A Morocco travel guide for the budget traveller
An exotic land of souks and desert dunes, Morocco promises adventure at every turn. This is a destination jam-packed with wonders, from the dramatic peaks of the Atlas Mountains to the Valley of 1000 Kasbahs. Then there’s the laid back backpacker scene and excellent surfing on Essaouira’s beaches.
The country is ideal for backpackers – everything, from food to hostels in Moroccois incredibly cheap. Authentic experiences, like shopping in the souks, or indulging in a traditional Hamman spa are also within a backpacker’s budget.
Planning a trip around Morocco can be tricky – as fascinating as the vibrant cities of Fez and Marrakech are, it’s well worth straying from the tourist trail to see what the rest of the country has to offer. Here are three different itineraries around Morocco:
1. The Imperial Cities:
Start your tour with a trip to the ‘Imperial Cities’ of Fez, Marrakesh, and Meknes. Here you’ll find the Morocco you’ve seen in the guidebooks – all bazaars, bustling town squares and impressive palaces. Each of these cities has been the capital of Morocco at some point, although Rabat is the current holder of the title.
There’s far more to Fez than funny-shaped hats. This Imperial city is the grandest of all, with city walls stretching for 10 miles. Fez is really three cities in one – most famous is the medieval Fez el Bali, or Medina, a dizzying labyrinth of narrow alleyways.
Half of the population still lives here, and this, with all the tourists, makes it one hectic and crowded place – where donkeys and horses have right of way, and you’ll find shops of every kind, from knife-sharpeners to bath houses. Just remember that getting lost is all part of the fun!
From Fez the archaeological site of Volubilis is within easy reach. Volubilis is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and home to some of the best preserved Roman ruins in North Africa.
Framed by the Atlas Mountains, Marrakesh is known for its bustling souks, beautiful gardens and the Koutoubia tower. The souks are a great place to score a bargain, but make sure you head to the main square after dark, where story-tellers, witch doctors and snake-charmers take center stage. Far from a tourist trap, most of the audience here are locals.
This smaller city is a laid-back alternative to Fez and Marrakech. Check out 17th-century imperial headquarters of Moulay Ismael, which has plenty of Moroccan architecture, huge gates and carvings to gawk at. Meknes also has a beautiful medina filled with souks, but is much easier to navigate than the other cities.
2. From Ouarzazate to Erfoud:
Stay in the south of Morocco, in some of the towns near the desert, and you can discover the unique Berber culture and the surreal scenery of the Sahara. This landscape of arid desert is dotted with lush meadows, groves of palm trees and the remains of Kasbah hamlets. One of the most action-packed routes across the desert is from Ouarzazate to Erfoud.
Start in Ouarzazate, a modern town and main route into the desert. From here, visit Ait Benhaddou, the setting for Lawrence of Arabia and one of the best preserved Kasbah towns around.
From here to Tinerhir (the next desert town to stay in), you’ll drive past the palmery ofSkoura and the Dades Valley. This oasis valley is also known as the ‘Valley of a thousand Kasbahs’, after the deserted, but well-preserved Berber settlements scattered across the region.
Next up are the Todra and Dades Gorges. These deep ravines are carved out of pink rock and glow as the sun sets. With walls as high as 300m, you’ll need to explore these gorges by jeep, quad or mountain bike.
For a true taste of Berber life, stop off in the traditional village of Merzouga. This is also the place for camel trekking tours across the desert.
End your tour in Erfoud, for the Erg Chebbi Sand dunes. Perfect for quad-biking and sand-boarding, the dunes reach heights of 300m, and are some of Morocco’s most beautiful.
3. Off the Tourist Trail: Backpacker Favourites
These destinations are popular with independent travellers for their laid back lifestyle and unspoilt, tourist free atmosphere.
Chefchaouen is the cannabis capital of Morocco, but drugs are not the main draw here. This small town lies in the heart of the Rif Mountains, and is a pretty mix of white houses with brightly coloured doors. Go hiking, swimming in the streams, or just kick back in the main square with a fresh mint tea.
Beach retreat Essaouira was popular with Jimi Hendrix and Bob Marley during the 1960’s. The beach scene hasn’t lost its hippie cool, and is the place to perfect the art of chilling out. The beaches are broad and sandy, and the windy conditions are ideal for hitting the surf. Inland, stroll through the town’s narrow streets of whitewashed houses, shaded squares and wood workshops. Head to the lively fishing harbour for stalls serving the grilled catch of the day.
Where to Stay:
For affordable accommodation, you’ll find Riads in Morocco on and off the beaten track. These homely guesthouses are the cheapest and most authentic places to stay in Morocco.
Usually family run, expect traditional Moroccan decor and excellent hospitality, with friendly owners offering travel tips and delicious local cuisine to their guests. There are also a selection of backpackers hostels in Morocco, but these tend to be in the major cities.