A narrow strip in the northwest of the continent of Africa, Morocco has been a source of endless appeal for travelers through time. Perfectly located in the cusp between the west and the east and less touristy and more politically stable than other North African countries, Morocco continues to draw the curious from across the world.
To Westerners and Easterners alike, it ticks all boxes of mysterious travel, from nomadic cultures, desert landscapes, high mountains, remarkable marketplaces, charming accommodations, striking contrasts, dramatic beaches (Morocco is one of the only three countries to border both the Mediterranean and the Atlantic) and outstanding—if unusual—cuisines. If you are in the mood to explore a new way of life, are open to adventure and new experiences and, yes, have a generous budget, Morocco could make for a holiday of a lifetime.
- Weather: Although Morocco is located on the coast, the mountains and the interior of the country have an extreme climate. Therefore, winter is the favored time for travel. The daily temperature in the month of December ranges between a very comfortable 8 deg C and 20 deg C; there may be some rainfall, but it usually does not last long. Take warm clothes for the evenings and nights.
- Winter is not the peak travel season, which extends from July to September. Though December attracts foreigners, it is still possible to find good bargains. If you shop online judiciously and book ahead, you can still fit in a unforgettable holiday without breaking the bank.
- Much of the travel literature available about Morocco is geared towards the Western tourist. You may not be interested in the same things as a tourist from the American Midwest or Scandinavia, so make your own must-see or do list and hunt down the best prices. While tourism is widespread and the country is used to tourists, do prioritize safety.
- Women, especially, would do well to take the same precautions as they do in other countries while travelling on their own: carry a scarf, wear long sleeves, avoid late nights, and do not fall into prolonged conversations with strangers.
Morocco’s cities are the hub of culture and commerce, yet each has a distinctive flavor that is best savored at leisure. If you are a city person, Morocco is the place for you. The region has been occupied since prehistoric times, leading to the formation of organic urban hodgepodges with living histories that date back to the ninth century. Fez, Meknes, Marrakesh, and Rabat are often grouped together as the Imperial Cities of Morocco, since each has been the capital at some point in the country’s history.
- Fez: The most captivating of the cities of Morocco is undoubtedly Fez, a medieval, three-tiered walled city with what is said to be the world’s largest car-free zone. Though the grandiose mosques are out-of-bounds for non-believers, there’s plenty of stunning architecture to admire around the city, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Medina, the inner city. Skip the Chaouwara Tanneries—one of the top sights in Fez for Westerners—but do not miss the 14th century Medersa Bou Inania, the Merenid Tombs (bonus: the city vista) and the Henna Souk.
- Meknes, less frenzied than Fez, has palaces, dungeons and the Moulay Ismael Mausoleum, one of the very few holy places in the country where non-Muslims are welcome. Fez has hundreds of merchants peddling jewelry and scarves to curious tourists.
- Rabat, the current capital, which delicately blends old and new architecture. The prime example is the Tour Hassan and the Mausoleum of Mohammed V.
- Marrakesh all descriptions fall short of capturing the magic of Marrakesh. Expansive and lively, it is Morocco in a (very large) nutshell. You will probably find yourself returning repeatedly to Djemma El-Fan—the city’s main square and a immense open-air marketplace—but do not overlook the Koutoubia Mosque, the Saadian Tombs, and the Bahia Palace.
Besides these four urban areas, you could consider visiting Casablanca (yes, the very one that was the backdrop for the Humphrey Bogart-Ingrid Bergman wartime classic movie, which is Morocco’s largest city), Taroudant (a picturesque market town ensconced in red mud walls), Essaouira (a charming seaside town) and Tangier (an old city in the throes of a cultural rejuvenation).
Among the things, you could do to underline the Moroccan experience: Take a lesson in Moroccan cooking, relax in a hamam, shop in a souk, and stay in a riad, a traditional homestead, many of which have now been converted into hotels. Train travel within the country is recommended over flights.
The Great Outdoors
If you, however, want an outdoorsy holiday, Morocco is still a great destination. From skiing to surfing, and from mountaineering to desert camping, adventure tour operators can fix them all up for you. Many of these activities are concentrated around the mountains of the High Atlas, which stretch across the country in an east-west direction, separating the country’s fertile coastal plans to the north and the Saharan desert to the south.
The country’s highest peak, the Jebel Toubkal (13671ft), is a “non-technical” climb, meaning that fit people with minimal experience can attempt it as well, in a time span spread over two days to six. Be prepared for ice and snow in December, and be sure to take along a guide. If you are lucky, you might even get enough snow to go skiing in Oukaimeden, 45km south of Marrakesh, and home to the highest ski lift in Africa.
If that sounds too extreme, try the treks in the stunning geographies of Central Morocco. The Todgha gorge is carved out of the eastern High Atlas, an area of sheer cliffs and flat valley bottoms; it is perfect for rappellers and rock-climbers. The Dades gorge, located between the High Atlas and the Anti Atlas ranges, is dotted with many Berber kasbahs.
To the south of the mountains, one can dip one’s toes into the Saharan sand experience at Erg Chebbi and Erg Chigaga (ergs are large sand formations created by the wind). Besides camel rides out into the desert, tour operators offer dinner on the dunes and a night under the stars. Be warned, though, that nights out in the sands in December will be bitterly cold.