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If you want to explore Morocco’s magnificent natural beauty, its rainbows of color, spice-market smells and exotic feel, consider putting these especially spectacular places to visit on your itinerary.
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Situated along the Atlantic coastline, Essaouira is one of Morocco’s most popular beach destinations, and a favorite with independent travelers. A great place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the larger cities, and from the sizzling heat, white-washed homes don cobalt blue shutters that offer a stunningly scenic backdrop for breezy seaside adventures like kitesurfing and windsurfing. The medina is where you’ll find crafts made using centuries-old techniques, including cabinet making and thuya wood carving, as well as the chance to listen to the trance-like music of the Gnawa. If you want to delve more into this traditional music, take the Gnawa Music Experience with Urban Adventures where you’ll enjoy the sacred and traditional world of this Afro-Moroccan group as well as meet the Gnawa masters in hidden domains that aren’t accessible to most outsiders.
The “blue town,” as Chefchaouen is known, is famous for being one of the prettiest places on the planet. For people who love color, it’s truly a blue dream, with its bright cerulean-hued architecture tucked within the hills of northwest Morocco. Row after row of buildings in its center are covered in blue paint in shades ranging from baby blue to aquamarine. The unusual coloring was introduced by Jewish refugees who arrived during the 15th century Spanish Inquisition, they believed that the more one looks at anything blue, the more they think about heaven. It also seems to help repel mosquitoes, as the insects perceive it as clear flowing water, which they aren’t attracted to. It does feel as if you’re swimming when walking down the flights of blue painted steps surrounded by the blue ceilings and blue walls. No cars are allowed on its narrow streets, where vendors sell their wares in open, traditional markets. The high walls block out the intense rays of the sun to create cool, shady areas, and from just about anywhere in the Chefchaouen medina, you can look up to see the mountain peaks above.
Situated at the foot of the Atlas mountains, the city of Marrakech is beautiful, large, chaotic, and filled with history. You’ll find an exciting mix of old and new with the charms of an exotic city, where the sounds of music and the sights of snake charmers, fortune tellers, busy bazaars and vendors are found around nearly every corner. Its centuries-old markets are one of the most colorful places on Earth, with bowls overflowing with olives and barrels of spices like turmeric, saffron, ginger and cinnamon tucked in among the tapestries and hookahs. At Djemaa el Fna, its popular city square, there are food stalls selling skewers of seasoned meats, harira and escargot, while wooden tables are set up for patrons to enjoy all sorts of dishes, including roast lamb and couscous, aubergine fritters, spicy sardines and steamed sheep head.
This fascinating port city in northern Morocco is popular with European visitors as it’s easy to reach with ferries making the short crossing from Europe every day. While it doesn’t have the charms it did five or six decades ago when one could rub shoulders with the likes of Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams, it’s still well-worth visiting for its sense of exotic mystery, fascinating history and unspoiled beaches. By taking a stroll along the beach at Ave Mohamed VI, you can experience many of Tangier’s most famous sights, including the Kasbah, Teatro Cervantes and the tomb of Ibn Battouta. The market scene is a wonderland of everything, except pork. The one must-do here is sipping a mint tea at one of the many open-air cafes and enjoying a bit of people watching – Cafe Tingis in the Petit Socco and the Grand Cafe de Paris off Place de France are two of the best spots to do just that.
Sidi Ifni is a small fishing town that was a Spanish territory up until 1969. Located on the Atlantic coast in southwest Morocco, it retains its Spanish heritage and has a distinct Iberian feel. Locals have painted their town blue and white, and the color scheme is continued in their turbans and robes. A haven for Europeans seeking a respite from the chillier months of the year, you’ll see camper vans lining the town beach in the winter, though the summer months are the best time for surfing, kite boarding and swimming, when the water is warmer and the wind picks up a bit. Its main appeal is a laid-back atmosphere – there are no discos or nightclubs, no tour buses or huge beachfront hotels, but tourists can enjoy meandering around the old Spanish church, checking out the local fish market and taking in amazing ocean views from the lighthouse.
Jebel Toubkal, Roumd
Roumd is the largest village in the Mizane Valley, an extraordinary destination built on a vast moraine spur that hovers over 6,000 feet above the valley. It’s used as a base by several trekking companies which take visitors to Jebel Toubkal, North Africa’s highest peak at 13,667 feet in the High Atlas Mountains. The journey is more of a walk rather than a climb, but it is still quite a challenge. From Roumd, it’s about a 90-minute trek to the pilgrimage site of Sidi Chamarouch, followed by another four hours or so to the Toubkal refuges which sit at the foot of the final slopes of Toubkal. The summit of the mountain is eventually reached by taking the serpentine path to the spectacular southern cliffs, where the reward is some of the most impressive views in the country.
Asilah is a popular seaside resort town on Morocco’s north coast with a rich history that dates all the way back to 1500 BC when it was a trade center of the Phoenicians. More recently, in the 19th and 20th centuries, it was used by pirates as their base of operations. You’ll see fortifications from these bygone eras surrounding the restored medina. Every year artists and performers descend on Asilah from all over the world for the International Festival of Asilah, leaving paintings that fill its white washed walls in the old part of town. Visitors can wander for hours admiring the works of art, from smaller, intricate pieces to large murals that fill entire walls, changing from year to year. Beach lovers will find a true paradise at Paradise Beach in the off season, a beautiful stretch of sand that’s filled with locals and tourists in the summer, but mostly untouched the rest of the year.
This village in the Sahara Desert sits on the edge of the impressive Erg Chebbi, an over 30-mile-long and 3-mile-wide set of sand dunes that soar up to 1,150 feet high. This is a great place to take a camel trek into the desert to get a taste of Bedouin life, including Berber food and music, riding camels into the dunes and spending the night in desert camps. Because this has become an increasing popular activity with tourists, to experience the true ethereal beauty of Erg Chebbi, it’s best to go in the off season, particular in late November, January or February. These are not only the quietest times, but some of the best periods weather wise as well.
Fez is considered to be the most complete medieval city in the Arab world. It’s a unique and enchanting mix of Middle Ages meets modern world as an Imperial city that’s stood in northern Morocco for over a thousand years. Wander through the high walled streets, watch the daily procession of mourners that enter the tomb of the city’s founder, Moulay Idriss II, and gaze at the ornate carvings and mosaics found on every surface. Simply losing yourself in the twists and turns of the ancient Medina streets while eating delicious pastilla purchased from a local food vendor is an unforgettable experience. At some point, be sure to escape the bustle of the streets by heading to one of the rooftops where you can get a bird’s-eye view of the medina, particularly stunning at sunset, and after dark.
The capital city of Morocco, located on the Atlantic coast at the mouth of the river Bou Regreg, offers a ton of things to see and do, with its new portion featuring lovely outdoor cafes and wide boulevards, while the old town, or medina, with its fortified walls is enjoyable enough just to wander around and adventure in when something takes your fancy. Shop for leather and carpets while soaking up the atmosphere, and be sure to check out the Kasbah des Oudaias which sits on a bluff overlooking the sea.