Written by Victoria Philpott
One thing’s for certain, there’s no shortage of things to do in Morocco. You could adventure across the Sahara on a camel’s back, camp with the Berbers under the stars, barter for rugs in the souk, or ride the waves on some of the best surfing beaches in Africa. It’s no wonder this place has such a mystic pull that’s been attracting hippies since the 60’s.
Best of all, the sun shines here all year round, so it’s the perfect sunny escape from all those dreary Northern European winter days.
Intrepid traveller Ryan Bennett has been there, done that, and got the rug and fez hat, so we asked him to give us the low down on Morocco for first-time backpackers…
Morocco’s capital city is very open and clean. With elegant tree-lined boulevards, it’s a good spot if you want a day of calm to simply admire a little beauty. The Royal Palace and Mosque are the main attractions here, along with other fine examples of Islamic architecture. Le Tour Hassan is also a famous landmark. This beautifully carved minaret was begun in 1195 and, although unfinished, still towers over the city at 44m high.
For something a little less dramatic and a bit of peace and quiet, head to the intricate Andalusian Gardens, where Moroccan women flock to escape the heat. The crumbling Merenid necropolis of Chellah and the ancient Roman city of Sala Colonia are some of the city’s most evocative sights. With few tourist crowds, you can wander through ruins overgrown with fruit trees.
Check out our full selection of hostels in Rabat.
This city is an assault on the senses, especially if you stay in a hostel at the front of the Main Square, Jemaa el Fna (try the Riad Jomana for an authentic Moroccan guesthouse). In terms of sights, visit the vast minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque, the crumbling El Badi Palace, and the Ben Youssef Medersa – a riot of tiles and carvings. Otherwise, the maze of souks are the main draw here; make sure you check out all the irresistable night food souks and markets for a cheap feast of authentic cuisine!
To escape the hustle and bustle, check out the ‘Terrace Panoramique’ (turn right from the square and look above!). The restaurants and cafes on top of the buildings are ideal for watching the world go by, while snake charmers, monkeys, and acrobats run amok in the Square below. Up here all you need do is drink your sweet mint tea and enjoy the views of the Atlas Mountains – ah, how relaxing.
Check out our full selection of hostels in Marrakech.
This is a pretty port town with a big stretch of beach. Jimi Hendrix used to hang out here, and it has always been very bohemian, laid back and popular with backpackers. Most tourists come from Marrakesh, which is only three hours away by bus.
Down the coast from here is Agadir, a town basically set up for tourists. Although Essouira is heaps cooler, it’s worth a look if you’re after a drink. Next, tour the beaches between the two towns – some of the best surf spots you will find in Morocco (Sidi Kaouki and Safi are especially loved).
In June, the Gnaoua World Music Festival comes to town, bringing with it thousands of music fans and some out-there music. Loved by famous fans as diverse as Mick Jagger and Orson Welles, there are nine stages to choose from.
At the moment lots of money is being put into regenerating the town, with several new bars, restaurants, renovated accommodations and Riads. Get there before it changes completely and loses some of its charm.
For souvenirs, there are some great drum and Djembe shops, which sell lots of beautiful wooden carvings and knick knacks, made from all the off cuts from the boat building.
On the main stretch of beach, you can ride camels, horses and quad bikes. There’s also some excellent open air combined restaurants towards the port, and they all serve seafood fresh that day. Food in general is great here – the tagines are some of the best I have ever tasted.
You can still find very cheap and simple accommodation here, but for $25-35 a night you will get something a little more special. Try the Essaouira hostel with its boho bar and pretty central garden.
Check out our full selection of hostels in Essaouira.
Fes was the old capital of Morocco before Rabat took the crown. Our Fes hostel was close to the train station, which made things so much easier when we arrived. Afterward we bused into the old Medina. The oldest example in Morocco, it’s a great place to buy artefacts and Moroccan rugs, and the narrow lanes of the tanneries are a memorable sight (and smell) that will stick with you for a long while after.
After arriving back to our accommodation we recruited a guy from our hostel to be our ‘guide’ as we headed into the Medina after dark. Good going, since it gets pretty crazy around this time, especially once you start haggling. If you go off season (around the start of November) you’ll probably be able to haggle for a real bargain as all their bumper trade is done over summer. A little tip – the less interested you appear in an item, the better the price becomes, so use this tactic to your advantage.
Check out our full selection of hostels in Fes.
Found right up in the hills of the Rif Mountains, there is such a relaxed vibe here. All the buildings in central Chef are painted beautiful shades of blue – and the Pension Souika is no different. It’s very calming, cooling and a little surreal…
Chefchaouen also has a predominant leather trade and there are a lot of shops that make an interesting array of bags, shoes and sandals.
Make sure you visit the little abandoned church on the hill – go up there for great views of the town.
Check out our full selection of hostels in Chefaouen.
For more ideas on where to stay, check out our guide to the best Riads in Morocco…
Thanks to Rosino, martinvarsavsky, archer10 (Dennis) SLOW, Grand Parc – Bordeaux, France and Gabi for the excellent images from Flickr. Please note, all images were used under the Creative Commons License at the time of posting.