Sports and outdoor activities
Morocco offers magnificent trekking opportunities, impressive golf facilities, a couple of ski resorts (plus some adventurous off-piste skiing) and excellent fishing. The national sporting obsession is football; enthusiasts can join in any number of beach kick-about games, or watch local league and cup matches.
Trekking is among the very best things Morocco has to offer. The High Atlas is one of the most rewarding mountain ranges in the world, and one of the least spoilt. A number of long-distance Atlas routes can be followed – even a “Grand Traverse” of the full range, but most people stick to shorter treks in the Jebel Toubkal area (best in spring or autumn; conditions can be treacherous in winter). Other promising areas include the Jebel Sirwa, the Western High Atlas, and, in winter the Jebel Saghro and Tafraoute region of the Anti-Atlas. The Middle Atlas has much attractive walking too, in such places as Tazzeka (Taza), and around Azrou.
General trekking practicalities are discussed in Chapter Six. A good source of trekking information is AMIS (Atlas Mountain Interactive Services; UK t 01592 873546), a small agency and consultancy. You may be able to acquire specialist trekking maps through AMIS or elsewhere (see Atlas trekking practicalities).
Morocco doesn’t immediately spring to mind as a skiing destination, but the High Atlas mountains are reliably snow-covered from late January to early April, with good skiing at Oukaïmeden
Off-piste skiing is popular in the High Atlas, particularly in the Toubkal massif, where the Toubkal Refuge is often full of groups. Most off-piste activity is ski mountaineering, but skinny skis (langlauf) are good in the Middle Atlas if there is snow, in which case the Azilal–Bou Goumez–Ighil Mgoun area is possible. Snowboarding is also gaining in popularity at Moroccan resorts. For further information on skiing and mountaineering, contact the Fédération Royale Marocaine du Ski et du Montagnisme (FRMSM; t 0522 474979, e [email protected]).
The established base for horseriding holidays is Résidence de la Roseraie at Ouirgane, which runs trekking tours into the High Atlas (bring your own helmet). Another stable offering horseriding is Amodou Cheval near Agadir w amodoucheval.com. A number of operators offer horse and camel treks, including Best of Morocco.
Morocco has an immense Atlantic (and small Mediterranean) coastline, with opportunities to arrange boat trips at Safi, Essaouira, Moulay Bousselham (near Asilah), Boujdour, Dakhla and elsewhere.
Inland, the Middle Atlas shelters beautiful lakes and rivers, many of them well stocked with trout. Good bases include Azrou (near the Aghmas lakes), Ifrane (near Zerrrouka), Khenifra (the Oum er Rbia River) and Ouirgane (the Nfis River). Pike are also to be found in some Middle Atlas lakes (such as Aguelmame Azizgza, near Khenifra), and a few of the huge artificial barrages, like Bin el Ouidaine (near Beni Mellal), are said to contain enormous bass.
For all fishing in the country, you need to take your own equipment. For coarse or fly fishing you need a permit from the Administration des Eaux et Fôrets at: 11 Rue Moulay Abdelaziz, Rabat (t 0537 762694); 25 Bd Roudani, Casablanca (t 0522 271598); or any regional office. For trout fishing, you are limited to the hours between 6am and noon; the season varies slightly from year to year, but usually runs April–September.
Watersports and swimming
Agadir offers opportunities for sailing, yachting, windsurfing and diving, while Taghazout, just to its north, has become something of a surfing village, with board rental and board repair shops and some great surfing sites (see Surfing around Taghazout). There are lesser surfing centres at Sidi Ifni, Mirhleft, Kenitra, Bouznika Plage (between Rabat and Casablanca), El Jadida, Safi, and even Rabat. With your own transport, you could scout out remote places all the way down the coast. When they’re working, all breaks can be busy in peak season (Oct–Feb), when deep lows come barrelling east across the mid-Atlantic. Wet suit-wise, a good 3mm will cover winter months (although a thermal rash vest keeps things snug in Jan) and it’s also worth bringing booties, unless you enjoy digging urchin spines out of your feet.
For windsurfing, the prime destination is Essaouira, which draws devotees year-round. Online weather information for surfers and windsurfers can be found at w windguru.com/int.
The Atlantic can be very exposed, with crashing waves, and surfers, windsurfers and swimmers alike should beware of strong undertows. Inland, most towns of any size have a municipal swimming pool, but women especially should note that they tend to be the preserve of teenage boys. In the south, you’ll be dependent on campsite pools or on those at the luxury hotels (which often allow outsiders to swim, either for a fee or if you buy drinks or a meal).
The High and Middle Atlas have also become a popular destination for whitewater rafting and kayaking enthusiasts. One holiday firm specializing in these sports is Water by Nature (w waterbynature.com).
The British opened a golf course in Tangier as far back as 1917. Today the country has an international-level course at Rabat, eighteen-hole courses at Mohammedia, Marrakesh, Tangier, Cabo Negro, Saïdia, Larache, El Jadida, Essaouira, Agadir, Fez and Ben Slimane (Royal Golf, Av des FAR, BP 83, Ben Slimane t 0523 297225), and nine-hole courses at Meknes, Ouarzazate and Bouznika (near Mohammedia, Route Secondaire de Bouznika Plage, km22, t 0537 625371). Further information on courses can be found online at w golftoday.co.uk/clubhouse/coursedir/world/morocco and w moroccangreens.com. Several tour operators (including Best of Morocco) offer Moroccan golfing holidays.
Football is important in Morocco and the country is a growing force in international football. The national side has made the World Cup finals on four occasions, and was the first African team to reach the finals (in 1970), and the first to progress beyond the group stage (in 1986). Morocco has won the African Nations Cup only once (in 1976), but reached the final in 2004, and will host the tournament in 2015. Moroccan teams have been very successful in African club competitions in the past, though the last Moroccan side to win the African Champions League was Raja Casablanca, back in 1999, though Wydad Casablanca reached the final in 2011. Moroccan clubs have done better in recent years in the Confederation Cup (equivalent to Europe’s UEFA Cup), which was won by FAR Rabat in 2005, FUS Rabat in 2010, and MAS Fez in 2011.
Moroccan clubs compete in an annual league and the (knockout) Throne Cup. For a long time there was just one full-time professional team, FAR (the army), but the 1990s saw the introduction of sponsorship and a number of semi-professional sides, whose big names include Wydad (WAC) and Raja, the two big Casablanca teams, plus FUS from Rabat, MAS from Fez and Hassania from Agadir. The result is a fairly high standard of skill in the Moroccan league, but unfortunately Moroccan clubs are unable to afford the money commanded by top players in Europe, with the result that the best Moroccan players end up in European clubs.
Morocco has two marathons: the Marrakesh Marathon and the even more gruelling Marathon des Sables.
Most four-star and five-star hotels (especially in Agadir and Marrakesh) have tennis courts, though equipment, if available, is not often up to much, so you’re advised to bring your own racket and balls.
Paragliding is increasingly popular in the south of Morocco, around Tafraoute and Mirhleft in particular, where there are thermals even during winter. Paragliding, hang-gliding and paramotoring trips, with instructors, are offered by Paraglide Morocco (w paraglidemorocco.com) and Passion Paragliding (w passionparagliding.com).
Also popular in the south is rock climbing, particularly in the region around Tafraoute, and at Todra Gorge, where Rock & Sun (w rockandsun.com) offer package tours for experienced climbers. Claude Davies’s comprehensive Climbing in the Moroccan Anti-Atlas: Tafroute and Jebel El Kest (Cicerone Press, UK) has marked-up photos and detailed descriptions of Anti-Atlas ascents.
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