By Steve Marks
New York – Tourism in Morocco has gone from strength to strength in recent years. The country attracted 10.3 million visitors in 2016, contributing $6 billion to Morocco’s GDP.
Morocco makes for an accessible and well-connected travel destination, yet offers a taste of a completely different way of life for foreign visitors.
I visited Morocco for three months last year between May and July, and can attest that there is plenty that the country can offer to justify its tourism income. The fusion of Arabian and Amazighs cultures with French and Spanish influences makes Morocco a fascinating place to travel.
The landscapes are equally awe-inspiring; from rugged Atlantic coastline, to the snow-capped Atlas mountains, and the beautiful and desolate dunes of the Sahara desert. And did I mention that the cities are truly impressive?
It can be difficult to pick just a few places in this diverse and inspiring land, but here is a round-up of three of the top Moroccan cities to visit in 2017:
Marrakech is one of the most famous cities in Morocco, and a popular choice for many travelers and holiday makers. Though not the capital, Marrakech is well-connected internationally, and has come to be known as the number one choice for visits.
There are plenty of attractions for the keen tourist, from the bustling Djemma El-Fna square, the Tanneries and the world-renowned souks – huge markets and winding labyrinths full of home-made goodies, spices, pottery, clothing, and just about anything you can imagine buying. You can also find lots of entertainment, clubs and parties in the modernized parts of the city. Marrakech even has a reputation for being an excellent place to find a poker game, though Agadir is actually Morocco’s gaming capital.
One of my favorite moments in Marrakech had to be the sunset call to prayer. The drummers stop drumming, the snake-charmers stop charming, and mosques ring out prayers from all across the city just as the bright orange African sun sets over the horizon. It is truly magical, and not something you can experience anywhere else.
Up in the north you can find Fez, the largest functioning Islamic city in the world, and a UNESCO heritage site. When I visited Fez it felt a little different to Marrakech. Aside from having slightly cooler weather, the city seemed to have a more laid-back pace of life, though I was there during Ramadan so the streets were understandably quieter than usual. Fez was one of my favorite cities to walk around and get lost, being one of the largest urban pedestrian areas in the world. It is full of intriguing alleyways and surprises around every corner for the open-eyed traveler.
Some major attractions in Fez include the BouInania Madrasa mosque, the Merenid Tombs overlooking the city (which are also an excellent viewpoint), and the oldest university in the world; the University of Al-Karaouine. I also recommend taking dinner at the Cafe Clock for great views and atmosphere. For day trips, head to nearby Meknes and to the Volubilis Roman Ruins. They are nothing short of stunning!
I could have picked any number of cities to finish up the list, but visiting Ourzazate would show you an entirely different side to Morocco. Here most people are Berber, and speak local traditional languages. The culture is very different, and the area not as affluent. The Berbers built most of the iconic kasbahs, which are a sight to behold. Ouarzazate has often been called ‘the door of the desert’, and a great city to experience.
From Ouarzazate you can take a trip deeper into the Sahara desert to ride camels and camp out under the stars, or take a trip into the lush and fertile palm valleys of Draa. You can also spend a day roaming the fortified town of Ait Benhaddou. There really is plenty going on around here to keep you happy.
Other Cities Of Interest
As I had so much difficulty choosing just three cities to recommend when you visit Morocco, I thought I would make a quick list of the ones that didn’t quite make the list this time. All of them are equally special in their own way, and are well worth a visit:
Essaouira – The chilled windy beaches of this smaller city were once a hang-out spot for artists like Jimmy Hendrix and Bob Marley. Essaouira still has that laid back feeling now, and is totally different from the hustle and bustle of Marrakech – and is only a bus ride away.
Agadir – It’s not my personal favorite, but I can see the appeal of Agadir for those who like beach and resort-style holidays. There are plenty of high-class hotels and long sandy beaches, yet it still has an authentic Moroccan feel, and is in throwing distance to smaller towns.
Chefchaouen – The blue city in the North, Chefchaouen has more Spanish influence, and it shows in the food, culture, and way of life. This place has become a hotspot for smoking Morocco’s finest, but it also has a lot to offer in terms of nature, beauty and culture.