Morocco is the official northern gateway to Africa, beckoning visitors to step into a land steeped in history and culture where mountains meet deserts and the captivating smell of the spice souks is never far away. History and architecture enthusiasts can spend hours losing themselves in a myriad of cobbled passageways that wind through ancient medinas lined with mosaic-covered buildings, cool courtyards, and tinkling fountains
Ait Benhaddou is an ancient ksar, or castle, situated along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech. Perched on a hill beside the Ouarzazate River Ait Benhaddou boasts some beautiful kasbahs in Morocco, some of which are still inhabited today. Granted UNESCO World Heritage listing, the site has been the setting for many films including Lawrence of Arabia and Gladiator. Most people opt for a day trip to Ait Benhaddou, coming from Marrakech and returning the same evening. However, there is a lot to be said for spending a night or two here, not least because it splits up the 7-8 hour round trip along winding mountain roads. Upon arrival, travellers will be able to cross the river either by bridge or stepping stones, the latter of which being much more fun, before exploring the clay earthen walls of the ksours and kasbahs.
High up in the Rif Mountains the picturesque town of Chefchaouen, which was was originally a Berber post, has a beautiful white-walled medina with distinctive blue-hued buildings. The main square is probably the city’s main attraction and offers a mix of traditional Moroccan items and tourist souvenirs. It’s also a great place to buy kilims, traditional woven carpets. While Chefchaouen has more than enough to keep people occupied, just outside of the blue walls are a number of natural wonders, including the magical cascades d’Akchour. Travellers can ogle at these sublime waterfalls before taking a dip in one of the rock pools and snapping a photo of the Bridge of God, a rock arch that reaches across the river.
The Erg Chebbi sand dunes on the western flank of the vast Sahara Desert are spectacular. Wave upon wave of orange dunes, which reach up to 250m in height, roll out into the distance creating endless patterns of light and shade and the most spectacular panoramic vistas. The best way to experience the desert is to take an epic camel trek across the rolling dunes and spend a night at a remote Berber camp under the most incredible blanket of stars. Of course, there is more to the Sahara than just ogling at the landscape and the heavens. During the day, travellers who make it as far as the Sahara will be confronted with an array of exciting activities, including sand skiing, sand boarding and quad biking over the dunes. For those with aching muscles, you can enjoy a Sahara spa day, which means burying yourself to the neck in burning hot sand.
The enchanting coastal town of Essaouira has an 18th century, fortified medina. The town has now extended beyond its ancient walls, but is still small enough to explore on foot and any city gate leads to the medina, so you’re unlikely to get lost. There’s a broad, sandy beach in front of the medina and plenty of cafés and restaurants with outside terraces for al fresco dining. Blue doors and window frames abound in Essaouira, as do art galleries, jewellery stalls and other handicraft stalls. Activities on offer in Essaouira include horse riding and wind surfing. Laid back Essaouira is the perfect place to enjoy some rest and relaxations after exploring Morocco’s bustling Imperial Cities.
Fes. Step back in time with a visit to the Imperial City of Fes, the oldest and largest medieval city in the world. The ancient medina is a bustling hive of activity which remains world’s apart from 21st century life. It’s very easy to get lost in the labyrinth of winding alleys, scattered with beautiful mosques and minarets, stunning synagogues, market stalls and pungent smelling tanneries. To navigate your way through the medina there are five different circuits you can follow, each with a different colour, each with a different theme, such as palaces and gardens, traditional crafts etc.
Marrakech. One of the first sights you will see in Marrakech is the iconic Koutoubia Mosque, with its 230 foot high minaret, dating back to the 12th century. Djemaa el Fna, the central square, is best seen in the evening when its overflowing with food stalls, dancers, acrobats, fortune tellers, musicians and henna artists. The square is an incredible assault on the senses, with aromatic smells, weird and wonderful sights and a cacophony of sound. The bustling souks surrounding Djemaa el Fna sell everything from colourful lanterns, leather bags and shoes, to musical instruments and exotic spices. Be sure to barter to snap up some bargains
Stretching 2,400kms through Morocco to Tunisia, the beautiful Atlas Mountain range includes the Rock of Gibraltar. Trekking is popular in the Atlas Mountains and can be anything from a light stroll to a strenuous hike up to the highest summit in North Africa, Jebel Toubkal. The Moroccan Grand Atlas includes the Middle Atlas, High Atlas and Anti-Atlas. There are many Berber villages in the High Atlas which maintain a very traditional way of life and can be explored by those looking to expand their cultural horizons. Some popular stopping points include Ouarzazate and the Ait Benhaddou Kasbah, both of which have featured in a number of notable films including Jesus of Nazareth and Alexander the Great. A trip to the Toubkal National Park, situated near Marrakech, is also well worth visiting.
Dating back to the 3rd century BC, the ruins of Volubilis are utterly captivating and a must see for anyone travelling through Morocco. The site was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997 and remains one of the best preserved Roman colonial towns to have ever been discovered. During its heyday, it has been discovered that Volubilis was a major producer of olive oil as dozens of ancient presses have been found. In addition to this, a number of shops have been uncovered here, indicating that Volubilis had a thriving commercial centre. The main structures at the site are two public buildings, a basilica and a temple, both easily visible and fascinating to behold. Perhaps the most exciting thing about this historical site is that it has only been partially excavated, leaving what remains to the imagination. Who knows what else might be unearthed here in the future.