ago, preserved in many local villages, street markets, and old towns. You can even feel it in the delicious local food.
So, how to explore such a diverse country? There are three main travel styles that can be applied for that, and of course, you can combine all of them.
At the seacoast
Let’s repeat: the Moroccan coastline is long- about 2500 km (without the section of Western Sahara)! Needless to say, such a long coastline offers a lot of interesting points- beaches, cliffs, promontories, and more. So, it would be worth trying a seaside journey from end to end. And if you are more adventurous, you can even include it in a longer route that proceeds further through Western Sahara to Mauritania and further south.
To do that, you can rent a car. It is the most convenient way to explore the seacoast. However, the problem is that you have to return the car, so it would be more proper on a combined trip that includes the interior of the country. Thus, you can make a circle route. Otherwise, you can travel by local transportation.
Finally, of course, you can just choose one or two great points on the coast, and relax there for a week or more. There are local resorts where you can do that, and enjoying the local seaside is nice too.
With so rich history and culture, Morocco offers a lot of opportunities for cultural trips. You can plan various routes that include the main cultural destinations like Fez, Marrakech, Chefchaouen, Casablanca, and more. The main places that you can focus on include museums, ancient and medieval castles, mosques, citadels, local old towns, local traditional markets, and local folklore festivals and performances.
But maybe the most attractive of all are some local Berber villages where life remained as it has been for centuries, even for millennia. Many of them are located in the mountains and the Saharan region of Morocco. And if you are adventurous, the most exciting part of it is that visiting these villages can be combined with wild adventures.
Adventures: hiking and cycling
This is very popular for those who are more adventurous. Today, many organized tours include multiday trekking in the Atlas and Sahara regions of Morocco. The most popular of them include climbing Mt. Toubkal, as well as camel riding through the desert. They explore mainly the southern part of Morocco, but you can also find a tour in the north.
There are also cycling tours. They are longer and include cycling not only on paved roads but also on dirt mountain roads, penetrating deep into the mountain scenery. The cycling tour companies offer mountain bikes and e-bikes if you feel difficult to ascend mountain slopes.
The best way to experience these adventures is by joining organized tours. But if you are more experienced, you can do it independently. However, it can be risky, it’s better at least don’t do it solo, but with other experiences people together and plan everything well, considering the harsh conditions in the desert and the high mountain. No matter what way of hiking or cycling you would choose, along with all of your necessary gear, don’t forget to bring your GoPro camera- the best type of camera for wild adventures!
Where to Stay
The entirety of Morocco cannot be distilled into a handful of locations, but there are certainly some heavy hitters that should make an appearance in your itinerary. Tangier is an obvious stop to make, being a city with close links to Europe and a local atmosphere that shows it. A trip down the west coast takes you to Morocco’s capital, Rabat – a historic coastal city with monuments to every stage in Morocco’s long life.
When talking about Moroccan cities, you cannot move on without mentioning Marrakesh. Marrakesh is an undeniable must-visit for tourists, backpackers, and travelers of every stripe, if only for its bustling markets full to the brim with exotic spices, textiles, and object d’art.
For a slower pace, there are two distinct options available to you: the Atlas Mountains and Western Sahara. The former is a sublime mountain range containing snow-tipped peaks and national parks with unbelievable views, all of which can be enjoyed via the thrilling cycling tours that run through it; the latter is a sweltering expanse that precedes itself in reputation – and that can only be truly experienced by camel.
One of the main draws for Morocco, aside from the camels, is its food. Morocco and Algeria are together responsible for tagine – both the traditional slow-cook curry and the earthenware pot in which it is made – and couscous, while Morocco’s markets are amongst the best places in the northern hemisphere to buy rare herbs and spices.
When to Visit
Lastly, though, an essential question: when is the best time to visit Morocco? If you are factoring in Morocco as part of a larger world tour, your options may be fewer than others – and, really, there is no bad time to visit – but if do have the option to choose your visit dates you should opt for a ‘shoulder season’.
Traveling in spring allows you to enjoy the best of the North African climate before the other tourists stake their claim to the busier cities and coastal destinations. Fall, meanwhile, sees temperatures drop enough to signal the end of the tourist season – and give you a golden opportunity to explore cultural and natural destinations comfortably and in your own time.
Take a look at this video for more impressions from Morocco:
Check some travel books about Morocco:
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Hi, we are Krasen and Ying Ying. Krasen is from Bulgaria, and Ying Ying is from China. We are passionate about geography and history, and we believe that the best way to experience it is by exploring the Earth in reality, not in a school, and not virtually.
So, we created this blog Journey Beyond the Horizon, where we share geographical knowledge, travel guides and tips how to experience it when you explore our planet, and a lot of inspiration.
And we wish you a happy journey, not just virtually, but most of all- in reality.