Travelling to MoroccoMorocco offers uncountable opportunities of discoveries and escapades
A country of contrasts, Morocco will show you its many facets as you discover it. From the westernized streets of Rabat to the tracks of the Atlas and the Saharan borders, passing by the animated medinas of the cities, the landscapes and the habitat, the language and the populations, change with the wire of kilometers.
An unrestrained search for modernity and economic development rubs shoulders with the secular way of life of the nomads of the Anti-Atlas, the pre-Saharan populations of the south or the mountain farmers of the Rif and the Atlas.
Despite the economic importance of Casablanca, the largest city in the country, Rabat is the capital of Morocco.
The imperial cities
The four imperial cities of Morocco will all have been capitals of the country at some point in their history.
Founded by the Almohades in 1150, Rabat is a modern and pleasant city situated on the Atlantic coast at the mouth of the Oued Bouregreg which overlooks the medina and the Kasbah des Oudayas.
In the north of Morocco, between Rif and Atlas, Fez, founded by Idriss I at the end of the 8th century, is the oldest of these imperial cities. Its medina houses the Al Quaraouiyne University built at the end of the 9th century, which is considered by UNESCO to be the oldest university in the world still in operation.
Meknes, built by the Berbers Meknassas in the eighth century, was the capital of the Alawite sultan Moulay Ismaïl in the seventeenth century. A few kilometers north of Meknes, we discover Volubilis, former outpost of the Roman Empire of which there remains some vestiges.
As for Marrakesh, with its medina and Jemâa el Fna square, is one of Morocco’s leading tourist destinations.
Northern Morocco is occupied by the Rif massif which stretches along the Mediterranean from Tangier to Berkane. These mountains with amazing and varied landscapes are the territory of proud and historically rebellious Berber tribes.
The 400 km of Rifan coastline along which seaside resorts are created around urban centers are divided into cliffs and foothills of the Rif bordering the Mediterranean, coves and beaches. Cold and often covered with snow in winter, the Rif is a massif generously wooded with fir, cedar and pine trees without forgetting the immense hashish plantations.
Chefchaouen, the”blue pearl of the Rif” is one of the best known and pleasantest destinations.
The great Moroccan plains are to the northwest and west of the country. From the Rif Mountains to the Middle Atlas Mountains stretch the hills and fertile plains of the Sebou basin. Further south, that of Gharb with tobacco, sugar beet and sugar cane crops, is also composed of the Maâmora forest between the towns of Kenitra and Rabat.
Past the phosphate plateaus of the Zaïr country, lies the Chaouïa plain and near Marrakesh, that of Haouz.
A true natural barrier between the Mediterranean and the Sahara, the three ranges that form the Atlas: the Middle Atlas, the High Atlas and the Anti-Atlas, bar the country from south-west to north-east for more than 700 kilometers.
The High and Middle Atlas
These two massifs offer varied landscapes and diverse populations mainly Berber-speaking.
The Central and Eastern High Atlas
A paradise for hikers and mountaineers, the”roof of Morocco” offers summits like Toubkal or M’goun which culminate at more than 4000 meters of altitude. In winter two ski resorts open their slopes, one in the Oukaimeïden massif near Marrakesh and a second in Ifrane, the “small Moroccan Switzerland” of the Middle Atlas, south of Fez and Meknes.
With peaks exceeding 3000 meters, the eastern Middle Atlas knows an important snow cover, in particular the region of Ifrane-Azrou considered as the coldest of Morocco.
In the High Atlas, the massifs of Toubkal and M’goun welcome climbers, hikers and trekkers with typical high valleys and villages.
The Anti-Atlas is separated from the Atlas by the agricultural valley of Souss. This stretches towards the ocean, from the capital of the saffron Taliouine to the bay of Agadir via Taroudant.
This mountain range runs along the Saharan desert from the Atlantic Ocean to the Ziz valley to the south-east. The Anti-Atlas is divided into two main massifs: the jbel Bani and the Jbel Saghro, traditional territory of the powerful confederation of the Ait Atta tribes.
Stretching from the Draa Valley to the Ziz Valley, the Saghro presents lunar and desert landscapes in which nest some small palm groves decorated with old casbahs as in N’kob and Tazzarine, the city of henna.
In its western part, the Anti-Atlas is the land of ancient argan trees, almond trees in the Tafaoute valley and prickly pear trees in the region of Tiznit and Sidi Ifni, the Baâmran country.
The Road of a Thousand Casbahs
Going from Ouarzazate to Er-Rachidia between Central High Atlas and jbel Saghro, this route is bordered by a good number of these ancestral residences entirely built of adobe.
These are particularly numerous in the Skoura palm grove as well as in the M’goun and Dades valleys.
The Oriental region
The Oriental region, in the east of Morocco, from Oujda to the Figuig palm grove is certainly the most unknown region of the tourists. Only those who love wide open spaces and dusty tracks to face behind the wheel of a roaring 4×4 drive through these arid and desert high plateaus.
Although the Figuig oasis located in southeastern Morocco near the Algerian border is vast, it is gradually deserted following the land closure of the border with Algeria. 1940 km long, it has been closed to all traffic since 1994 and remains the longest closed land border in the world.
Desert and Western Sahara
The south of jbel Saghro consists of a vast desert area extending east from the dunes of erg Chegaga to erg Chebbi in Merzouga. They are the only two Moroccan ergs and some of their dunes can reach more than 200 m in height. A track connects them with almost 300 kilometers through hamada everywhere rocky, arid and very little populated.
It is at the extreme south-west of the Anti-Atlas, 200 km south of Agadir that the road to the Great South starts. It is from Guelmim and Oued Noun that between the desert and the Atlantic Ocean, the asphalt runs for a thousand kilometers to reach Dakhla, attracting surf enthusiasts.
Despite distances that can be impressive, 2220 kilometers separate Dakhla in the Great South to Oujda located in the extreme north-east of the country, a network of private or national bus companies covers the whole territory for modest prices.
In the most remote areas, vans or large collective taxis provide transport.
More expensive, the rail network includes a main north-east-central-west axis linking Oujda to Marrakesh.
In cities, the ‘small taxi’ remains the preferred means of transport. Of a very affordable price, they do not always have a good reputation as for their honesty, especially in Marrakesh. Check that the meter is set when your taxi starts.
Probably the result of the multicultural mix that characterizes Morocco, a certain tolerance is required. Thus, even if the consumption of cannabis is strictly prohibited, its cultivation is historically and traditionally tolerated in the Rif.
The same goes for alcohol. Prohibited by law and religion for Moroccans, it is however easy to find in large cities or tourist areas in some super markets, grocery stores and traditional bars as well as in high-end hotels or chic restaurants.
But this remains a tolerance that must not be abused in plain sight. It is best to avoid drinking out of your hotel room or reserved areas and especially not to be drunk in public.
Since the implementation of the new constitution in 2011, Morocco has adopted two official languages: Arabic and Berber. Moroccan Arabic, in its dialectal form, comes from that reported by the Arab conquerors at the same time as Islam in the seventh century.
Common throughout the kingdom, Moroccan Arabic is the language of administration, education and the media. It differs somewhat from darija which is Arabic usually spoken in the street. It is not slang and depending on the region, Darija borrows vocabulary from Berber, French or Spanish. Classical Arabic is reserved for reading the Koran and writing certain official acts.
Berber is declined in several ways according to the places where it is practiced while remaining comprehensible to the various Berber speakers.
The third language spoken, hassanya is an Arab-Berber dialect particularly spoken in the southern provinces.
Finally, French is widely spoken by a large part of the population in large cities and tourist centers, just as Spanish is in northern Morocco.
Holidway Morocco: Travel Guide
Holidway Morocco guides you on your journey throughout the Kingdom. You will find tourist and practical information to prepare your stay.