Morocco isn’t exactly off-the-beaten-path for many Europeans– in fact, this North African country lies only eight miles away from Spain across the Strait of Gibraltar. But it’s a world away in terms of culture, language, religion, geography, and just about everything else.
Americans, who are much more scarce in Morocco than Europeans, are missing out on perhaps the world’s safest Muslim country, a small but varied landscape filled with mountains, valleys, deserts, beaches, and the most hospitable people you’ll probably ever meet.
The best way to see Morocco is by spending time with the people who actually live there. Even more so than in other countries, Morocco offers a whole range of experiences to locals (and friends of locals) that are simply not available to casual tourists. The markets, for example, are notoriously labyrinthine, and only locals will know the best places to shop and eat. Going shopping with a local will keep you from getting out-haggled by a canny carpet vendor, and eating a traditional meal– with delicious bread, olives, dates, tajine, and couscous– in a Moroccan family’s home is an experience unlike any other.If you want to spend time with native Moroccans, I cannot recommend Couchsurfing enough. Over a thousand locals– in the imperial city of Fes, the booming metropolis of Casablanca, in spectacular Marrakesh, and dozens of other cities– are registered on Couchsurfing and they’re eager to show you around their country.
Whether you stay with a local or not, here are some of the places in Morocco you absolutely shouldn’t miss:
- Marrakesh, with its one-of-a-kind Djemaa el Fna (pictured above), a massive central square that buzzes at night with snake charmers, impromptu boxing matches, magicians, and some of the best street food you’ll ever taste.
- Chefchaouen, a northern hill town known for its light blue color (pictured right) and the kif (hashish) that grows in its surrounding fields
- The imperial city of Fes, home to the mesmerizing medina of Fes el Bali
- The intimidating, gritty, and still sorta’ charming port town of Tangier, where travelers just off the ferry from Spain disembark– and are confronted with indefatigable taxi drivers and touts.
- The Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, the world’s largest mosque outside of Mecca and Medina. Daily tours (except Friday) offer non-Muslims a rare chance to peek inside the usually off-limits place of worship for Muslims.
- Beautiful Essaouira and Agadir, coastal towns that offer visitors Atlantic beaches, wonderful weather, and tasty seafood. They’re also great places to begin an excursion into the Sahara Desert just to the south.
Ferries travel daily from Algeciras and Tarifa in southern Spain to the Moroccan port town of Tangier. The ride lasts about an hour and is inexpensive.
As for air travel, Morocco’s main hubs are Casablanca and Rabat. Flights are also available to Marrakesh, Agadir, Fes, and several other cities.
For more up-and-coming destinations, check out the rest of Gadling’s series “Coming Attractions” here.