Morocco Travel Guide: Everything you need to know before you go
It takes less time to fly to Morocco than to get from Edinburgh to London by train – and you’re catapulted into a dazzling mix of sun, souks, desert, mountains and ocean. In March, you can climb the snow-capped Atlas Mountains in the morning and camel ride in the Agafay desert in the afternoon, or kite surf off Essaouira at dusk.
Morocco harbors enormous diversity. The culture is a mixture of Arabic and Amazigh (Berber) with a touch of French. It has a rich history, from the romantic red fortress of Ait Ben Haddou, made famous by Gladiator, to the dinosaur footprints embedded in the mountainsides.
Moroccans are expert craftsmen and you can buy beautiful handmade products at a great price. Meanwhile, Moroccan hospitality is legendary. In Morocco, we say: “The guests come from God”.
Current travel restrictions and entry requirements
To enter Morocco, passengers must have received three doses of vaccine (or have received their second dose of vaccine within the previous four months) or show proof of a negative PCR result from a test taken within 72 hours prior to entering Morocco. boarding. Children under 12 are exempt from these requirements. Masks are no longer worn on the ground.
Best time to go
Morocco can be visited all year round because it has such a diverse range of microclimates. However, July and August are extremely hot in most parts of the country, with the exception of the Atlantic coast where breezes keep it cool. The best times to visit are April/May and October/November. It can get cold in the winter, although it’s usually sunny. Tourist hotspots, like Marrakech, can get very crowded during peak times.
Main regions and cities
Marrakech is a fantastic place to start your journey. It’s central so you can get to other areas and towns. The city has been an important trading center for centuries, linking Africa to Europe. This heritage is summed up by Jema El Fna, the main square, where snake charmers play their flutes and where you can eat snails or drink fresh watermelon juice at a food stall. There are plenty of sights – including the Bahai Palace, Marjorelle Gardens, and the Yves Saint Laurent Museum – as well as great restaurants and a thriving club scene.
Much less touristy than Marrakech, Fez was the Islamic capital of North Africa and has 300 mosques in the city. It has the largest covered souk in the world (after the destruction of Aleppo in Syria), and you feel transported back to medieval times as you wander the winding alleys. The city is famous for its leather and exquisite pottery.
Easily accessible from Marrakech by bus, Essaouira is a laid-back paradise for artists, musicians and surfers. The weather is good all year round and this is where Moroccans go to spend their holidays in July and August. The beaches surrounding the town are extensive, with all types of beach sports on offer, especially kiteboarding and regular surfing. Head to the harbor to get fresh fish from the boats cooked on a small barbecue in front of you.
The giant Atlas mountain range stretches across North Africa and offers excellent hiking and cycling. Tiny Amazigh villages built of clay cling to the red and black cliffs and the valleys teem with fruit and walnut trees. You can walk in the mountains through traditional villages for a chance to experience a simpler way of life and stunning mountain scenery.
The desert has a magnificent beauty all its own and is worth the long journey to get there. There are many entry points: Ouarzazate, Merzouga and Zagora. All are good but for my money the best dunes are at Erg Chigaga, south of Zagora and west of Mhamid. If you can walk camels, you’ll get lost in a wide expanse of golden sand and blue skies for a few days – an experience like no other.
Best under-the-radar destinations
Guelmim is a desert town surrounded by small oases, home to the largest camel market in Morocco. The people are Sahrawi and the women wear a colorful cloth called milfah, which wraps around them much like a sari. Here you can experience life in the Sahara; camels can block your path as you drive, and you can see irons and chains from the slave trade of the past in the nearby Tighmert Museum.
Ait Bougemez is known as Happy Valley. Rich agricultural region in the center of the country, it is an area where nomads migrate with their herds in summer. In spring, the mountain slopes are covered in wildflowers and there are excellent hiking and biking opportunities, as well as the not-to-be-missed local weekly markets. You can also visit the granaries: fortified stores perched on top of rounded hills that served to protect villagers’ food stocks from marauding tribes.
The oasis and palm grove of Skoura resembles a fantasy from One Thousand and One Nights, where red kasbahs tower above the tops of elegant palm trees. The temperature drops 5 degrees as you pass from the desert surroundings of the Draa to a sudden paradise of greenery. This region is the date basket of Morocco, and all varieties are grown there. Eat them with the local vegetable and chickpea soup, harira.
The best things to do
Climb Mount Toubkal
The hike to the summit of Mount Toubkal (4,167m), the highest peak in North Africa, usually takes two days from Imlil, easily accessible from Marrakech. It’s a serious climb and you must have a guide, but it’s doable for anyone with a reasonable level of fitness and good walking shoes. From the summit, you can contemplate the peaks of the High Atlas for miles.
Take a cooking class
Morocco is famous for its gastronomy: Friday couscous, steaming tajines, tangy harira sauce and savory pastries sprinkled with sugar. Taking a cooking class will not only provide you with a recipe to show off to your friends, it will also give you insight into the lives of women in the country. Most of the classes are led by women, which allows them to earn an income.
ride a camel
In Islam, camels are considered the pinnacle of the animal kingdom. They’re perfectly designed for life in the desert, from their hovercraft feet that float above the sand, to their Teflon lips and tongues that can eat thorns the size of acacia tree nails. One of the adverse effects of Covid was that cameleers were no longer able to buy oats for their camels as there were no tourists and they had to rely on sparse grazing in the desert. By taking a camel ride, you guarantee the animal a hearty lunch (plus it’s super fun).
The Gnaoua festival
Every summer, Essaouira hosts the Gnaoua music festival and thousands of people flock to listen to music from all over Africa. Gnaoua is a genre of traditional music that was imported from sub-Saharan Africa during the slave trade. The festival is a wild dance festival and celebration with crazy fusion combinations.
Look for a Moussem
Moussems are celebrations organized by communities in honor of their local saint. They are often attached to the end of a religious pilgrimage and usually take place in late spring or early summer. One of the best is in Had Draa. There are always fantastic riding displays, with villages competing for prizes for the best teams of riders and shooters. There are also food stalls, fairground rides, music and hundreds of local people to have a good time.
Getting around Morocco is cheap and easy. Most Moroccans cannot afford a car, so there are good transport links everywhere. Between the cities, the rail network mainly serves the center and the north and you can book in advance online or from any station. The two main bus companies, Supranet and CTM, are clean, comfortable and generally punctual. Tickets can be purchased online or at a train station.
In the cities, you can get around with small taxis – these are small shared taxis equipped with meters. You tell the driver where you are going and if that is his direction he will pick you up. Taxis are of different colors depending on the city. Large taxis are bigger and more expensive. Shared taxis and mini-buses also run between towns from some stations; check with your hotel. There are also domestic flights between major cities.
How to get there
All major low cost airlines fly to Morocco and there are often good deals available.
Alternatively, Morocco is accessible by sea. Ferry services depart from southern Spain – Algeciras or Tarifa – and sail to Tangier.
Tip to save money
Morocco is generally a cheap country to visit. If you’re on a very tight budget, one way to save money is to eat street food instead of restaurants and cafes. Look for spicy sausages, fresh donuts, giant egg sandwiches with pickles, cactus fruit, and tea and coffee from vendors with small stalls and stools to sit on.
What weather is it?
The weather varies with the seasons but it can always (except July/August) get chilly in the evenings, so bring layers. Many places have no heating.
What time zone is it in?
What currency do I need?
The currency is the dirham (around £12) and it’s a closed currency so you can’t take any with you. ATMs work everywhere with cards.
What languages are spoken?
The main languages are Arabic, Tamazight (Berber) and French, but many Moroccans speak English. If you say Salaam Alaykum as a greeting and Shoukran as a thank you, it will be appreciated.
As it is an Islamic country, is there anything I should be aware of?
Morocco is an Islamic country, so dressing respectfully is appreciated. This means no vests or short shorts (male or female). Long sleeves and tops that cover the bottom or dresses below the knee are ideal for women.
It is not acceptable to kiss in the street, and homosexuality remains illegal in Morocco.