This monthly series explores the countries you’ll want to visit in 2013. I’ll be sharing information that includes a little geography, the culture of the country, some of the wonderful sights to see, and unique things to do. It’s impossible for me to list everything you can see, and experience, so I will outline some of the main highlights the country has to offer. I will also supply you with safety information, and avoid common mistakes. So sit back, relax, and let me help you decided where to take that next European holiday. View last month’s featured country Croatia here.
Morocco lies on the western border of North Africa. This small country is where worlds clash, dividing Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. From the moment I choose this life of long term travel I knew Morocco would be one of my first stops in 2013.
Morocco always brings the words mystery and magic to mind. A land of desert and Berbers; the imagination runs rampant at the thought of all the adventure that can be had. Morocco is home to snake charmers, carpet vendors, and spice markets all begging to be explored. Its medieval cities are some of the most well persevered of the Arab world. Its landscape, colorful and serene, draws you into the rustic beauty and breathtaking mountains. It is almost impossible not to lose yourself in the sights, culture, and history of this place. Whether you’re camel trekking in the Sharia, having a public bath, or sleeping in a Riad; Morocco is nothing you have ever experienced before. Now yor asking yourself, what to see in Morocco? Let me tell you.
The former imperial city of Marrakech is located in Morocco’s northwest corner. Laying under the shadow of the snowcapped Atlas Mountains, the city is alive with the sounds of the old world meeting the new. Marrakech was founded by Berber families over a thousand years ago, and the roots of its heritage can still be seen today. It’s also home to one of Morocco’s most famous Mosque and icon, the Koutoubia.
Djemma el Fna
Djemma el Fna Markets might be a bit of culture shock and joy for travelers. Here, you can find everything from snake charmers, magicians, and story tellers. An experience you won’t want to miss out on. These markets are the real heart of the city and hold many attractions that travelers will want to see. Another type of market you will want to explore are the Souks; these are covered market stalls were you can find anything from souvenirs to livestock.
Jardin Majorelle Garden
Marrakech is more than just markets and Mosques. It also has wonders like Jardin Majorelle Garden. Stretched across this stunning 12 acre garden are palms, olive groves, and bright cobalt blue buildings. Birds also flock to this magical place, playing in its bamboo forest and lily ponds. Talking a walk through this haven is an experience you won’t forget.
Fez (or Fes)
Fes is Morocco’s second largest city, and the best persevered medieval city of the Arab world. Stepping inside Fez’s ancient walls is like entering another world. The city offers you plenty of sights, culture, and food to explore and eat. However, the real joy of Fez is wandering around, losing track of time while taking in the sounds, people, and history of the city. It’s easy to get lost in the city’s 10,000 streets; but that’s part of the joy and it’s always easy to find your way back.
Bou Inania Medersa
Bordering on perfection, this well preserved Merenid monument might be the one building in all of Morocco you don’t want to miss. Named after the Sultan Bou Inania in the 1300’s the Bou Inania Medersa severed as both a mosque and an educational institute. It was the last Madrasa built by the Merenids and became Fez’s most important religious institution.
Fes el Bail
Remember how I said one of the joys of Fes was to wander around and get lost. Well the Fes el Bail is the place to do it. Inside the oldest walled part of the city lies this wonderful maze of streets and shops. Not only will you find, if you can, the oldest university in the world, and the Bou Inania, you will find Souks practicing their crafts that have remained relatively unchanged over the centuries. I have read that wandering these back alleys can make you feel like Indiana Jones. (A massive plus)
Essaouira or Mogador, which is Berber for the wall, is a laid back beach city for those looking to relax. This city is so old that some archeological research suggests that people might have lived her since prehistoric times.
In Essaouira, you can busy yourself by riding quad bikes across the desert dunes, surfing the coast, or learning how to cook a Moroccan tagine, a traditional Moroccan stew. Essaourira is a place to set down your backpack, take a deep breath, and soak up Morocco.
Smaller Markets and Souks
The markets in Essaouria are not as crowded as those in Marrakech or Fes. They’re smaller, so if you don’t like the idea of wondering around and getting lost in Fes, then these are the markets for you. Personally, I say check out both and when in Fes, enjoy getting lost.
Take a Bath
Essaouira’s also a great place to try a traditional steam bath. It’s part of Moroccan culture to still enjoy a hammam. So not only is it a unique cultural experience, but can be a great way to meet some locals. However, the bathhouses are separated by gender, so if you are going to meet local women, (or men) you are out of luck, but still worth saving some extra money for.
Camp With Berbers
Tours in Morocco often offer you a chance to spend a few nights in a Berber camp. On the tour I’m taking, we are staying with Berbers for three nights. Those three little words “staying with Berbers” throws me into a frenzy of excitement. Sitting around a fire, drinking and chatting with Berbers on the doorstep of the Sharia, while looking up at the millions of stars that light the Moroccan night sky, might be one of the most memorable adventures in Morocco. It’s the one thing I’m most excited for in 2013.
Camel Trek in Sahara Desert
Riding a camel is something to remember, but riding a camel in the world’s largest hottest desert is the experience of a lifetime. Bobbing up and down on a sea of sand dunes, the sweat trickling down your face as you peer wide eyed for an oasis, might not sound like the most comfortable ride in the world. Sometimes you have to sacrifice a little comfort for a kick ass experience. This is one of those moments, and if it isn’t on your bucket list it should be.
Haggling in the markets
This post has talked a lot about markets, but that is because they’re everywhere in Morocco and a big part of the experience. Haggling is an art form and common practice in these markets. If they are anything like the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, then I’m ready to take them head on. I was afraid to haggle in the Grand Bazaar, not wanting give off the “ass hole “American stereotype. Then a Turkish man pulled me to the side and whispered, “You know they consider it an insult if you don’t haggle with them.” (I’m paraphrasing his broken English). After that it was game on! I became addicted to haggling. Not only can it be fun and enjoyable for all parties, but everyone can come out winning.
Morocco is a country that thrives on beauty and experiences. It’s culture and history are rich, and it’s cities are unique. It is a country you should visit with open eyes and a wide mind, and you will have the experience of a life time. I know I’m going to!
- People from the United States, European Union, Australia, The EU or Canada; do not need a Visa to enter Morocco. If you are unsure whether this applies to you, view the list of Visa exempt countries here.
- Morocco is in North Africa so you will need some shots. You will at least need Hep A/B, typhoid, and Rabies (All in the arm). Click here for the list of other routine shots.
- The currency is the Moroccan Dirham.
- There are many ways to travel around Morocco. However, buses or hiring cars seem to be your best bet. I would personal buy a camel and ride it everywhere…just saying
What do you think of Morocco? What would you be most excited to see and experience? Let your voice be heard in the comments below!