For Western visitors, Morocco holds an immediate and enduring fascination. Though just an hour’s ride on the ferry from Spain, it seems very far from Europe, with a culture that is almost wholly unfamiliar. Travel to Morocco and you will uncover a country of arid deserts, spice-laden souks, and a melting pot of Berber and Arabian cultures.
Throughout the country, despite the years of French and Spanish colonial rule and the presence of modern and cosmopolitan cities like Rabat and Casablanca, a more distant past constantly makes its presence felt. Fez, perhaps the most beautiful of all Arab cities, maintains a life still rooted in medieval times, when a Moroccan kingdom stretched from Senegal to northern Spain.
In the mountains of the Atlas and the Rif, it’s still possible to draw up tribal maps of the Berber population. As a backdrop to all this, the country’s physical make-up is extraordinary: from the Mediterranean coast, through four mountain ranges, to the empty sand and scrub of the Sahara. Check out our Morocco travel guide for everything you need to know before you go.
- Size and location: Located on the northwest coast of Africa, Morocco is slightly smaller than France and Spain, and slightly larger than the US state of California at 446,550 square kilometres (722,550 sq km including the Western Sahara).
- Population:37 million.
- Religion: Nearly 99 percent of Moroccans are Muslim, with 1 percent Christian and a tiny minority (an estimated 6000 people) Jewish.
- Languages: Arabic, Berber (Tarfit, Tamazight and Tashelhaït) and French are officially recognised languages. Spanish is still widely spoken in the north, and English is increasingly spoken by young people, especially in tourist areas.
- Politics: Morocco gained independence from French and Spanish rule on March 2, 1956. The head of state is King Mohammed VI, who succeeded his father Hassan II on July 30, 1999. The government is chosen from an elected legislature and is currently run by Prime Minister Saadeddine Othmani of the moderate Islamist PJD (Party of Justice and Development). The main opposition parties are the Istiqlal (Independence) Party, Morocco’s oldest political group, and the RNI (National Rally of Independents).
- Education: The literacy rate is 68.5 percent (78.6 percent for men, 58.8 percent for women).
Morocco travel facts
Where to go in Morocco
With relaxing beach resorts on the coast, beautiful ancient cities inland, stunning landscapes of the Rif and Atlas mountains, and the eerie solitude of the Sahara desert, visiting Morocco won’t leave you disappointed.
To experience the best of Morocco’s coast and beaches in the north, head for the cities of Tangier, Asilah, and Larache. For the best coastal spots towards the south, El Jadida, Essaouria, and Sidi Ifni are the standout contenders. Agadir is the main package-tour destination, and whilst nothing special, it provides a good base for exploration.
Inland, the famous, and somewhat still medieval cities of Fez and Marrakesh, do not disappoint. The former is richer in terms of monuments, but the latter remains more popular among tourists. Rabat and Casablanca are also major cities of interest, albeit much more modern than the Fez and Marrakesh.
The mountain ranges of the Rif and Atlas provide stunning scenery, and are surprisingly accessible for trekking and exploring. Trekking is most popular around Jebel Toubkal, North Africa’s highest mountain. Hidden away in the Rif mountains, Chefchaouen is arguably Morocco’s prettiest town and best-kept secret.
Beyond the Atlas, there is more exploring to be had in the pre-Sahara. The oases around Skoura, Tinghir, Zagora, Erfoud, and Tata, provide you with a stunning contrast of palmeries and desert horizons.
If you’re looking to explore beyond Morocco's well-known sites and attractions, check out the 7 best places to get off the tourist trail in Morocco.
Best time to go to Morocco
The best time to visit Morocco in terms of weather is during spring (around April and May) and early autumn (September and October) when the climate is pleasant and summery throughout the country.
At the height of summer, most of the country, especially the south, is far too hot for day-time exploration. Winter is a good time to explore the south and the Sahara without the overwhelming heat, but in contrast, it can get bitterly cold during the night.
Get more information on the best time to visit Morocco, as well as festivals and public holidays, in our Morocco travel guide.
How to get to Morocco
Unless you take a cruise ship from France, Spain or Gibraltar, the best way of getting to Morocco is to fly into either Casablanca's Mohammed V International Airport, or Menara airport in Marrakesh. Fares are generally at their highest around Christmas and the New Year, and July and August. Weekend flights are also more expensive. For the best fares, always book as far in advance as possible.
Travelling to Morocco from Europe
With frequent crossings all-year-round and great deals on tickets, taking the ferry to Morrocco is the smart way to go. Not to mention it's more environmentally responsible than flying. Start your adventure by browsing great value tickets for ferries from Spain to Morocco.
Royal Air Maroc and British Airways run daily flights from Heathrow to Casablanca, and Gatwick to Marrakesh respectively. Indirect flights from most British or Irish airports via London, or European cities such as Paris and Amsterdam, are also an option.
Travelling to Morocco from the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand
See our getting to Morocco page for more information on flights, ferries, and fares.
How to get around Morocco
Getting around Morocco is relatively easy, with plenty of good transport options.
A decent rail network connects the main towns in the north, and the whole country is well connected by a network of nationally-run and private bus companies. The downside is that buses can sometimes be slow and overcrowded.
For shorter journeys, you may prefer to make use of Morocco’s grand taxis. Alternatively, you may wish to have the taxi to yourself, in which case you’ll pay six-times the cost of one place.
Read more on getting around Morocco: in-depth information on flights, buses, cars and trains.
10 best places to visit in Morocco
With so much to see and do, deciding where to go in Morocco can be a painstaking task. To help you narrow down the options, we’ve created a list of the ten best places to visit in Morocco.
- ChefchaouenOne of the prettiest and friendliest towns in Morocco, up in the Rif mountains, with a Medina full of pastel-blue houses, perfect for wandering around.
- Koutoubia MosqueSimple but beautifully proportioned, the Koutoubia Mosque’s minaret is the most perfect in North Africa, and a classic piece of Almohad architecture.
This region in the foothills of the High Atlas offers hidden walks, stunning panoramas and plenty of outdoor activities throughout the year, but is best enjoyed in the cooler months
- Cascades d’OuzoudIf you visit only one waterfall in Morocco, make it these. The most dramatic of the country’s waterfalls, with overhanging cafés, and a thunderous sheet of water that plunges into the pools below.
- FezThe most complete medieval city in the Arab world, Fez’s labyrinthine streets conceal ancient souks and iconic monuments, none more so than the exquisitely decorated Medersa Bou Inania.
- TelouetThe abandoned feudal kasbah of the “Lords of the Atlas” is a hugely evocative relic of the time when the infamous Glaoui clan ruled over the Atlas and Marrakesh.
- Sidi InfiA former Spanish enclave built from scratch in the 1930s with an Art Deco town hall, an Art Deco mosque and even an Art Deco lighthouse.
- CasablancaCasa’s colonial architecture blends traditional Moroccan designs with French Art Deco into a distinctive style known as Mauresque. The city is also home to the Hassan II Mosque, one of the world’s largest, and unusually for Morocco, it can be visited by non-Muslims.
- AsilahA laidback beach resort with an intimate pastel-washed Medina, a first-class international arts festival, and the palace of an old bandit chief. Asilah is also home to one of the best beaches on the northwest coast.
- Volubilis and Moulay IdrissVisit the remarkable Roman ruins of Volubilis and stay at the holy Islamic town of Moulay Idriss.
Morocco travel itineraries
Creating an itinerary for your visit to Morocco will depend on what you wish to see and do. Whether it’s immersing yourself in the bustling old cities of Marrakesh and Fez, hiking high up in the Rif and Atlas mountains, or seeking tranquillity in the Sahara desert, you can customise your Morocco trip to suit your needs with our tailor-made trip service.
Below is an example of our Outdoor Activities itinerary - perfect for the adventurous traveller, with a great variety of exciting outdoor sports to try, all whilst exploring every corner of this beautiful and diverse country. You can see all of our Morocco itineraries here.
Two-week itinerary - Morocco Outdoor Activities
Allow for at least two weeks if you intend on completing every activity on this list.
- Days 1 - 3: Kitesurfing in EssaouiraSimply the best place in the country to try your hand at kitesurfing.
- Days 3 - 5: Surfing near Taghazout
Ride Killers, Anchor Point and other challenging breaks at this relaxed surfers’ hangout.
- Days 5 - 7: Hiking in the High Atlas
A wealth of scenic routes cut across the Toubkal Massif.
- Days 7 - 9: Skiing at Oukaïmeden
Hitting the slopes at Oukaïmeden is worth it for the novelty value alone.
- Days 9 - 10: Camel trekking in the Erg Chigaga
M’Hamid is the jumping-off point for camel trips into this remote section of the Sahara.
- Days 10 - 13: Climbing in the Todra Gorge
You could spend days scaling the rocky walls of this dramatic mountain gorge.
- Days 13 - 15: Sandboarding in the Erg Chebbi
Accommodation in Morocco
When thinking about where to stay in Morocco, consider that hotels in major cities and resorts are very busy during the summer months, so booking well in advance will allow for more choice. If visiting Morocco in winter, it is wise to check whether a hotel has heating, as it can get very cold and bedding is rarely adequate. With this in mind, there are plenty of excellent accommodation options in Morocco to suit most budgets and needs.
When it comes to Moroccan hotels, you have a choice between unclassified hotels, the cheapest option but often in good locations, and the classified hotels, whose superior prices don’t always guarantee superior quality, so it pays to do some research before booking.
For something unique to Morocco, you may consider staying in a riad or maison d’hôte. These are usually refurbished eighteenth- or nineteenth-century Medina townhouses. Generally more expensive than hotels, riads are a good option if you want to make your stay a lot classier.
Strictly speaking, to be classified as a riad, the house must have a garden, ideally divided into quarters with a central fountain. Townhouses with rooms around a courtyard are known as dars.
Get further information on where to stay in Morocco: types of accommodation, room rates, and how to find a room.
Food and drink in Morocco
Eating in Morocco
Hearty soups, fragrant tajines, and succulent kebabs are just some of the culinary delights to enjoy when visiting Morocco. A typical starter to a meal is the classic spicy, bean and pasta harira. Tajine is a dish you will find everywhere in Morocco, steam-cooked slowly in an earthenware dish. The classic tajines are lamb with prunes and almonds, and chicken with olives and lemon.
Couscous is another classic Moroccan food served with a lot of dishes. For food that is truly unique to Morocco, try pastilla, a savoury meat pie with filo pastry. Camel meat is also a common ingredient. There is not a huge street food scene in Morocco, but you can find plenty of stalls and street food in the Fez medina. Read more about Fez: Morocco's culinary capital.
Drinking in Morocco
Mint tea is Morocco’s national drink, and you will find it alongside a wide range of teas and herbal infusions. In terms of coffee, nus nus (half coffee, half milk) is a popular beverage throughout the country. Delicious freshly squeezed juices are common at cafés and street stalls.
Although tap water is generally safe to drink, except in the far south and Western Sahara, most tourists stick to bottled mineral water. As an Islamic country, drinking alcohol isn’t a big part of Moroccan culture, but it is nonetheless available in bars and big hotels.
Read more on food and drink in Morocco including where to eat, costs, specialities, and etiquette.
Culture and etiquette in Morocco
Morocco is generally very welcoming and tolerant of tourists, but it is important to be respectful and ensure you do not inadvertently affront people’s religious beliefs. Skimpy clothes, public displays of affection, and eating or smoking in the street during Ramadan are all almost guaranteed to cause offence. Choosing your clothes carefully is especially important in rural areas where people may be particularly offended if body parts considered “private” are not adequately covered. Noting how Moroccans dress locally and doing the same is usually the best policy.
Sexual harassment in Morocco
Morocco has developed somewhat of a reputation for sexual harassment of women travellers, but this does not mean the country unsafe. There is no doubt that harassment here is more persistent than in Western countries and this is usually down to Moroccan men’s misunderstanding of Western culture and attitudes towards sex. Whilst this harassment can be persistent and unpleasant, it is very rarely threatening, and the ways of minimising it are often the same as those would use at home.
For more information on women’s travel in Morocco, see the dedicated culture and etiquette page in our travel guide.
These are just some of the tips and advice for travelling to Morocco. You can find the full, comprehensive list of Morocco travel advice here.
Is it safe to travel to Morocco?
Morocco does not have a high crime rate and is perfectly safe to visit. However, thefts do happen, so it is unwise to carry large sums of cash or valuables on your person. This is especially true in crowded places such as bus and train stations where pickpockets like to operate. Credit card fraud is also something to be wary of. Never let your card out of your sight when paying for anything.
Avoiding scams in Morocco
Your best chance of avoiding scams and conmen in Morocco is to use official guides only, identifiable by their large, brass “sheriff’s badge”. Unofficial guides who approach you in the street may well be genuine, but there is little way of knowing.
On any tour, official or otherwise, make it clear you do not want to be taken shopping or to a hotel, as it will almost certainly be somewhere which pays the guide commission, added to your bill of course. If you are taken into a shop, usually a place which sells carpets, do not feel pressured into buying anything, no matter what hard-sell tactics or abuse they throw at you. Find more information on common scams in Morocco and how to avoid them on our travel essentials page.
Health advice for Morocco
For minor health complaints, pharmacies dispense a wide range of drugs and are usually sufficient. For anything more serious requiring hospital treatment, you should contact your consulate immediately and follow its advice. State hospitals in the large cities are adequate for anything up to minor surgery. For anything more serious, a private clinic or even repatriation may be the best option.
Inoculations for travelling to Morocco
No inoculations are currently required for visiting Morocco, but it is important to be up to date with polio and tetanus. For extended stays in Morocco, it is advisable to consider vaccinations against typhoid, TB, hepatitis A and B, diphtheria and rabies. A low level of malaria does exist in Morocco, however, strains are not life-threatening, and pills aren’t considered necessary unless you actually fall ill.
The best way to avoid this is to use mosquito repellent on all exposed areas of the skin. Wild dogs in Morocco can be aggressive and potentially rabid. The best advice is to avoid getting close to them and, if bitten, seek medical advice immediately.
Costs in Morocco
Food, accommodation, and travel costs in Morocco are all relatively low by European and North American standards. You can find more in-depth information about money and costs in Morocco on the travel essentials page.
Accommodation can be as inexpensive as €15/£13.50/$17.50 a night for a double room in a basic hotel. The top luxury hotels and riads can cost up to €500/£450/$590 per night.
It’s the same story with eating, ranging from €6/£5.50/$7 for a meal in a basic restaurant, to as much as €75/£67/$88 in the very top establishments. Alcohol is the only thing comparable to Western prices.
With regards to transport, renting a car will inevitably be expensive, but trains, buses and shared taxis are all very economical.
Travel visa requirements for Morocco
Full passport holders from the UK, Ireland, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or any EU country don’t need a visa to enter Morocco and can remain in the country for up to ninety days. It is always worth checking the visa requirements before your departure as these can change. Upon arrival, you will need to fill in a form with personal details, profession and purpose of visit.
South African citizens require a visa to enter Morocco and should make applications to the Moroccan embassy or consulate in their country of residence.
Applications to extend your stay in Morocco should be made to the Bureau des Étrangers for a residency permit. This can be extremely complicated and time-consuming as it involves opening a bank account with a minimum of 20,000dh in your account and obtaining an Attestation de Résidence. Most people avoid the bureaucracy by leaving the country for a few days, usually to Spain, and then re-entering through a different post.
Read our travel guide for more information on Morocco visas and entry requirements.
Shopping in Morocco
Part of Morocco’s appeal to tourists is its markets, known colloquially as souks. You will find souks in every town in Morocco, but the largest and most impressive are in Fez and Marrakesh. Whilst it can be very tempting to load up on souvenirs when walking through the souks, it is important to consider how you are going to get them home, and be wary of phoney merchandise and fake “antiques”.
Some of the souvenirs you may wish to purchase include beautiful Moroccan craftwork, semi-precious stones and fossils, or some tasty authentic foodstuffs, all of which you will be expected to bargain for.
Learn more about shopping in Morocco including what to buy, locations and times of souks, avoiding scams, and how to bargain.
Outdoor activities in Morocco
Morocco offers magnificent trekking opportunities, impressive golf facilities, a couple of ski resorts (plus some adventurous off-piste skiing) and excellent fishing.
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.
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.
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.
The established base for horse riding holidays is Résidence de la Roseraie at Ouirgane, which runs trekking tours into the High Atlas. Another stable offering horse riding is Amodou Cheval near Agadir. 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.
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. There are lesser surfing centres at Sidi Ifni, Mirhleft, Kenitra, Bouznika Plage, 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.
For windsurfing, the prime destination is Essaouira, which draws devotees year-round.
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.
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), and nine-hole courses at Meknes, Ouarzazate and Bouznika (near Mohammedia, Route Secondaire de Bouznika Plage). Several tour operators offer Moroccan golfing holidays.
Arabs and Berbers
The Berbers were Morocco’s original inhabitants. The Arabs arrived at the end of the seventh century, after sweeping across North Africa and the Middle East in the name of their revolutionary ideology, Islam. Eventually, nearly all the Berbers converted to the new religion and were immediately accepted as fellow Muslims by the Arabs. When Muslim armies invaded the Iberian peninsula from Morocco, the bulk of the troops were Berbers, and the two ethnic groups pretty much assimilated.
Today, most Moroccans can claim both Arab and Berber ancestors, though a few (especially Shereefs, who trace their ancestry back to the Prophet Mohammed, and have the title “Moulay”) claim to be “pure” Arabs. In the Rif and Atlas mountains, and in the Souss Valley, though, groups of pure Berbers remain, and retain their ancient languages (Tarfit, spoken by about 1.5m people in the Rif; Tamazight, spoken by over 3m people in the Atlas; and Tashelhaït, spoken by around 4m people in the Souss Valley region).
Recently, there has been a resurgence in Berber pride (often symbolized by the Berber letterЖ); TV programmes are now broadcast in Berber languages, and they are even taught in schools, but the country’s majority language remains Arabic.
Top image: Square in the blue city of Chefchaouen, Morocco © Olena Tur/Shutterstock