Morocco travel guide
Morocco is a magical country that’s steeped in history, culture and natural wonders. This Morocco travel guide will help you make the most of your trip. Morocco is a country of contrasts, with vast desert landscapes contrasting against the bustling coastal towns. From the snow-capped peaks of the Atlas Mountains to the vibrant souks of the cities, Morocco offers a wealth of experiences for travelers.
The capital city, Rabat, is a great place to start your Moroccan adventure. Here you can explore the ancient medina, wander along the narrow streets and take in the impressive architecture of the old fortified walls. The Hassan Tower, the Mausoleum of Mohammed V and the picturesque Chellah are some of the highlights of Rabat.
For an unforgettable experience, head south to the Sahara Desert. Spend a night or two under the stars, exploring the vast expanse of sand and enjoying camel rides. In Marrakech, the beating heart of Morocco, you’ll find bustling markets, colorful stalls and plenty of delicious food. Take time to explore the city’s many mosques before heading out to discover the surrounding countryside.
Morocco’s capital city of Rabat is located on the Atlantic coast and has a population of over 580,000 people. The Rif Mountains border the city to the west, while the Atlas Mountains run through Morocco’s interior.
This diverse culture is enriching for visitors to Africa, where French customs have blended with Spanish influence in the north, caravanserai heritage from southern Africa can be found in the sand dunes, and Moroccan indigenous communities carry Berber heritage. The country welcomed almost 13 million international arrivals in 2019, and it’s easy to see why!
The Top attractions in Morocco
The Majorelle Garden is a well-known botanical garden and artist’s landscape garden in Marrakech, Morocco. The garden was created by French explorer and artist Jacques Majorelle over nearly four decades starting in 1923. Among the notable attractions at the garden are the Cubist villa designed by French architect Paul Sinoir in the 1930s, as well as the Berber Museum which occupies part of the former residence of Jacques and his wife. In 2017, Yves Saint Laurent Museum opened nearby, honoring one of fashion’s most iconic designers.
Djemaa El Fna
Djema el-Fna, or “The Square of the End of the World,” is a busy square in Marrakesh’s medina quarter. It remains the main square of Marrakesh, used by locals and tourists. The origin of its name is unclear: it could be referring to a destroyed mosque on the site, or maybe it’s just a cool name for a market place. Either way, Djema el-Fna is always buzzing with activity! Visitors can buy all sorts of goodies at the market stalls, or take in some delicious Moroccan cuisine at one of the many restaurants dotting the square. Whether you’re here for a quick bite or want to spend some time taking in all the sights and sounds, Djema el-Fna is sure to have something for you.
Musée Yves Saint Laurent
This captivating museum, opened in 2017, showcases finely selected collections of couture clothing and accessories from 40 years of creative work by legendary French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. The aesthetically warped and wefted building resembles intricately woven fabric and holds a 150-seat auditorium, research library, bookstore, and terrace cafe serving light snacks.
The Bahia Palace is a magnificent 19th century building in Marrakech, Morocco. The palace consists of intricately decorated rooms with stunning stuccos, paintings and mosaics, as well as beautiful gardens. The palace was intended to be the greatest palace of its time and it truly does live up to its name with its stunning architecture and decorations. There is a massive 2-acre (8,000 m²) garden with numerous courtyards that allow visitors to enjoy the wonderful sights and sounds of this amazing place.
Ever since it was built by the grand vizir of the Sultan for his personal use, the Bahia Palace has been known as one of Morocco’s most luxurious and beautiful palaces. Today, it is a popular tourist destination, enjoyed by visitors from all over the world who come to see its ornate court and gorgeous rooms dedicated to the concubines.
However, this wasn’t always the case. In 1956, when Morocco gained its independence from France, King Hassan II decided to move the Bahia Palace out of royal use and into Ministry of Culture custody so that it could be used as a cultural icon and tourist attraction.
The Koutoubia Mosque is one of the most popular mosques in Marrakesh, Morocco. The mosque’s name can be translated as “Jami’ al-Kutubiyah” or “Mosque of the Booksellers.” It is located in southwest Medina Quarter near Jemaa el-Fna Square. The mosque was founded by Almohad caliph Abd al-Mu’min in 1147 after he conquered Marrakesh from the Almoravids. A second version of the mosque was built by Abd al-Mu’min around 1158 and Ya’qub al-Mansur may have finalised construction on the minaret tower around 1195. This second mosque, which stands today, is a classic and important example of Almohad architecture and Moroccan mosque architecture in general.
The Saadian Tombs are a historic royal necropolis in Marrakesh, Morocco. Located on the south side of the Kasbah Mosque, inside the royal kasbah (citadel) district of the city, they date back to the time of Ahmad al-Mansur (1578-1603), though members of Morocco’s monarchy continued to be buried here for a time afterwards. The complex is renowned for its lavish decoration and careful interior design, and today it is a major tourist attraction in Marrakesh.
The Erg Chigaga is the largest and still untouched of the major ergs in Morocco, and is located in the Drâa-Tafilalet area about 45 km west of the small rural oasis town of M’Hamid El Ghizlane, itself located about 98 km south of the town of Zagora. Some dunes are over 50m above the surrounding landscape and with an area of approximately 35 km by 15 km, it is the largest and wildest erg in Morocco. Djebel Bani marks the north border of Tunisia, while M’Hamid Hammada marks the east border. Both borders are steep and rugged, making them difficult to cross. At west it is located Iriki Lake, a dried lake now set Iriqui National Park since 1994.
While Erg Chigaga is difficult to access, it remains one of the most beautiful and secluded areas in Tunisia. With its dramatic cliffs, dense forest, and crystal clear water, it is a paradise for hikers and nature lovers alike. The appeal of Erg Chigaga is hard to deny. It’s a beloved set by purists and artists alike, celebrated for its romantic landscape and fine art photography capabilities. Whether used for landscapes or portraits, Erg Chigaga always delivers a stunning result. Starting from M’Hamid El Ghizlane it is possible to reach the dunes area by off-road vehicle, camel or off-road motorbike along an old caravan trail but unless you have a GPS navigation system and relevant waypoints you are advised to engage a local guide.
Chefchaouen is a beautiful and quirky city in the Rif mountains of Morocco. The blue-washed streets and buildings are a stunning contrast to the rest of Morocco’s desert landscape, and it’s often considered one of the best places to visit in the country. Whether you’re planning on spending a few days exploring its fascinating markets or taking advantage of its plethora of activities and attractions, Chefchaouen is well worth your time.
If you’re looking for a charming and unique city to visit in Morocco, Chefchaouen is definitely worth a visit. The streets are brightlycolored and the architecture is eclectic, making it an attractive place to wander around. Plus, the locals are friendly and welcoming, so you’ll feel right at home.
If you’re looking for a scenic route between Marrakech and the Sahara, make sure to stop by the Todra Gorge on your way. This natural oasis was created by the River Todra over many centuries, and looks almost prehistoric with canyon walls that reach over 400 metres in height (higher than the Empire State Building in New York). It’s a paradise for photographers, climbers, bikers, and hikers – and it’s also been featured in the American TV show “Expedition Impossible.” If you’re looking to spend more time here, be sure to explore all of its hidden secrets.
Ouzoud Falls is a beautiful waterfall in the Middle Atlas Mountains that plunges into the El-Abid River gorge. The falls are accessible through a shady path of olive trees, and at the top there are several small mills that still operate. The falls are popular tourist destination, with many local and national associations working to protect and preserve it. One can also follow a narrow and difficult track leading to the road of Beni Mellal.
Fez is a beautiful city that is located in the north of Morocco. It is the capital of the Fès-Meknès administrative region and it has a population of 1.11 million people according to the 2014 census. Fez is surrounded by hills and the old city is centered around the Fez River (Oued Fes) flowing from west to east. The city is connected to several important cities of different regions, including Tangier, Casablanca, Rabat, and Marrakesh.
Fez was founded by people of the desert in the 8th century. It began as two settlements, each with their own culture and customs. The Arabs who came to Fez in the 9th century changed everything, giving the city its Arab character. After being conquered by a series of different empires, Fes el-Bali – now known as the Fes quarter – finally became part of Almoravid rule in the 11th century. Under this dynasty, Fez became renowned for its religious scholarship and thriving mercantile community.
The Telouet Kasbah is a former caravan stop along the old route from the Sahara to Marrakech. It was built in 1860 by the El Glaoui family, who were powerful rulers in Marrakech at the time. Today, much of the kasbah has been destroyed by age and weather, but it’s still possible to visit and view its beautiful architecture. Restoration work started in 2010, and we hope that this will help preserve this important part of Moroccan history for future generations.
Hassan II (2nd) Mosque
The Hassan II Mosque is a stunning mosque in Casablanca, Morocco. It’s the largest functioning mosque in Africa and the seventh largest in the world. Its minaret is the world’s second tallest at 210 metres (689 ft). The stunning Michel Pinseau masterpiece, located in Marrakesh, was completed in 1993 and is a beautiful testament to the Moroccan artisans’ talent. The minaret is 60 stories high, topped by a laser light that directs towards Mecca. There are a maximum of 105,000 worshippers who can gather together for prayer inside the mosque hall or on its outside ground.
Volubilis is a partially excavated Berber-Roman city in Morocco situated near the city of Meknes, and may have been the capital of the kingdom of Mauretania. Before Volubilis, the capital of Mauretania may have been at Gilda. Built in a fertile agricultural area, it developed from the 3rd century BC onward as a Berber settlement before becoming the capital of the kingdom of Mauretania under Roman rule. Under Roman rule, the city of Rome grew rapidly and expanded to cover over 100 acres with a 2.6 km circuit of walls. This prosperity was derived principally from olive growing and led to the construction of many fine town-houses with large mosaic floors. The city prospered into the 2nd century AD, when it gained several major public buildings including a basilica, temple and triumphal arch.
What to know Before visiting Morocco
Don’t take photos of people without asking
We were a bit surprised when we first arrived in Morocco to find that many locals didn’t want us to take their photos. We found this to be the case in countries like Egypt, Myanmar, and Turkey, but it was much more rare in Morocco. It could be because of the different cultural views surrounding photography or because of the differing beliefs about images of humans and animals, but we think it’s likely due to “aniconism in Islam.” Aniconism is a proscription against the creation of images of sentient beings (humans and animals), so most Islamic art is dominated by geometric patterns, calligraphy, or foliage patterns rather than human or animal figures. Although it’s not always the case, many Moroccans believe that if they’re pictured in a picture, then it constitutes an image of a human being and is not allowed in scripture.
Only the Hassan II Mosque welcomes non-muslims
At the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, everyone is welcome – Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Visitors can wander around the courtyard or take a tour of the inside, and even pay to do so. This unique mosque has fostered interfaith harmony in Morocco, and is a popular tourist destination for visitors from all over the world.
The winters in Morocco are usually cold
Morocco’s cold winters can be challenging, but they’re nothing compared to the very cold winters in Washington DC. Just like in Morocco, there are few places where tourists can warm themselves up during the winter. Many restaurants and hotels in Morocco are designed for sunny weather, so when it gets really cold outside, people have to put on more layers of clothing. Riads usually have courtyards with no insulation, taxis don’t use heaters, and people go out without hats or gloves even in the warmer months. Even though it can be challenging to deal with the cold during wintertime in Morocco, it’s nothing compared to dealing with the extreme cold of Washington DC, USA.
If you’re planning a trip to Morocco’s Northern region between the months of November and March, be prepared for chilly weather. Avoid any accommodations if former visitors have complained about the cold.
The trains are reliable and affordable
Traveling by train in Morocco is a great way to get around. Trains run on schedule, are comfortable and affordable, and you’ll have plenty of space in a 6-person cabin. If you want to save some money, you can opt for second class but you won’t get an assigned seat and it can be quite crowded.
The museums are great and cheap
Moroccan government-run tourist attractions are some of the best value museums in North Africa! The art exhibits can be a bit lackluster, but the buildings housing the artwork are truly fascinating. Royal palaces and madrasas in particular are some of Morocco’s most impressive architectural feats. If you’re looking for a great way to spend a budget-friendly day, consider visiting Moroccan museums. You may be surprised at some of the unexpected treasures you’ll find.
English is not so commonly spoken
In Morocco, there are a number of languages spoken, but the two most commonly used languages are Modern Standard Arabic and Amazigh. Amazigh is a language that evolved from the Berber culture, and it is spoken by a large part of the population. French is the second most spoken language in Morocco. However, English is not used as widely in Morocco so if you don’t speak French, you’ll likely be challenged at times to communicate. A common communication issue is the expectation by Moroccans that foreigners will understand French. Learning a new language can be challenging, but with both written French and English using the same characters, communication will be no problem at all. Plus, you can always show your taxi driver your phone’s map app to help get you where you’re going!
People are expecting to get tips from you
When staying in a Moroccan Riad, it is customary to tip your housekeeper and any restaurant staff who have assisted you during your stay. However, at Riads in Morocco, it’s usually just one person who takes care of everything for you – whether it’s providing luggage assistance or helping with anything else you need. So if you find yourself feeling impressed by their level of service, tipping them is always appreciated!
Alcohol is not easily found
Religious Moroccans tend to abstain from alcohol consumption, but the excellent wine found here makes up for it. If you’re like me, you believe that a glass of delicious red wine is the perfect accompaniment to any meal. In Morocco, almost 94% of the population is Muslim, so drinking intoxicants is generally discouraged by their religion.
In Morocco, it’s illegal to sell alcohol in businesses that have a line of sight to a mosque. This law is fairly old, and as a result, much of the population tends not to drink alcohol. Although they do find it amusing to call their mint tea “Moroccan whiskey,” most Moroccans avoid drinking, at least in public.
The taxi is an easy way to get around the city
Instead of taking a petit taxi or bus to get around Morocco, why not take a grand taxi? These cabs are spacious and can easily accommodate more than one person, making them perfect for traveling long distances. Plus, since they have set schedules, you won’t have to wait long for one to come by. If you’re looking for a fast and easy way to get around Morocco, grand taxis are the perfect option! You’ll rarely pay more than 60 Dhs (~$6 USD) per person for a ride, and you can easily get to many different cities and small towns. Plus, since these taxis are chauffeured, there’s little hassle involved – you can just sit back and enjoy the scenic countryside sights!
Morocco does not allow drones
If you’re visiting Morocco, be sure to leave your drone at home. The country has a strict “no drones allowed” policy, so if you bring one into the country, you’ll have to leave it at the airport. This means that if you plan on flying into one airport and out of another, there might be some challenges involved.
What to eat and drink in Morocco
If you’re looking for something truly unique to eat while in Morocco, try the pastilla: a savory meat pie with filo pastry. Camel meat is also a common ingredient, so be sure to check out the street food scene in Fez’s medina.
Restaurants offer a variety of tagines, each with its own unique flavor. Some dishes, like the chicken tagine, use preserved lemons as a main ingredient. Other dishes, like the seafood tagine, use fish or shrimp. There are also vegetarian and vegan options available. In addition to the standard breakfast items offered by most restaurants, many cafés and restaurants also offer good value petit déjeuner deals that include tea or coffee, orange juice and a croissant or bread with marmalade. At many budget-friendly restaurants, stews like white beans, lentils and chickpeas are common. These hearty dishes are a great way to fill up on cheap, yet filling, food.
Mint tea is a popular drink in Morocco and you can find it alongside a wide range of teas and herbal infusions. Coffee is also popular, with nus nus (half coffee, half milk) being a common beverage throughout the country. Delicious freshly squeezed juices are also common at coffee shops and street stalls.
Dress code in Morocco
Taking care to choose your clothing carefully is especially important in rural areas where people may be particularly offended if you’re not adequately covered. Noting how Moroccans dress locally and doing the same is usually the best policy. Women should wear long, loose-fitting pants or skirts that cover the knees. Tops should have long sleeves and higher necklines. Men should wear a shirt with a collar, long pants, and close-toed shoes. Avoid wearing tank tops and shorts.
In addition to dressing modestly, it is important to be aware of body language and social norms in Morocco. In rural areas, it is important to show respect for elders by not speaking back to them or making direct eye contact. When sitting or standing, avoid crossing your legs as this is seen as disrespectful. As a sign of respect, men should wait for women to sit down first before taking a seat.
When to travel to Morocco
Summer in Morocco is an intense time. The temperatures can reach as high as 45 degrees Celcius (120 degrees Fahrenheit), and it can be unbearable to be outside all day. However, the heat is worth it for a view like this since most people head to the beaches in Tangier, Casablanca, Rabat, etc.
This is the perfect time to visit Morocco, as accommodation prices are at their lowest during this period and the weather is milder in some parts of the country. If you’re interested in hiking trails, Jebel Toubkal is particularly worth visiting during this time, as Imlil (the base village for Toubkal ascents) is full of visitors.
Is Morocco safe for tourists?
While Morocco is a safe country to travel to, tourists should always exercise caution and use common sense when traveling. There are specific areas of Morocco that are more dangerous for tourists, such as the Sahara Desert and the Moroccan cities of Marrakesh and Casablanca. Tourists should avoid driving in these areas and should exercise caution when walking around at night. It is also important to avoid traveling alone in remote areas, as there is a risk of robbery or assault.
Tourists should also be aware that Morocco is an Islamic country and dress appropriately. Women should wear long skirts and shirts with sleeves, and men should wear pants and shirts with collars. When visiting religious sites, it is important to dress modestly and to follow local customs.
It is also important to be aware of the cultural differences between Morocco and other countries. The Moroccan culture is very different from Western cultures and tourists should be respectful and mindful of local customs. If a tourist is unsure about something, they should always ask for help from locals or their tour guide.
Finally, tourists should always remember to keep their valuables safe while they are in Morocco. Pickpocketing is common in some areas, so tourists should carry their wallets in a secure place.
Be prepared for potential scams when travelling, by reading about some of the most common ones here. If you experience an emergency, dial 19 for help (112 for mobile phones). Always trust your instincts – especially in crowded places. Credit card fraud is another thing to watch out for, so make sure to keep your card safe at all times.
Only use officially-sanctioned guides when travelling to Morocco. These guides will have a large brass “sheriff’s badge” and are the only ones you should trust. If an unofficial guide approaches you on the street, be suspicious – they may not be genuine. Always make it clear you do not want to be taken shopping or to a hotel, as this is often where commissions are added to your bill.
Sexual harassment in Morocco
No matter where you are in the world, there is always a chance of encountering harassment. But in Morocco, the problem is especially persistent because Moroccan men don’t understand Western attitudes towards sex. Even though it can be bothersome and distressing, harassment here is rarely dangerous or threatening – and the same tips for avoiding it at home work just as well here.