For many travellers, Morocco might just be a short hop away by ferry or by one of the myriad budget airlines from Spain, but it's a much further distance to travel culturally. The regular certainties of Europe are suddenly swept away by the arrival in full technicolour of Africa and Islam. It's a complete sensory overload.
Tangier, that faded libertine on the coast, has traditionally been a first port of call, but the winds blow you quickly along the Atlantic coast to the cosmopolitan and movie-star famous Casablanca, and whitewashed fishing-port gems of Asalih and Essaouira. Inland, the great imperial cities of Marrakesh and Fez attract visitors in droves as they have done for centuries. The winding streets of their ancient medinas (old quarters) have enough surprises around each corner to fill a dozen repeat trips.
Morocco is known for its vast desert and fertile valleys. But paying a visit to its famed gardens will connect you to the religious and historical landscapes of this incredible culture.
Food lovers travelling to Morocco will experience the wonderful blend of international cultures that have come to create the unique local cuisine. Take a culinary journey through the flavours and dishes you're likely to encounter during your visit.
The cafe, like the mosque and the hammam (bathhouse), is one of the key social centres of Moroccan culture - only you don't have to convert or undress to join in. So order a drink and ask Sam to 'Play it again'.
Covering around 500km, this route dives into the heart of Moroccan history and culture. The trip starts in the grand medieval cities of the north and sweeps through modern seats of power on the coast, before finishing in Marrakesh, the heart of Moroccan tourism.
You could get from Casablanca to Essaouira in a few hours. But it's far more fun to take in a thorough picture of Morocco en route. A month-long diversion takes in the best of the imperial cities, the Atlas mountains and the Saharan sand dunes.
This 1000km journey will sweep you through the cream of Morocco's landscapes: the peaks of the Atlas mountains, the sandscapes of the desert and the kasbah-studded valleys of the south. Parts of the trip can be hard to access, so having you own wheels, and three weeks on the calendar will help you get the most out of this itinerary.
Got questions? We've got answers. Here, experts from Lonely Planet and Visa answer commonly asked questions about travelling to Morocco and managing your money while you're there. Have more questions? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Question: Is it sunny and warm?
Answer: [Lonely Planet expert] That depends. In a country that touches the Mediterranean and the Sahara, there are bound to be extremes in climate. Summers are hot at both ends of the country. Winters are generally sunny in the south and midlands, but even on the edge of the Sahara it can be bitterly cold in January.
Question: What is the best way to access cash when I am abroad?
Answer: [Visa expert] With your Visa card you can access local currency from 1.8 million ATMs worldwide - just look for the Visa or PLUS sign. All ATM transactions require a PIN so make sure you know yours prior to leaving on your trip. Your PIN should be 4 digits as many international ATMs do not accept longer PINs. It's a good idea to contact your issuing bank before you leave and ask if your cards have daily cash withdrawal restrictions.
Question: Will I be charged a fee for using my Visa card while overseas?
Answer: [Visa expert] Fees are dependent on your issuing bank and whether they will just charge you the foreign exchange conversion rate or include an additional service charge. Some banks charge an ATM access fee as well. For more details, contact your issuing bank.
Question: Do I need to let my bank know that I'm traveling before I depart? And who at the bank should I tell?
Answer: [Visa expert] Yes, it is good practice to let your bank know you will be travelling so they don't decline any of your legitimate transactions. Call your bank's credit card customer service centre - the number is usually on the back of your card.
Question: What exchange rate will I receive when using my Visa card abroad?
Answer: [Visa expert] Exchange rates on Visa cards are competitive and may be better than rates available from other sources. You can research Visa's current exchange rate for your destination using the Visa exchange rate calculator. This will allow you to compare it to the exchange rates offered by foreign exchange bureaus. Do remember that there is always a charge for changing currency, no matter where you do it – at a bank, hotel, bureau, online or by buying travellers' cheques. Visa cards are no exception.
Question: Is Morocco safe?
Answer: [Lonely Planet expert] The situation in Morocco, as in so many places in the world, is changeable and you should check for updates from government travel advisories before your trip. Moroccans are extremely welcoming and most visitors have no trouble. As always, it is recommended to take care when walking unaccompanied in remote areas and at night.
Question: Can I use my Visa credit, debit or prepaid card in Morocco?
Answer: [Visa expert] Yes. Most tourist areas are well populated with ATMs that accept internationally issued Visa cards - just look for the Visa logo. Similarly, all retailers who accept Visa will clearly display the Visa logo in their stores.
Question: Do I need to be able to speak Arabic?
Answer: [Lonely Planet expert] In a word: no. French is widely spoken throughout the country, particularly in cities, and English is increasingly common in areas that see regular visitors.
Question: What do I do if I lose my card?
Answer: [Visa expert] Call your bank immediately to cancel your card. In an emergency, you can get a temporary card replacement or cash disbursement in 24-48 hours with the help of Visa's Global Customer Assistance Service (GCAS).
Question: If the shopkeeper offers to charge me in my home currency instead of the local currency, is that a good idea?
Answer: [Visa expert] When you travel internationally, some merchants may offer you the option to convert your purchases into your home currency at the register. This is called Dynamic Currency Conversion (DCC) and means the merchant - not Visa or your issuing bank - is converting the currency. While you may appreciate the convenience of knowing the exact price in your home currency at the point-of-sale, you should be aware that the merchant may charge you for this service. Visa requires that you be given a choice to either accept or decline DCC. In addition, Visa requires merchants offering this service to inform cardholders of the exchange rate including any applicable commissions or fees being charged. Only agree to this do this if you think you are getting a good deal.
Question: What's Moroccan food like? Is it all strange and spicy?
Answer: [Lonely Planet expert] Most Moroccans have never tasted camel testicles or sand-baked goat. Nor are they particularly fond of hot spices. Instead, Moroccan cuisine is a mix of subtle flavours. French food remains popular (baguettes are generally available) and Italian cuisine is increasingly so. For more on Moroccan food, read the Flavours of Morocco article.
Question: Will I have to cover myself up?
Answer: [Lonely Planet expert] You don't have to cover up, especially in areas that see plenty of tourists. But Moroccans are conservative and, in traditional areas, they will frown upon men wearing shorts or women being less than demure. Topless bathing is also not appropriate on public beaches.
A very pretty festival held in the Ameln Valley near Tafraoute when the valley is awash with blossom. The villages around Tafraoute celebrate the almond harvest with all-night singing and dancing; the festivities move from village to village and therefore last several days.
Sidirock was born when diehard Moroccan metalheads got organised, calling all rockers to the mosh pit in Sidi Kacem, an inland agricultural centre near Meknès. The festival showcases bands from the area. These Moroccan groups write their own rebellious lyrics in English, and rock hardcore in black jeans and dreadlocks.
East meets West on stage in March with free concerts and events held at Palais de Bahia, Jardin Agdal and the Djemaa el-Fna. http://www.maghrebarts.ma/
A spin-off from the Sacred Music Festival, this new Fez outing debuted in 2007 and hosts a series of events including films and lectures, and some spectacular concerts held in the garden of the Batha Museum with Sufi musicians from across the world. http://www.festivalculturesoufie.com/
One of the largest moussems (festivals) in Morocco takes place at the mausoleum of Sidi ben Aïssa, outside the medina walls. Members of this Sufi brotherhood are renowned for their trances that make them impervious to pain, but public displays of glass-eating, snake bites and ritual body piercing are no longer allowed but it's still a busy and popular festival.
A celebration of music and dance held in May between Er-Rachidia, Merzouga and Rissani, with musicians from all across the Sahara. http://www.festivaldudesert.ma/
This festival brings together music groups and artists from all corners of the globe, and has become one of the most successful world music festivals going. While the big names are a draw, equally fascinating are the more intimate concerts held by Morocco's various tariqas (Sufi orders). http://www.fesfestival.com/
A hugely colourful festival held in Marrakesh celebrating Berber music and dance, and attracting performers from all over the country. http://www.maghrebarts.ma/
Artists, musicians, performers and thousands of spectators descend upon the town of Assilah for a month-long festival of workshops, public art demonstrations, concerts and exhibitions. A three-day horse event, including a Moroccan fantasia (musket-firing cavalry charge) takes place towards the end of the festival.
A famous three-day festival held at Imilchil, where thousands of people gather for the serious business of wedlock: women at this festival get to choose prospective husbands. Women strut their stuff in striped woollen cloaks and elaborate jewellery, and boys preen in flowing white jellabas.
Late September/early October
The largest city moussem (festival in honour of a saint) in holy Fez, where thousands gather to watch the processions to the saint's tomb. Local artisans create special tributes and there's a huge procession through the medina. Traditional music is played and followers dance and shower the musicians (and onlookers) with orange or rosewater.
Stars from Hollywood, Bollywood and across the Maghrib make this week-long festival in December a cosmic event. http://en.festivalmarrakech.info/