Morocco //

Where to go

Geographically, the country divides into four basic zones: the coast (Mediterranean and Atlantic); the great cities of the plains; the Rif and Atlas mountains; and the oases and desert of the pre- and fully fledged Sahara. With two or three weeks – even two or three months – you can’t expect to cover all of this, though it’s easy enough (and highly recommended) to take in something of each aspect.

Broadly speaking, the coast is best enjoyed in the north at Tangier – still shaped by its old “international” port status despite undergoing considerable recent renovation – Asilah and Larache, and in the south at El Jadida, Essaouira, perhaps the most easy-going resort, or remote Sidi Ifni. Agadir, the main package-tour resort, is less worthwhile – but a functional enough base for exploration.

Inland, where the real interest of Morocco lies, the outstanding cities are Fez and Marrakesh. The great imperial capitals of the country’s various dynasties, they are almost unique in the Arab world for the chance they offer to witness city life that, in patterns and appearance, remains in large part medieval. For monuments, Fez is the highlight, though Marrakesh is for most visitors the more enjoyable.

Travel in the south is, on the whole, easier and more relaxing than in the sometimes frenetic north. This is certainly true of the mountain ranges, where the Rif can feel disturbingly anarchic, while the southerly Atlas ranges (Middle, High and Anti) that cut right across the interior are beautiful and accessible. Hiking in the High Atlas, especially around North Africa’s highest mountain, Jebel Toubkal, is increasingly popular, following old mule paths through mud-brick villages or tackling some of the impressive peaks. Summer treks are possible at all levels of experience and altitude, and despite inroads made by commercialization, the area remains essentially “undiscovered” – like the Alps must have been in the nineteenth century.

Equally exploratory in mood are the great southern routes beyond the Atlas, amid the oases of the pre-Sahara. Major routes here can be travelled by bus, minor ones by rented car or local taxi, the really remote ones by 4WD vehicles or by getting lifts on local camions (lorries), sharing space with market produce and livestock. The oases, around Tinghir, Zagora and Erfoud, or (for the committed) Tata and Figuig, are classic images of the Arab world, vast palmeries stretching into desert horizons. Equally memorable is the architecture that they share with the Atlas – bizarre and fabulous pisé (mud) kasbahs and ksour, with Gothic-looking turrets and multi-patterned walls.

Further south, you can follow a route through the Western Sahara all the way down to Dakhla, just 22km short of the Tropic of Cancer, where the weather is scorching even in midwinter.

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