If you've not ventured out of Europe, nothing can prepare you for the wonders on offer in this country of such rich variety and multiple charms. Only 3-4 hours away in flight time, a short hop beyond Spain's Costas, Morocco truly has something for everyone and is a relatively gentle way to start experiencing more exotic cultures.
Warm year-round beach resorts, trips up the magnificent High Atlas Mountains and through their foothills, adventurous forays into the Sahara Desert, superb Islamic architecture, mindblowing ksars and kasbahs (castles and fortresses), vibrant historic cities with bustling souks (markets) and medinas (walled old towns) - Morocco has it all.
It's a generally safe and welcoming country, but as with anywhere you visit be sensitive to and aware of cultural traditions and be prepared for some annoyances. This Arabic country is primarily a tolerant Mulim culture. In the mountains you may meet or be guided by traditional Berbers, while your tour guide for Saharan adventures could well be from the semi-nomadic Tuareg people that live across Saharan Africa.
Whatever reason you go for, make sure you do make that leap and try to immerse yourself in some of the local culture, even if you are dropping in for a quick beach holiday. It may well make you want to go back and explore some more.
Arrival and destinations
Morocco has popular destinations on the coast and inland, with the major holiday resorts in being Agadir, Essaouira, Marrakech and Ouarzazate. Most holiday flights serving these resorts arrive into Agadir from Heathrow, Gatwick and Manchester and to Marrakech from Gatwick.
Agadir is the most southerly of the resorts, situated around two-thirds of the way down the country's long Atlantic coast. It has a huge array of hotels, places to eat and drink and things to do, with all facilties stretching around a long sandy bay. Often windswept, this coastline is a extremely popular with surfers and windsurfer.
Two hours drive north of Agadir, Essaouira also has a sandy beach but is a completely different experience as its large old town situated in a historic fort which oozes exotic mystery and charm. Famous as a hippy hangout in the 1960s, when Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa and Cat Stevens stayed, it also played host to Orson Welles and Winston Churchill in the 1950s, and now offers an alternative vibe to the large resort of Agadir as well as turning itself into a cultural hub. Events that take place include the
The most famous destination in Morocco is Marrakech, which is at the foot of the High Atlas Mountains. It's a two hour drive directly inland from Essaouria at around the same latitude, though you'd arrive in Marrakech by air for a package holiday.
The centrepiece of all visits to the city is the Djemma el Fna, the bustling central marketplace that teems with food stalls and performers entertining tourists and locals alike. At night it comes alive, assaulting the senses, especially the tastebuds. Other sights that shouldn't be missed include the Saadian Tombs, the Koutoubia Tower (a 70-metre-tall minaret), and the Bahia Palace.
Most of the hotels with large swimming pools are situated in the wealthy, leafy palm grove suburb of Palmeraie, while traditional riads play host to guests in the old town. Often hidden behind nondescript doors off the ancient alleyways and streets, they are usually arranged around a central pool and courtyard with richly coloured decor and traditional lamps and furnishing.
Ouarzazate, nicknamed 'The door of the desert' due to its proximity to the Sahara, is on the south side of the High Atlas Mountains. It's a breathtaking three-hour drive through the red mountains over a high pass from Marrakech - well worth the long transfer time when flying in to Marrakesh as the journey itself is as good as any day trip, but not for those with vertigo.
When in the town be sure to take a trip in to the Sahara, with an overnight camping stop if you have time, and be sure to check out Ait Ben Haddou, the magnificent castle on the edge of the desert which has been used as a backdrop in films as diverse as The Last Temptation Of Christ, Gladiator and Kundun.
The climate, geography and history of Morocco are closer to the Mediterranean than to Africa. The north of the country are fine beaches, lush green valleys, and fascinating historical cities. Further south are the beautiful Atlas Mountains where the Mediterranean atmosphere gradually fades into the Sahara.
The weather on the coast is great for holidays throughout the year, although cool and wet conditions are possible in the north in winter. Marrakesh can remain warm into the winter months even when there is snow on the nearby Atlas Mountains,
An exotic escape with something for everyone
Great beaches, superb water sport facilities and exotic excursions make Morocco a great choice for an exciting holidays for couples, families or groups. The best hotels will arrange thrilling excursions and desert safaris.
Moroccan food is excellent and the national dish is tagine, casserole cooked in traditional ceramic pots of the same name that are synonymous with the couth, called a tagine. Mint tea is a popular drink but alcohol is generally available.
All inclusive Morocco
Beach resorts such as modern Agadir and historic Essaouira as well as the inland mecca that is Marrakech are the primary locations offering all-inclusive packages in Morocco, and you can sometimes also find deals to Ouarzazate.
All inclusive is an option that can offer excellent value for money, with all meals and drinks usually included. Check what is part of the package before booking to ensure you are making an informed choice and can calculate how much you might save.
A wide range of hotels are available, from basic accommodation to luxurious five-star properties. The more expensive resorts offer similar standards to those found in Spain. Another advantage of all inclusive packages are that transfers are included, especially useful when trying to acclimatise in an unfamiliar country.
Most deals offer local alcoholic beer, wine and spirits as part of the package, while only the most upmarket resorts tend to have an option including international alcoholic drinks, so remember to check and factor that in as an additional expense if you have a particular favourite tipple. Included meals are usually served in a buffet-style restaurant, and many hotels have a choice of a la carte restaurants which you can choose to dine in at an additional cost, while one or more a la carte meals may be included as part of the package - again, check the details before you book.
Morocco has a variety of climates which can be simplified as Mountain, Coastal and Interior. Visitors looking for beaches and water sports will find that the north and north-west coasts are superb in summer, while south from Essaouira is perfect for a beach holiday for almost the entire year, with warm winters (the average temperature in Agidir in January is still over 20C) and hot but bearable summers thanks to the cooling sea breezes.
Inland, the weather varies greatly from region to region, allowing the visitor to experience snow in the mountains and the heat of the desert in the same day. Marrakesh and
More useful information
- For official Morocco tourist information click here - Visit Morocco
- The FCO occasionally release travel advisory warnings for Morocco. Check the latest on the Foreign Travel Advice website.