A vivid blend of Berber, Arabic and European historical influences, Morocco contrasts colourful cities, traditional villages, and dramatic desert and mountain landscapes, topped with a fabulous climate. Here are eight reasons why you should visit.
Chaotic and charismatic, this 1,000 year old metropolis oozes vitality and vigour. At its heart lies Djemma el Fna, the city’s main square. A hub of noise and activity, the area teems with musicians, snake charmers and street performers. As dusk falls, droves of food vendors work their magic, permeating the air with tantalising aromas as they dish up tagines, kebabs and fragrant snail ‘babbouche’, a traditional Moroccan soup.
Browse ceramics, leather goods, and Berber rugs in the markets, or souks (prepare to haggle!) and sample the heady perfumes of the spice market. Enjoy panoramic views of the city and Atlas Mountains from the ancient ramparts of El Badi Palace. Admire exquisite mosaics, intricate stonework and lavish water features at Palais de la Bahia. As a relaxing antidote to the medina (old town), visit Jardin Majorelle. This 2.5 acre estate of splendid tropical gardens is the former home of fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent (his ashes are scattered in the rose garden). You’ll find an art gallery and café amidst the stunning foliage.
Flanked by the northwest Rif Mountains, Chefchaouen is a pictorial delight of vivid blue houses and steep alleyways which hug the hillside. Explore the town’s attractive cobbled lanes, browse the medina, and take your pick of numerous alfresco cafes and restaurants. Chefchaouen serves as a starting point for many excursions into the Rif Mountains. The surrounding Talassemtane National Park is a hiker’s paradise, its peaks cloaked in cedar and conifer trees.
The 9th century medina of Fez is the largest urban car-free zone in the world. Roam the labyrinthine medieval squares and ancient alleys, filled with souks and workshops. Admire colourful mosaic tiling and centuries old, intricately carved wooden doors in the ancient city walls. Visit Chouara tannery, a traditional leather workshop where craftsmen have honed techniques over 500 years. Browse elegantly crafted bags and artisan leather goods, and check out the huge vats of colourful dyes used in their preparation.
Erg Chebbi Dunes
Morocco’s south eastern corner near the Algerian border hosts the vast sand dunes of Erg Chebbi. Famed for their startling orange colour, Morocco’s highest dunes comprise an 18 mile long stretch of sand peaks sculpted by wind, which soar up to 500 feet high. A 10 hour drive from either Marrakech or Fez, most visitors include a classic camel trip across the desert as part of the experience.
Stay in one of the small tented camps dotted in the surrounding valleys. The dunes are at their most resplendent at sunset and sunrise, lit up in a blaze of colour. By night the desert is an amazing place; devoid of noise and artificial light, the clear skies overlapped with an endless blanket of stars.
Morroco’s capital city combines charm and history, with a relaxed, less bustling atmosphere than Marrakech. Wander the narrow fortified lanes of the Oudaias Kasbah in the heart of the city, a residential neighbourhood of picturesque blue and white houses, with ocean views. Relax in the tranquil Andalusian Gardens, filled with water features, exotic plants, and palm and citrus trees. Visit the atmospheric ruins of Chellah, a medieval walled town which dates back to the Phoenicians. Discover ancient Islamic minarets and ornamental pools alongside remains of Roman occupation. Today, flowers and trees adorn the site, and storks nest in the vestiges of its ancient mosque.
The Atlas Mountains
Spanning Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, the imposing Atlas Mountain range bisects Morocco, dividing the warm balmy north from the south’s searing, arid Sahara. Explore a breath taking landscape of craggy peaks, traditional Berber villages, verdant valleys and waterfalls. Take a guided trek, complete with baggage mule, into the high or low peaks.
At 13,671 feet Mount Toubkal is North Africa’s highest peak, its summit draped in snow from November to May. To scale the mountain you’ll need a decent level of fitness, and you’ll be hiking at altitude. Excursions usually take two to six days, depending on your route. Accommodation in the mountains is basic, so treat yourself to a stay in a comfy riad with a pool on your return to Marrakech.
This laid-back coastal town has lured bohemian types since the 1970s when hippies, musicians and artists flocked to its broad swathes of sand edged by the rolling Atlantic. These days Essaouira enjoys a thriving art scene and attracts travellers seeking a scenic, chilled out beach holiday. The attractive walled medina boasts galleries, boutiques, restaurants and cafes, alongside a vibrant, traditional souk. The tumbling ocean and prevalent winds offer great surfing and windsurfing conditions.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com