Morocco Adventure Travel Guide: Ideas and Inspiration
PureTravel says: “Morocco rewards travellers with a diverse culture, fascinating history and the adventure of a lifetime. Though the Atlas Mountains lions have long disappeared into Berber folklore, a trek, rafting trip or mountain bike excursion is sure to open your eyes to more culture and wildlife than you ever thought possible. Morocco exudes an exotic atmosphere, typified within it friendly people, myriad of languages and traditional beliefs.”
Trekking - Fast becoming one of the most popular activities to truly experience such a vast country, trekking is the perfect way to appreciate Morocco. From North Africa’s highest peak to the greenest undulating hills and valleys around, Morocco proffers the best hiking. If you’ve only got two days but want to stand at the top of this part of the world, you can do it. If you want to take a stroll through valleys where the ways of life haven’t changed for centuries, you can do that. If you want a quiet skedaddle through palm frond valleys, you can do that too. The options are as endless as the ideas you can think of doing. From Jebel Toubkal to the High Atlas Mountains, from the Rif Mountains to the M’Goun Valley, Morocco awaits the hardiest or delicate of trekkers.
Culture & History - Moroccan culture is a melange of various ethnic and ancestral relations. Today, the country unites itself through the practice of Islam and the general acceptance of different cultures. Morocco has seen a fair-share of people coming to their land, so foreigners here are as commonplace as anywhere. The two distinct peoples of Morocco are the Berbers and the Arabs. Of course, the mixing of the two has taken place for centuries; to be wholly one or the other is probably not in all respects possible. The main languages of Morocco are Arab, French and Berber. Most Berbers live in the outlying countryside and mountain villages while the Arabs assemble more in the cities, such as Casablanca, Fez and Rabat. No matter who you meet, it seems that people are always warm and welcome to visitors from around the world.
Rafting - If you want to try rafting there is one main season. When the winter snows start melting in the High Atlas Mountains, rafting begins. This usually starts in March and runs till the middle or end of April—it totally depends on the snowmelt and rainfall. The Ahanssel River offers up some of the most out-of-the-way locales, with a snaking gorge and houses dangling from the tops of cliffs. The scenery is fun and the rapids are a class level manageable for a family.
Wildlife - Much of the larger wildlife species in Morocco has been eradicated for some years now. Unless you slice into the pie of Berber myth and the stories of leopards and lions still roving the cliff sides, then there isn’t really any big game left in the country. However, some of the best birds in the world can, at some point in the year, be found here. Additionally, there are scores of other animals that live high in the mountains, roam the level plains and swim through the water.
Mountain Biking - The sport of mountain biking is really growing in popularity. The routes through and around the Middle and High Atlas Mountains are as technically challenging as they are beautiful. On your Morocco vacations you’ll pass through some of the most remote villages in the world—a world all its own! Most tour operators hook you up with all the details you’ll need to know. It’s often a good idea to bring your own bike in tote. Recently, bike trips through the Draa and Ziz Valleys of Morocco have become more popular. Routes to and from the Todra Gorge in the south give visitors a real feel for the country’s diverse people and topography.
When To Go
Morocco is classed as a year-round destination, depending on the sports and activities that you want to undertake. The country has a mild climate and boasts some of the sunniest days annually in the world. The desert in the south can become quite unbearable in the summer months, so a visit in April and May or October through December ensures preferable temps there. If you plan to come to the High Atlas Mountain region of Morocco, there can be some rain and much snow at altitude from November to March. Many tourists arrive during the school and college holidays in July and August, when accommodation can be next to impossible to find (certainly at an affordable price). A visit in the spring or autumn/fall clinches the countries best weather in all the regions.
- Don’t try to hike in Morocco alone; the crisscrossing mule tracks and lack of any common language out in the mountains is sure to get you stranded. Book a tour guide through your tour operator before you come.
- Make sure you seek permission before taking a photo of people. Most people won’t mind as long as you ask. It’s polite and shows that you respect their beliefs and culture.
- Travelling to the south of Morocco in the summer will leave you sizzling, even at night. Come when the desert winds have calmed and evening temperatures
- Try not to give children money or candy. If you feel the need, pencils and pens might be OK but remember that the children will just keep asking others when they come. It’s a terrible circle. Instead, play soccer with them and interact with them if they invite you to their house. A sip of tea is a gesture that gets you a long way in this traditional country.
Holidays In Focus
Walking and Trekking - One of the best international locations getting all kinds of news lately is Morocco. There is something for every kind of traveller, so you’ll never be bored. One of the best ways to really get to know the country—and some of the farthest removed Berber villages—is to take trekking tour of the country. From undulating mountains, valley floors to North Africa’s highest peak, a hike here can challenge the fittest hiker or cater to the amble walker.
If you’re into hiking mountains, and want to conquer North Africa’s highest peak on your Morocco adventure holidays, then there’s nothing taller than Jebel Toubkal, a.k.a. Mount Toubkal. Topping the High Atlas Mountains chain, Jebel Toubkal can be approached from a variety of angles. Those who want to go up and down as quickly as possible can start from Imlil and hike to the base camp—Neltner Base camp—in one day. After a night in the base camp, trekkers tend to rise at four or five in the morning and reach the top of Mt. Toubkal in two to four hours. After a brief stint on the often windy and cold massif, hikers descend back to Imlil in one day, or have another day of rest at Neltner. If you’ve got time to spare, however, you can take a trekking circuit through the national park (4-7 days) and then climb Mt. Toubkal. You’ll need a guide booked through a tour company, however, as the trails are not marked and remain helter-skelter even today. Generally, a tour operator can arrange mules to carry gear and food for you.
Other hikers who want more iridescent rather than sepia hues in their hike stay north. The Rif Mountains, by and large, is one of the best places to go hiking in the northern sector of Morocco. Traverse treks can be completed in four or five or even seven days, routinely starting in Chefchaouen and ending at the Mediterranean Sea. Once you book with your tour operator, you’ll have the choice to camp in tent or stay in gites along the way. The area is known for its hashish, but be very heedful before buying a handful here. Contrary to popular belief (and use), it is not legal.
The hills and valleys make for some stunning landscapes. Watch the local Berber women collect sticks for the evening fire; survey the landscape, seeing the hidden villages homogenize perfectly with the rocky landscape; pick out boys playing soccer with whatever makes the best “ball”; behold the mules coming and going, caring people and produce to and from town; note girls washing laundry in the rivers and collecting water for the home—the countryside shows people living out their daily lives as they have for hundreds of years.
A way to get out and see all of this is to take trek through the M’Goun Valley (Mgoun Valley). With tour guide and mules carrying your things, you’ll have a nice scoot through waterfalls, over valleys and around cliffs. Though this area is still “undiscovered,” more and more people will surely find out about it in the next few years. A voyage here is worth a thousand pictures and a thousand more words. What you take away from a trek in the Mgoun Valley of Morocco will enrich you for a lifetime.
Culture and History - Morocco, like many countries across the waters from Europe and the Middle East, is a multi-ethnic country with varying ideas and wholly different languages. Each region in fact, has its own unique set of values and ways of living, providing a piece of the entire pie that is unifyingly Morocco. The stable value system however, is unchanging. Civilizations from as far east as the Jews and Phoenicians to as far North as the Romans and Vandals have modified and transformed Morocco’s social design. Moroccans, more than anything, wish to protect their heritage but also like change and strive for a better future.
Most Moroccans are of a Berber origin. The Berbers of today, however, primarily live in the mountain villages and on the periphery of the cities. If not, they are often shop owners and carpet sellers, making a business off tourism and local spending alike. Often, you can find Berbers selling fruit and vegetables at the local souq (or souk: outdoor markets). Arabs, however, often live in the cities and perform business functions in Casablanca and Rabat. The mixing of the people, however, makes it difficult to place any one group in any one place.
The main language here is Arabic, with French and three accents of Berber taking second place. The dress varies from place to place, and colours represent where someone might be from as well. The djellaba is a hooded robe-like garment worn by the men. Moroccans love a reason to be social, and marriages by example are sometimes one or two day long events, with singing, dancing and a festival type atmosphere. Ceramics, jewellery, sculpture, carpet making, carving and calligraphy (with music up and coming) make up a big part of the artistic modes.
Rafting - White water rafting and kayaking can only be done during a short window when the mountain snowmelt fills the rivers to raging degrees. A tour operator can help you find a number of daily trips on some of the best Moroccan rivers. One of the best is the Ahanssel River, with gorges, crystal blue waters and turbulent waters. Here, you can raft or partake in a kayak school that gives you three or more days of tidal adventure. You’ll often eat lunch and rest a couple hours to make sure that lunch stays down.
Wildlife - A hundred or more years ago, Morocco hosted some of the world’s most varied wildlife. No longer roaming the mountains—except in legend—the leopard, panther and lion lived in the Atlas, finding plenty to eat and not a predator to challenge them. With the influx of people to the area, these animals soon disappeared. Some Berbers tell of leopards still roving the cliff’s edges, but no proven documentation supports their claim. Today, there is still enough wildlife, but a tour solely for a safari may not be worth it.
The avifauna that lives and passes through Morocco is as colourful as any rainbow. Depending entirely on the region, a birder would have no trouble spotting pheasants and partridges, Guinea fowls and divers, Albatrosses and Storm-petrels, Darters and Boobies, Pelicans and storks, Osprey and Falcons, Herons and Egrets and all sorts of European birds that come south.
Additionally, there are several kinds of species of bats and shrews, moles and sole dons to be seen on Morocco tours. Foxes and Fennecs have also been spotted by travellers. In some of the central preserves of the country, moreover, people have spotted red deer, Gazelle and Barbary sheep. In the Atlas Mountains, too, you’ll have some encounters with the famous Barbary Macaques and their nimble young. Morocco is a big country, and the animals are scattered from the desert of the south to the Rif Mountains of the north. Spotting them is an adventure in itself.
- Mount Toubkal ascent
- High Atlas Mountains circuits
- Central Atlas trek with Jebel Mgoun
- The Imperial Cities Tour
- M’Goun Valley
- Rif Mountains
- Ahanssel River
- Middle and High Atlas Trek
- Ziz Valley and Draa Valley
UNESCO World Heritage Sites
There are nine World Heritage Sites in Morocco, all cultural properties;
- Medina of Fez
- Medina of Marrakesh
- Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou
- Historic City of Meknes
- Archaeological Site of Volubilis
- Medina of Tétouan (formerly known as Titawin)
- Medina of Essaouira (formerly Mogador)
- Portuguese City of Mazagan (El Jadida)
- Rabat, Modern Capital and Historic City
By Julie Bowman