A gateway to Africa, Morocco is a country of dazzling diversity. You'll find rugged mountain ranges, rolling deserts, ancient cities, deserted beaches and warm hospitality.
Epic landscapes carpet this slice of North Africa like the richly patterned rugs you’ll lust after in the markets, and Morocco's cities are some of the most exciting on the African continent.
Here are the best places to visit in Morocco.
Marrakesh knows how to put on a show. Its heady sights and sounds dazzle, frazzle and enchant, as they have done for almost a millennia. Circuses can’t compare to the mayhem of the Unesco-acclaimed halqa (street theater) in Marrakesh’s main square, Djemaa El Fna. By day, Djemaa draws crowds with snake-charmers, acrobats and dentists with jars of pulled teeth. Around sunset, 100 restaurant stalls kick off the world’s most raucous grilling competition. After dinner, Djemaa music jam sessions get underway. Audience participation is always encouraged, and spare change ensures encores.
The Fez medina is the maze to end all mazes. The only way to experience it is to plunge headfirst. Don’t be afraid of getting lost – follow the flow of people to take you back to one of the two main thoroughfares, or ask a shopkeeper to point you in the right direction. It’s an adventure into a medieval world of hidden squares, warrens of workshops and colorful markets. Remember to look up and see intricate plasterwork, ornately carved cedarwood, dazzling mosaic tiles and curly Arabic calligraphy.
3. High Atlas Mountains
The High Atlas Mountains are North Africa’s tallest mountain range, a trekker’s paradise from spring to fall. The range runs diagonally across Morocco for almost 620 miles (1000km), encircling Marrakesh to the south and east from the Atlantic Coast just north of Agadir to Khenifra in the northeast. Its saw-toothed peaks act as a weather barrier between the mild, Mediterranean climate to the north and the Sahara to the south. In its highest reaches, snow falls from September to May, allowing for winter sports in Oukaimeden, while year-round rivers flow towards Marrakesh creating a network of fertile valleys.
Steep and cobbled, the infinitely Instagrammable blue-washed lanes of Chefchaouen's medina tumble down the mountainside in a shower of red rooftops, wrought-iron balconies and vivid geraniums. You could be content for hours just people-watching over a mint tea in the cafe-packed main square, lorded over by a grand red-hued kasbah. Or amble down the riverside walk, shop the souqs (markets), stroll to the Spanish Mosque on the hill or even venture into the surrounding Talassemtane National Park to explore the Rif Mountains.
Like a carpet of green stretching across the Draa Valley, Skoura’s idyllic palmeraie (palm grove) is crisscrossed by a network of dirt tracks and an age-old khettara (underground irrigation system) that supports a surprising bounty of produce that has sustained generation after generation: tomatoes, mint, pomegranates, apricots, dates, figs, alfalfa and almonds. Studded with historic mud-brick kasbahs, labyrinthine ksour (fortified villages) and stylish guesthouses with farm-to-fork restaurants, it makes the perfect place to linger and experience unhurried oasis life, barely changed for centuries.
6. Draa Valley
Roads now allow safe, speedy passage through the final stretches of ancient caravan routes from Mali to Marrakesh, but beyond the rocky gorges glimpsed through car windows lies the Draa Valley of desert traders’ dreams. The rustling date palms and cool mud-brick castles of Zagora, Tamnougalt, Timidarte and Agdz must once have seemed like mirages after two months in the Sahara. Fortifications that once welcomed gold-laden caravans are now open to overnight guests, who wake to fresh boufeggou dates, bread baked in earthen ovens and a slower pace of life.
Tafraoute is a jumble of pink houses and market streets with extraordinary surroundings. The Ameln Valley is dotted with palmeraies and villages, and the looming mountains stage a twice-daily, ocher-and-amber light show, while the Aït Mansour Gorge is a verdant respite from the red rock. It makes a wonderful base for activities including hiking, mountain biking and seeking out prehistoric rock carvings. If the granite cliffs and oases weren’t scenic enough, a Belgian artist applied his paint brush to some local boulders with surreal results.
8. Anti Atlas Mountains
A sunburned granite range leading to the Sahara, the Anti Atlas Mountains remain relatively unexplored. The star attraction for trekkers is the quartz massif of Jebel El Kest, the "amethyst mountain," which you can walk to through the Ameln Valley. Farming villages and crumbling kasbahs are found around Jebel Aklim, another of the excellent trekking possibilities in this area of Amazigh shepherds. The landscape has enough variety, from palm-filled gorges to brooding, volcanic Jebel Siroua, to justify multiple treks.
For the first half of the 20th century, Tangier was one of the Mediterranean’s most cosmopolitan resorts, fabled for its hedonistic excesses, but when it was returned to Morocco in 1956, it began to slip into a seemingly inexorable decline. Now the story is changing, and investment is pouring in: there’s a swanky new marina, hotels and apartment blocks are springing up around the bay, and streets are being spruced up. But it’s not lost its louche air beloved of the Beat Generation.
Easy, breezy Essaouira is Morocco at its most relaxed. It’s long been a rich cultural mix, and today visitors are drawn by its honey-colored ramparts, postcard-pretty harbor and enormous swathes of golden sand, where the omnipresent gusts of wind – known locally as alizee – create the perfect conditions for windsurfing and kitesurfing. Stylish riads, fresh seafood and a fascinating art scene complete the picture. As any local will tell you, Jimi Hendrix was a fan, and you're bound to fall for it, too.
11. Moulay Idriss Zerhoun
Named for Morocco’s most revered saint, the holy little town of Moulay Idriss Zerhoun contains the mausoleum of Moulay Idriss and is one of the most important pilgrimage spots in the country. In fact, it wasn’t until 2005 that non-Muslims were permitted to stay overnight. It straddles two hills and, whichever side of town you're on, the views across the green-tiled rooftops and out to the rolling countryside beyond, where olive groves produce a fragrant oil, are undeniably pretty, especially in the evening light. Look out for Morocco’s only cylindrical minaret.
Amazigh king Juba II, whose wife was the daughter of Antony and Cleopatra, was installed at Volubilis by the Romans. The town became a thriving farming community producing olive oil, wheat and wine for the ancient Roman army. Today you can still stand on the basilica steps, look out over the same fertile fields and survey his kingdom. A museum has opened, and you can wander fairly freely around this Unesco World Heritage site, pausing to peer at the dazzling mosaics.
The Souss Valley trading town of Taroudant – with views of both the High Atlas and the Anti Atlas mountains – has been dubbed "mini Marrakesh" for its red-brick ramparts that change color with the light, but its compact medina and laid-back souqs come without the big-city hassle. Explore the city walls by horse-drawn calèche (carriage) and dip into the ancient kasbah, stopping off at the Palais Salam, a former pasha’s palace turned faded hotel, where you can stroll around the tiled salons and Moorish gardens for the price of a mint tea.
14. Erg Chigaga
Leave the madding crowds behind and lope across the desert on a trusty dromedary, savoring the silence, the stellar views and the camel’s gently swaying gait. Even if your camel encounter leaves you knock-kneed, you’ll manage to scramble to the summit of a sky-high dune at sunset and watch the desert turn gold, pink and purple. The stars have never seemed brighter, and with good reason: at Erg Chigaga, you’re not only off the grid but also several hours' camel trek from the nearest street lights.
If anyone tells you there’s nothing to see in Casablanca except the Hassan II Mosque, they haven’t looked closely enough. A one-of-a-kind fusion of neo-Moorish and art-deco architecture dating from the early 20th century, when Casablanca was the jewel of the French colonies, fills the center with pleasing symmetry, sensuous curves and striking tilework, along with post-independence modernist and brutalist buildings. Some have been restored to their former glory while others are sadly neglected; take a guided walking tour to discover this wonderful heritage.
You can surf all along Morocco’s Atlantic coast, but one of the best places to catch a wave is Mirleft, a sleepy beach town where the mountains meet the Atlantic Ocean. With a string of pristine – and often deserted outside of Moroccan holidays – beaches and budget-friendly guesthouses, it makes a low-key and less windy alternative to Essaouira. Affordable outfit Spot-M takes out experienced and novice surfers for group and individual lessons, and also runs week-long surf camps with yoga thrown in.