If Morocco isn’t on your bucket list yet, here’s why it should be.
Rabat – Plenty of people around the world have added Morocco to their list of dream destinations. Tons of other people can’t even locate it on a map–and don’t care to. For the people in between, who are on the fence about whether or not they should venture into the unfamiliar terrain of North Africa, here are ten reasons to visit Morocco.
The primary concern for many globetrotters is the assurance of safety in a given country.
Morocco is often referred to as “a good house in a bad neighborhood.” I personally would not recommend referring to the continent of Africa as a bad neighborhood, but perhaps the saying brings you some comfort. The primary takeaway is that Morocco is very safe for travelers.
The greatest threats tourists will face in Morocco are scammers, catcallers, and the occasional petty thief. Rumors of dangerous anti-Western sentiment have little basis. To my fellow women: no, you will not be stoned to death for revealing your shoulders or holding hands with someone of the opposite sex. And no, you don’t have to wear a hijab.
Tourists should follow the safety precautions they would take in any other country: keep your valuables where you can feel them, and don’t walk through busy areas with priceless goods in tow. If you tend to be a nervous or stressed traveler, there are dozens of top-rated travel agencies that will arrange your transportation, accommodation, and guides.
Hospitality and Accommodation
I’m sure you’ve heard about Arab hospitality, so let me introduce you to something even better: Amazigh hospitality.
You should expect to be treated with kindness throughout the entire country, but when visiting an area that proudly touts its Amazigh heritage, you will notice how warm and welcoming its residents are. The hotels and desert camps in the country’s south are especially top-rated.
Speaking of hotels, Morocco has some great options for accommodation that won’t break the bank. You will find beautiful riads, which are traditional houses, in every major city. Both modern and classic hotels are also available, as are cheap hostels for the more adventurous type.
You’ll have no trouble finding accommodation with pools, spas, gardens, restaurants, or fitness centers—though these luxuries will be reflected in the nightly room price.
No matter where you stay, you will surely note the gorgeous Moroccan decor.
Morocco’s famous souks make for an interesting shopping experience, to say the least.
Souks can be extremely crowded, noisy, and confusing. Be prepared to leave your comfort zone and watch out for pickpockets and scammers.
Don’t let these warnings scare you off—Moroccan souks are exciting and beautiful, and getting lost in the maze of colorful streets can be an extraordinary experience.
In big cities, there are sections of the souk that sell “exotic-looking” clothes, jewelry, accessories, and other wares that appeal to tourists. These areas are less crowded than the regular markets but significantly more expensive.
You will undoubtedly see grossly overpriced goods, from scarves to rugs to Argan oil. The city guides who take you to “authentic” craft co-ops make a commission from your purchases, so don’t expect them to help you haggle. I suggest reading up on others’ experiences in Morocco to get a grasp of what you should be paying for souvenirs, as well as food and other services.
A trip to the souk is a worthwhile endeavor, even if you are too intimidated to actually buy anything. The colors, smells, and sounds of the bazaar will surely make for an unforgettable experience.
Nature and Climate
Don’t let the palm trees fool you—Morocco is not a tropical locale. It does, however, boast a temperate climate that can be enjoyed during any season.
Summer travelers should consider a stay along the Mediterranean or Atlantic coasts; Tangier and Essaouria are two particularly notable summer destinations. The further inland you go, the hotter you will be. You are advised to steer clear of the desert during the summer.
Rain falls throughout most of Morocco from November to February, and coastal cities are particularly cold during this season—you won’t find a warm winter getaway here. On the bright side, the vegetation is in full bloom during the rainy season. Winter travelers will be amazed by the gorgeous flowers and foliage Morocco has to offer.
Winter conditions in the mountains are harsh but make for a great ski trip. There are several top-rated resorts to accommodate skiers in the Atlas Mountains. Morocco’s mountains are also a popular destination for hikers, rock climbers, and other adventure-tourists during the other seasons.
The diverse landscapes of Morocco include snowy cedar forests inhabited by Barbary Macaques, barren mountains with jaw-dropping views, lush oasis valleys, quiet desert dunes, sprawling beaches flanked by ancient fortified walls, and metropolitan cities looming over ancient medinas.
You will need at least two weeks to experience everything the country has to offer, but you can focus your efforts on the areas that pique your interest if you’re short on time.
Morocco has an extraordinarily rich and diverse history. The presence of a Muslim kingdom in Morocco dates back to the year 789, while the indigenous Amazigh people have inhabited the land since prehistoric times.
Once home to major hubs in the Trans-Saharan trade route, Morocco was traversed by Mediterranean, Arab, Saharan, and Sub-Saharan communities.
You will find remnants of the Roman, Arab, and French presences throughout the kingdom. Less noticeable but equally as important are the legacies of the ancient Amazigh, Iberian, and Sephardic Jewish populations.
With several recognized UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Morocco is the perfect place for a history junkie. If you love old structures as much as I do, you will surely appreciate the massive coastal fortresses, crumbling oasis towns, and ancient medinas throughout the country.
Culture, Cuisine, and Crafts
If you travel to Morocco in hopes of experiencing a foreign culture, you certainly won’t leave disappointed. There are boundless opportunities to immerse yourself in Morocco’s unique blend of African, Middle Eastern, European, and native Maghrebi influences.
Your experience in Morocco will be greatly enhanced by some pre-departure research. The native Imazighen are more than desert- and mountain-dwelling “Berbers.” The history, traditions, and grievances of Morocco’s indigenous people are worthy of thoughtful exploration.
Wherever you travel in the country, you’ll be exposed to traditional food, drink, music, dance, art, and craftsmanship.
Try the famous mint tea and sample some Moroccan cookies, breads, and cakes. I highly recommend lbinyi (crunchy donuts with granulated sugar), spiced onion rghifa (a savory, doughy flatbread), and chebakia (fried pastries drenched in honey).
Morocco has a variety of traditional tajines, which are cooked using a method that is unique to North Africa. I love anything sweet, such as lamb and apricot or beef with prunes and almonds. A tajine of meatballs and eggs with bread makes a great breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Friday afternoon couscous is a valued Moroccan tradition and a necessary culinary experience. Typical varieties include vegetable couscous and tfaya. I prefer tfaya, but that’s just my sweet tooth talking again.
In major tourist spots, meals are sometimes enhanced by traditional song and dance performances. Morocco’s diverse heritage influences its abundance of music varieties, such as Guedra (of the Tuaregs), Ahwash (of the High Atlas tribes), and Gnawa (named for the Maghrebi ethnic group).
In the country’s famed medinas you will find skilled painters, weavers, tanners, blacksmiths, potters, carpenters, and welders. The impeccable craftsmanship of these artisans is captivating, and you will most likely be able to ship pieces home if you find you can’t live without them.
Keep in mind that some cultural experiences you may encounter as a tourist are performances that have been exaggerated to indulge you. They are not necessarily falsified, but be careful not to let yourself be clouded by Orientalist fantasies. The dancing monkeys, fortune-tellers, and snake charmers you may have read about are simple theatrics—you’d be hard-pressed to find a Moroccan who affiliates them with his or her culture.
A successful trip to Morocco requires careful research and preparation, but don’t let this intimidate you.
Although it is still a developing country, Morocco presents a gorgeous getaway for families, couples, and solo adventurists. And with its decades-old tourism industry bolstered by a myriad of reputable travel agencies, the Kingdom of Morocco is secure, welcoming, and ready to host you.