19 Tips for Visiting Marrakech

It’s historic, colorful, brimming with culture, and probably a lot different from your hometown. Marrakech was once an imperial city, leaving it filled with stunning mosques, gardens, and palaces. It’s a medieval city, protected by an aging wall, and keeping to its roots with bustling souk culture. Marrakech is a dream for those who love art, shopping, photography, and history. If you’re planning a trip, here are 19 tips for visiting Marrakech. Keep these in mind for a holiday that’s all smooth sailing.

Keep Plenty of The Local Currency With You

The local currency is the Moroccan Dirham and it is what you must use when making purchases. While a few places will accept Euros now and then, make the Dirham a priority in your wallet. Before leaving the airport, you can exchange your currency with no fee. The vendors in the souks typically only take cash, and the hotels and medinas are cash heavy too. Plus, many of the locals will ask for tips after providing services, so having cash on hand is useful. And, since ATMs are scarce, make sure to take out large amounts of cash when you do find one.

Try Staying in a Riad Within The Medina Walls

People who have visited Marrakech say that no trip is complete without this authentic experience. Even if you prefer hotels, it’s recommended to try a Riad for a night. A Riad is a traditional Moroccan home with its own interior courtyard. Many of them come with swimming pools, sunny terraces, and a complimentary breakfast.

Marrakech

Dress Modestly

While Morocco can get extremely hot during the summer, do your best to dress modestly, especially if you are a woman. This is part of the country’s culture and religion, and as a guest, you should do your best to respect their customs. Showing off shoulders, cleavage, and knees could be offensive to the locals, so try to keep covered up when possible. This is especially important to keep in mind when visiting religious sites.

See The Tanneries  

The tanneries are some of the most visually stunning, colorful, and interesting sights in the city. You’ll find them in the northeast of the medina, and there are sure to be locals who offer to bring you to them. You can stand on one of the terraces and watch the locals hard at work below as they dip cloths into colorful pools of water. This will give you a chance to see how many of the items in the markets are made. The tanneries are especially a treat for photographers who can easily get amazing shots.

tannery

Be Aware Of Taxi Scams 

Taxi scams are big business in Marrakech and you don’t want to fall prey to one. Make sure to ask someone at the airport for the normal rates. Tourists should expect to pay more, but many of the taxis inflate their prices to preposterous amounts. Some taxis will claim that you won’t find a cheaper option. But, if they don’t come down in price, just be prepared to walk away. And, try to make sure you solidly negotiate a price before getting in. If you can arrange a taxi through the airport, this is much easier than trying to get one on your own.

Get Prepared to be Lost but Learn to be OK With That

Getting lost in Marrakech is to be expected. If you’re the kind of person who gets frustrated and upset when you can’t find your way, try to go into it with an open mind. The narrow streets and busy souks are easy places to lose your way. But, you’ll end up finding some true gems while you try and get back on track. Many tourists say that the signs are hard to read or aren’t correct. however, you’ll usually come across a large tourist attraction that will help you navigate. And, you can easily find a taxi to take you back to your hotel.

marrakech market

Haggle in The Markets

Between the souks and the colorful souvenirs, you’ll probably want to do some shopping in Marrakech. If you do, be prepared to haggle. The vendors will quote you outrageous prices, mostly because you are a tourist. Haggling is also a common practice in the culture, so prices start high as vendors expect you to make counter offers. If you can’t agree on a price, just walk away. It’s highly likely that the vendor will give you what you ask for instead of losing the sale altogether. And don’t forget, keep things polite. You don’t want to insult the locals.

Don’t Drink The Tap Water

The water in Marrakech isn’t all that safe to drink, especially if you aren’t used to it. Avoid tap water and ice made from tap water as much as possible. Buy bottled water and make sure to keep some on hand as you are wandering around the city.

 moroccan man

Try Speaking The Local Language

You can certainly get by on English, but many of the locals speak French and Arabic. If you can learn a few words in the local language, you may get more respect and better prices. If Arabic is too much of a challenge, try to brush up on your French. It will get you a whole lot further.

Watch Out For Pickpockets

Like any bustling city, there are pickpockets lurking in the crowds. Make sure to wear a money belt under your clothes or to keep your backpack on your front. Always be aware of your surroundings and keep a backup credit card and extra cash in your hotel room. Be especially alert while in the markets, wandering around the medina or at busy tourist attractions. As long as you take precautions and pay attention to what’s going on around you, you shouldn’t have any problems.

marrakech medina

Be Careful in The Medina at Night

This is especially true for women, but everyone should take precaution. While the area is not inherently dangerous, it is a place where locals may prey on tourists. There is a lot of poverty going on in Marrakech, which makes tourists with money look like appealing targets. Travel in numbers, stick to crowded areas, and avoid the Medina if you are alone.

Be Careful When Taking Photos

This is probably not that obvious to most visitors, but taking photos is kind of a big deal in Marrakech. It’s considered rude to take photos of the locals without their permission. In Morocco, they believe that photos capture their soul. So, it could be quite devastating to someone to have their photo taken if they aren’t expecting it. Also, avoid taking pictures of animal performers or snake charmers in the main square. The owners of these operations may demand a hefty fee from you for the privilege of taking photos. And, be inconspicuous when taking photos of shops or stores. Many of the owners may ask you to give them money or buy something for using their shop as your photo subject.

 taking photo

Don’t Trust The Advice of The Locals In All Situations

There are plenty of nice, generous, and helpful locals in Marrakech, however, there are some malicious ones too. If someone offers you advice without you asking for it, just be wary. You may encounter men in the street who will tell you that your hotel is closed. Then, they may try to lead you to an alternative, most likely their family’s hotel or Riad. This can happen with restaurants and shops too. Other times, someone will tell you that a street is closed and offer to direct you another way. However, they may aggressively demand a tip for being your guide afterwards.

Try The Food in The Markets/ Night Markets

The food in the markets is generally safe to eat and is much cheaper than in the restaurants. Try the snail soup which has a well-spiced and very flavorful broth. The snails are usually very tender as well. Enjoy a B’stilla, which is savory pie with flaky layers. It usually has some kind of fish or pigeon inside. It also has eggs and almonds, and is a treat that is both savory and sweet. Chebakia is a fried sesame cookie that is shaped like a flower and covered in syrup or honey. Ma’gooda are potato balls that are deep fried and often covered in a spicy harissa sauce. And Harira is a traditional soup that is served throughout the year. It features noodles, lentils, chickpeas, and sometimes has meat.

Marrakech Medina Food

Pay Attention to Your Surroundings at all Times

The streets of Marrakech are busy and crowded, leaving you vulnerable to a lot of danger. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sounds and sights, but stay alert, especially to the traffic. There will be taxis, motorbikes, carts, and donkeys that could easily knock you over if you aren’t paying attention. And, since the city tends to be crowded and busy, make sure that you and your travel partner have a way to contact each other if you get seperated.

Get Ready For Heat If Visiting in The Summer

It’s sunny and hot most of the year, but especially in summer. Make sure to prepare for the high temperatures by bringing a water bottle with you and wearing loose, light clothing. Opting for a Riad with a pool is a great idea if you want to retreat from the heat during your stay. Despite the hot weather, remember that Morocco is a Muslim country so women should not show too much skin, you can find out more about what to wear here.

pool marrakech

Experience The Jemaa el-Fna 

This is one of the most famous public squares in the city. It’s a place that really captures the culture and feel of Marrakech. You’ll stumble upon snake charmers, entertainers, henna tattoo artists, and stalls full of street food. It can be found within the medina and is usually brimming with locals and tourists. This is one of the best spots for people watching and sampling the local cuisine. While a visit during the day is eventful, it’s in the evening when this square truly comes to life. You’ll come across magicians, storytellers, dancers, and even more food stalls offering treats and unusual snacks. It’s a Marrakech experience that shouldn’t be missed.

Visit The Jardin Majorelle

Created by French painter, Jacques Majorelle, this is one of the top attractions in Marrakech. Over 40 years he infused this garden with art and creativity to make it what it is today. There are more than 300 species of plants and a maze of small streams, tiny alleyways, and beautiful trees. It really is a magical place with an intriguing history. The entire place is two and half acres and it has been bringing in visitors since the 1920s. It used to be the home of Majorelle and his wife until they divorced. Then, it was taken over by fashion designers who restored its beauty and continued to allow public entry. There are a few museums on site as well so you can make a day out of it.

Jardin Majorelle

Try a Hammon 

A Hammon is a traditional bathhouse and a great way to experience the local culture. It can be a bit intimidating for visitors as the custom is to strip down with a group of strangers. However, if you can gather up the courage to try one, there are a ton of health benefits. Males and females are separated and before you can enter, there will be someone to wash you. These facilities tend to overcharge tourists so be careful about which one you choose. Locals typically pay 50 to 100 dirhams so try not to pay much more than that.

Marrakech is brimming with colorful sights, sounds, culture, history, and natural beauty. As a travel destination, it really has it all. No matter what you’re looking for, it’s likely that you’ll find it in Marrakech. Travel in Marrakech has its challenges, but so do most places in the world. So, arm yourself with these tips, and enjoy your travels.

17 Places You Have to Visit in Morocco

Morocco is one of the most interesting countries in the world; a melting pot of Berber, Arabian and European cultures. There’s a unique fusion of influences that is evident in the history, architecture and culinary experiences that travellers often encounter. And offering a bold contrast of desert, mountain and urban landscapes, Morocco is a place with so much to offer. Here are 17 places that you just have to visit during your time here!

1. Oudaias Kasbah

For postcard-perfect views, you simply cannot miss the neighbourhood of Oudaias Kasbah in the capital, Rabat. This quaint and peaceful part of the city is defined by its pretty white and blue houses, and cobbled streets decorated with painted front doors and flower pots. You will feel worlds away from the bustling centre and you’ll want to bring your camera to capture it all. Other sights and attractions in Rabat include Hassan Tower, The Chellah museum and gardens, Mausoleum of Mohammed V, Dar al-Makhzen, and Rabat Zoo.

2. The Marrakech Medina

There are fewer places in the world more vibrant and spectacular than the Marrakech Medina and bustling market square. Jemaa el Fnaa is a place for snake charmers, medicine men, hustlers and orange juice vendors by day. But by night, it transforms itself into a magical hub of local life at its most authentic, the best street food in the city, and live entertainment and music.

It’s noisy, full of people and a total assault of the senses. For anyone travelling to Morocco for the first time, this night market a must-visit. The tagines are to die for and you’ll be able to get delicious escargot for a fraction of the price that you would find in French restaurants.

marrakech

3. Toubkal National Park

Toubkal National Park is located in the High Atlas mountain range and is home to North Africa’s highest peak, the snow-capped Jebel Toubkal.  Treks start from Imlil, the principal trailhead village located in the heart of the national park. Not only is this an excellent base for hiking, but the area provides great places for mountain biking. Another great place to visit is  Morocco’s best ski resort, Oukaimeden.

At 8,530 feet, the Oukaimeden resort is the highest in the entire continent. And there are 10km of slopes available during the open season, with ski lifts and a ski school. With lift passes priced at just £7, plus lessons ranging from £3 to £8, it’s a bargain compared to the famous resorts in Europe.

4. Jebel Saghro

Go hiking and spend a few days camping in the wilderness in the Jebel Saghro mountain range. Located between the High Atlas and the Sahara Desert, this unique region offers some of the most spectacular views. It has striking volcanic peaks, table top mountains, and beautiful oases and is also home to the nomadic tribe, Ait Atta. Cultural encounters with the Ait Atta tribe can be arranged, and there are a number of different hikes to be enjoyed.  A full hike of the Jebel Saghro can be anything up to 8 days, but day hikes are also possible.

5. Erg Chebbi Dunes

The Erg Chebbi is one of Morocco’s two Saharan ergs, which are large dunes formed by wind-blown sand. Folklore tells the story that the dunes were a punishment sent by God, and they are one of the country’s biggest attractions. Located right on the edge of the dunes is the desert town of Merzouga, where travellers can camp or find local accommodation. If you wish to explore the dunes, the most authentic way is to do it by camel trek. But if can also choose to hike on foot or book a 4×4 desert tour with knowledgeable drivers and guides.

camel trek

6. Fez el Bali

Together with Marrakech, Fez is one of Morocco’s unmissable cultural destinations. But unlike Marrakech, Fez remains relatively untouched by tourism. For an authentic experience of the city, be sure to head to the Old City (Fez el Bali), where you will find a photo opportunity around every corner.

It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site that preserves buildings and streets from its past as an Imperial city, and the medina is one of the most stunning and complex in the country. Don’t be alarmed if you get lost whilst shopping here – just be sure to bring a camera and take a tour of the tanneries if you can handle the smell.

7. Asilah

Situated on Morocco’s northern tip, just south of Tangier, this coastal town is an interesting mix of cultures, traditions and architecture. The medina and old town area is enclosed with a 15th Century wall that was erected by colonial Portuguese. The proximity to Spain and history of Spanish occupation means that you will find the best paella and rioja around.

Spanish food and drink is served in most of Asilah’s restaurants, and the sleepy seaside town offers a laid-back atmosphere with great beaches for sunbathing. For first timers to Africa, it acts as a good introduction to the continent and a suitable base for exploring the northern region of Morocco. Don’t miss the annual festival, the Moussem Culturel International d’Asilah, and hop on a train to nearby Tangier for a day trip.

8. Chefchaouen

The city of Chefchaouen should be on every traveller’s bucket list. Tucked away in the hidden crags of the Rif Mountains, this remote community is one of Morocco’s most interesting. It’s definitely one of the prettiest towns, recognised instantly for its spectacular blue washed buildings and red tiled rooftops. The streets are a sight to behold and even though the area has attracted much tourism over the years, it still remains very much an untouched hideaway for those in search of an authentic travel experience.

Walk around the beautiful medina, shop for crafts and handmade souvenirs, and visit the stunning Spanish mosque and Kasbah. If you’re after romance and magic to impress a loved one, this is the place to come. Wonderful as a destination all year round and a good selection of accommodation in riads.

9. Roman Ruins of Volubilis

This Mauritanian capital and UNESCO World Heritage Site is an important archaeological gem that dates back to the 3rd Century BC. It became a significant outpost of the Roman Empire, and today many of the ruins are still standing for all to see.

The ruins cover more than 40 hectares, with archaeological vestiges that take you back in time to a number of different civilisations and amazing mosaics that have been preserved in situ. It’s an easy day-trip from Meknes or make your base in nearby Moulay Idriss to ensure that you don’t miss the stunning sunrise photo opportunities.

ruins Volubilis

10. Dades Valley

After a few days of souks and busy night bazaars in Marrakech or Fez, you may feel like you need to head out of the cities. The Dades Valley is the perfect place to come for some peace and quiet, for nature spotting and some soul-searching. It’s known for boasting some of Morocco’s most breath-taking scenery, as well as some of the best luxury hotels.

If you want to relax, the Dades Valley has everything you need. The snow-capped mountains of the High Atlas form a backdrop whilst the lush fields and small Berber villages provide plenty of outdoor space to roam freely. Birding is a popular activity here, and you will also find a number of places to buy traditional Berber carpets and craft items.

11. Majorelle Garden in Marrakech

Another attraction not to miss whilst you’re staying in Marrakech is the famous Marjorelle Garden. It’s one of the most visited sights of the city, and it took more than 40 years of hard work to create and finalise. The garden is the work of French painter Jacques Majorelle between the years of 1886 and 1962, and it represents the artist’s lifelong love for flora and fauna.

The garden was bought by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé in 1980, making it an interesting landmark not only for nature and art lovers, but fashion lovers alike. They spent time restoring the original garden of Jacques Majorelle and even transformed his studio into a museum.

12. Ait Mansour Gorge

The Ait Mansour Gorge is located in the Anti Atlas mountain range, a region that attracts hikers from all over the world. The beautiful gorge is perhaps the main attraction, but many also come here to see traditional Berber villages. The main settlement is Tafraoute, a place where time seems to have stood still. There are no road signs, just a cluster of minarets and traditional houses. It’s a good camping base if you plan to hike the gorges, and you can explore the area on foot or by bike.

13. Hassan II Mosque

Casablanca was made famous perhaps by one of the most romantic movies in the history of Hollywood. There are many sights to explore, but the city’s landmark building has to be the Hassan II Mosque. It features the most outstanding architectural detail and décor that required the hands of more than 10,000 artisans to complete. From intricately carved marble and delicate mosaics to the handmade Moroccan tiles, it’s every bit the symbol of tradition and opulence.

mosque hassan

14. Sidi Ifni

Bigger on atmosphere than sights and attractions, Sidi Ifni is the place to go if you’re looking to get away from it all. This small fishing town and former Spanish territory is good for enjoying a bit of peace and quiet, and gorgeous sea views.

Set along the Atlantic coastline in southwest Morocco, the town is a haven for surfers, beach bums and sun seekers. And because of its mild and balmy weather all year round, you’ll have an awesome time no matter the season. The average temperature is around 22°C throughout the year, so anytime is a good time to visit. If you want to rub shoulders with the locals, be sure to go to the weekly Sunday market or the lively fish market.

15. Meknes

A beautiful gateway guards the entrance into this spectacular imperial city. As one of Morocco’s previous capitals, it is home to a number of important sights. Including the aforementioned preserved gates, Bab Mansour, and the Dar Jamai Museum, which houses some of the country’s most fascinating exhibits.

There’s also the fantastic Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail and not to mention, the famous Meknes Medina. The city itself is small, yet full of charm and you will definitely want to bring your camera. Everywhere you turn, there will be striking mosaics and spellbinding architecture to take you back in time.

16. Agadir Beachfront

Agadir is one of the Morocco’s most famous seaside resorts and the beach promenade is the place to be at night. It comes to life as locals and tourists come out for evening walks, street food and social meetups. And the beachfront is lit up by the writing on the hills, which translate as “God, King and Country”. The seafront area has a number of restaurants and is also a great shopping area for anyone in search of hand crafted items, jewellery, leather goods, souvenirs and gifts.

Walk up the hill to enjoy amazing views of the ocean from the Agadir Kasbah, enjoy surfing or sunbathing in the warm ocean, visit the Valle De Oiseaux to check out local wildlife, or visit one of the three golf course nearby – there really is so much to do.

17. Essaouira

Kick back in the seaside town of Essaouira, one of the favourite hippie haunts of the 1970s. Once you get here, you’ll see why it was such a popular place for the bohemian crowd. The vibe is laid back and you can spend hours just watching the day go by as small fishing boats bob on the water. For activities, you can go shopping in the medina, learn to surf, or enjoy horse riding on the beach. The best thing about this destination is that it hasn’t lost any of its authenticity, so you won’t feel like you’ve entered into a tourist trap.

essaouira

We hope this has inspired you to visit Morocco, and we are sure you’ll love it just as much as we do. If you’d like to discuss your visit, please do get in touch with us today.

Morocco’s Mountain Ranges: The Ultimate Guide

With the dazzling sights of Marrakech, the pretty coastline in Agadir, or the romantic draw of Casablanca, it’s easy to become distracted by all the amazing things that Morocco has to offer. Its cities are magical, each with their own unique charms and they give travellers a sense of the exotic through their colourful souks and bustling night bazaars.

But for those who really want to get off the beaten track, there’s much more to Morocco than its urban settlements. The mountain ranges are home to some of the country’s most isolated communities. It’s a Pandora’s Box of history, tradition and culture waiting to be unlocked. And with mind-blowing views and challenging climbs, the mountains of Morocco can offer you and your group an epic trekking experience. Here is our ultimate guide for anyone in search of their next hiking expedition.

The Rif Mountains

Tucked away in Morocco’s far north, the Rif Mountains are an almost forgotten destination. Despite its beauty and the wonderful views that come with the journey, this mountain range is by far the lesser known of them all, receiving fewer visitors than anywhere else in the country. So if you’re looking for something different that no-one else has accomplished before, this is the place to begin your trek.

Whilst The Rif isn’t quite the challenge of The High Atlas Mountains and the Toubkal National Park, it’s still worth visiting. The views of limestone cliffs and gorges as you ascend will certainly beguile you, and there’s a laidback vibe here suitable for even beginners. A hike to up Jebel al-Kalaa (8,058 ft.), the Rif’s biggest peak, will take a full day.

Interesting Facts:

During your trek, you may come across a number of cannabis fields. These can be avoided if you speak to your guide beforehand. Morocco produces over a third of all hashish sold around the world, and these farms are key to the Berber community’s survival; for many of the villages, it’s their only form of income.

Tips for Trekking:

A popular starting point for most travellers is the city of Chefchaouen, known as the gateway to The Rif. Not only does Chefchaouen give you the easiest access point, but it’s also a fine destination that deserves at least a few days of your time. Known as ‘The Blue City’, Chefchaouen is recognised for its blue-washed stone buildings – it’s a photographer’s dream. Another good base is the port city of Tetouan, best known for its UNESCO listed medina.

Where to Stay:

There are many short half day or full day treks, meaning that you can stay in Chefchaouen or Tetouan without the need to camp. If you want a longer excursion, you can also find plenty of spots to camp just off the trails of Talassemtane National Park or further west in Al-Hoceima National Park.

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High Atlas Mountains

The High Atlas Mountain Range is perhaps the most popular choice for many travellers looking for a physical challenge. There are over 400 summits that have an elevation of up to 10,000 ft. and a number which are over 13,000 ft. So if you want a destination with tall peaks and mind-blowing views from the top, High Atlas is a great option for walkers.

This region is relatively well serviced in terms of guest houses, restaurants and professional tour operators, and a bit of forward planning can ensure a very smooth trip. Whilst the Atlas Mountains have become rather well known in recent years, they still remain relatively untouched. So it will never feel crowded here, even during peak travel periods.

With the region’s high elevations, there are also a number of trails that are still feasible for the average hiker. And many of the routes can be achieved without the need for advanced mountain skills such as rock climbing. Even the highest peak up Mount Toubkal (13,665 ft.) doesn’t require technical skills, so people of all levels and abilities can enjoy trekking within this range.

Additionally, the High Atlas region is a wonderful location for mountain biking or even horse riding. Many mountain biking guides can take you out for a half or full day, whilst horse riding trips can provide a fantastic alternative to exploring on foot.

high atlas

Interesting Facts:

The entire Atlas Mountain Range stretches over 1,600 miles through Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria. Unlike other mountain ranges, this one is not a series of continuous peaks but a collection of mountains that are separated by large areas of land. Toubkal is the tallest summit, not only in Morocco but also in the whole of North Africa. Oukaimeden, which is near Jebel Toubkal, is also the country’s largest and most popular ski resort!

Tips for Trekking:

For a good base or starting point, head over to the small town of Ouirgane or the village of Imlil. Both of these locations offer a number of different trails. Ouirgane has plenty of variety whilst Imlil is ideal for longer and more linear hikes. There are also a number of convenient day trips leaving from the city of Marrakech.

Where to Stay:

Good guest houses are easy to find in the area of Ouirgane as well as in Imlil Village. Many of these houses come with spacious double rooms, swimming pools and even Hammam spas. Prices tend to be very affordable and service is always excellent. Many of these guest houses will also feature restaurants, serving up traditional Moroccan food made with fresh ingredients sourced from the souks of the surrounding neighbourhoods.

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Middle Atlas Mountains

They call it the ‘Land of Lakes’ and natural beauty just oozes from the Middle Atlas Mountains. This is the place of the untouched, with fewer tourists than the High Atlas or Anti Atlas. And trekkers going through here will get the chance to discover some of Morocco’s most remote villages, as well as the unique wildlife. Within the range lies Ifrane National Park, an area of outstanding natural beauty and often referred to as ‘Little Switzerland’.

This park features spectacular rows of cedar trees which give it the Alpine resemblance, and it’s also home to much of the country’s endangered species. The range is also home to Tazzeka National Park, an area created in 1950 to protect the natural resources at the top from Jbel Tazekka. Both parks have a wonderful array of flora and fauna, and walkers will get to experience the magical mountain landscape. With its intricate cave systems and deep valleys, beautiful streams and dramatic waterfalls, volcanic hills and coniferous woods, and dales carpeted with wild flowers and plants.

The vast region covers more than 100,000 km2 in total and the highest peak is Jbel Bou Naceur (11,000 ft.), with a number of different trekking routes to suit varying abilities.

Interesting Facts:

Due to the elevation of the mountain range, the Middle Atlas experiences a cool and pleasant climate in the summer and wonderful snowfall in the winter. This unique climate means that Ifrane National Park features one of the few ski resorts in the whole of Africa! Although the runs are short (and not exactly challenging for skiing pros), there are more than 13km of slopes, with 11 ski lifts for guests. The resort was built during the French protectorate, so don’t be surprised if you feel like you’re in an Alpine village in Europe!

Tips for Trekking:

Day trips are common for people staying in Marrakech or Fes. But for independent trips, you can make your start at Sefrou, a small market town with a Berber population. The town of Azrou is also a popular choice, with fantastic souks and medinas to explore.

Where to Stay:

It can be hard to book as places are limited so planning ahead is recommended. Ifrane is a good resort to stay in, particularly if you are after a bit of Alpine-inspired luxury. However, with the close proximity of nearby towns such as Azrou and Sefrou, looking for a place to stay in the mountains isn’t always necessary.

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Anti-Atlas Mountains

Situated between the High Atlas in the north and the desert in the south, the Anti-Atlas region has a different climate to its sisters. Alpine charm and ski resorts do not exist in this arid part of the range, with temperatures between 12°C and 36°C, with a mostly dry and barren landscape.

The biggest draw for hikers is the otherworldly appearance of the range, and this is what attracts climbers from all across the globe. Imagine a world of contrasts, with rocky boulders and lunar topography. With perhaps the biggest attraction being the Ait Mansour Gorge. This is one of the most beautiful oases in North Africa, cutting through colourful vegetation.

Another attraction not to miss in Anti Atlas is the Jebel Siroua, which is an ancient and isolated volcanic peak. It’s got some of the most spectacular 360 views, a superb cliffside village and dramatic terrain.

mountain

Interesting Facts:

Around Tafraoute is home to some works of modern art. You may spot some blue rocks, which were painted by Belgian artist Jean Verame in 1984. It took more than 18 tonnes of paint to complete the project. Today some of the paint has faded, with some of the rocks featuring modern graffiti art instead.

Tips for Trekking:

The months of September and May are the best times to visit if you are hoping for pleasant weather that isn’t too hot. The summer heat can be very intense, which can make it difficult for those who are not used to trekking in such an extreme climate. A good starting point would be Tafraoute and it’s important to understand that the Anti Atlas only has a very basic infrastructure once you begin your journey. So trips need to be well-planned before you go, especially if you are wanting a multi-day trek.

Where to Stay:

Guest houses are available in the village of Oumesnate or for day trips, the modern Berber village of Tafraoute can make a good base. Alternatively, wilderness camping is also possible for those who want to really experience the outdoors. For campers, it’s important to bring warm layers of clothing for when temperatures drop at night.

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Jebel Saghro Mountains

This is a remote and rugged mountain range, located between the High Atlas and the Sahara Desert, and about a 6 hour drive from Marrakech. It offers a fantastic alternative to High Atlas trekking, especially when the snow can prove to be a challenge.  With a relatively mild climate, this is a great all-weather mountain range that can offer spectacular views no matter which direction you choose. Your climb to the top will feature deep gorges and beautiful almond groves, as well as ravines and apexes carved by volcanic activity.

Interesting Facts:

The Jebel Saghro region is home to the Ait Atta Berber people. The Berber tribes can be found living in the region’s two main villages, N’Kob and Tazzarine, which you may come across during your trek. In some parts of the range, you may also stumble upon the prehistoric cave paintings.

Tips for Trekking:

The best time for visiting the Jebel Saghro is in May or October when temperatures are cooler, yet rainfall isn’t particularly high. The months to avoid are the peak summer months when it can be as hot as 40°C in the day. The two nearby towns of Boumaine du Dades and Kelaa M’Gouna can make good starting points. The famous Sahro Loop will take you around five days.

Where to Stay:

In terms of accommodation, there are only a few good guesthouses, mostly limited to the village of N’Kob. You may also find a small number of village houses across the range. But the best way to truly experience the Saghro is to camp beneath the stars. You will find plenty of wilderness camping spots and you will encounter very few tourists here.

FIND OUT MORE

If you’d like to discuss planning your visit to Morocco’s incredible mountain ranges, do get in touch with our knowledgeable team today.

A Guide to the Best Cities in Morocco

A Guide to the Best Cities in Morocco-min

Although the traditional medinas, souks, bazaars and market squares are features of all Moroccan cities, each one has its own unique character.

If you’re looking for a city break in Morocco or want to stop off on your way to the mountain or the desert regions, be sure to visit at least one of the country’s fascinating cities.

To help you decide, here’s a guide to the best cities in Morocco.

Tangier

Across the Strait of Gibraltar in the far north of Morocco, Tangier is the meeting point between Europe and Africa, known as the ‘Gateway to Africa’.

This unique city is a melting pot of cultures and influences that can’t be found anywhere else in the country.

In the past, Tangier had a rather sleazy reputation, frequented by eccentrics, musicians, artists and spies. However, in recent times the city has undergone major re-development including a new business district and marina, transforming it into a vibrant and cosmopolitan hub where touches of modernity blend with the ancient historic charm of past centuries.

lamps

Highlights

The Grand Socco and Mendoubla Gardens

Once the main market in Tangier, the Grand Socco is a large cobblestone square with a fringe of palm trees and lovely ocean views. It’s also the entrance to the Medina and offers visitors a taste of new and old Tangier, where you can watch parades go by and see local women dressed in traditional costumes.

The Mendoubla Gardens next to the square offer a tranquil spot to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.

The Medina

Within the walls of a 15th century Portuguese fortress, there’s a labyrinth of winding streets and well-lit alleyways to explore. A mix of shops, bazaars and traditional Moroccan homes give a fascinating insight into the daily life of Tangier’s people. Stop at the weavers, brass works and leather goods souks (bazaars) and watch craftsmen at work, then climb up to the Kasbah and watch the snake charmers in the square. Exit through the Bab Bhar gate and admire the far-reaching views. On a clear day, you can even see the Rock of Gibraltar.

The Caves of Hercules

Once you’ve explored the city, take a trip to the coast and visit the Caves of Hercules, named after the Greek hero who supposedly spent time here. The steps will take you down into the caves where you’ll find a gaping hole in the shape of Africa, overlooking the ocean.

Marrakech

When visiting the ‘Red City’ be prepared for a sensory explosion. The heady aromas of exotic spices, intense flavours, colours, sights and sounds of this magical city will entice and enchant you.

With its spectacular backdrop of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains, Marrakech, in the south of Morocco, has been attracting visitors since the 11th century. If you love photography, then Marrakech is one of the best places to go to take amazing photos in Morocco. Today it’s an eclectic mixture of ancient and modern cultures with a vibrant buzz like nowhere else.

spices

Highlights

Jemaa el Fna

The most famous marketplace in Morocco, if not the world, Jemaa el Fna in the main square of Marrakech, offers visitors a truly unforgettable experience.

Don’t be put off by the noise, dust and chaos; it all adds to the charm. Here you’ll find mountains of spices, street food stalls and artisan workshops selling handcrafts such as jewellery, leather goods, woven carpets and homewares. During the day, it’s busy and hectic, but it’s the evening when the market really comes to life. The air is filled with the tantalising aroma of fired-up grills and the sounds of musicians preparing to perform. Every night is carnival night at Jemaa el Fna with street theatre, musical performers, snake charmers and acrobatic acts partying until dawn.

Jardin Majorelle

Escape the market mayhem at Jardin Majorelle. This beautiful garden was created by French painter, Jacques Majorelle, and provides a calming oasis of tranquillity in the heart of Marrakech.

Home to over 300 species of plants from five continents, the gardens feature winding, tree-lined pathways and meandering streams. It is also home to Musée Berbère, an art deco museum housing over 600 artefacts from the country’s Berber people.

Koutoubia Mosque

Just opposite Jemaa el Fna, is the 12th century Koutoubia Mosque. It’s the largest mosque in Marrakech and one of the finest examples of Moorish architecture in Morocco.

Although non-Muslims are not permitted to enter, it’s definitely worth looking around the outside. Arrive just before sunset then admire the changing colours of the exterior as dusk descends, while sipping on a sweet mint tea from one of the surrounding roof terrace cafés.

Bahia Palace

This 19th century palace is a prime example of the opulence and wealth of its owners at the time. Built for the Ba Ahmed’s concubines, the palace features a lavishly decorated harem adorned with silk woven panels, stained glass windows and intricately painted ceilings.

There are several tiled courts with water features where the women would have washed, lavish reception areas with painted wooden ceilings, stucco panels, colourful tiles and a grand courtyard laid in white Carrera marble.

Fez

Nestled in a valley between the Rif and the Atlas Mountains, you’ll find Fez. Founded in the 9th century, it’s the largest and oldest medieval city in the world.

Sympathetic restoration to the crumbling medina walls and new luxury hotels have brought the city into the 21st century without losing its ancient charm.

fez

Highlights

Bab Boujloud

The Blue Gate is a magnificent arched entranceway to the medina of Fez. It’s named after the beautiful patterned fassi tiles that adorn it. The gate was built by the French in 1913 and is situated next to the original 9th century medina entrance gate.

The Medina

Morocco’s most impressive and largest medina has 9,500 streets and alleys to explore. There are no cars inside the medina, only donkeys and mules that pull carts loaded with goods up and down the winding streets. It’s the largest car-free urban area in the world.

Theme-related colour-coded routes are painted on the streets, guiding visitors to palaces, gardens, markets and mosques.

One highlight of the many souks here is the weavers’ souk. Watch the craftsmen working on large wooden looms, creating a colourful array of scarves, robes and bedspreads. Then head to the rug shop where you’ll find mountains of colourful rugs with distinctive patterns that relate to the 45 different tribes.

There are so many handicrafts here, from jewellery and leather goods to metalwork and handmade cobalt blue ceramics, you’ll be spoilt for choice. But be prepared to haggle for the best price. Even if you don’t buy anything, it’s still fascinating watching the craftsmen as they work.

You can’t mistake what the butcher’s shops are selling here; they have camel heads hanging in the windows. Apparently, the hump is the most delicious part. If you’re game, you can try a camel burger at Café Clock which is located opposite the Water Clock, past the meat and vegetable stalls of Talaa Kbira.

Don’t miss a visit to the bakers; there are hundreds in the medina. Watch as they make khobz bread, place the dough onto palettes then shove them into huge clay ovens to be baked. Local women also bring their homemade dough here to be baked.

Kairouine Mosque

Although non-Muslims are not permitted entry, you may get a glance of the beautiful interior from the outside. Look out for the two magnificent chandeliers, which were originally church bells from Andalucia.

Chouara Tannery

If you can stand the pungent smell, visit the tannery quarter for a medieval Moroccan experience.

The skins are dunked in huge vats of cow urine, then softened with acidic pigeon excrement before barefooted workers tread them into the dyeing pits. It’s a smelly, but fascinating spectacle to watch.

Leather goods are sold in stores around the tannery, and mint sprigs are offered to help counteract the stench.

Jhan Sbil Gardens

After a busy day at the medina, relax in the peaceful haven of Jhan Sbil Gardens. There are 18.5 acres of tranquillity to explore. The gardens feature rows of colourful flowerbeds, weeping willows, citrus trees and water fountains including a recently renovated water wheel.

Madrasa Bou Inania

One of the few religious buildings in Morocco open to all faiths, the 14th century Islamic college is a fine example of Marinid architecture, featuring intricate wooden carvings, stucco work and floor to ceiling zelij mosaic tiled walls.

Taroudant

Set in the beautiful Souss Valley, the walled town of Taroudant was once the capital of Morocco, and is often referred to as ‘little Marrakech’.

Taroudant is the perfect base for trekking in the Atlas Mountains. There are fewer tourists, it’s less chaotic than the larger cities, and has a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.

The market town offers a fascinating insight into traditional Moroccan culture and the Berber way of life.

Taroudant

Highlights

The Ramparts

The outer walls of the town are the best-preserved pisé walls in Morocco. The walls feature squared turrets and nine gates to the town. Take a horse carriage ride around the exterior and watch as the red mud walls change colour in the late afternoon.

Kasbah

The ancient quarter was originally a fortress and today is a residential area with winding streets, alleyways, low arches and tiny squares.

Place al-Alaouyine

This charming marketplace is particularly lively during the Moroccan holidays, and features soothsayers, street performers, snake charmers and storytellers as well as the usual food and handicraft stalls.

Casablanca

Morocco’s commercial and economic hub is the most cosmopolitan city in Morocco with a distinctive European influence and vibe.

Visitors will find a wonderful mix of French colonial history, traditional Arab culture and modern European sophistication.

casablanca

Highlights

Hassan Il Mosque

Completed in 1993, the Hassan Il Mosque is the second largest in the world, and one of the only mosques in the Arab world that non-Muslims can enter. Selected tours around the mosque are available throughout the year, but booking is essential.

The open courtyard can accommodate up to 80,000 faithful, but the best feature is the vast glass floor where up to 25,000 worshippers can pray directly over the sea.

La Corniche

This beachfront district offers visitors a European holiday experience, with pools, beach access and a range of restaurants serving European and traditional Moroccan dishes.

Museum of Moroccan Judaism

This unique museum is the only one of its kind in the Arab world. Exhibits, including paintings, artefacts and clothing, display Jewish life and the influence Judaism has had on Moroccan history.

Parc del al Ligue Arabe

Designed in 1918, the widest open space in Casablanca displays African flora, palm-lined avenues, walks and small cafés where you can take a break and watch the world go by.

Villa des Arts

Located near the park, the art museum is one of the largest in Morocco, displaying over 800 contemporary artworks that reflect Moroccan culture and heritage.

Chefchaouen

Located in the Rif Mountains, the ‘Blue Pearl’ of Morocco is famous for its blue-washed buildings and traditional medina. It’s one of the most picturesque and charming cities in Morocco and life is here is more laidback and relaxed than in the bigger cities.

chefchaouen

Highlights

Leather and Weaving

The area is famous for its quality leather and woven goods, so be sure to visit one of the many shops where you can see artisans at work. Or just wander though the medina where colourful wares are displayed in a wonderful contrast to the blue painted walls.

Kasbah Museum

Set in the tranquil Andalucian Gardens, the Kasbah Museum and Art Gallery displays paintings and artefacts relating to the Chefchauoen region.

Plaza Uta el-Hammam

Enjoy street food delights in the old town square or sip on a sweet mint tea under the spectacular backdrop of the Rif Mountains.

Ras el-ma

This fresh mountain waterfall is a popular local meeting point where you can catch a glimpse of daily life as locals wash their clothes, bathe, drink and chat about their day.

Cascades d’Akchour

Thirty minutes out of town, there’s a beautiful tourist trail that leads to the bluest water pools and cascading waterfall. The perfect place to take a refreshing dip in the cool, mountain waters.

For more information and advice on visiting Morocco’s cities, get in touch today.

Here Are the Best Things to Do in Marrakech (37 of them!)

Colourful hanging carpets, whiffs of spice as you walk through the souk (market), and camels elegantly crossing sand dunes is what comes to mind when you think of Morocco.

But that would be just another touristy day that anyone can do. We want you to taste Morocco for what it really is, in its detail. That’s why we’re handing you on a silver plate the best things to do in one of its most culture-intense cities, Marrakech.

1. Medina

The first thing you have to do in Marrakech is put on your comfortable shoes and head to the Medina. Walk under the archways and through its alleys, and absorb the life around you. Take in the browns of the stone the city was built with, the sound of locals talking to each other, the aromas splurging out of the food stalls…

A word of warning though: keep an eye out for cars and horse carts, they’re everywhere!

2. Djemaa El-Fna

Follow the old city walls of the Medina to get to the main square, Djemaa El-Fna. If you’re there during the day, try a fresh orange or grapefruit juice from one of the carts.

At night, as the temperature cools down, people start sprouting out from everywhere and the square fires into a vivid atmosphere.

Sit at one of the shared tables and eat a Harira, a pea, lamb and pasta soup. This is the same soup Moroccans eat for breakfast to break their fast and celebrate the end of Ramadan.

oranges

3. Hat for the Heat

If the heat starts getting to you, look for women selling straw hats. You’ll bless the few dollars you pay for it as it blocks the direct sunlight from your head. Is is important to dress appropriately when visiting Morocco to ensure that you feel comfortable.

4. Saadian Tombs

These tombs were discovered in 1917 and subsequently restored, but date back to the same era of Ahmad al-Mansur.

When visiting, admire cedar wood, stuccowork and Carrara marble decorating the tombs of about sixty members of the Saadi Dynasty, who came from the valley of the Draa River.

There are three rooms to go through with twelve columns, but what’s interesting is just outside is a garden with the graves of various soldiers and servants.

5. Marrakech Museum

This classical Andalusian-style house, Dar Menebhi Palace, was renovated and converted into a museum in 1997. Walk around the fountains in the central courtyard, admire the mosaics, carvings and tile work around you, then head towards the exhibits – pottery, coins, historical books – from every period of Moroccan history, Islamic, Berber and Moroccan.

6. Souks

Once your belly is nice and full and your head covered, head to one of the endless labyrinths that surround Djemaa El-Fna. You’ll find countless souks where you can buy leather, spices beautifully decorated in huge colourful cones, the local shoes – babouches. But probably the most hypnotising thing to do in a souk is walk into a carpet house. Be ready to have various carpets flung open in front of you, until you fall in love with one.

babouches

7. Barter

Of course, once you decide to buy any item in the souk, you’ll need to barter. Here are a couple of hints:

• Start by greeting the shop owners when you walk in: ‘Salam alek um’, to which they’ll reply ‘Alek um salam’. A little friendliness never hurt negotiations.
• Remember, it’s always a 3-step process. They’ll give you a price, you give them another, and it’ll always be somewhere in between the two. Keep that in mind when shooting your price – don’t say what you’d really pay, but a little under.

8. Walking Tours

There’s no better way to get to know a place than to walk around it. You have the time to look around, hear what’s around, and smell what’s around. It’s a fully sensual experience that you can take up on your own. However, in places as rich in culture and history as Marrakech, a walking tour with a local guide will dive you into much deeper layers than you’d imagine.

9. The Mellah

Also known as the Jewish quarter, the Mellah isn’t a souk but is probably the best place in the Medina to buy fabric.

10. Have Tailormade Clothes Made

Find a tailor, tell them what you’d like made, be advised on how much fabric you need, then go to buy it in the souk. Doing this will save you from the fabric seller overselling unneeded lengths.

A jilab with a touch of your own style is a great idea for a souvenir to take back home.

11. Visit a Riad and Have a Mint Tea

When you feel like a break, stop at one of the old aristocratic houses usually turned into a boutique hotel, a Riad. Ask for a mint tea and enjoy watching the ritual of the tea, as the waiter pours it three times until it reaches the perfect foam on top.

mint tea

12. Rue Bab Agnao

For a calmer atmosphere, head on a 5-minute walk to the entrance of the Kasbah district, the Rue Bab Agnao, which is the most impressive of the Medina’s entrances, with less hustle and bustle and better-kept streets.

Once there, visit the Royal Palace, the former El-Badi Palace, and the Saadian Tombs.

13. El Badi Palace

Built in 1578 by the Arab Sultan, Ahmad al-Mansur, from the money of a substantial ransom paid after the Battle of the Three Kings by the Portuguese, this now-ruined palace has turned into a must-see for anyone visiting Marrakech. Make sure you get there before 4pm to have time to enjoy it before closing time at 5pm.

14. Jardin Majorelle

Created in the 1920s and 30s by the French expatriate Jacque Majorelle, this 12-acre botanical garden sprinkled with brightly painted walls and plant holders also houses the Islamic Art Museum, the archaeological museum of Marrakech.

15. Bahia Palace

When Si Moussa, the grand vizier of the sultan built this palace at the end of the 19th century, he meant it to be the greatest palace of its time. Named after one of his wives in the harem, the rooms intended for the concubines surround the central basin.

16. Boucharouite Museum

This museum holds interesting Berber boucharouites, rugs made out of rugs, and a gallery with Moroccan popular art including painted doors. If you feel like eating something light, head upstairs to the terrace.

17. Koutoubia Mosque and Minaret

This mosque and minaret have welcomed visitors of Marrakech with their overpowering height for close to a thousand years. The name comes from the Arabic ‘bookseller’, which is interesting because it dates to the 1200s when books were still unknown in the Christian world.

morocco

18. Cyber Park, Arsat Moulay Abdeslam

Good place to just sit in the shade to have a break from all the sightseeing and enjoy some free wifi.

19. Dar Si Said

A beautiful museum that oozes nostalgia in every little corner. It mixes old with new in such a way you can see items that were used in the old Hispano-Moorish times, which you can still see in use on the streets of Marrakech simply by walking out of the same museum.

20. Smoke a Shisha

You’ll know when you’re near it. The sweet aroma of the flavoured tobacco will drag you in as if under hypnosis. Just go with it, sit down and let the assistants bring the coal for your Shisha, then just watch as it bubbles and it starts vaporising for you to enjoy. You might not be a smoker, but what you’re doing with this is experiencing an ancient communal ritual, once exclusive to the higher class.

21. Take a Belly Dance Class

Why not? Go on, go get those muscles a good stretch and find out what fun belly dance can be. Don’t take yourself too seriously, simply enjoy the moment and the wisdom of the celebration of the woman’s femininity in all its shapes and forms. After all, everyone in class will probably never ever see you again. Just go for it!

22. Food Tasting

There are tours for food tasting too, but the best thing to do in Marrakech is to walk around the city and follow the best aromas for the best food. Sometimes they’ll be coming from a street vendor cart, other times they’ll come from a small, local eating joint, and sometimes out of lush restaurants. Take your pick! Just try not to end up in someone’s private kitchen.

23. Rahba Kedima Square

A quieter souk. You’ll find souvenirs, spices, and carpets, but what’s most intriguing are the dried up plants and animals!

spices

24. Photography Museum of Marrakech

You’ll find more than 8,000 photographs ranging from 1870 to 1950, including an exhibition of hundreds of old photographs and projection of the very first film recorded in High-Atlas colour, ‘Landscapes and Faces of the High-Atlas’, produced in 1957 by Daniel Chicault.

25. Musee Tiskiwin

Compared to other museums, the Tiskiwin might look small but it’s well-organised and contains insightful information about the history of Marrakech and its region, including artefacts from past centuries that will make you look at the city with fresh eyes.

26. Mouassine Museum

If you like old buildings, this is a museum you shouldn’t miss. It’s split into parts, one used by the family and the other open to guests. The most amazing feature of this house is that the plaster was taken off and its original bright colours were restored back to vivid life.

27. Get Lost

Once you plunge into this addictive shopping spree, you’re sure to look up at a certain point and realise you’re lost. Here’s what you have to do – find a narrow door that signals a rooftop café, walk up its winding steps, and from there you’ll be able to (more or less) locate yourself.

marrakech

28. Look for Local Delicacies

Here are some of our favourite dishes we highly recommend you sample:

Moroccan crepe for breakfast, tagine of sardine balls, liver in onion sauce, roasted lamb and of course you have to try some bakery items!

29. Try an Avocado & Date Smoothie

Maybe the most curious refreshment you can get in Marrakech is the avocado and date smoothie.

30. Farmhouse cooking tour

As days go by and you feast on makouda, kefta, zaalouk, cous cous and b’stilla you might end up thinking how you’d miss this food back home. Well, there’s a way to prevent that – learn how to cook some Moroccan dishes, so you can make them back home. Ask around for the best cooking course or tour.

That’s not all. If you fancy stepping out of Marrakech for a while, you can find other fun, active things to enjoy. Here are some:

31. Horse Riding

Visiting the Atlas Mountains while riding on a horse, past Berber villages, and soaking in the landscape of all shades of brown is definitely worth some time away from the city.

32. Palm Grove, Sunset & Camel Ride

The only thing to top that is riding on a camel in Palm Grove, just half an hour out of Marrakech and walking into the sunset as if you were in a postcard or movie.

desert

33. Quad Bike Safari

If riding on the back of animals isn’t your idea of fun, then maybe riding on a four-wheeler might be. Just put on your helmet and ride the sand, through wild palm groves.

34. Hot Air Balloon Ride

Then again, it might be the sky you’re aiming for. Well, nothing in Marrakech is impossible. Book yourself a hot air balloon ride and feel the excitement of elevating away from the ground and going swiftly up, up, up into the sky.

35. Oasiria Water Park

The gardens and pools of the water park are a great idea for a relaxed day away from the heat of the streets, but also a fun place to entertain kids.

36. Get a Flag Beer

Trying the flag beer of every country is a must. In Morocco, you’ll find Casablanca Beer in most of the touristy places. Snap that bottle open; it’s time to freshen up from the heat.

37. Visit a Hammam

Let’s face it, holidaying can be tiring. The good news? In Marrakech, there are various hammams, what we know as a spa. You’ll find varying prices and qualities, but whichever you choose make sure to get a nice scrub, especially to your well deserving feet, then soak into a beautiful massage.

That was our top 37 things to do in Marrakech. Is there something that you love to do in Marrakech that we’ve missed out? Let us know, we always love to hear about your experiences and holidays in Marrakech.

Need any more reasons to visit Marrakech? Get that suitcase ready and, whatever happens in Morocco, remember the 2 magic words: Mashi Muskhi (No problem!)

For more inspiration contact Epic Morocco today and discover more about the enigmatic city of Marrakech and book your trip. 

Why I love Morocco

By Alice Morrison

Every month, I really enjoy writing my guest blog for Epic Morocco and this month I was talking to the MD, Carla, about what I should blog about: Things to do in Lalla Takerkoust? Top mountain biking tips? How they make the colourful pottery of Safi?

“No,” she said. “All the news headlines internationally are so grim at the moment and life here is such a contrast, why not convey that? Tell us why you like Morocco so much and why people should visit.” Well, it is rare that I get such an easy and pleasurable subject. My problem with this one is that there are about a thousand reasons I like Morocco and a new one pops up every day. So, here are my top ten.

Why I love Morocco Alice Morrison

  1. The Moroccans. I know you shouldn’t generalise about people but I’m going to go right ahead and do it. The vast majority of Moroccans I have encountered have been friendly, warm-hearted and welcoming. I have lost count of the number of times I have been invited by strangers for a cup of mint tea or even dinner with their family. Best of all, they have a great sense of humour and are always ready to have a laugh or share a joke.
  2. The weather. Coming originally from Scotland and latterly from the Peak District, I am well used to a diet of rain, rain and more rain. What a joy it is to get up every morning to sun and a blue sky. It does get cold in winter and hot in summer but those blue skies last all year.
  3. The Atlas Mountains: This magnificent mountain range traverses the country, forming a natural barrier to the Sahara desert. They are a paradise for hikers with tracks weaving through villages untouched by the modern age. You’ll pass goat herders tending their flocks, women hand tilling their small patches of land, and boys playing football on a pitch 3,200m above sea level. The views are stunning, with ridges and peaks stretching ahead of you and depending which season you come, you will be walking through a riot of apple blossom or buying fresh cherries for £2 a kilo.
  4. The desert: Go south to the dunes of Erg Chebbi or Erg Chigaga and you enter a different world. Golden sand rolling endlessly and your chance to ride a camel to camp, and sleep under the stars. On a clear night you can see the Milky Way.
  5. The running: Morocco has a fantastic collection of races to suit every ability from the Moonlight Run in the Agafay to the infamous Marathon Des Sables. Epic Morocco’s founder, Charlie Shepherd ran it in 2014 and you can read about his adventure here. It also has the friendliest running community in the world. The Berber boys are going to beat you, they run like the wind, but they will always be encouraging and supportive.
  6. The shopping: Shopping in Morocco is a whole different experience and should be undertaken at your leisure and with plenty of time to enjoy a cup of mint tea and a chat with the shopkeepers. Get your bargaining head on and enjoy the process. Treat it at as a a cultural exchange rather than as a buying trip and you will get the most out of it.
  7. The handicrafts: It is not just the shopping process that is enjoyable it is the lovely things that there are to buy. Hand-woven carpets, traditional silver jewellery, hand-made pottery, colourful leather slippers, shiny tassles… it is a cornucopia and the prices vary from bargain basement for a hand-painted pottery bowl at under a pound to some very lavish and expensive carpets.
  8. The pace of life: It’s slow and there is a saying you should bear in mind: You have the watch, we have the time. Don’t try and do anything in a hurry, you will just get frustrated. Live in the moment and enjoy the experience.morocco photography
  9. The languages: Darija (Moroccan Arabic), Tashlaheet (one of the 3 Amazigh/Berber dialects) and French are the main languages spoken but you can also try Spanish, especially in the North, Italian, German and Japanese. The Moroccans are polyglots and will find a way to communicate but you will be guaranteed a warm response if you greet people with Salaam alaykum.
  10. The Cities: Marrakech, the daughter of the desert with its snake charmers and story tellers; ancient Fez with its warren-like medina and 70 mosques, the call to prayer at sunset is a magical experience; Chefchaouen, the blue city nestled in the Rif Mountains; and Essaouira with its surfers, laid back vibe and crashing Atlantic waves.

I have been lucky enough to live in Morocco for four years and am discovering something new every day. The best piece of advice I can give? Book your ticket today!

Alice Morrison is the Presenter of BBC2’s Morocco to Timbuktu: An Arabian Adventure. She is also an Author and an Adventurer. 

 

 

Marathon des Sables Race Report

By Charlie Shepherd

Photo: Marathon des Sables

All I’m drawing out of the straw of my last water bottle is air. I’m running on empty in the Sahara Desert but I’m ok, as, squinting into the setting sun, I can see the nomad tent colony of Checkpoint 4 laid out on the sandy plateau to the west. I’m hot, and suffering the first pangs of physical pain, but my morale is still intact and in the dunes below I can see my friend, and MdS organizer, Joco, blazing through the sand in his 4×4, churning up a plume of dust that strikingly catches the molten late afternoon light.  Tired as I am, I’ve made up my mind to savour this experience, and indeed, as experiences go, this particular late afternoon in Morocco’s Jebel Zireg will surely remain etched in my memory till the end of time. Leaving the majestic landscape aside, this moment bears a weighty significance. I trained hard for a year to get here, I have never run more than a marathon in one day, I have already run one today and immediately ahead of me lies another, in the Sahara Desert, in the dark. And so, with 6kgs on my back and a stash of food to sustain me, I head off into the unknown, one foot in front of the other……

Wind the clock back six days, to the start of this adventure, to a spring afternoon in Marrakech and to the start of the unedited account of my experiences at the 2014 Sultan Marathon des Sables.

Thursday 03 April – Marrakech to Ouarzazate

Before leaving Marrakech, my training partner, friend and fellow adventurer Alice Morrison and I have time for a few photos, destined for the ‘before & after” file, if assuming there would be an “after”. Saaid, one of the loyal guides from my company Epic Morocco, is with us to take my car back on its return journey, and we’re all set.  We’re in a holiday sort of mood. Nothing negative, no smell of fear, just excitement as if we were going on an expensive holiday, which, I suppose we sort of were. We’d both had friends and family asking questions like : “are you dreading it?”, “are you scared?”, which understandably reflected people’s perception of what is commonly described as “the toughest footrace on earth”. But we didn’t feel that way. Au contraire. We were ready for action. The waiting was over and we were finally on the road to what we expected to be the adventure to end all others.

Ouarzazate, the exotic sounding desert frontier town, was our destination tonight to break up the long journey to the Sahara. Our contacts in Morocco led us to dinner at an historic restaurant in town with two veteran MdS runners – Nadia, 14 times competitor, and Karim, a participant 13 times. We were at the captain’s table with two old timers and we felt honoured. A very enjoyable evening was had by all, but pleasant as it was, it was also sobering. The reality had hit hard. We really were about to take on the toughest footrace on earth, and there was no turning back now.

Friday 04 April – Ouarzazate to Camp 1 – Merzouga, Moroccan Sahara.

Amine, my training mentor, who was sadly not present due to injury, had arranged that we meet another runner at the airport to spare him the joys of travelling to the first camp by bus and military truck (the transport laid on by the organisers). At 10.00am the lightweight and athletic Christophe Le Saux sprung off the Orly flight, looking every bit the sponsored ultra runner. Bundled into the car were Nadia, Saaid, Alice and Christophe, with me at the wheel, and we were on our way. This was a journey I knew well, and this VIP route confirmed our “home advantage.”  Above all our plan was to get to camp before everyone else in order to bag a premium tent position in the Moroccan section of the camp. The journey passed without hitch. It was clear that Christophe was a stand-up fella, and as the week progressed I was to gain a great admiration for his joyous attitude to life (and running, in particular) and his inclusive nature, all in spite of his status as one of the race’s elite.

Six hours into the journey we could see the 1000ft high dunes of Merzouga on the horizon. They appeared to be floating above the flat Hamada (stone) desert, and as we turned off the tarmac road and headed off-road, we knew we were close to camp. The first site of the MdS camp made me catch my breath. Another dose of full throttle reality laced with a healthy respect for the magnitude of the event and the organisation involved. And WE were involved, right up to our necks in it.

The participant sleeping section of the tent camp is set out in three giant concentric rings with a diameter of a good 60 yards, and compromises 150-odd A-Frame camel-haired nomad tents, each destined to provide shelter for up to eight people, sardine style, on a thinly-matted floor with sides open to the elements. A simple and functional home for the next week, and for the sake of simplicity in the face of fatigue, disorientation and general desert malaise, the same camp format and plan was to be stuck to like glue for the next week. In the coming days, it was as if a giant hand had picked up the entire camp every morning and gently re-deposited it in a different place every afternoon, such was its architectural consistency.  The rest of the camp was made up of medical facilities, one or two multi-purpose administrative tents, a whole press section, and sleeping quarters for the huge team of people who worked to ensure the smooth-running of the event. But for each of us the focal point was to be a patch of carpet around 6ft by 3ft where we’d sling our sleeping bags on thin mats (for those who had accepted the 100g or so of extra weight) with a small space at one’s head and foot for our gear.

For those who had registered in Morocco, as I had done, there were three tents set aside, and we had a few tent-mates already worked out with our new friend Karim. However, our plan hadn’t worked, as the Moroccan and other North African competitors (who were in the same allocation) had already arrived, meaning our choice was limited to tent no.3, and therein lay a problem. Tent no.3 had already become home to the race’s elite. Mohamed Ahansal, legendary multiple winner of the event was comfortably installed next to the Jordanian former champion Salameh Al-Aqra, and so on, and so forth.  Polite conversation ensued (I knew Mohamed vaguely already) but, and very much in spite of the highly-inclusive nature of the MdS, we felt uncomfortable and unwelcome.  The famed hospitality we experience in Morocco on a daily basis just wasn’t there. This felt wrong and like a bad start. These boys clearly had the weight of expectation and pressure on their shoulders and Alice and I weren’t quite who they had in mind as roommates. What’s more, in the few minutes that followed, I witnessed Mohamed opening for the first time his MdS “roadbook”, (the full info booklet regarding the route, with mapping information which is kept under wraps until arrival at camp). The quintuple champion’s eyes widened and he made an utterance something akin to “gaud blimey guvnor, that looks f***ing hard,” which was another minor set-back in a ten minute period that threatened to blow the MdS dream right out of the dunes and over the desert horizon.  Then, as if by magic, one of the organisers appeared (by coincidence or otherwise), and told us that as we were British, that we’d have to go into the British section.  It was from this moment that the legend of Tent 101 was born. Well-situated at the entrance to the camp, with neighbours on only one side, it was a well-placed semi-detached dwelling at the end of a line of simple terraces. It was a dream come true. Alice grabbed one end, I bagged the other, and, in true MdS fashion, we waited for the tent to fill up and prayed for good friends…..

Saturday 5th April – registration day at tent camp 1

The desert night had been punctuated by the arrival of buses, with some of the British competitors having been held up in Er Rachidia airport, meaning a late arrival for many. This meant that the morning was our first bleary-eyed meeting with our new tent mates. A few handshakes later it was as if we’d known each other for years, just like that. There was a clear and immediate unspoken consensus that we were in this together. We’d imagined this for months, and I think it’s fair to say that we all very happy with our new reality; that of tent 101, a reference to the TV show where room 101 is the room into which you consign all of the things that most aggravate you in this world.  For us it had a nice ring to it and the irony wasn’t wasted on any of us.

All of the crew warrant a mention and we all played our part, so, from left to right we had Alice, Bruce – a commercial pilot, Ali – a Navy helicopter pilot, Bob – a fireman, Neil – a businessman, Bill – an ex-army logistics man, and me, Mr. Morocco.  A team of like-minded, down-to-earth characters out for a good time in a ferocious desert environment, that was the general picture. We’d all put in the hours and made the sacrifices required to get to this point and we were mighty happy to be here. The laughter flowed from the off, and, as we’d later find, even in times of adversity, the silliness and the banter rarely stopped….

From Left to Right: Charlie Shepherd (15), Ali, Neil,Bob, Alice, Bill, Bruce

This Saturday morning felt special to me. I had spent weeks tinkering with equipment, what-to-take, what-not-to-take, weighing things, packing, packaging and repackaging infinitum, and this morning we would shed all but items we needed for the race. Handing in my bag, my phone, and unnecessary miscellaneous bits and pieces, signified the start of the race for me, and, more symbolically, the start of a week of simplicity, where all I had to worry about was myself, my feet, eating, sleeping, running. No emails, no news, no contact. Easy peezy, lemon squeezy. That expensive holiday (you know the one where you only get given water and a rocky place to sleep) had begun and I felt like the king of the world, the naïve and crazy fool that I am.

After a day of lying around in the tent and chatting about the race, the evening brought with it our last catered meal. The organization was superb and the meal felt like a luxury banquet. We knew what was to come and we savoured every morsel of the spaghetti bolognaise, and every crumb of our water biscuits and mini Roquefort cheese. We thanked the lord that the event was organized by the French, and then it was early bed. Tomorrow was set to be a big day like none I  had ever quite experienced before, and a fitful sleep filled with desert mirages, saline drips, and blisters the size of golf balls passed the time between lights-out and daylight.

Sunday 6th April – Stage 1,  34 km

There had been much talk about today’s stage. It was considered unusual to start in such proximity to the mighty dunes of Merzouga, and, moreover, to start the race with such a sustained traverse of the dunes, which are the highest in Morocco. Yesterday a few of us went on a short reconnaissance run to the sand, to test the legs and the gaiters, but today was for real.  It was a day of new experiences. Our first bash at the dehydrated food we were carrying, our first experience of standing on the start line with MdS founder and race director Patrick’s legendary morning address delivered from the roof of a truck, our first taste of the daily rendition of ACDC’s “Highway to Hell”, and most importantly of all, our first taste of what it is actually like to run in the fabled Marathon des Sables. We had all read accounts, watched videos and poured over photos in a hope of gaining insight and some kind of perspective, but as I was to find out, none of this could hold a candle to the reality. Today was the start of a journey over the course of which I discovered something much more profound, more immense and infinitely more special than one’s wildest dreams.

So, with the race signature song blaring over the Tannoy & 1004 “athletes” counting down from 10 to 1 (one could imagine in 30-odd languages),  we were ready, and then, we were away!  A lot of people blazed off at a sizzling pace, but I had been warned to be prudent so I started at a slow and steady cadence. There was, after all, an awful long way to go and the stark truth was that I wasn’t, strictly speaking, even capable of moving up from the low gear that had become all too familiar to me over the last few months.

The day was infused with excitement. I knew the dunes at Erg Chebbi, but I didn’t know them in this way, surrounded by over a thousand runners with helicopters sweeping low level overhead in a jaw-dropping, and highly precarious, sideways motion to get the best film footage of the masses. The dunes were extraordinary, stretching as far as the eye could see, and I established a good rhythm. The landscape helped me to forget that there were 12km of dunes from the off, and I could feel the mercury rising with every minute of toil in the shifting sands.  When the sand drew temporarily to a close at Checkpoint 1 (CP1), we were met by friendly MdS folk distributing water, together with medical staff on a high level of vigilance. Here I spied 13-times MdS veteran Karim. I went to say hello but I realized that he was doubled over, and instead of fetching something from his bag as I had thought, he was throwing up into the sand, and, looking around, he wasn’t alone. Doc Trotters (the medical crew) were already working hard and drips were being administered in some of the tents. A tough, hot, and for some, bad, start to the race. Most will have trained and prepared hard and to be hit by such conditions on day one will have dealt them a crushing blow. I was lucky, I felt fine and I continued to CP2 across a flat terrain of sand and rock, a combo that was to become all too familiar over the next five days.

MDS Merzouga

The rest of the day passed without drama. A patient slow jog / shuffle shared with some interesting fellow runners, and although I felt in relatively good health, I was still delighted to experience that magical feeling on seeing the finish line. I’d finished the first stage of the Marathon des Sables, and, as far as I could work out, I was still alive. Yes. Alive.

Monday 7th April – stage 2,  41km    

Surprisingly for me, I wasn’t one to pour over the road book. I have too much of this kind of thing in my professional life, so my “holiday” involved going with the flow, come what may, and not being involved one iota with the organization of the said “holiday”. And for me, that meant that my road book stayed firmly in my bag, for posterity and for review at a later date. Everyday I’d get a short briefing from one of my tent mates and I’d retain only the info that really mattered. How many KMs between the CPs and how much water at each? Simple as that.  Sand, rock, canyon, plateau, salt lake, I didn’t care. It would be what it would be.

The routine at camp started to take form. Early start, fiddle with bag, boil water for porridge, fiddle some more with bag, force down porridge (which was a heavy load of food for first thing), followed by a sustained period of reordering and bag fiddling, whilst a crack squad of no-nonsense Berbers took down tent around our ears. This was to be our start to the day, every day. After all, everyone needs a routine, even at the Marathon des Sables.

Today’s distance had raised some eyebrows, as for some of us, it was pretty much as far as we had ever run, and, as yesterday had shown, running in the MdS didn’t really bear much relation to training – even for me who had trained in Morocco. Goodness only knows how oblique the correlation must have been for those coming from Scotland, and must have gone some distance to explain the numerous abandons on day one. Too hot? Too sandy?  Too hot and too sandy I suspect.

Each day of the race brought with it a story, an event of some description. Today, I can remember a down-and-out feeling in the middle of the stage, a sort of lugubrious lack of motivation and energy after another tough section of sand dunes. It was at this point that I met Andy, a friend of a friend of mine who was also in the race. I had learnt in a previous race that at times like this you are better off striking up a chat with someone to pass the time than to tackle the situation alone. Andy was a good guy, and as it transpired, he was fighting through a bad period of the stage too. We chatted for an hour or so, decided that a good course of action was a double drop of anti-inflammatories and then half an hour later we found ourselves flying through the last 7km to the finish, leaving numerous runners in our wake. I had heard about pushing through the pain and suffering to find some kind of shining light on the other side, and, for once, this had happened to me. I finished elated and felt thoroughly refreshed as I slurped down my free cup of mint tea at the finish (the only concession above the provision of water as the key sponsor is a tea company).  As on the previous day, Bob and Bruce were already home and dry, so, as was customary now, we chewed the fat for a while over a nutritious protein shake, and welcomed our tent mates home as they arrived, one by one, and in a variety of states of mental and physical health.

Tuesday 8th April – stage 3,  37km 

The camp was an extraordinary place to be. It was as if some crazy experiment was underway at the US secret “Area 51” facility, lost in the desert and testing mind-bending drugs. People shuffled around in forensics overalls (because they are superlight to carry), their movement hampered by bruised toes, painful blisters and excessive fatigue, giving them a zombie-like air. Add a military flavour, in the style of the 70s TV show M*A*S*H, a man walking around dressed as a cow, and numerous others merely in speedos or underpants (again weight-saving) and overlay this with Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” and you have a truly heady, and some might say, psychedelic, mix. It was unique, a place where the thoroughly un-ordinary rapidly became ordinary to us. We’d spend hours in the tent, too tired to walk, simply watching this strange world go by.

Today was a day without any great incident, but all of the usual ingredients were there; periods of strong running, extreme heat, never-ending dunes, long straight lines of nothingness, ups and downs in both senses of the words. Today was my strongest finish (230th) of the race and I felt that all was shaping up nicely for the following day, the infamous stage 4 – le longue etape – a double marathon with a time limit of 34 hours. You could smell the fear around camp, and the long day was THE topic of conversation. Needless to say, getting an early night was what the doctor ordered, and the sardines in tent 101 did so accordingly.

 

Photo: Marathon des Sables

Wednesday 9th April – stage 4 ,  82km

A lot of people have asked how I (we) managed to get through 82km without really stopping, through one of the harshest landscapes on earth whilst carrying a backpack. It’s a difficult question to answer, partly because I have in some ways forgotten how, but partly because you really needed to be there to know. I suppose the best way is to pick up the story where this account begins, as I descended to CP4 at 42km, with one marathon in the bag, and one to go.

MDS water stop

So, here I am at CP4. I’m again with Andy, and thank god. The day had gone well and, crucially, Andy had saved my bacon at CP2 by suggesting that we both get our feet seen to by Doc Trotters. For me the pressure in my left big toe had become unbearable, and I later found out from a podiatrist that had I not had a needle put through the toenail to release the fluid, the pain would have left me unable to continue that day. The lancing provided instant relief and here we were. Half. Way. There.

I’d decided to dive into my rest day rations and the sundowner protein shake I had mixed up went down like that famous beer in “Ice Cold in Alex”. It felt like rocket fuel, just the sort of stuff I needed to catapult me into the Saharan night. The only problem was that in the time it had taken to mix and drink it, I’d seized up, and I struggled, like a man of twice my age, to get back on my feet. The pain had started and I was heading for a long night of toil.

People have often said that the MdS (or any extreme endurance event) is “90 per cent mental”, and, although this is a completely arbitrary figure, I now at least understand the reference. I had prepared physically to a point, but, several days into the race and now having finished a marathon today, I had long since passed that point.  Now I was heading to a new place, one I had never previously visited, and, for the record, my body was broken, even at this halfway point in the stage. They say that when the body is broken, the mind takes over, and, fortunately for me, my morale was good. This is what I had come here for and I was, in a strange way, curious to discover what the next seven hours would bring, despite the soaring physical pain in my body, from shoulders to toes.

But the job was strangely simple. One foot in front of the other, that was the mantra. I chatted to Andy, we spoke of how far we’d come and not of how far we had left. You needed to think positive, otherwise the task would have been impossibly difficult. It was already hard enough, and the hurdles presented by the distance and terrain would have been insurmountable had the brain chosen to create its own mental hurdles.

The night was starry and we’d reduced our pace to a power walk. The legs had little more to offer and we were constantly fighting the sandy terrain, which, although now flat to facilitate straightforward navigation at night, never seemed to let up, kilometer after kilometer. Between CP4 and CP5 we had a green laser beam to follow, which was at least novel and surreal. A shaft of bright light pointing at the sky, a completely indeterminable distance away. My GPS low-battery warning had been beeping for hours, but, like me, it was on its last legs but still just about finding the power to function, however weakly.

CP5 passed at 58km, then, after a long section passing the time with multiple MdS finisher Rory Coleman, we finally arrived at the last CP at 71km. The last CP before the finish of the longest stage of this great race had a nice ring to it. The rub was that there was still, under these conditions, over two hours left, and, for this reason, this was the toughest section of the whole week. Although we could make out little of our surroundings, we appeared to be on a gradual incline up an open and sandy dry river-bed. We were following faint green beacons placed every 500m and I struggled each time to see the next – undoubtedly a combination of fatigue and poor night sight. But where was the camp?  No lights ahead, not a sausage.  It was getting late and I was thinking that I really should head home, but home never seemed to appear.  UNTIL, finally at around 1.00am GMT + 1 we could see lights ahead, and, half an hour later and with never any scent of the second wind I had hoped for, we arrived victorious, but battered, at 1.30, after 15hrs30.

When I got to my tent, Bob was snoring (he had taken a mega-dose of sleeping pills), but Bruce was awake. I stumbled around and my physical condition prompted the ever-considerate Bruce to ask if I needed him to get medical help for me. I was in a bad way and had pushed myself way beyond what would normally be deemed reasonable. My body had locked up and simple organizational tasks in the tent were almost impossible. My feet were distorted and my big toe was unrecognizable not just as a toe of mine, but as a toe at all. I fidgeted and must have settled and passed out eventually, and I vaguely remember being joined through a fitful night by our tent mates, with Alice arriving at first light after a memorable performance from the “Hayfield Express”.

Photo: Marathon des Sables

Thursday 10th April – rest day

Sleep was hard to come by, despite my having got through a decent supply of pain-killers. Moving was tough, and as the (rest) day progressed I realized that I was unwell. I don’t wish to state the obvious here, as few of us were well in the true sense of the word, but I was withdrawn and unusually quiet. My tent mates commented repeatedly that I was not my normal self. The day before had really taken it out of me, to say the very least.

Irrespective, the day did what it said on the tin and it provided essential rest, and although we were pleased that the end was close, I, for one, was not complacent about the last day, which was still of marathon distance, and I was well aware that this particular sleeping giant had still great potential to be a party pooper of the most monumental proportions.

Friday 11th April – stage 6, 42km (marathon distance)

Alice and I hobbled to the start line of the final stage of the Marathon des Sables. Having spent so much time training and planning together, we hadn’t actually spent much time together at the race and it was nice and fitting that we walked together to the final start. That said, Alice was worried about completing the race due to crippling blisters. I was ok, but only just. We walked together to the inflatable arch for the last time, the last leg of an unimaginably long journey. I’d got her into this mess to start with, and I was delighted and proud that my friend had done so well. I also knew, despite her apprehension, that she would make it to the end, but she needed reassurance.

Fists pumped in the air for a last “Highway to Hell” and we were off.  What can I say about today?  I remember it as being a war of attrition. There was no gliding through the desert with feet hardly touching the ground, it was a heavy-footed, stop-start, plod-and-hobble affair, a picture of pure agony on two legs. And I wasn’t of course the only one. It was a march and shuffle of the walking wounded, all through the day. At the last CP we came across a patch of civilization in the form of a village and a congregation of various family members of competitors – a true spirit lifter for everyone, even if they weren’t your family members, and then I knew the job was nearly done.

At the finish I felt nothing of the elation I expected. I felt numb, empty, drained, and, above all, delighted that my family hadn’t come to the finish as I had nothing to offer, anyone. I managed a smile for the souvenir picture of receipt of the finisher’s medal with Patrick Bauer, and then it was back to tent 101. I was exhausted and today had been a battle that I had ground out, but it was over, and all of our tent had successfully completed the toughest footrace on earth.  Given that we had nothing but the last of our meagre rations of food (that we had all long since struggled to stomach), the party was on hold. We needed time for this to sink in, and we needed another stage for the party, and preferably one that involved quantities of cold beers, the item that had become the Holy Grail for many of us.

Photo: Amine Kabbaj

Saturday 12th April – UNICEF Solidarity Walk 8km

After all that we had done, it’s odd that 8km could seem such a long distance, but it did, and that’s precisely why the mind is so key to endurance events. Just as 8km today seemed long, 40km a few days before seemed manageable. The distances are in the mind and this is what I had found out as I broke down distance barriers in my mind in the year of preparation for the event.  To take nothing away from today’s worthy cause, most of us were less than motivated for the charity fun run – or walk as it was for everyone – but it was a chance to chat with others and reflect on the race.  At the end we were met by my friend Amine and taken to Ouarzazate where we were put up in hotels for the night.  Tent 101 decided on a night out, a sort of personal celebration away from the other 900- odd other survivors, back where Alice and I started a week ago, and spirits were high. Our bodies were absorbing all that we put into them, and I managed to drink seven bottles of beer without troubling the facilities. My body was soaking up everything, and, as we ALL found out, was storing it in our legs. We hadn’t sat down on chairs for a week, and we all had legs like balloons. This was water-retention in the extreme and my legs were unrecognizable. We all assumed this was par for the course and we continued in to the night, undeterred.

Sunday 13th April – The Road Home

It was on the Sunday morning that it hit me. Like a sledgehammer really, as I sat alone at early breakfast, unable to execute the lie-in that I had planned. What hit me was the realization of what I had just been through, physically, and above all, mentally. Today was an emotional overload and I spent much of the day close to tears.

People say that you come back from the Marathon des Sables a different person, and although the degrees of which will no doubt vary from character to character, my observation is that there is a certain truth in this. I can’t and won’t attempt to describe in detail how, suffice to say that the kinship, the challenge, the magnificent landscapes, the simplicity of life for that week, and the sheer magnitude of the preparation and the event itself combine to affect a feeling that one has lived a lifetime in just a week, and the fact of pushing beyond normal limits opens your mind to your capabilities as a human being.  It is now a month after the event and there hasn’t yet been a day that has passed when I haven’t reminisced and reflected. It’s an incredible event that, in the depths of stage 2, I vowed I would never repeat, but things have changed since then, and I hope that one day I’ll be back to experience again this totally unique, eccentric, and slightly warped, race through the Moroccan desert.

 

 

17 of the Best Beaches in Morocco

While perhaps best known for its towering Saharan dunes, and bustling, colourful souks, Morocco has plenty to offer for the beach-lover too, whether you’re looking for big waves to surf or quality family time. Bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the northeast, and the wild Atlantic Ocean to the west where you’ll find popular destinations including Tangier and Casablanca, Morocco has some 1,200 miles of frequently stunning coastline to explore.

 

The best thing about Morocco beaches? Many of them are relatively undiscovered, and lie well off the radar of most visitors. Sure you’ll find it hard to find an isolated spot on the most popular beaches within 20 miles or so of Casablanca, but with a little research, you can find charming coastal towns, historic ports and laidback fishing villages with virtually no other travellers in sight.

 

With this guide to the finest beaches in Morocco we’re aiming to provide something for everyone, so if you want to taste the freshest seafood right off the boat in a scenic harbour, find the perfect place for a romantic sunset, or pose for a dramatic photograph framed by mountains and white-tipped waves, then read on.

Legzira

Located between Mirleft and Sidi Ifni, halfway down the Atlantic coast, Legzira is known for its remarkable sandstone geological formations, in particular an immense rock arch spanning the beach – a second, smaller arch, collapsed in 2016, robbing us of a great natural wonder. Widely regarded as one of Europe’s most beautiful stretches of sand, Legzira is best seen either at sunrise or sundown, when the surrounding cliffs are tinged with light to provide a stunning backdrop making it one of Moroccos best beaches.

Around five miles in length, Legzira is not where you come for sunbathing. It’s a rocky, windy spot held in awe by surfers and paragliders and while yes, it is fairly touristy, you will still encounter occasional scenes of traditional coastal life here. There is a handful of decent hotels nearby, if you plan to stay for a while, but with Mirleft only 12 miles away, that is definitely your best option.

Legzira

 

Plage Sauvage 

Legzira is the preeminent beach in Mirleft, but far from the only one. Plage Sauvage (Wild Beach) amply rewards those who seek it out – and it does require some tracking down as it’s not at all well-signposted; ask a local for directions. Reached by a walk down from the cliffs, the beach is wonderfully secluded, and as suitable for swimming as it is for surfing. There are no lifeguards here however, so unless you’re a confident swimmer it’s best not to go too far out. The neighbouring beach of Sidi El Ouafi, where there is a surf school, can be reached with an easygoing walk.

 

Rmilat Beach, Asilah

Further up the Atlantic coast, just to the south of Tangier, Asilah is a compact, fortified seaside town that’s popular with Moroccan and Spanish holidaymakers. There is a pleasant, sleepy atmosphere here for most of the year but during the summer months Asilah comes alive and the main town beach is best avoided. Instead, make for Rmilat, also known as Paradise Beach which because it can be quite tricky to access, usually sees far fewer visitors.

About a mile out of town, the best way of getting there is by shared taxi, but you can also enjoy a (slightly bumpy) horse-and-cart journey too for just a handful of dirham. The journey takes around 40 minutes and most drivers are happy to stick around for the rest of the day until you’re ready to return. In summer there are plenty of lunch options, with shacks lining the beach where you can dine on fish tagine and tasty grilled sardines.

 

Asfiha Beach, Al Hoceima

At the northern tip of Morocco, looking out over the Mediterranean with the Rif Mountains at its back, Al Hoceima was developed by the Spanish in the early 20th century and is now a very popular summer resort. You’ll notice that many houses here are distinctively painted either in blue, representing the sky, or white, representing the sea. The area is dotted with pleasant sandy coves and the well-informed traveller will skip the main town beach and instead venture south to Asfiha, or west to Tala Youssef, both of which are usually less crowded. Easily reached from Chefchaouen or Tetouan, Al Hoceima is also good for hiking, with many trails nearby which naturally present stunning views of the coast.

 

Essaouira 

The ancient city of Essaouira was during the 1960s a popular stop on the hippie trail – Jimi Hendrix was one notable visitor, as was Orson Welles a few years earlier – and it’s never lost its appeal. More recently, it has served as a filming location for Game of Thrones. An important cultural and historic destination, the city has a busy souk and is also well-known for the little blue fishing boats that bob on the waves wherever you look. There is plenty to do in Essaouira, and it is especially worth visiting if you are a watersports enthusiast.

 

Sidi Kaouki 

Just to the south of Essaouira, Sidi Kaouki is one of Morocco’s best-kept secrets, an idyllic spot that is renowned for its surf. This Berber village is blissfully tranquil, with little to do beyond hitting the waves or curling up in a hammock during your downtime which is why this is one of our favourite beaches in Morocco. Camels move sedately along the sands, and life goes on much as it has done for centuries. There is a clear European influence here, so you’re advised to brush up on your Spanish as much as your French, especially if you plan to do some bartering in the souk. During the winter, you can walk a little way out of the village to see wild flamingos, and of course if you do feel like an evening out, Essaouira is just up the road.

camel

 

Dakhla

Bordering the western Sahara, Dakhla occupies a narrow peninsular between the Atlantic and a lagoon where wild flamingos perch atop a white sand dune jutting out of the water. A fine place to try freshly harvested Moroccan oysters, the city is within easy reach of many majestic beaches, and at low tide you can even cross over to Dragon Island, where the waves slip back to reveal a variety of colourful seashells. Dakhla is fantastic for foodies, and also for the more adventurous type: there is a highly regarded watersports centre here, and you can take nomadic safaris out into the desert or explore on a quad bike.

 

Ba Kassem, Tangier 

The main reason many people choose to visit Ba Kassem is because of its proximity to the Caves of Hercules in nearby Cape Spartel. Legend has it that Hercules slept in the cave during his 11th labour, and it was thought to be bottomless for many years. To enter the cave for a look around costs just a few dirhams and it’s worth it to photograph your silhouette in the opening looking out over the sea – the shape has a distinct resemblance to that of Africa. After exploring the cave you can retreat back to the calm, sunny beach at Ba Kassem. The waters are a little on the chilly side but the rugged beauty of the coastline more than makes up for it.

 

Saïdia 

Known locally as ‘the Blue Pearl’, Saïdia is one of Morocco’s longest beaches, and certainly ranks among the most beautiful. Situated within touching distance of the Algerian border, there is a wealth of attractions here. You might spend a day exploring the casbah, attend the traditional folk music festival held every August, or simply play a few rounds of golf at one of several nearby courses. The Blue Pearl is as magnificent as it sounds, a glorious stretch of golden Mediterranean sands that you reach by walking through a mangrove forest. Arrive early to get prime position under one of the ample umbrellas.

 

Martil

Just north of Tetouan, Martil is a good spot for those wishing to combine a little beach time with their golfing at Cabo Negro a few miles away. It’s also an easy day-trip from Tangier. We recommend visiting Martil out of season if you’re able, as during the summer months this picturesque spot is a veritable hive of activity. Many choose to wander slowly along the boardwalk, ice cream in hand, or float in the dreamily warm waters while looking back at the green mountains off in the distance. The vibe here is modern and cosmopolitan, and there is no shortage of accommodations and restaurants to suit any budget.

 

Tamara Plage, Rabat 

Most of the beaches around the Moroccan capital do leave a lot to be desired unfortunately, often crowded and poorly maintained. Tamara Plage, about eight miles south of Rabat, is an exception however, a wild Atlantic beach that is lined with villas built by wealthy locals who appreciate a good view when they find one. To be perfectly honest, Rabat is not going to be first on the list if you’re interested in a Morocco beach holiday, but if you are visiting the city and want to spend a day on the sands, Tamara Plage is among the best in the area.

 

rabat

 

Agadir

Agadir needs little introduction. This Atlantic Coast resort is one of Morocco’s most popular beach destinations, and with a large marina, it attracts a stylish, well-heeled crowd. There are also plenty of surfers to be spotted however, the beaches on the outskirts of town offering plenty of good breaks. A crescent-shaped beach is busy whatever the season – Agadir sees over 300 days of sun every year – but our advice is to hire a car or a driver, and follow the surf crowd. There is a wealth of heavenly stretches of sand in the area, from the bohemian Tamraght and Taghazout, to those of Souss Massa National Park where birdwatching is a common activity.

 

Imsouane

This peaceful rural community is situated between Agadir and Essaouira, known for its surfing breaks and a lively fish market. Crab, eel and many more exotic forms of marine life can be seen, and sampled, in the trading hall where visitors rub shoulders with locals hoping to pick something up for the evening meal. What we really love about it is that outside the market you can hand your purchase over to a stall-holder outside the market who will cook it up for you straightaway on an open fire – the aromas are mouthwatering and it’s the ideal way to end a day on the beach.

 

Moulay Bousselham

There’s not much to this small fishing village beyond a sprinkling of shops and cafes along the main street, this is a popular surfing spot during summer but outside of peak season pretty much everything shuts down. However, if you have an interest in Morocco wildlife holidays then Moulay Bousselham should definitely be on your itinerary. Take a sunrise boat trip to the wetlands and you can expect to encounter pink flamingo, heron, sheldrake and many other species of coastal birdlife. A golden sweep of beach offers plenty of glamour, but be warned that this is not a great location for swimming due to a sharp drop-off a little way out.

 

Tamuda Bay 

A great option for family beach holidays in Morocco, Tamuda Bay is on the less-visited eastern coast and has many luxury properties available, as well as more budget-friendly options. The beach slopes softly into the Mediterranean, so it’s perfect for younger children still learning to swim, while teenagers can have fun with watersports, or tackle the slides at the town’s water park.

beach

 

Haouzia Beach, El Jadida 

Around 70 miles to the south of Casablanca lies the port city of El Jadida, which was occupied for two centuries by the Portuguese. Much of the notable architecture here derives from that period, and it’s an interesting place to explore for a few hours. After you’ve done so, take a taxi out of town to Haouzia, a little gem of a beach that’s just remote enough to keep the crowds away but well-known enough that most drivers will know exactly where to go. During lowtide, you’ll have a clear view of a shipwrecked Japanese vessel which makes for a novel seascape.

 

Plage Blanche, Guelmim

We’ve saved the best for last with Plage Blanche, a vast (24 mile) expanse of white sand that is the jewel of the ecological park surrounding it. There are virtually no signs of human civilization in this unique landscape, bar the occasional fisherman’s hut or line of footprints in the sand.

It’s a pristine wilderness that can only be reached by some intrepid off-roading in a 4×4, and if you really want to get away from it all, this is the spot. Bring your board, or a good book, and don’t be surprised if you don’t see another soul for hours. The Sahara begins just behind Plage Blanche, and there is a well-known oasis, Air Bekkou, not far away.

 

If you’d like to discuss planning your visit to Morocco, please do get in touch today; We look forward to hearing from you.

50 Fabulous Facts about Morocco

Snake Charmer by Kevin Gessner

Here is a list of interesting, strange and sometimes funny things that you should know about Morocco before or after your visit. They will make you the toast of the pub quiz!

  • Morocco in Arabic is Al Maghreb which means the place where the sun sets
  • It borders two seas
  • It is only 8 miles from Europe
  • There are no camels in Morocco only dromedaries
  • Berbers make up around 40% of the population
  • The best rapper in the country is called Muslim.  Check him out
  • Morocco is a Muslim country

 

  • The highest peak in the country is Mount Toubkal at 4,167m
  • Friday is couscous day – the equivalent of a Sunday roast
  • It is the only Islamic country where women’s rights are enshrined in the constitution
  • The language spoken is not actually Arabic, it is Darija an Arabic dialect. Think Latin and Italian as a comparator
  • Public displays of affection are not considered appropriate
  • Mint tea is the national drink
  • The old trans-Saharan trade routes from mysterious Timbuktu crossed Morocco taking slaves and gold to Europe. Read the adventure in Morocco to Timbuktu: An Arabian Adventure
  • The most popular girl’s name is Fatima

 

  • Moroccans are football crazy and will talk endlessly about the Premier League in England, the time Morocco beat Scotland in the World Cup and Manchester United. Ask someone if they support Barcelona or Real Madrid and you will have a friend for life
  • Rabat is the capital of the country
  • Ourzazate has a fully-functioning film studio and hundreds of films have shot in Morocco
  • The famous gladiatorial scene in Gladiator was filmed in Ait Ben Haddou
  • Moroccans love cats but don’t like dogs – this comes from the time of the Prophet Mohammed, who felt the same
  • Female mules are more highly prized than males for their strength and good temper
  • The national dress is the jellaba
  • Men wear yellow babouche (slippers) on holidays and feast days
  • King Mohammed Vl is the King of Morocco
  • You can ski in the winter – in Oukaimeden

 

  • Mint tea is often called Berber whisky
  • Berber women tattoo their faces as a decoration and also to show their marital status
  • Morocco has Africa’s first high speed train system (coming soon)
  • There is a huge roadbuilding initiative underway which aims to connect all rural areas by 2020
  • Like Kenya and Ethiopia, Morocco produces lots of world-class runners
  • The toughest footrace on earth, the Marathon des Sables, takes place in Morocco
  • The branch of Islam practised in Morocco is Maliki Islam, known for its moderation
  • Marrakech is called the red city, because of the colour of its houses and walls. It is obligatory in many areas to use the rose-coloured paint
  • Most of Tesco’s tomatoes come from farms in the south near Dakhla
  • Fes used to be one of the main centres of Islam in the whole Arab World
  • Gibraltar is the Spanish derivation of the Arabic name Jabal Ṭāriq meaning “Mountain of Tariq” named after the Umayyad general Tariq ibn-Ziyad who led the initial Arab raid into Spain from Morocco
  • Ostrich feathers which were used to decorate the famous Busby, which the soldiers outside Buckingham Palace wear, were traded through Morocco.
  • There IS a Rick’s bar in Casablanca
  • Tangier used to be known as a centre for sex and drugs during the era of Paul Bowles, Jack Kerouac and William S Burroughs

 

  • Morocco is home to the Barbary Macaque monkey
  • Arranged or semi-arranged marriage is still very common in Morocco
  • The Morocco Mall in Casblanca is the biggest in Africa
  • Under Moroccan Constitutional Law, no party can have an absolute majority
  • The best way to greet people is to say, Salaam alaykum ( peace be upon you)
  • Bread is often used as a fork when eating from a communal dish
  • Tagines are cooked on the stove, or on an open fire, not in the oven
  • There is treasure buried all over the countryside, and sometimes diggers will come during the night to find it, leaving large holes
  • Chefchaouen is Spanish rather than French speaking as it was a Spanish enclave for many years
  • Luisa/Verveine/Verbena tea is good for digestion and for encouraging sleep
  • You should never wear your shoes when walking on someone’s rug or carpet in their home

So, there it is, an eclectic assortment of facts from this fabulous and endlessly interesting country. Time to book your ticket?

This blog was written for Epic Morocco by Alice Morrison, BBC2 Presenter and Author of books about Morocco and Africa.

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to take the best photos of Morocco

morocco photography

Morocco is a stunningly beautiful country with an extraordinarily varied terrain, perfect for taking photos. Tiny berber villages cling to the rock, towering mountains are dazzling in the snow, the desert is magical by day and night and the ancient walled city of Marrakech brings you scenes unchanged by centuries.

To showcase some of what we have to offer our clients here, Epic Morocco hooked up with the talented Swiss photographer, Pascal Gertschen. After the shoot, we asked him to tell us a little bit about himself and his work and also how he found it working in Morocco.

Q: What is your experience as a photographer? What kind of things do you photograph, what other countries have you shot in and how does Morocco compare?

I’m specialized in tourism and lifestyle photography and as I live in the Valais in Switzerland, this is where I find most of my subjects. The Valais is in the south of Switzerland and basically in the heart of the Alps. So most experience I have got includes everything that has rocks, snow and a lot of sunshine to it.

Outside of my country I already travelled quite a few times to northern Norway and could get in touch with fisherman in the Barents Sea, take pictures of the wide snowy landscapes of the Finmark or even the Aurora Borealis.

Another snowy and rocky spot was Terrace in Canada. Taking actions shots of skiers and a lot of powder!

My experience with rather hot locations closer to the equator was quite limited – but that has changed now and I’m extremely happy that I got this opportunity.

Morocco has (in terms of the technical side of photography) quite some similarities with what I know from Switzerland and winter: you do have to take care not to get any sand/snow in your camera during a lens swap. Always keep your gear protected from wind and weather.

Once you get in the Atlas, even the surrounding conditions start to be similar to what I know from Switzerland: cold nights (store your batteries in a safe and warm place), bright star nights and deep blue skies.

What was a big difference for me was the Agafay desert and the cities. The sunset was just … incredible. Living surrounded with mountains I rarely get to see the sun set on the horizon and that is totally different in Morocco. The lights, the mood… the dust in the air that literally starts to glow once the sun is low.

morocco photography

Q: What was the aim of your recent shoot in Morocco for Epic Morocco? What were you trying to get across?

My aim was to show the different experiences a traveler can have being in Morocco. And to show that beautiful, dreamlike sunlight in the evening. I didn’t know Morocco well and I still don’t but what I could see during one week was amazing. Being one evening in the heart of Marrakech, enjoying a tea in the sunset on a terrace and the next day already on 1800 meters above sea level hiking with mules. I didn’t care too much about details and super HiRes Landscape photographs, for me it was more about the feeling being in this landscape.

Q: What is it like shooting in Morocco? Does it provide good locations and backdrops? Are there any particular problems?

Well there are a couple of things to take care of: first of all, don’t take portrait pictures without asking first. Some Moroccans don’t like it (as well due to religious reasons) and I wouldn’t like it either, to have my picture taken, no matter where I am. Being in the desert is heavy on the gear. Dust and sand will get everywhere. Hiking in the Atlas is like the Alps: the air gets thinner, so don’t carry a too heavy bag around or the mules will have to do it for you.

Other than that: You have colorful cities, vast landscapes, high snowy mountains, the sea, stone and sand deserts… If you don’t find the perfect subjects there… then I don’t know where you are going to find it.

Q: Which are your favourite three photos from the shoot and why?

It’s hard to pick three photos. But I might have to go for these ones:

photography morocco

This was the first evening on a terrace in Marrakech. We just arrived, got on top of the building and had this beautiful sunset. Step on a plane in Switzerland and 4 hours later you are in the middle of a different world.

This picture doesn’t need a lot of description: tent, fire, cosy blanket… in the middle of the Agafay desert. What else?

morocco photography

It’s all about tea! Just a moment, nothing particularly special but it’s just something everyone will experience in Morocco.

Q: What advice would you give to anyone (amateur photographers) coming to Morocco on taking photographs here?

Enjoy it! Take photographs, document your travel but don’t forget to put the camera sometimes aside and just be present in that moment. This will give you new impressions and inspiration for further photographs. Morocco has so much to offer and not only through a lens, just have fun!

For more photos from Pascal, check out

https://www.facebook.com/pascalgertschenphotography/

https://www.instagram.com/pasge/

morocco photography