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Morocco

Morocco

Great Destination:

4

Value for Money:

4

Total Stars:

8.0

Personality Types that Like it Best

Greatest appeal to Mid-Venturers and Centric-Venturers, and some Centric-Authentics

Did You Know … ?

  • The red, flat-topped cap called the fez was named for the city of Fez.
  • “Casablanca,” which put Morocco on the map for many, was shot almost entirely in studios (1942).
  • Mount Toubkal, at 13,665 feet, is North Africa’s highest point.
  • The only U.S. National Historic Landmark outside the U.S. or U.S. territory is located in Morocco.
  • Scenes from “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962) were shot at Ait Benhaddou Kasbah.

American connections

Americans have a surprising number of connections with Morocco. The sultan recognized “the Americans” as Moroccan partners in December 1777, then Morocco became party to America’s oldest treaty, a treaty of friendship and commerce, in 1786.

The former U.S. Legation and Consulate in Tangiers, which is on the National Historic Landmark list, was a gift to the U.S. in 1821 and the first building the U.S. government owned abroad. It served 140 years as a U.S. diplomatic post, the longest of any building overseas. Now, it is a center for Moroccan studies.

Despite these connections, the evidence of Moroccan association with other nations is more obvious. Initially inhabited by the Berbers, Morocco received the Arabs, their language and their Moslem religion in the seventh century, creating a people of mixed descent — though some still speak Berber dialects.

In 711, Arabs and Berbers from North Africa, called Moors, launched their conquest of the Iberian Peninsula. In medieval times, Berber dynasties controlled the empire that included Iberia. However, the Moors were pushed out by 1492. Many Moorish refugees settled in Morocco — and left a recognizable mark on local architecture.

In the early 20th century, France and Spain were in control. That lasted until 1956. The residuals of France’s presence are the most obvious, with French the most common second language.

For tourists, the appeal is sweeping, ranging from the Imperial Cities (Fez, Marrakech, Meknes, Rabat) to the kasbahs (citadels) of the Sahara. Cities and towns lure visitors with their Moorish architecture, medinas (historic centers), souks and moussems (combination festivals and fairs).

For activities, choices include the Atlantic coast for water sports; mountains for hiking, and desert for safaris by camel or 4X4. Those same geographic features dictate equally varied scenery, highlighted by the dramatic Atlas Mountains running at an angle southwest to northeast and, beyond them, the Sahara, the place where the sands are richly colored and where kasbahs are not merely exotic, but exotic and real.

There have been a few instances of terror attacks in Morocco, and while that fact should not be taken lightly, tourists are more likely to be harassed by aggressive merchants.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Refresh yourself in a traditional hamam to experience the Moroccan variation on a Middle Eastern steam bath. Ask assistance choosing your hamam because levels of sanitation vary.
  • Attend a moussem, which is a combination religious festival and market fair. Moussems occur all year and all across the country, but the best known are those at Imilchil (devoted to betrothals); the camel market near Tan-Tan, and the rose moussem near Ouarzazate in Kelaat M’Gouna, in Morocco’s Valley of the Roses.
  • At the village of Annameure, home of the Ait Oucheg tribe, hire a mule to travel up Djebel Yagour in the Atlas Mountains to see some of the country’s 2,000 prehistoric cave paintings.
  • From Imlil, hike into the Toubkal National Park. Climb Mount Toubkal (13,665 feet) or climb to and walk on the Tazaghaght plateau, a high-altitude desert at more than 12,400 feet above sea level.
  • Sample tangia, a stew of mutton and spices that cooks slowly in an earthenware pot of the same name that is buried overnight in hot ashes.
  • Drive an all-terrain vehicle to follow the Kasbah Trail, starting at Ouarzazate. You can travel in several directions to see kasbahs (citadels made of rammed earth), but the Wadi Dades is called the “valley of a thousand kasbahs.”

Things to do for Centrics

  • Eat classic Moroccan foods: couscous, which is a fine pasta made with semolina flour and steamed with a stew; pastilla, a pigeon pie in light flaky crust, and tajine, a meat or fish stew cooked in a covered terracotta dish. In Er-Rachidia, eat a homemade yogurt, flavored with rose or cinnamon.
  • In Zagora, have your photo taken next to the sign that says, “Tombouctou 52 Jours.”
  • Attend one of Morocco’s international cultural events, such as the springtime Festival of Music and Rhythms of the World in the capital, Rabat.
  • Cruise the souks shopping for world-famous Moroccan leather goods — after you have toured one of the tanneries in Fez or Marrakech.
  • Go to Essaouira on the Atlantic coast for the diving and surfing, but that is not all. This is a stunning walled city of white buildings, blue shutters — jutting out into the Atlantic demanding admiration. It also is know for fresh sardines and its Safi pottery.
  • Plan your own itinerary or buy a tour that takes you to the four Imperial Cities: Fez, Marrakech, Meknes and Rabat. Tour all the medinas (the old city centers), but you’ll need guides, especially in the maze that is Fez’s oldest section.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Book a night, or several nights, in a riad (meaning “big house”), which is the Moroccan version of a large private home converted into a guest house. Riads, found in old medinas and generally featuring traditional Arabic architectural elements, can be luxury establishments.
  • Storytelling is fodder for street theater and a popular pastime in Morocco. The storytellers in Marrakech’s Place Jema El-Fna are widely known, but wherever you go, ask your guide for a chance to witness a storytelling session, if it is possible.
  • Use museum visits for a window on Morocco. One example is the Dar Jamai regional ethnographic museum in Meknes, which highlights the best of Moroccan craftsmanship. The museum itself is an example of Arab-Andalusian architecture.
  • Get a local recipe for ras el-hanout, a blend of several spices used for making a couscous or a tajine. Taste it in Morocco, then make it at home.
  • Shop for a carpet. Bargaining is the order of the day. Look for silk and gold jewelry, too.
  • Nature creates gardens, but see Morocco’s versions of the manmade variety including the Andalusian gardens of Rabat, the Mendoubia gardens in Tangiers, Majorelle and Menara gardens in Marrakech or the Skoura palm grove near Ouarzazate.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Moroccan National Tourist Office at www.visitmorocco.com and choose your language if necessary.