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Cities with Historical & Cultural Sites
Fez, Marrakech, Meknes, and Rabat are sequentially the four Imperial Cities of Morocco.
Fez was the first seat of power in Morocco. It was established by the Idrisid dynasty between the 8th and 9th centuries. Since this time the Marinids and Wattasids have both ruled from Fez. The city is famous for its medieval medina and Islamic architecture. Fez has narrow alleys and was built on a slope to prevent flooding and is one of the largest urban-car free cities in the world. Mules and donkeys are the local mode of transport and have the right of way in this historic city as they deliver essential supplies to the shops in the souk. Fez is a must-see for all interested in understanding Moroccan daily life as it was lived centuries ago.
Marrakech was the next Imperial City founded by the Almoravids. The “red city” is the home to architectural wonders such as the Al Koutoubia Mosque, the Bahia, Badii Palace, the magnificent Ibn Youssef Medersa, and Dar Si Said Palace. The renowned Yves Saint Laurent, Majorelle Gardens originally created by the French painter Jacques Majorelle is one of the city's glorious places not to be missed. Marrakech has become the trendiest city in Morocco attracting tourists from around the world. In 2015, Marrakech received accolades as Trip Advisor's Best Destination in the World.
Meknes became an Imperial City in the 17th century during the rule of the legendary Sultan Moulay Ismail. This fortified city retains palaces, several mosques, dungeons, and gardens. The highlight is the royal stables, which used to hold enough food for the population for a year as well as keeping the Sultan's 12,000 horses and the dungeon Kara. A must-visit is the Moulay Ismael Mausoleum, one of the very few holy places that non-Muslims are allowed to access. Today Meknes is less hectic than Marrakech, lesser-known than Fez, and without the political power of Rabat, yet truly a hidden gem for visitors.
Rabat became an Imperial City in the 18th century yet did not become the capital of Morocco until 1912 when the French protectorate removed the title from Fez. Rabat’s main landmark is the Hassan Tower, built by Yacoub el Mansour, who was also responsible for designing Giralda in Seville and the Koutoubia minaret in Marrakech. The second sight of significance is the Mausoleum of Mohammed V, grandfather of the present king. Rabat has become a center of culture and tourism and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Golden Sahara Desert of Merzouga
Morocco's Sahara Desert is the world's largest desert and has three regions that attract tourists: Merzouga, M’hamid/ Erg Chegaga, and Zagora. The most visited Sahara desert in Morocco known for its golden dunes is in Merzouga. All regions of the Sahara Desert can be accessed through the city of Ouarzazate, referred to as “the door to the desert.” Erg Chebbi and Erg Chegaga are the most interesting regions to visit for adventure given their golden and rustic dunes, which lend perfectly to camel trekking and 4x4 excursions. Both regions also offer impressive landscapes along with mid-range and luxury glamping experiences in various types of bivouac tents.
Coastlines with Stunning Beaches
Morocco has 1,200 miles of beautiful beaches along the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. There are beaches for everyone: sunbathers, surfers, and nature enthusiasts. Tangier, Asilah, Agadir, Essaouira, Taghazout and Mirleft are a few of Morocco's popular holiday spots. The coastal regions of Morocco can be visited year-round for their beauty yet are best in summer for sunbathing and summer vacation. In winter the surf is up on the Moroccan coast and in the summer swimming, sunbathing and water sports. The region of Oualidia, El Jadida, and M'diq are ideal for honeymooners seeking a romantic escape or for families looking for relaxation. Essaouria, Sidi Kaouki, and Dakhla are abuzz with tourists, who have a penchant for water sports and are interested in surfing, kite surfing, and water skiing. Moroccan beaches are heaven for seafood lovers, particularly Oualidia and Dakhla for fresh oysters that are farmed year-round.
Diverse Mountain Ranges
Morocco’s diverse geography and landscapes make it an ideal place to vacation. Morocco is not limited to its beaches and the massive Sahara Desert, it also has several mountain ranges. The Rif Mountains, High Atlas, Middle Atlas, and Anti-Atlas Mountains all offer a variety of outdoor experiences for travelers.
Morocco’s Rif Mountains are covered with green forests and offers various paths for hiking along with splendid views. The Middle and Anti-Atlas Mountains are not as heavily visited as the High Atlas, yet can be visited to see the Barbary monkeys and local villages. The High Atlas Mountains is home to Jbel Toubkal, the second-highest peak in North Africa as it attracts outdoor hiking enthusiasts year-round who would like to reach its summit. Driving through the High Atlas Mountains with their rugged cliffs, vibrant natural colors, and small hilltop villages is part of the charm. Hiking, biking, and horseback riding, and visiting Berber villages are some of the activities travelers can participate in when visiting Morocco's mountain regions.
Security and Hospitality
Morocco is a peaceful country with diverse cultures. The country maintains strict security standards at its airports, seaports, and border crossings to counter any potential exterior threats. The biggest challenges travelers may experience in Morocco are catcallers and the occasional petty thief. Tourists should follow the same safety precautions they would take at home or when visiting any developing country. This means keeping valuable goods in a safe at your hotel, riad, or in an accessible place not easily accessed by others. Women traveling alone or with a group of female friends can travel freely and safely throughout the country. It is advisable to wear simple and modest clothing. It is not necessary to cover one's head or face.
Morocco is a peaceful country and melting. Arab, Amazigh, Jewish, and Europeans have lived harmoniously for centuries. This diversity of its past is a reflection of the present. Moroccans welcome visitors from around the world regardless of their religion, language, nationality, or political beliefs. Moroccans are kind, generous, and friendly people, who are proud of their country and culture. Moroccans are also very hospitable and are immensely joyful to share tea, food, and relaxed conversation with visitors. Communication is rarely a problem for travelers since the majority of Moroccans speak French and/ or English.
Morocco has formidable Islamic, Moorish, and Art Deco architecture that can be seen throughout its Imperial Cities and also in its rural regions. The country is a photographer's paradise. Whether it is a majestic mosque, a riad, palace, Madrasa, trendy cafe/restaurant, government building, dusty road, or coastal town, there is something fascinating to photograph on almost every city street or countryside road.
Many Islamic structures feature the Fassi traditional tile work on its walls or floors, known as "zellige" which is often accompanied by decorative ceilings of cedarwood carvings, plasterwork, and arched doorways. The Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca and the University of Quaraouiyine in Fez are two of Morocco's foremost religious buildings that are sought after to visit by travelers for their history and beauty. In the mountains and desert travelers will witness a different type of architecture, which features buildings made of adobe, red clay.
Moroccan food is a blend of Arab, Andalusian, Moorish, and the Mediterranean with hints of sub-Saharan African and French flavors. As large producers of high-quality fruits and vegetables, vegetarians can anticipate visiting Morocco and being able to have an enjoyable dining experience locally, at cafes, and at upscale restaurants.
Couscous, tagine, pastilla, bissara, and harira are some of Morocco’s most popular cuisine dishes that are known globally. The country also has a wide range of other types of dishes both local and national that are well-known and eaten by locals
Moroccan cuisine is both flavorful and colorful. Most dishes use fresh ingredients and spices such as ginger, turmeric, black pepper, cumin, and paprika. Morocco also offers the most flavorful olives and olive oil.
Souks are traditional markets that offer a wide variety of goods ranging from fruits and vegetables to livestock, household items, clothing, furniture and some even have antiques. Each city in Morocco has at least one souk held daily. In small local towns souks occur on particular days of the week. There are also souks that are specifically dedicated to shopping. These are primarily held in the historic medinas of Imperial Cities.
Moroccan handicrafts are sold in Moroccan souks. Notable handicrafts are painted ceramics, Berber hand woven rugs, hand-cut brass and silver lamps, silk embroidery, leather goods, tea sets, musical instruments, woven baskets, and jewelry. There is also a wide variety of tourist souvenirs sold in tourist areas. Spices, soaps, and medicinal oils are also available in the organic co-ops and health stores.
Accommodations that Suit All Budgets and Tastes
Morocco has a significant number of beautiful accommodations suitable to travelers with all budgets and tastes. Travelers can choose to stay at a traditional property called a riad, at a boutique hotel or chain hotel. For those on a budget hostels and small guest houses are also available. These properties are available in all categories, 3 stars, 4 stars, and 5 stars. Morocco also offers high-end accommodations within the 5-star category. Hotels, palaces, resorts, and sprawling properties with magnificent gardens and exceptional architecture are sought after by travelers, who like luxury and have expendable income. The Sahara Desert also has a range of rustic, budget tented camps along with high-end luxury tented camps that have a hotel-like quality of interiors with Moroccan décor.
For those who wish to visit Morocco for an extended period of time or maybe traveling with a large family, friends, or group, renting an apartment, villa, or an entire riad in one of the medinas is also an option.
Morocco offers wonderful accommodations suitable to all budgets and expectations. Top luxury hotels and resorts, such as Royal Mansour, La Mamounia, Kasbah Tamadot, Dar Ahlam, and Riad Fes offer many amenities and facilities, including spas, swimming pools, gyms, restaurants, bars, and children's clubs. For outdoor adventure travelers there are inexpensive, beautiful hostels and guests houses to stay at.
Whether your stay is at a traditional riad or modern hotel you can rest assured that the décor and architecture will be unique and purely Moroccan.
Morocco is home to countless cultural and music festivals year-round. Music, dance, parades, and traditional storytelling are often included. Visiting a country during the time of a festival offers another view of the culture and people. Many travelers plan their vacation to coincide with a festival as to be able to experience Morocco’s rich cultural heritage through both history and the living arts.
Morocco’s festivals that have made headlines in Europe and the United States are Mawazine in Rabat, Gnaoua World Music in Essaouira, Marrakech International Film Festival, World Sacred Music Festival in Fez, Imilchil Wedding Festival, and the Festival of Roses in Kalaat Mgouna.