The last decade or so has seen Morocco cement its status as one of the top go-to colourful and exotic holiday destinations just a short hop from Europe. Catering for the influx of tourists is a range of short breaks and Morocco tours, from a few days in a sumptuous renovated riad in Marrakech to luxury week-long trips taking in the country’s many highlights.
With everything from beautiful sandy beaches, soaring mountains and desert oases to bustling medinas, colourful souks and ancient ruins it can be difficult to decide on the best itinerary. So for travellers looking to explore this fascinating country, here are five of Cox & Kings’ must-see Moroccan hotspots.
1. Djema el Fna, Marrakech
No trip to Morocco would be complete without taking in the captivating sights, sounds and smells of Marrakech’s famous market square, which acts as the beating heart of the city’s medina. The square is a bustling hive of activity with storytellers, musicians and performers jostling side-by-side with traditional medicine merchants, food stalls and snake charmers. During the day the square is quieter, with traders selling refreshments and Barbary monkeys providing photo opportunities for tourists. But as night falls, the square fills with locals and visitors who come to eat at the countless food stalls that pop up and watch the many dancers and magicians.
This pretty Atlantic coastal town has a clean sweep of golden sand that’s ideal for a spot of seaside relaxation at the end of your Morocco tour. But that’s not the real reason to come here. It also has a rich cultural heritage. The town’s old Portuguese fortifications, fishing boats, and distinctive blue-and-white colour scheme give it a true Mediterranean feel, while its popularity with European artists means there are plenty of art galleries to explore. On entering the town’s narrow labyrinthine alleys, hung with carpets and traditional wares, visitors are plunged into an arabesque world of artisans and woodcraft shops, with the smell of spices and the sound of traditional Gnawa music drifting through the air.
3. Atlas mountains
While sandy beaches, bustling medinas, colourful souks and desert oases are all good reasons to take a trip to Morocco, it’s the stunning Atlas Mountains that are the real show-stopper. Tourists looking for a cooler alternative to the beaches and cities can find outdoor adventure and awesome scenery at every turn. Taking a trip into the mountains, which snake in a concertina across northern Africa, reveals a different side to the country that sits in stark contrast to its heady exotic cities and southern Saharan sands. From Marrakech, tourists can travel to traditional Berber mountain villages like Imlil. Trekkers aiming to climb Morocco’s highest peak, Mount Toubkal, use the village as a base camp. The picturesque landscape of lush valleys and bare slopes criss-crossed by mule tracks can also be explored in less strenuous ways – on a horse, camel, bike or in the comfort of a 4x4 – with the iced peaks of the Atlas as an ever-present backdrop.
4. Tanneries, Fez
Visiting Fez’s tanneries is like gazing through a window in time. From the terraces above, you can witness a process largely unchanged for centuries. Cowhides are hand-treated in huge vats of dye, which are laid out in open-air terraces that resemble supersize watercolour palettes. It’s a striking sight and one not to be missed on any trip to Morocco. After exploring the tanneries, you can visit the nearby leather shops to browse for a bargain and haggle for some of the enticing products of all that hard work.
5. Desert camping, Moroccan Sahara
Sleeping out under the stars amid the sands of the Moroccan Sahara is a magical experience. With the lack of light pollution and silence of the desert, the sky becomes your very own observatory. At the colourful Mergouza camp, for instance, you can enjoy a refreshing cup of mint tea around a camp fire set among rolling dunes, not far from the point where camel trains once began their 52-day journey across the desert to Timbuktu. And, in the daytime, you can explore the desert’s stirring vistas by camel and trek out to Erg Chebbi to experience the true majesty of the Sahara’s giant orange dunes.
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