Morocco Holiday Planning Guide
Diverse in landscapes and cultures, Morocco has long been a popular tourist destination, offering many quintessential North African vistas, sounds, and tastes. The ancient medinas of the main cities have retained their look and feel over the centuries, with bustling markets of colorful spice stalls, leather tanning in the streets, and teahouses. The dunes of the Sahara and the peaks of the High Atlas mountains battle for the interest of tourists on holiday in Morocco, with each possessing impressive, picturesque scenery, and hidden-away traditional villages, filled with crafts, carpets, and a rural way of life.
Places to Visit in Morocco
Regions of MoroccoMarrakech-Tensift-El Haouz Region
: Phoenician archaeological sites, Berber settlements, mesmerizing desert, and sandy beaches on the Atlantic Ocean make this central Morocco region a magnet for tourists.Fes-Boulemane Region
: This prominent cultural and educational hub with a World Heritage-listed capital allows you to tour across the majestic northwestern Sahara during your Morocco holiday.Souss-Massa-Draa Region
: Apart from desert safaris and basking in the sun on good beaches, a Morocco vacation in this area includes visiting ancient fortresses, Portuguese colonial structures, and bustling traditional markets.Tangier-Tetouan Region
: Blending European, Arab, and African influences, the northernmost Moroccan region invites you to explore old walled cities, archaeological sites, clean beaches, and many natural attractions.
Cities in MoroccoMarrakech
: The "Red City" boasts some of the most popular tourist attractions in Morocco, including grandiose palaces and mosques, photogenic gardens, sacred tombs, labyrinthine souks, and sprawling bazaars that evoke a bygone era.Casablanca
: Representing the country's beating heart, this modern city boasts architectural gems in Art Deco, Modernist, and Hispano-Moorish styles, verdant parks, and a bustling waterfront promenade.Fes
: A cultural hub and spiritual center of the country, this enchanting city draws visitors with its walled medina, peaceful courtyards, traditional tanneries, and a myriad of markets.Essaouira
: The "Wind City of Africa" promises a laidback Morocco vacation filled with surfing, swimming, and day-trip opportunities to rural surroundings dotted with picturesque villages and forest trails.Agadir
: Featuring a sweeping sandy shore and sunny weather all year round, the country's premier beach destination offers you a great chance to relax, swim, surf, and enjoy a laidback atmosphere on your Morocco holiday.Tangier
: Displaying a mix of North African, French, Spanish, and Portuguese cultural influences, this port city invites you to discover its kasbah, religious quarters, vibrant souks, teahouses with ocean views, and famous beaches.
Popular Morocco Tourist AttractionsJardin Majorelle
: Nature and art intertwine in this botanical garden that includes a striking blue villa at the heart of it, numerous water features, and a museum of Islamic art.Jemaa el-Fnaa
: Hosting daily performances by storytellers, actors, and musicians, the square represents a UNESCO-designated Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.Medina of Fez
: Featuring a wealth of historical monuments and buildings flanking narrow, winding, bustling streets, the oldest neighborhood in Fes is one of the most popular places to visit in Morocco.Hassan II Mosque
: A symbolic landmark of Casablanca, this mosque is known for its 210 m (689 ft) tall minaret and highly decorated interior (viewable only as part of a guided tour).Marrakech Souk
: Packed with stalls selling leather goods, jewelry, kaftans, perfumes, and spices, this traditional souk should be included on Morocco itineraries put together by serious shopaholics.Medina of Marrakesh
: This World Heritage-listed area is not only known for its culturally rich souks and public squares, but also for its dancers, musicians, and storytellers.Seafront promenade
: This long walkway running along the sea serves as a good place to look for restaurants with ocean views, beach soccer and volleyball areas, and local vendors selling souvenirs.Ben Youssef Madrasa
: Once the largest center of Islamic learning on the continent founded in the 14th century, this Morocco attraction still maintains its studious calm and ageless charm.Medina of Essaouira
: Incorporating influences from European military architecture into a typically North African style, the old walled part of the city features historical landmarks and all of the usual elements of a medina.Bahia Palace
: Dating back to the 1860s, this royal complex of buildings and gardens, adorned with intricate woodwork and stained glass, includes a lavishly decorated harem.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Morocco
Cuisine of Morocco
Blending a wide range of influences--namely Mediterranean, Arabic, Andalusian, Sub-Saharan, and above all Berber--the mouthwatering Moroccan cuisine will add zest to your Morocco holiday.
The staple foods Moroccans use in their cooking include wheat, Mediterranean fruits and vegetables, meat (excluding pork), and seafood, which they season with olive oil and lemon pickle.
Probably the most famous Moroccan dish, couscous is made from durum wheat and serves as a popular alternative to pasta and rice.
Spices are very important in Moroccan cuisine. "Ras el hanout," which liberally translates to "top-shelf," is the well-known Moroccan mixture of 27 spices.
Beef and chicken are most widely eaten meats, commonly cooked with vegetables in a "tagine" (Moroccan earthenware pot), or simply roasted.
Other popular dishes include meat-based "harira" and bean-based "bissara" soups, eaten during the colder months of the year, and "pastilla," a crispy, sweet and salty pie filled with meat, almonds, cinnamon, and sugar.
Vegetarians will enjoy fresh, cold salads characteristic of the town of Fes
, namely "taktouka" (with tomatoes, green peppers, and garlic) and "zaalouk" (with raw tomato and eggplant).
Usual desserts include "kaab el ghzal" or "gazelle's horns" (sugarcoated pastry filled with almond paste), coconut fudge cake, and "halwa chebakia" (deep-fried, pretzel-shaped dough soaked in honey), commonly consumed during Ramadan.
Morocco's most popular beverage is Berber whisky, which is actually heavily sweetened green tea with mint.
Shopping in Morocco
Shopaholics who don't mind haggling will be irresistibly drawn to the country's vibrant souks on their Morocco holidays.
The labyrinthine alleyways of Marrakech Souk
are dotted with small shops packed with leather goods, jewelry, kaftans, perfumes, and spices.
At Jemaa el-Fnaa
, the commercial and cultural center of Marrakech, you can find more traditional Moroccan souvenirs and gifts, such as traditional water bags made from leather and brass drinking cups.Ensemble Artisanal
allows you to take a break from the hustle and bustle of the souks and buy traditional goods (wooden animals, leather poufs, and hand-thrown tagines) directly from artists working in front of you.
Although souks and bazaars prevail over the Western style of shopping, Morocco doesn't lack modern shopping malls. In fact, Casablanca houses one of the largest shopping centers in Africa, Morocco Mall
, offering everything from fashionable clothing to the latest electronic gadgets.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Morocco
Interesting Facts About Morocco
"Al-Magrib al-Aqsa" is an Arabic name for Morocco--the phrase translates as"The Extreme West"
Your Morocco vacation can easily turn into a holiday in Europe--you just need to cross the 13 km (8 mi) across the Strait of Gibraltar
The tattoos that adorn foreheads, cheeks, and necks of Moroccan Berber women were used as signs of tribal identification in times when abductions were commonplace
Traditionally, Moroccans consider the liver, not the heart, as the symbol of love
One of the expressions Moroccans use for money is "wusakh d-dunya," meaning "dirt of the world"
Things You Should NOT Do in Morocco
Although Morocco attracts millions of international tourists every year, you should keep in mind that this is still a Muslim country. Unless you're spending your Morocco vacation in one of the touristy coastal cities, do your best to follow the requirements of Islamic law.
These include dressing properly for the occasion (skin-revealing clothes are reserved for beach resorts only), not drinking alcohol in public (unless you're in a bar), and not eating in public before sunset during Ramadan.
If you get a chance to dine at a local home, use your right hand for greeting and eating and never refuse an offer of meat--it will be taken as the refusal of hospitality.
Holidays & Festivals in Morocco
Major Islamic holidays celebrated in Morocco as elsewhere in the Muslim world include Ramadan and Eid al-Adha, which is also known as the "Sacrifice Feast" because it honors the willingness of Ibrahim to sacrifice his firstborn. This is one of the most important Moroccan holidays, when many Muslim devotees from all over the country travel to Mecca.
The country's major civic holidays include Throne Day (July 30) and Independence Day (November 18). Both are celebrated with colorful fireworks, singing, and dancing.Marrakech
Folklore Festival (beginning of June) provides a great opportunity to observe the local way of life on your Morocco trip.
Useful Morocco Travel Tips
Common Greetings in Morocco
Though many Moroccans speak French, and more or less Spanish or English, learning a few phrases in Arabic may come in handy on your Morocco holiday.
A simple "as-salamu alaykum," meaning "peace be upon you," will be much appreciated before you shake someone's hand and touch your heart with the right hand as a sign of respect.
A firm "la choukran" (la shokran), meaning "no thank you," will keep the pushy street vendors away. Lose the "la" and you can thank your waiter or a bellhop for services provided.
"Balak" is another word to remember--it means "watch out." Make sure to move out of the way if you hear it in a busy souk or medina or you might get hit by a mule or cart.
Climate of Morocco
The weather in Morocco is as diverse as the country geography. In general, the region enjoys a moderate and subtropical climate.
As you move from the coast farther inland on your Morocco tour, temperatures will get more extreme. For comparison, average summer temperatures in the coastal area range from 18-28 C (64-82 F), while in the interior they often exceed 35 C (95 F).
The peaks of High Atlas Mountains
are snowcapped throughout the year, and during the coldest winter days the temperature in Moroccan highlands drops below zero Celsius (32 F).
Winters along the Mediterranean coast are rainy but temperate.
The best time to plan your vacation in Morocco is in the spring or autumn.
Transportation in Morocco
Out of the many transport options available in Morocco, trains are most comfortable, though they frequently experience delays and work within a limited railway network.
Other ways to travel between cities on your Morocco holiday include luxury and local buses, shared taxis, rental cars, and hitchhiking.
Local buses often lack air-conditioning, but the chance to chat with someone new and learn about the country firsthand makes this experience worthwhile.
Hitchhiking in large farm trucks is probably only for the more adventurous travelers, but is also a common form of travel in Morocco.
Flying to most cities with domestic airlines is also possible, though often quite expensive.
Tipping in Morocco
Moroccans don't have a firmly defined tipping etiquette. The usual tips range from a few dirhams (for taxi drivers) to 10 percent of a bill (in beauty parlors and restaurants), depending on the services provided.
Keep in mind that the service staff in hotels works for low salaries, so even a small tip will be much appreciated by the people who looked after your needs for a week or longer.
The so-called unofficial guides--those who insist on showing you the way around a medina on your Morocco tour whether you ask them or not--will expect to receive a tip. Off course, you are free to refuse unwanted help anytime.