Morocco Travel Guide
What you need to know before visiting Morocco ?
The Kingdom of Morocco is the most westerly of the North African countries known as the Maghreb – the “Arab West”. It has Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines, a rugged mountain interior and a history of independence not shared by its neighbours.
Kingdom of Morocco, is a country in the Maghreb region of North Africa. Geographically, Morocco is characterized by a rugged mountainous interior and large portions of desert. It is one of only three countries (with Spain and France) to have both Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines. The Arabic name al-Mamlakah al-Maghribiyah (Arabic: المملكة المغربية, meaning “The Western Kingdom”) and Al-Maghrib (Arabic: المغرب, meaning “The West”) are commonly used as alternate names.
Morocco has a population of over 33.8 million and an area of 446,550 km2 (172,410 sq mi). Its political capital is Rabat, although the largest city is Casablanca; other major cities include Marrakesh, Tangier, Tetouan, Salé, Fes, Agadir, Meknes, Oujda, Kenitra, and Nador. A historically prominent regional power, Morocco has a history of independence not shared by its neighbours. Its distinct culture is a blend of Arab, indigenous Berber, Sub-Saharan African, and European influences.
Morocco claims the non-self-governing territory of Western Sahara as its Southern Provinces. Morocco annexed the territory in 1975, leading to a guerrilla war with indigenous forces until a cease-fire in 1991. Peace processes have thus far failed to break the political deadlock.
Marrakech or Marrakesh is possibly the most important of Morocco’s four former imperial cities (cities that were built by Moroccan Berber empires). The region has been inhabited by Berber farmers since Neolithic times, but the actual city was founded in 1062 by Abu Bakr ibn Umar, chieftain and cousin of Almoravid king Yusuf ibn Tashfin. In the 12th century, the Almoravids built many medrasas (Koranic schools) and mosques in Marrakesh that bear Andalusian influences. The red walls of the city, built by Ali ibn Yusuf in 1122–1123, and various buildings constructed in red sandstone during this period, have given the city the nickname of the “Red City” or “Ochre City”. Marrakesh grew rapidly and established itself as a cultural, religious, and trading centre for the Maghreb and sub-Saharan Africa; Jemaa el-Fnaa is the busiest square in Africa.
Marrakech is an intoxicating city known for its souks, spices, snake charmers and hidden palaces, though these days it’s prized as much for its trendy art galleries, hip hotels and elegant hammams. Offering a tantalising taste of Africa within easy reach of Europe, it certainly lives up to the hype, and not only thanks to its fabled ancient medina.
It is to the medina, however, that most visitors will gravitate. The ageless city of blushing pink stone has waylaid desert caravans since the 11th century, with travellers succumbing to the charms of its bluesy Gnaoua music, calls to prayer and elaborate feasts. Its dark, narrow alleyways are full of artisan workshops, shrines and sprawling markets, and riads. These traditional courtyard guest houses range from palatial oases to smaller, more intimate affairs.
Fes was founded on a bank of the Jawhar river by Idris I in 789, founder of the Zaydi Shi’ite Idrisid dynasty. His son, Idris II (808),built a settlement on the opposing river bank. These settlements would soon develop into two walled and largely autonomous sites, often in conflict with one another: Madina Fes and Al-‘Aliya. In 808 Al-‘Aliya replaced Walili as the capital of the Idrisids.
Arab emigration to Fez, including 800 Andalusi families of Berber descent in 817–818 expelled after a rebellion against the Umayyads of Córdoba, and 2,000 Arab families banned from Kairouan (modern Tunisia) after another rebellion in 824, gave the city a more Arabic character than others of the region. The Andalusians settled in what is called the ‘Old’ Fez, while the Tunisians found their home in the ‘New’ Fez, also called al-‘Aliya. These two waves of immigrants would subsequently give their name to the sites ‘Adwat Al-Andalus and ‘Adwat al-Qarawiyyin. The majority of the population was of Arab descent, and the minority was of North-African Berber descent, with rural Berbers from the surrounding countryside settling there throughout this early period, mainly in Madinat Fas (the Andalusian quarter) and later in Fes Jdid.
Upon the death of Idris II in 828, the dynasty’s territory was divided among his sons. The eldest, Muhammad, received Fez. The newly fragmented Idrisid power would never again be reunified. During Yahya ibn Muhammad’s rule in Fez the Kairouyine mosque, one of the oldest and largest in Africa, was built and its associated Al-Qarawiyyin Madrasa was founded (859). Comparatively little is known about Idrisid Fez, owing to the lack of comprehensive historical narratives and that little has survived of the architecture and infrastructure of early Fez (Al-‘Aliya). The sources that mention Idrisid Fez, describe a rather rural one, not having the cultural sophistication of the important cities of Al-Andalus and Ifriqiya.
Fassis, though, know that their city is beyond the vagaries of tourism. This is an old and supremely self-confident city that has nothing to prove to anyone. Dynasties and booms have all come and gone in the city’s 1200-year existence, and Fez will be around long after the next fashion has burned itself out.
The city’s allegiance, or at least submission, has always been essential to whoever held Morocco’s throne. Morocco’s independence movement was born here, and when there are strikes or protests, they are often at their most vociferous in Fez.
For visitors, the medina of Fès el-Bali (Old Fez) is the city’s great drawcard. It’s an assault on the senses, a warren of narrow lanes and covered bazaars fit to bursting with aromatic food stands, craft workshops, mosques and an endless parade of people. Old and new constantly collide – the man driving the donkeys and mules that remain the main form of transport is likely to be chatting on his mobile phone, while the ancient skyline is punctuated equally with satellite dishes and minarets.
Visit Merzouga ( The Sahara Desert )
Merzouga is a village in the Sahara Desert in Morocco, on the edge of Erg Chebbi, a 50km long and 5km wide set of sand dunes that reach up to 350m high. Most people are here to take a camel safari into the dunes, and to get a taste of remote (tourism-influenced) Berber life.
Winter months (November to February) are cool but sunny, with daily high temperatures only slightly over 10 C, and cold nights. Spring until April is pleasant, with temperatures from 25 C up to 30 C in the afternoons, and with cool nights. Summer months are hot. In winter and spring there is occasional short rain or drizzle (a couple of days per month, on average), but heavy rain is unusual. Best time to visit Merzouga is February to April.
Merzouga is a small, dusty town on the edge of Morocco’s Sahara desert, close to the vast Erg Chebbi dunes (Morocco’s largest sand dunes). The actual town of Merzouga itself does not have a lot to offer besides a general store, small hotels, a couple of restaurants and an internet cafe. Visitors head to Merzouga because it’s the gateway to the gorgeous Sahara desert. You can ride camels into the dunes, spend a few nights in Berber tents and get a taste of Berber food and music (which can extend to Bob Marley in these parts).
There are options to go quad bike riding as well if you prefer the thrill of an engine over the “ship of the desert”. While many of Morocco’s top attractions are easily accessible by train, Merzouga and other close by villages of Rissani and Erfoud, are only accessible by car. Find out how to get to Merzouga, where to stay and things to do from the guide below.
Visit Chefchaouen ( The Blue City )
Chefchaouen was originally established way back in 1471, back when Moorish and Jewish refugees came here after fleeing from the Reconquest of Spain, an art blue-washed mountain village that feels like its own world. While tourism has definitely taken hold, the balance between ease and authenticity is just right. The old medina is a delight of Moroccan and Andalucian influence with red-tiled roofs, bright-blue buildings and narrow lanes converging on busy Plaza Uta el-Hammam and its restored kasbah. Long known to backpackers for the easy availability of kif (marijuana), the town has rapidly gentrified and offers a range of quality accommodation, good food, lots to do and no hassles to speak of, making it a strong alternative to a hectic multicity tour. This is a great place to relax, explore and take day trips to the cool green hills.
Chefchaouen is situated in the Rif Mountains, just inland from Tangier and Tetouan. The city was founded in 1471, as a small fortress which still exists to this day, by Moulay Ali Ben Moussa Ben Rached El Alami (a descendant of Ibn Machich and Idris I, and through them, of the Islamic prophet Muhammad) to fight the Portuguese invasions of northern Morocco. Along with the Ghomara tribes of the region, many Moriscos and Jews settled here after the Spanish Reconquest in medieval times. In 1920, the Spanish seized Chefchaouen to form part of Spanish Morocco. Spanish troops imprisoned Abd el-Krim in the kasbah from 1916 to 1917, after he talked with the German consul Dr. Walter Zechlin (1879–1962).
Founded in the 11th century by the Almoravids as a military settlement, Meknes became a capital under Sultan Moulay Ismaïl (1672–1727), the founder of the Alaouite dynasty. The sultan turned it into a impressive city in Spanish-Moorish style, surrounded by high walls with great doors, where the harmonious blending of the Islamic and European styles of the 17th century Maghreb are still evident today.
A Berber tribe called the Miknasa (Imeknasen), originally from the Tunisian south, settled here in the 9th century. The Almoravids founded a fortress in Meknes during the 11th century. It resisted the Almohads rise, and was thus destroyed by them, only to be rebuilt in a larger size with mosques and large fortifications. Under the Merinids it received further medrasas, kasbahs and mosques in the early 14th century, and continued to thrive under the Wattasid dynasty. Meknes saw its golden age as the imperial capital of Moulay Ismail following his accession to the Sultanate of Morocco (1672–1727). He installed under the old city a large prison to house Christian sailors captured on the sea, and also constructed numerous edifices, gardens, monumental gates, mosques (whence the city’s nickname of “City of a Hundred Minarets”) and the large line of wall, having a length of 40 kilometres (25 miles).
According to the ICOMOS Heritage at Risk report of 2000, the historic city of Meknes contains insufficient drainage systems, and as a result suffers from inundation and leakage in certain areas.
Rabat, Morocco’s capital, rests along the shores of the Bouregreg River and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s known for landmarks that speak to its Islamic and French-colonial heritage, including the Kasbah of the Udaya. This Berber-era royal fort is surrounded by formal French-designed gardens and overlooks the ocean. The city’s iconic Hassan Tower, a 12th-century minaret, soars above the ruins of a mosque.
Rabat has a long and rich history, and plenty of monuments to show for it from the Phoenician, Roman, Almohad and Merenid times. The power shifted at times between Rabat and Salé, the whitewashed town across the Bou Regreg river where time appears to have stood still. Rabat is also a good place to eat; there are plenty of wonderful restaurants around town. The nightlife is not what it is in Casablanca, but an early afternoon stroll along the main avenues of the happening suburb of Agdal, where local hipsters flaunt their skinny jeans, is entertaining enough. And if city life gets you down, you can escape to the beaches further north.
Essaouira is pronounced es-Sweera in Arabic. Say it long and slow and it sounds like the tangy sea breeze that whistles through the argan trees, narrow alleys, and historic seafront fortifications of this Moroccan coastal town.
Essaouira is a port city and resort on Morocco’s Atlantic coast. Its medina (old town) is protected by 18th-century seafront ramparts called the Skala de la Kasbah, which were designed by European engineers. Old brass cannons line the walls, and there are ocean views. Strong “Alizée” trade winds make the city’s crescent beach popular for surfing, windsurfing and kitesurfing.
Visit Ksar Ait Benhaddou
Ait Ben Haddou is a fortified city, or ksar (village), along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech in present-day Morocco. Most citizens living in the area now live in more modern dwellings in a nearby village, although there are 4 families still living in the ancient city. This giant fortification, which is made up of six Kasbahs and nearly fifty ksars which are individual Kasbahs, is a great example of earthen clay architecture. Which is also use in Moroccan architecture.
Located in the foothills on the southern slopes of the High Atlas in the Province of Ouarzazate, the site of Ait-Ben-Haddou is the most famous ksar in the Ounila Valley. The Ksar of Aït-Ben-Haddou is a striking example of southern Moroccan architecture. The ksar is a mainly collective grouping of dwellings. Inside the defensive walls which are reinforced by angle towers and pierced with a baffle gate, houses crowd together – some modest, others resembling small urban castles with their high angle towers and upper sections decorated with motifs in clay brick – but there are also buildings and community areas. It is an extraordinary ensemble of buildings offering a complete panorama of pre-Saharan earthen construction techniques. The oldest constructions do not appear to be earlier than the 17th century, although their structure and technique were propagated from a very early period in the valleys of southern Morocco. The site was also one of the many trading posts on the commercial route linking ancient Sudan to Marrakesh by the Dra Valley and the Tizi-n’Telouet Pass. Architecturally, the living quarters form a compact grouping, closed and suspended. The community areas of the ksar include a mosque, a public square, grain threshing areas outside the ramparts, a fortification and a loft at the top of the village, an caravanserai, two cemeteries (Muslim and Jewish) and the Sanctuary of the Saint Sidi Ali or Amer. The Ksar of Ait- Ben-Haddou is a perfect synthesis of earthen architecture of the pre-Saharan regions of Morocco.
Also known as Casa or Dar el Baida, Casablanca is essentially the capital of Morocco. Any European citizen or traveler will feel immediately at home here and will have an almost instinctive understanding of the life here. There are plenty of hotels in and around Casablanca. Regardless of the size of your budget, you can find a superb place to enjoy a meal in this vibrant city. Entertain your wildest holiday fantasies in Casablanca!
As Morocco’s commercial capital, Casablanca is its biggest city, with more than 7 million cosmopolitan inhabitants. People are drawn here from every corner of the country, adding their influences to the enduring European vibes.
An air of French sophistication pervades in its cafes and restaurants, but that’s just one aspect of the dining and nightlife circuit. As establishments aren’t catering to a transient audience, their flavours are built to last, and some of the finest Moroccan cooking can be found in Casablanca – not to mention the most liberal attitudes to drinking found anywhere in the country.
What you will need to visit Morocco ?
British nationals don’t need a visa to enter Morocco for the purpose of tourism for up to 3 months. When entering the country, make sure your passport is stamped. Some tourists have experienced difficulties leaving the country because their passport bears no entry stamp.
Your passport should be valid for the proposed duration of your stay in Morocco. No additional period of validity beyond this is required.
The Moroccan authorities have confirmed they will accept British passports extended by 12 months by British Embassies and Consulates under additional measures put in place in mid-2014.
Visit Morocco : Visa for Morocco
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents are accepted for entry to, airside transit, and exit from, Morocco.
Moroccan Customs don’t have a list of prohibited products, but they do advise anyone travelling with prescription medication to make sure they have a copy of the doctor’s prescription which covers the medication and quantity carried.
Read more about things you will need on UK governement website.
Is Morocco Safe to travel ?
Morocco 2015 Crime and Safety Report stressed that “crime does not pose a significant threat to Tourists in Morocco.” The report revealed that “no area within Morocco is considered off-limits,” advising tourists to keep “normal precautions,” and move freely in Morocco as they wish.
Morocco’s southern provinces are safe for visitors, yet, an awareness of the political arena should be noted as surveillance is stricter in those areas.
According to the OSAC’s findings, which highlighted overall crime and safety in the North African country in 2015, the majority of crimes have been reported in Marrakech, followed by Casablanca, Tangier, Fez, and Rabat.
As is the case in every major city around the world, crimes are more common in urban areas and around tourist attractions, than in rural areas.
However, the majority of the crimes listed by the report were related to minor theft, including snatching handbags from pedestrians and street pickpockets.
“Firearms are not common,” the report noted, “most armed assailants use edged weapons (knives, razors, daggers)” to commit crimes.
Tourists should exercise caution when using ATMs, although they are “generally safe to use” and fraud is not a concern.
There has not been a terrorist attack on Moroccan soil since 2011, and Moroccan intelligence services successfully monitor the territory.
Although the threat of terrorism is medium, the OCAS said, “Moroccan security services continue to place a large emphasis on finding and arresting potential terrorist cells before they become operational.”
Regarding road safety, traffic accidents are a major threat in Morocco. More than 11 Moroccans are killed in motor vehicle-related accidents per day, the same report revealed.
Religious and ethnic violence against tourists is not common since “the government places strict controls on religious preaching.”
According to the same report, drug-related violence is low due to the government’s strict rules in fighting drug-trafficking.
A recent study conducted by the Reputation Institute in collaboration with the Moroccan Royal Institute for Strategic Studies (IRES), revealed that Morocco is highly regarded among Russians and Americans.
Moreover, according to Travel Risk Map 2016 report, published last week by International SOS and Control Risks, Morocco is a safe tourist destination, ranking in the same category as most European countries and the United States.
Read more about safety in Morocco on Morocco World News website.
How to ride the camel and things you’ll need for the camel ride ?
- 1) Wear long pants .
- The motion of the camel can make your pants go up to your calves.
- 2) Make sure you have sunscreen.
- While this might be pretty obvious, you should always remember to do this if you’re going to the desert.
- 3) If you bring an electronic device, make sure you tie it on.
- Remember, camels are tall animals, and if your device happens to fall, don’t expect it to survive.
- 4) Bring a painkiller.
- This is only for rides longer than 1 hour. You might not think it, but being on a camel for a long time can really hurt. So just bring a light painkiller like Tylenol or Advil and things will work out just fine.
- 5) If for the first time, ride camels with supervision.
- This will prevent from any accidents happening.
- 6) Mount the camel.
- It should be in a sitting position or from a scaffold when you do this. Get one foot on the stirrup and then put the other leg over the camel’s hump. Do this all in one strong action to prevent from falling before you can even ride the camel.
- 7) Sit and hold the reins confidently.
- Camels can sense when a person in uncomfortable. By doing this, you’ll make the camel feel more relaxed instead of wanting to go on a rampage. Good posture may also keep you falling from the camel.
- 8) Dismount the camel.
- Even the best (and weirdest) moments have to come to an end. Just like mounting an animal, it’s best to do this while the camel is in the sitting position .