Things to do in Morocco – Attractions
Are you planning to visit Morocco for the souks and history? Are you visiting to spend a night in a tent under a million stars in the Sahara Desert? Are you in Morocco to climb some of the highest mountains in Africa or there to top up your tan on the beach in Agadir? Whatever it is, you won’t be disappointed. Morocco has a good mix of history, culture and brilliant landscapes to make sure you never get bored of any one thing. It is separated from Spain and Europe by just over 14km (9miles) at the Straits of Gibraltar but in most senses of the word it is light years away. The Arab culture, the chaotic cities, the wailing of the mosques, the rolling deserts are all part and parcel of Morocco and are a great, gentle introduction to Africa and to an Arab country.
My journey there took me from Fes to the dunes of the Sahara to the highest point in North Africa and down to sea level in Agadir so I will lay out how I found the country, the highlights and the ways to get around.
Time to Do: To do all the attractions I have mentioned here will take 10-12 days allowing for 2 days in each city. Any extra days for more tanning (2 days allowed) on a beach or climbing Jebel Toubkal needs to be added on.
Things to do in Morocco – Fes
After some initial hassle arguing with a taxi man about the price from the airport and him claiming he had no English (although he did once we agreed) I finally arrived in Fes Old City. The scene is exactly as you would picture an old Arab town. Narrow streets with battered cars going by, brown buildings and of course high ancient walls. They are decorated sparsely and mainly around the huge mosaic style gates that pop up every now and then. They used to be the entrance to the city but now they are the main entrance to the huge chaotic souk which is a UNESCO world heritage site. If this gives you a taster I will save scrolling and you can check out another post I wrote about things to do in Fes not long ago.
Things to do in Morocco – Merzouga, Erg Chebbi
One of the highlights of Morocco and it was definitely the best thing I did is Merzouga and the enormous sand dunes of the Erg Chebbi. This will be many people’s only dealings with the Sahara Desert and it is a very pleasant one. Surprising to many people that the Sahara is only 20% sand and the rest is a mixture of rock, stones etc so to be in Merzouga gazing at these huge dunes that cover approx 10km x 25km (6 x 16miles) is rarer than you might think. If you travel between Fes and Merzouga you will pass through the Ziz Gorge which is well worth a look with its high wall that were cut out by the Ziz River near the town of Errachidia.
When in Merzouga you have several options of how you are going to see the dunes. You can take a camel or a 4WD and you can do day trips or stay the night or several nights. If you are there I am telling you, not advising you, to spend at least one night in the desert. It is an incredible experience. The sunset, the millions, billions of stars followed by moonrise is brilliant and you feel almost at peace with yourself. Of course there best thing is that there is no light pollution to get in your way or buildings to ruin your photos. The next morning you get up to see the sun set the desert on fire as the scarab beetles go about their business. I took a camel for my trip as although 4WD can get you further I felt I should go for the authentic trip. Anybody who has been on a camel will tell you it is not the most comfortable and guys I think suffer a little more than women but it’s not Egypt you are going to so you will get over it! All trips include lunch and I stopped with my Bedouin guide and camel in an abandoned village just the other side of the 300mtr high dunes from the village of Merzouga. It’s only at this point that you see an endless expanse of stone and gravel and realise that the huge dunes don’t go on forever. Having said that the stones are much easier to walk on!
Well before dark our threesome reached our destination of a campsite in the evening shadow of some huge dunes where I met a few other tourists that were staying the night in the same camp. The campsite is made of approximately 10 canvas tents that are semi permanent that have the Moroccan designs adorning them. They all have cushions and blankets that tourist use and are big enough to fit 4 people each. As we had an hour or so to dinner I decided to climb one of the dunes for sunset. From the ground it didn’t look high but with the soft sand and the heat it took almost the hour to get to the top. I am guessing it was 200-250mtrs high. I felt a bit guilty of ruining this perfectly formed structure as I left big footprints behind but the pull of the view that awaited me made me get over that. The view from the top was spectacular with a huge orange sun dominating the eastern front and the colours of the surrounding dunes changing by the minute. It was definitely worth the hike. When I finally got down some delicious tagine was waiting that the guides had cooked and then they managed to sing a few Bedouin songs and play some bongo drums and a broken guitar. The last of the sun’s rays had finally departed and the stars in the sky came out to play in the hour before the moon rose. With no light pollution near, the grandeur sight of the milky way and the lights of thousands of stars were clearly visible. After a comfortable night’s sleep we were up early for sunrise as it sprinkled the sand with warmth and light. Scarab beetles, which are very cool little dudes, wander by every now and then paying no attention to anybody only leaving the little unmistakable marks in the sand behind. We ate some breakfast and then on the camels for the final 2hr ride back to Merzouga.
Need to Know: A very important thing to note when going to Merzouga and getting a tour of the dunes is the heat. Really try to avoid the summer months as the temperatures can be over 45deg Celsius (115F) and there is no shade. The spring or autumn is definitely the best and even winter can be cool but still fine. The cost of a camel ride and over night in the desert is approximately US$45 and there are numerous places (and any guesthouse) in Merzouga that offer this.
To get to Merzouga from Fes or Marrakech you need to take a Supratour bus. CTM buses stop in Rissani which is 30km north of Merzouga and you will have to get an ongoing bus/taxi. The road to Rissani is the only road to/from Merzouga. The Supratour bus arrives at approx 7am in the morning into Merzouga and then leaves at 8am. If you miss this bus then you have to wait until the next day. If you are staying the night in the desert you will need to leave early to make the 8am bus as usually you don’t arrive back into the village until approximately 9.30am.
My plan for leaving Merzouga was to get the 8am bus to Todra Gorge which involved leaving early from my home in the desert. This was organised with my guide until a Belgian couple who were in a nearby tent that night said that they would give me a lift as they had a jeep and were going that way. Great, I didn’t have to miss sunrise at the camp and I arrived back into Merzouga with all the others and that day’s bus long gone. I confirmed with the Belgian couple that I was getting a lift with them and what guesthouse they were in as had to go to mine. I picked up my gear and sat on the back of a scooter as the owner zipped across Merzouga (it’s very spread out as opposed to being big). I arrived at their guesthouse 20min after talking to them only to discover they had left and hadn’t waited. I didn’t know whether to cry or punch somebody. Now I was in a place I didn’t want to be anymore with no way out and it would eat into the time I had plan for elsewhere. Luckily though there was a Bedouin guide in the house and said an Italian couple were driving that way and should be passing soon. A few minutes later he jumped in front of a car, explained the story and bingo bango I was on my way to Todra Gorge with no loss of time. I have never looked at Belgians the same since!
Things to do in Morocco – Todra Gorge
Todra Gorge is a spectacular gorge near the town of Tinghir (Tinerhir) in central Morocco off the N10 road. This gorge carved out by the Dades River has cut down through the red rock and left canyon walls that are up to 160mtrs (490ft) high and only 10mtrs (30ft) wide in places. The last 600mtrs of the gorge is the most spectacular where the road and the river are squashed between these towering walls before they stop suddenly and leave a much bigger canyon where locals grow vegetables on the banks. The river is now very tame and must be only a shadow of what formed the gorge in the first place with the locals doing business on their donkey and carts and the road only a few feet above the level of the shallow river. These days this is a busy tourist spot and there are plenty of little shops at the mouth of the gorge and taxis to bring you there and back. Todra gorge is popular among rock climbers with over 120 rated routes in the gorge.
Todra Gorge is approximately 15km from Tinghir and any taxi will take you out there and you may have to share a taxi with several locals and several more than it should carry. It will cost about 10DH. There are plenty of taxis at the gorge so there is no need to get them to wait unless you are planning to return very late.
I managed myself to befriend some local who I gave me a guided tour of the gorge (and his friends construction site) after we got a lift in the back of a goat van to the gorge. When that was finished he didn’t want any payment but I had to stay for dinner, ended up buying a carpet from his friend and paying for the drink from the supermarket. Fair deal?
All buses between Fes and Marrakech pass through Tinghir (Tinerhir) so there are plenty of options in either direction.
Things to do in Morocco – Ouarzazate
This quite little town is perfect if you want to break up your bus journeys into manageable chunks and it has some interesting sights just outside the town that you probably have seen before!! Sure I hear you say. Ait Benhaddou is a very impressive Kasbah and a UNESCO Heritage site and was featured in films such as Gladiator and can be done in a day trip from Ouarzazate. Some great photos can be got around sunset. Another less authentic site is Atlas Studios which is about 4km from Ouarzazate and is a studio where Lawrence of Arabia, Astrix & Obelix, The man who would be King, Cleopatra, Gladiator, Alexander etc were shot. It is not half as impressive as Ait Benhaddou though. Again of course it is possible to organise trips to the desert.
Buses to and from Ouarzazate are plentiful in both directions as they are on the Fes-Marrakech route.
Things to do in Morocco – Marrakech
Marrakech has a sort of mythical status in the English speaking world, not as mythical as Timbuktu but getting there. If you are a first timer in Africa or an Arab country then Marrakech is the place to start but if you are doing what I did and started in Fes then you will find Marrakech is so much more modern, sophisticated and touristy. Tourism is much more popular which makes the place much cleaner but also means prices are higher when bargaining in the souk. Rather than me rambling on here I wrote a post on things to do in Marrakech if you want to read more.
Things to do in Morocco – Atlas Mountains
The Atlas Mountains are the spine of Morocco and although the entire range are not in Morocco the High Atlas is and this contain some of the highest mountains in North Africa. The highest mountain is Mount Toubkal is 4167mtrs and is located near to Marrakech and is very climbable in 2 or 3 days for non-experienced climbers with a guide. As these mountains and the draw of cool air are close to Marrakech there are some great walks that can be done and views to be seen without going too far. The mountains also are the homes of the Berber people who speak their own language as well as the official Arabic. For hiking the four main areas to go to are Toubkal (nearest to Marrakech) and the village of Imlil, M’goun region you go to the village of Tabant, Sirwa region is Taliouine and Sahro region is N’Kob.
Day trips and several day hikes can be organised in Marrakech or in the local villages. Imlil for example is a 2hr drive from Marrakech so although day trips are possible it would be best to stay the night and enjoy the Berber hospitality. Although the scenery is spectacular and the cool air a relief from the heat, there are no stand out highlights that everybody flocks to see which means that no place is overly crowded.
Things to do in Morocco – Agadir
Agadir is for sun, sea and sand and compared to any place mentioned above is overrun with tourists and hotels. It wasn’t for me as you could have been in Spain or Australia there were so many buildings and tourists on the beach. Agadir has a huge 10km long beach mainly fronted with nice hotels and restaurants. For relaxing and lazing it is a perfect spot although everything is much more expensive in downtown (and beach area) Agadir than in Marrakech. One of the older buildings in the city is the Kasbah which was rebuilt after the earthquake in 1960 and is worth a trip to see inside the high walls.
Agadir has an international airport which supplies most of the visitors. A taxi from the centre to the airport is approx 200DH during the day. The bus station for both CTM, Supratours etc is about a 30min walk northwest of the beach or a 8min orange taxi on rue Chair Alhamra Mohammed ben Brahim (see map below).
Practicalities – About Morocco
€1 = 11.2 Moroccan Dirham, US$1 = 8.2DH
- Language – Arabic and Berber in mountainous areas. French is the second language and many people have good French. English is spoken well by anybody involved with the tourist industry. ie. hotels, tour operators, etc but not by the general public
- Bus – Morocco has a good bus service in CTM (www.ctm.ma, in French), Satcoma Satas Voyageurs and Supratours (www.oncf.ma) and run regular comfortable buses on most trips. For example CTM runs Marrakech to Fes 4 times a day and costs 160DH (10hrs) and 15 buses go daily to Agadir. Supratours is part of the same company that runs the trains so they complement each other. Supratours buses usually leave from close to the train station.
- Grand Taxis – In all cities there is a taxi service between cities or for long journeys which provide more comfortable surroundings than buses but of course they are more expensive.
- Train- Trains (ONCF) are a good way to travel in the west and centre of the country, they do not go near the desert. For example there are 8 trains a day between Marrakech and Fes www.oncf.ma/Pages/Accueil.aspx (in French)
- Flights- International airports are located in Fes, Marrakech, Agadir as well as in other cities not mentioned here such as Casablanca, Rabat etc. The main airlines are Royal Air Morocco (www.royalairmaroc.com/Marchand/Eng/Home.jsp), Ryanair (www.ryanair.com), Easyjet (www.easyjet.com), American Airlines, British Airways (www.ba.com), KLM, Etihad among others.
- Accommodation – US$30-$40 per night for an average double room
- Beer – Morocco is a Muslim country so beer is only sold in restaurants, cafe’s and supermarkets. There are some low key bars. A pint is around 20DH. In Agadir which relies on tourism this is much more relaxed.
- Visa: All foreigners must get a visa for Morocco but a number of countries can get a visa on arrival (USA, EU countries, Australia, New Zealand, UK, Canada, Japan, many African and Arab countries). A tourist visa last for 90days on arrival in the airport/border. Your passport must be valid for at least the following 6 months and you have a return ticket. To see if your country is on the list see www.moroccanconsulate.com/visa.cfm
- Population of Morocco: 32.5 million
Map of Morocco’s Attractions
Fes, Fes-Boulemane, Morocco
Fes, Fes-Boulemane, Morocco
Merzouga, Meknes-Tafilalet, Morocco
Gorges du Todgha, Gorges du Todra, Province de Tinghir, Souss-Massa-Draa, Morocco
Marrakech, Marrakesh-Tensift-Al Haouz, Morocco
|Imlil (village for Mount Toubkal)|
Imlil, Marrakesh-Tensift-Al Haouz, Morocco
|Tabant (village for N'goun region)|
Tabant, Tadla-Azilal, Morocco
|Taliouine (village for Sirwa Region)|
Taliouine, Souss-Massa-Draa, Morocco
|N'kob (village for Sahro region)|
Nkob, Souss-Massa-Draa, Morocco
|Agadir Bus Station - Gare Routiere|
Agadir, Souss-Massa-Draa, Morocco
Ouarzazate, Souss-Massa-Draa, Morocco
Photo Gallery of Morocco’s Attractions