One of the most notable strengths of Morocco as a travel destination, is the infinite variety. For those intrepid explorers with an indecisive nature, this north African jewel poses real challenges. Where to start in a country that offers so much?
The huge variety and choice of holiday experience stems largely from the rich landscape on offer. With beaches spread along Mediterranean and Atlantic coastlines, the majestic Atlas mountains in the interior and the vast expanses of the Sahara Desert, this country clearly won the lottery when spectacular natural resources were being dished out.
That said, Morocco has a host of exciting cities scattered across its surface – places with evocative names such as Marrakech, Casablanca, Fez, Rabat and Tangier, all offering an urban take on life that is energising and bewildering in equal measure. Many Moroccan cites are known for their organised chaos, to the untutored eye of the visitor this can sometimes take a little adjustment. But the secret is to embrace the chaos and slip into the rhythms of those around you – this way you get to see more of the real places beneath the tourist veneer.
For a vacation that blends urban with rural, starting your trip in Marrakech makes perfect sense. As the third largest city in Morocco, you will find it a bustling and busy place full of interest. Located near the lower slopes of the snow capped Atlas Mountains and within a few hours of the Sahara Desert, it is perfectly sited for combining city and country pursuits. It is possible to arrange desert tours from Marrakech that take you deep into the Sahara. Witness the enormous sand dunes that stretch on forever, take mint tea with Berber villagers or view the horizon from the back of a camel – however you experience the Sahara, it is certain to make a big impression. With a base in the city it is easy to organise desert tours from Marrakech that transport you in comfort to the best places for channelling your inner Lawrence of Arabia. Remember to pack shades, a cap and sun cream to protect you from the fierce desert rays – and read up on your camel charming phrases to ensure smooth passage through the sands.
Marrakech is a fascinating city to explore. Many visitors hit the historic Medina first. The vast main square of Djemaa El-Fna is popular with tourists and is edged by the souk and bazaars where all manner of goods can be sourced. In the square sooth sayers, snake charmers, circus performers and street musicians all vie for your attention – it is a vibrant and energetic display of Moroccan life in the heart of the old city. Head here to sample street food or to dine in one of the many traditional restaurants. The cuisine of Morocco relies heavily on exotic spices and the mouth-watering aromas and scents wafting around the square as evening falls are bewitching.
To get authentic Moroccan hospitality, check in to a Riad, a traditional Moroccan home built around an internal courtyard . For a relaxing and intimate retreat it makes the perfect solution. From the outside they appear unassuming, austere even, with their lack of external windows. Once inside, they are frequently elegantly furnished with jewel coloured upholstery, mirrors and lamps in distinctive local style. Hospitality is taken very seriously in Morocco and in a Riad it is shown at its best.
After the heat and pace of Marrakech, take some time out in the refreshing breezes of coastal Essaouira. About three hours by road from Marrakech, this sea side town on the Atlantic coast has a laid back atmosphere and lots of interesting stories from the past to keep history buffs entertained. More recently, the town appeared in HBO blockbuster ‘Game of Thrones’, playing the role of the city of Astapor. Much of the activity in the city is focused on the beach where water sports are king. Wind and kite surfing are popular due to the strong sea breezes that push along the beach. With a lively night life and music scene, plentiful accommodation,great restaurants and a growing international profile, Essaouira is attracting new fans all the time.
Do you like to take holidays that mix up town and country? If so, then Morocco should be your next vacation treat. With a host of exotic cities to choose from and some wild wonders too, getting the balance right has never been easier…