Morocco is a North African country bordering the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea and is distinguished by its Berber, Arabian and European cultural influences. Geographically, the country divides into four basic zones: the coast (Mediterranean and Atlantic); the great cities of the plains; the Rif and Atlas Mountains; and the oases and desert of the pre and fully-fledged Sahara. With two or three weeks – even two or three months – you can’t expect to cover all of this, though it’s easy enough (and highly recommended) to take in something of each aspect.
It is a wondrous, eyes-open taste of the exotic, with snake charmers and conjurers, souks piled high with hordes of treasures and endless glasses of mint tea. It’s an adventure into some of North Africa’s most stunning scenery with the desert on its doorstep and the craggy heights of the Atlas Mountains beyond.
Morocco is also a journey into a timeless, tranquil world of cute coastal villages, and colourful-painted towns that cling to hillsides and remote outposts defended by fairytale adobe forts. This fascinating country is a merging of the African and Arab worlds and is steeped in age-old customs. It’s no wonder Morocco has been feted by artists and writers for decades and continues to enchant all who visit. It is the perfect romantic getaway or honeymoon spot which would leave you in awe of the beauty of culture.
6 PLACES TO SEE
Casablanca is Morocco’s largest city and the country’s main port which translates into quite a few gritty and industrial-looking neighbourhoods. But Casablanca is also the most cosmopolitan of Morocco’s cities, with nightclubs, fast food chains and high-end boutiques.
Djemaa El-Fna is the highlight of any visit to Marrakech and one of the top tourist attractions in Morocco. By day this square at the heart of the medina is largely filled with snake charmers and people with monkeys, as well as some of the more common stalls. As the day progresses the entertainments on offer change: the snake charmers depart, and in the afternoon and evening, the square becomes more crowded, with story-tellers, magicians, and peddlers of traditional medicines. As dark descends Djemaa El-Fna fills with dozens of food stalls, and the crowds are at their height.
Fes-al-Bali, the larger of the two medinas of Fes, is a nearly intact medieval city. With a population of about 150,000 inhabitants, it is the largest car-free urban area in the world by population. Transport of goods is provided by donkeys, carriages, and motorbikes. The entire medina is surrounded by high walls with a number of historic city gates. Several shops and restaurants have a rooftop terrace which is a great way to escape the bustling streets. The views are particularly spectacular during sunset and after dark.
Chefchaouen (or Chaouen) is a gorgeous mountain city in North-Eastern Morocco. The picturesque medina, set against the dramatic backdrop of the Rif Mountains, is filled with white-washed homes with distinctive, powder-blue accents. It is a popular shopping destination offering many native handicrafts that are not available elsewhere in Morocco, such as wool garments and woven blankets. The goat cheese native to the area is also popular with tourists.
Morocco’s most charming seaside village is laid-back Essaouira, an old hippie haunt of the 1970s that has lost none of its authenticity. The colourful fishing boats bobbing on the water, stately old shore-side fort and twisty lanes of the old town make Essa (as it’s affectionately known by frequent visitors) a delight to discover.
This golden adobe Kasbah (fortress) thrusts dramatically out of the earth amid scenery that wows all who visit. It’s a fairytale place, and the orange-hued turrets have become a favourite film location due to their surreal beauty. If you’re heading out into Morocco’s inland regions, it should definitely be on your must-visit list.
ROMANTIC GETAWAYS FOR COUPLES
• Terre Resort and Spa is a highly recommended honeymoon spot. The hotel itself is about a 40-minute drive from Marrakech airport, located in the Palmerie area of the city.
• Amanjena, also located in Marrakech, is another highly recommended gorgeous location for a romantic getaway. With extremely lovely service and pampering, it is much more than a pat on the back.
• Hotel Riu Tikida Beach is by the beach and has a wonderful view. It is located in Agadir.
• Mazagan Beach Resort is a lovely location if you love the ocean and desert beaches. It is located in El Jadida and has a beautiful private beach, about seven kilometres long. This hotel also caters for families very well as it includes activities for children.
FOOD AND DRINK
Basic Moroccan Food
Basic Moroccan meals may begin with a thick, very filling soup – most often the spicy, bean and pasta harira. Alternatively, you might start with a salad (often very finely chopped), or have this as a side dish with your main course, typically a plateful of kebabs – either brochettes (small pieces of lamb on a skewer) or kefta, (minced lamb). A few hole-in-the-wall places specialize in soup, which they sell by the bowlful all day long – such places are usually indicated by a pile of soup bowls at the front. As well as harira, and especially for breakfast, some places sell a thick pea soup called bisara, topped with olive oil. The national drink is mint tea.
Tajine, a dish you will find almost everywhere is essentially a stew, steam-cooked slowly in an earthenware dish with a conical earthenware lid. Like “casserole”, the term “tajine” actually refers to the dish and lid rather than the food. Classic tajines include lamb or mutton with prunes and almonds or chicken with olives and lemon. Less often, you may get a fish or vegetable tajine, or a tajine of meatballs topped with eggs.
When you are walking through the cities of Morocco you are bound to see vendors selling street food which includes small kebabs or spicy merguez sausages cooked at roadside stalls (make sure the sausages are well done), peanuts, sunflower seeds or roasted chickpeas sold at peanut stands, and sfenj (doughnut-shaped fritters), sold from little shops, particularly in the morning.
As an Islamic nation, Morocco gives drinking alcohol a low profile, and it is not generally possible to buy alcohol in the city Medinas. On the drinks front, Moroccan wines can be palatable enough. The best is the pinkish-red Clairet de Meknès, made purposefully light in French claret style. Beauvallon is another good one but usually reserved for export. Other varieties worth trying include the strong red Cabernet, and Ksar, Guerrouane and Siraoua, which are also red, the rosé Gris de Boulaoune and the dry white SpécialCoquillages.
Those Moroccans who drink in bars tend to stick to beer, usually the local Stork or Flag. Flag from Fez is held by many to be superior to the version brewed in Casablanca (the label will tell you which it is). The most popular foreign brand is Heineken, which is made under licence in Morocco.
• Check out Le Bar CasaArt for a relaxed evening of drinks and dinner in Casablanca
• The Royal Monsour Bar in Marrakech
• The Zanzibar Bar Lounge in Agadir is also highly recommended
• Amnesiais highly rated as a great club in Rabat
Visas are required by most countries in order to enter Morocco, including Kenya. A passport valid for at least six months from the date of entry is also necessary for all tourists.
Nairobi, Kenya is 3718 miles from Marrakech, Morocco.
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – Bole is the most popular connection for one-stop flights between Nairobi, Kenya and Marrakech, Morocco. Arrival will be in Menara Airport (Marrakech, Morocco)
Right now, 32 airlines operate out of Menara Airport.
Every week, at least 112 domestic flights and 665 international flights depart from Menara Airport.
Shingai is an upcoming writer with a passion for words and expression through writing. She lived in Zimbabwe as a child and has traveled to over ten countries. She craves adventure and hopes to be an inspirational writer. She is currently pursuing a degree in English Literature with a minor in Psychology at Daystar University.