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A panoramic view of the bustling Jemaa el-Fnaa square in Marrakech at dusk, with the Koutoubia Mosque in the background, encapsulating Best places to visit in Morocco

Morocco, a captivating country in North Africa, is a popular travel destination that offers a unique blend of history, culture, stunning landscapes, and delicious cuisine . Bordered by the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, Morocco boasts a diverse landscape that includes the majestic Atlas Mountains, the rugged Rif Mountains, and the vast expanse of the Sahara Desert .

From the vibrant heart of Marrakech to the cultural capital of Fez, and from the enchanting blue city of Chefchaouen to the natural wonder of the Sahara Desert, Morocco is home to some of the best places to visit in the world . In this article, you will embark on a journey to discover the best places to visit in Morocco, exploring its rich cultural heritage, unique traditions, and warm hospitality .

Marrakech: The Heart of Moroccan Culture

Marrakech, also known as the Red City, is the Heart of Moroccan Culture due to its rich blend of Arab, Berber, and Islamic influences . Founded in 1070 by the Almoravid Empire, Marrakech was a crossroads for trade and culture, attracting merchants, nomads, and scholars from various parts of the world . The city’s architecture is a testament to its diverse heritage and artistic prowess, with iconic structures like the Koutoubia Mosque, Bahia Palace, and the Saadian Tombs .

Marrakech offers a vibrant and diverse cultural scene:

  • The bustling markets, or souks, offer a variety of goods including handwoven textiles, spices, ceramics, and more .
  • Traditional Moroccan cuisine, such as tagines and couscous, can be enjoyed in the city’s restaurants and street food stalls .
  • Hammams, or public bathhouses, offer a chance to experience traditional Moroccan spa rituals [3].

As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Marrakech has managed to preserve its historical core, showcasing its ability to blend tradition and progress . The city is one of the busiest in Africa, with Jemaa el-Fnaa being the busiest square on the continent . Marrakech is particularly popular with the French, and numerous French celebrities own property in the city . The city has the largest traditional market (souk) in Morocco, with some 18 souks, and crafts employ a significant percentage of the population, who primarily sell their products to tourists .

Fez: The Cultural Capital

Fez, considered the Cultural Capital of Morocco, boasts a rich history and significance in the development of Moroccan culture and learning . Founded in 789 by Idris I and later expanded by his son, Idris II, the city is home to numerous historical landmarks :

  • The Medina of Fez, the oldest part of the city, founded in the 9th century during the Idrisid dynasty
  • Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque and University, the first university in the world where teaching continues since its founding in 857 AD
  • The Chouara Tannery, showcasing the city’s traditional crafts industry
  • Various madrasas, palaces, and mausoleums

Fez has a vibrant cultural scene, with literature, arts, music, and festivals playing a significant role in the city’s life . The city experienced its golden age under the Marinids in the 13th and 14th centuries when it became the capital of the kingdom instead of Marrakesh . Even after the location of the capital was transferred to Rabat in 1912, Fez maintained its position as the cultural and spiritual capital of Morocco .

The Medina of Fez, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is comprised of two large fortified quarters: Fez el-bali (the original town) and Fez Jedid (founded under the Merinids) . The unpaved urban space conserves the majority of its original functions and attributes, representing an outstanding architectural, archaeological, and urban heritage . It also transmits a lifestyle, skills, and a culture that persist and are renewed despite the diverse effects of the evolving modern societies . The coexistence of Muslims and Jews within its walls is reflected in the city’s architecture and identity .

Chefchaouen: The Blue Pearl

Chefchaouen, known as the Blue Pearl of Morocco, is a stunning city located in the Rif Mountains of northern Morocco . Founded in 1471 by Jews and Moors fleeing Spain, Chefchaouen is renowned for its distinctive blue-washed buildings and alleyways, creating a breathtaking visual contrast against the surrounding landscape .

The blue color that adorns the city has several symbolic meanings and practical purposes:

  1. Symbolism:
    • The blue color represents the sky or heaven, reminding people of God’s presence .
    • It is a reminder of the Jewish community’s heritage and legacy, who brought this tradition from Spain .
  2. Practical purposes:
    • The blue color is believed to repel mosquitoes .
    • It helps keep the city cool during hot weather .
    • The unique color attracts tourists, contributing to the city’s economy .

Exploring Chefchaouen:

  • Wander through the narrow blue streets, admiring the blue buildings, roofs, walls, stairs, and flower pots .
  • Visit the Grand Mosque and the abandoned Spanish Mosque, the main places of religious cult in the city .
  • Climb the narrow stairs, browse the overstocked souks, and purchase souvenirs for your loved ones .
  • Relax in one of Chefchaouen’s spas or visit the Kasbah museum to learn more about the city’s history .
  • For outdoor enthusiasts, hike the Rif Mountains and explore the nearby regional wilderness .

Tips for visiting Chefchaouen:

  • Pack warm clothing, especially during colder months, as the weather can be quite cold .
  • Experience a local hammam (bathhouse) for a unique cultural experience .
  • Female travelers should dress appropriately, covering knees, shoulders, midriff, back, chest, elbows, and calves in conservative areas .
  • Consider staying at recommended accommodations like Dar Besmellah, Dar Elrio, Riad Cherifa, Riad Hicham, or Dar Meziana.
  • Dine at local eateries like Bab Ssour, Chez Hicham, or Pizzeria Mandala to enjoy traditional Moroccan dishes such as couscous, local goat cheese, B’ssara, Harira, Kefta skewers, Tajin, salads, and vegetable soups .

Sahara Desert: A Natural Wonder

The Sahara Desert, the largest hot desert in the world, spans an impressive 3,600,000 square miles (9,400,000 sq. km) across North Africa . This vast expanse of sand and rock stretches from the Mediterranean in the north to the tropical savanna of the Sahel in the south, and from the Red Sea in the east to the Atlantic coast in the west . The desert is renowned for its towering sand dunes, some reaching heights of up to 590 feet (180 m) .

As the hottest desert on Earth, the Sahara experiences average temperatures ranging from 110.4°F to 114.8°F, with heatwaves capable of reaching a scorching 122°F (50°C) . It is also one of the driest places on the planet, with some areas like southern Egypt receiving less than 5 mm of rainfall annually . The desert’s highest point is Mount Emi Koussi in Chad, which reaches a peak of 11,204 feet (3,415 m) . While the Libyan part of the desert is considered the driest , the majority of the Sahara is comprised of rocky hamada, a barren and hard landscape, with ergs (collections of sand dunes) limited to specific areas .

To experience the Sahara Desert firsthand, visitors can choose from any of the 11 countries that contribute to its makeup. Some of the best ways to explore the desert include:

  1. Camel Excursions: Embark on a camel trek or safari to witness the magnificent Erg Chigaga, a 40-kilometer display of sand dunes .
  2. Sleeping Under the Stars: Embrace the full effect of the desert’s night sky by opting to sleep outdoors directly on the sand, rather than in a tent .
  3. Timing Your Visit: The best time to visit the Sahara Desert is between October and April when temperatures are most bearable . However, be prepared for freezing nights during December and January.

Essaouira: Coastal Charm

Essaouira, a charming coastal city in Morocco, offers a unique blend of history, culture, and natural beauty. Once a major trading hub between Europe, Africa, and the Americas, Essaouira’s rich heritage is evident in its architecture and vibrant souks . The city’s medina, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is filled with hidden gems, including secluded art galleries, stunning entryways, and rooftop terraces with breathtaking views .

Essaouira is renowned for its:

  1. Skilled craftsmen who work with thuya, a type of wood found mostly in northwestern Africa . Visit the wood souk to discover unique salad spoons, exquisite furniture, and artisans at work at Coopérative Artisanale de Marqueteurs Sur Le Bois Du Thuya .
  2. Unique souvenirs, such as raffia shoes, handmade baskets with stunning patterns, vintage carpets, masks from West Africa, and Mudcloth from Burkina Faso and Ghana .
  3. Bustling fishing port, where you can witness the daily catch and enjoy fresh seafood .
  4. Mellah, the Jewish quarter, known for its distinctive architecture and history .
  5. Long, sandy beach, perfect for water sports like windsurfing and kitesurfing, earning Essaouira the title “The Wind City of Africa” .

Visitors can explore the city’s rich culture and history at the Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdallah Museum, which showcases traditional Moroccan arts and crafts, including textiles, weapons, jewelry, old photography, utensils, musical instruments, and armory . Essaouira also offers a variety of activities, such as horseback riding, cooking classes, surfing, camel riding, quad biking, and traditional hammams . The town’s spas provide private and public hammams, as well as rejuvenating Berber massages .

Essaouira’s mild climate makes it a year-round destination, with the best times to visit being between April and June or September and November. The city’s culinary scene is diverse, with restaurants serving seafood, French, Asian, Italian, vegetarian, and vegan options . Moulay Hassan Square is a popular spot for dining and enjoying street musicians, particularly while savoring delicious crepes . As the sun sets, head to the beach, a rooftop, or embark on a camel, horse, or quad bike ride to witness Essaouira’s epic ocean sunsets

Conclusion

Morocco is a captivating destination that offers a wealth of experiences for travelers seeking adventure, culture, and natural beauty. From the vibrant souks of Marrakech and the historical significance of Fez to the enchanting blue streets of Chefchaouen, the awe-inspiring Sahara Desert, and the coastal charm of Essaouira, this North African country has something to offer every type of traveler. Whether you’re interested in exploring ancient medinas, indulging in delicious cuisine, or immersing yourself in the stunning landscapes, Morocco is sure to leave a lasting impression on your heart and mind.

If you’re ready to embark on an unforgettable journey through Morocco, there’s no better time than now to start planning your trip. Book now and let the magic of this enchanting country transport you to a world of wonder, where you’ll create memories that will last a lifetime. With its rich history, diverse culture, and warm hospitality, Morocco is a destination that will leave you longing to return time and time again.

FAQs

Does Rick Steves offer a travel guide for Morocco?
Yes, Rick Steves has authored a travel guide for Morocco titled “Morocco: Plunge Deep.”

What are the top destinations to visit in Morocco?
Morocco boasts several must-visit locations:

  • Anti-Atlas, ideal for hiking and outdoor activities.
  • Marrakesh, the quintessential city for romance.
  • Aït Ben Haddou, famous for its appearance in blockbuster films.
  • Taghazout Bay, perfect for relaxed beach vibes.
  • Essaouira, offering a combination of urban life and beach relaxation.
  • The awe-inspiring Sahara Desert.
  • The historic city of Fez.
  • Tangier, a city with a rich cultural tapestry.

Can you name four major tourist attractions in Morocco?
Certainly! Four major tourist attractions in Morocco include:

  • Jardin Majorelle, a stunning garden.
  • Hassan II Mosque, a magnificent religious site.
  • Bahia Palace, a historic landmark.
  • Ben Youssef Madrasa, an iconic historic site.
    Additionally, places like Jemaa el-Fnaa, Medina of Fez, Medina of Marrakesh, and Medina of Essaouira are also popular among visitors.

Where is Morocco situated and what makes it unique?
Morocco is located in the northwest corner of Africa, bordered by the North Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, with Algeria and Western Sahara as its land borders. Comparable in size to California, Morocco is distinguished by the Atlas Mountains which create a natural division between the temperate coastline and the expansive Sahara Desert

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