From sweeping mountain vistas and wind-sculpted sand dunes to exotic souks and Mediterranean beaches, Morocco is an unexpected land of contrasts. The country's combination of European, Arab, Berber, and African influences have created a unique culture to explore in addition to the beautiful landscapes and outdoor opportunities. Whittling down your travel checklist to a reasonable size can be difficult, but these eight experiences should be on anyone's itinerary. One thing is for sure: Pack your camera to capture all the colorful nuances this destination has to offer.
1. Fes Medina
The Fes medina is must-stop spot for adventure travelers. The narrow alleyways are filled with brilliant displays of textiles, glittering lanterns, and the aroma of sizzling lamb. Navigating the maze of streets can be difficult, but getting lost amid the chaos is part of the fun. Whether you choose to venture out on your own or put yourself in the hands of a trusted guide to explore the ancient city, you will not be disappointed.
This UNESCO World Heritage site transports you back in time. The passageways that run through the city are alive with commerce and history—colorful market stalls sell everything from fragrant spices to intricately woven carpets. Be sure to visit the Chouara Tannery, where many of Fes’ leather goods are produced. It's remarkable to watch the process that transforms animal hides into handbags, shoes, and coats.
You can't help but be charmed by the enchanting blue city of Chefchaouen. When you catch your first glimpse of the blue buildings climbing up the side of a large hill, it seems impossible that an entire town could be color-coordinated. The color scheme started as a Jewish tradition of infusing the city with blue as a reminder that God has been embraced by the Berbers, Muslims, and all those who call Chefchaouen home.
You can take a historical walking tour or just wander the streets to take advantage of the unparalleled photographic opportunities. Shop for the region's signature striped "sabra silk," which is woven from agave fibre. After several hours shopping and exploring the city, take a grand taxi into the Rif Mountains and do a half-day hike to God's Bridge.
3. Majorelle Gardens in Marrakesh
By all means shop in Marrakesh’s lively markets, tour the city in a horse-drawn carriage, and drape a snake-charmer’s cobra around your neck in Jemaa el-Fnaa square. The 12-acre Majorelle Gardens offers a nice respite from the sensory overload of the medina. The garden was designed by French artist Jacques Majorelle in the early 20th century and later purchased and preserved by fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent. The use of color–cobalt blue and yellow particularly—is visually spectacular. After treating your eyes to the visual splendor of the gardens, indulge in a cappuccino or fresh fruit juice in the sun-filtered courtyard of the on-site café.
4. Aït Benhaddou
Along what was once the caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakesh you’ll find Aït Benhaddou, an impressive collection of earthen dwellings that have survived for centuries. Visitors today can walk through the city and retrace the steps of long-gone inhabitants as well as movie stars who filmed classics at the famous site. Movies such as “Lawrence of Arabia,” “The Jewel of the Nile,” and “Gladiator” all shot scenes at this UNESCO World Heritage site.
5. Cascade d’Ouzoud
A day trip from Marrakesh, the striking Cascade d’Ouzoud will give you a taste of the natural beauty of Morocco. You can explore the 360-foot high waterfalls from above or below thanks to the series of hiking trails winding way through the canyon. Keep an eye out for cheeky monkeys who may amuse (or annoy) you when you sit down for lunch overlooking the falls.
6. The Sahara
The dunes of the Sahara, the world's largest hot desert, offer a harsh and incredibly beautiful landscape to explore. Travelers can tackle the dunes by a tried-and-true camel trek in addition to motorized vehicles. It’s worth dedicating a few days to experiencing all the activities the area has to offer. There are few travel experiences in the world quite like spending a night out in the desert under a vast expanse of stars that seem so close they almost touch your face.
7. Skoura Oasis
While en route through the southern end of the Route des Kasbahs, stop to marvel at the Skoura Oasis. Nicknamed "Oasis of 1000 Palms," this historically significant caravan stop boasts a stunning palm grove that surrounds the mud brick kasbahs of the town. Take your time biking or hiking through the groves, listening for the dozens of bird species that call the palm sanctuary home.
8. Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca
Morocco is home to many examples of extraordinary historic architecture, but the Hassan II Mosque—completed in 1993—is a modern day artistic feat. With a spectacular location on the ocean's shore, the Hassan II Mosque was built using materials sourced almost exclusively from within Morocco. It took 6,000 craftsmen 6 years and $750 million to complete. You'll marvel at the structure's soaring ceilings, beautiful tilework, and delicate woodwork. Non-Muslims must take a guided tour, which is well worth the price of admission to admire this astonishingly beautiful place of worship.
Originally written for Come to the Sahara.