Morocco is a top travel destination known for its incredible variety of experiences. From bustling medieval cities overflowing with culture to vast and varied landscapes of desert, mountains, and coastline, Morocco has something for every type of traveler.
The best time to visit Morocco is during the spring (mid-March to May) and fall (September to October) when the weather is warm and sunny, but not too hot. Popular months are April, May, September and October. The peak of summer (June through August) can be very hot, especially in the desert regions like Merzouga. During the winter months, the weather in the Atlas Mountains and other hilly areas can be quite cold with the chance of rain and even snow at higher elevations.
Some of the many highlights and top things to see and do in Morocco include:
- Wandering through the winding alleyways, souks, tanneries, and spice markets of ancient medina cities like Fez, Marrakech, and Chefchaouen.
- Riding camels over epic Saharan sand dunes and camping in the desert under a blanket of stars.
- Trekking along scenic trails and staying in local villages in the soaring Atlas Mountains.
- Chasing waterfalls and exploring the extensive network of remote kasbahs throughout the mountains.
- Trying world-class windsurfing and kitesurfing off the breezy Atlantic coast.
- Relaxing on beautiful Mediterranean beaches in laidback coastal towns like Essaouira.
- Marveling at ornate architectural gems like the grand Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca.
- Immersing yourself in Moroccan culture through food tours, hammams, festivals, and dances.
This comprehensive travel guide covers everything you need to know to plan the ultimate trip to Morocco, including top destinations and cities to visit, outdoor activities and natural wonders, cultural experiences, where to stay, when to visit, and budgeting and planning tips.
Getting There and Around Morocco
The main international airports in Morocco are located in Casablanca, Marrakech and Fez. These cities are serviced by many major airlines with direct flights from North America and Europe, making Morocco quite accessible. The country’s flagship airline is Royal Air Maroc. Low cost carriers like Air Arabia, RyanAir, easyJet, and Vueling also fly into Morocco from select European cities at very affordable rates.
Within Morocco, a great way to get around between cities and regions is by train or bus. There is an extensive network of ONCF trains that connect the major cities, including high speed Al Boraq trains that run at over 300 km/hr between Tangier, Rabat, Casablanca, and Marrakech. Supratours is the national bus company offering comfortable buses between destinations. Buses take slightly longer than trains but can be cheaper.
Renting a car is also an option in Morocco and will provide the most flexibility for getting off the beaten path, especially for destinations not serviced by public transportation. However, driving in Morocco can be challenging with winding roads through the mountains, navigating chaotic city traffic, and driving on the right side of the road for those not accustomed to it. Having a local driver is advisable if renting a car.
For getting around within cities, walking is the best way to experience places like the medinas in Fez, Marrakech, and Chefchaouen. These large pedestrian-only old cities have narrow winding streets that are not accessible by car. Petit taxis (small cabs for up to 3 people) are also readily available for quick trips around town. In bigger cities, buses and shared 7-seater minivans called grand taxis run fixed routes and are very affordable. Private drivers can be hired for full-day excursions from major cities as well. Guided day tours are a great way to see the highlights of a city efficiently if you have limited time.
Top Destinations and Cities in Morocco
Marrakech is the top tourist destination in Morocco for many travelers. This large imperial city abounds with stunning architecture, a lively medina, and excellent amenities, making it a good base for exploring the country. Some of the highlights include:
- Jemaa el Fna – Marrakech’s main square and market area comes alive at night with snake charmers, henna artists, food stalls, and street performers.
- Koutoubia Mosque – This 12th century mosque has a 70 meter high minaret that dominates the skyline and can be seen from all over the city.
- Souks – A colorful maze of covered street markets selling carpets, leather goods, jewelry, spices, clothing and more.
- Majorelle Garden – Vibrant blue and yellow garden with Moorish and art deco elements designed by French artist Jacques Majorelle.
- El Bahia Palace – Impressive 19th century palace and gardens with carved wood details.
- Saadian Tombs – Ornate 16th century mausoleum for King Ahmed al-Mansur’s family.
Day trips from Marrakech lead to nearby attractions and activities including the Atlas Mountains for hiking, the seaside town of Essaouira, Ouarzazate to see ancient kasbahs and film studios, and excursions through olive groves and valleys.
The medieval imperial city of Fez is considered the cultural and spiritual heart of Morocco. It’s famous for its enormous car-free old city, the largest urban pedestrian zone in the world. Top attractions include:
- Medina – Massive, maze-like medieval old city that’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are over 9,000 narrow alleys, streets, and dead-ends to get lost in.
- Leather tanneries – Some of the oldest tanneries in the world dating back to the 11th century. Watch leather dying and hides being processed from terraced rooftops.
- Mellah – The historic Jewish quarter has intricate architecture and wrought-iron windows.
- Chouara Tannery – Large leather souk where you can watch artisans hand make leather goods.
- Zaouia Moulay Idriss II – Houses the tomb of Morocco’s most revered saint, Said Moulay Idriss II, in the medina.
Meknes, another imperial city with stunning architecture, lively markets, and enormous gates, makes for an easy day trip from Fez.
As the largest city and business hub of Morocco, Casablanca has a much different vibe than the traditional medina cities. This modern metropolis is worth visiting to see must-see sites like:
- Hassan II Mosque – An enormous mosque completed in 1993 that sits picturesquely on the ocean. It’s one of the world’s largest mosques and tallest religious structures, towering above the city.
- Corniche – The scenic seaside promenade stretches for miles along Casablanca’s coastline. It’s great for walking, jogging, people watching, and sunset views.
- Habous Quarter – Also called the new medina, it’s a neat planned district full of clean-lined Islamic architecture built in the 1930’s.
- Central Market – Bustling local market where you can shop for produce, spices, household goods, clothing, and pets.
- Mohammed V Square – Lively central plaza surrounded by residential buildings, cafes, and architectural sites like the Central Post Office.
Nearby day trips from Casablanca include the charming old port town of El Jadida with its star-shaped Portuguese cistern, the seaside capital of Rabat, and the quaint azure coast and fortress of Azemmour.
With a prime location on the Strait of Gibraltar, Tangier has long been an important Mediterranean port city. It has an intriguing mix of African, European, Middle Eastern influences. Top sights include:
- Medina – The whitewashed hillside medina is wonderful to wander through, with labyrinthine alleys, small squares, hilly staircases, and peekaboo views of the port.
- Cap Spartel – Situated on the northwestern tip of Africa, it’s a picturesque place to watch the sun set over the Atlantic.
- Caves of Hercules – These mythical caves are located where the Atlantic and Mediterranean meet, with incredible views.
- Grand Socco – Lively central market square and entrance to the medina’s souks.
- Paseo Maritimo – Scenic seaside promenade popular for strolling and people watching.
Nearby day trips include the famous blue city of Chefchaouen tucked high in the Rif Mountains, Asilah for its Portuguese ramparts and medina, and Tetouan for its ancient walls and buildings in Andalusian style.
On Morocco’s Atlantic coast about 2.5 hours west of Marrakech lies the laidback beach town of Essaouira. It has a relaxed bohemian vibe and stunning seaside setting. Top activities include:
- Exploring Essaouira’s sizable medina surrounded by stone ramparts built by the Portuguese in the 18th century. It’s filled with art galleries, boutique shops, and open-air fish markets.
- Strolling along Skala du Port, the lively harbor area. Have fresh seafood at the outdoor fish grills while watching fishing boats unload their daily catch.
- Relaxing on the expansive beach right next to town. Take a camel ride at sunset or try your hand at windsurfing and kitesurfing.
- Shopping for souvenirs like handmade thuya wood items, locally produced argan oil, artwork, and jewelry in Essaouira’s mellow souks.
Side trips from Essaouira include visiting the ancient stone bridges and tranquil oasis villages of Paradise Valley tucked in the mountains behind the coast. The fortified Portuguese commercial outpost of Mogador is also worth seeing near Essaouira.
Natural Wonders and Outdoor Activities in Morocco
No trip to Morocco is complete without venturing into the Sahara, the largest desert in the world. Booking a multi-day tour from Marrakech, Fez or Merzouga takes you deep into the remote desert where you can:
- Trek through the undulating sand dunes on a camel, led by experienced local guides. Riding a camel is a memorable way to experience the desert.
- Spend the night camping in a traditional berber tent under a blanket of stars. Sit around a campfire, stargaze using telescopes, and sleep comfortably in the tranquility of the desert.
- Witness incredible desert sunrises and sunsets lighting up the dunes in beautiful golden light. These are prime times to shoot great photos.
- Go sandboarding and quad biking down the towering dunes for a thrill.
- Visit historic kasbahs, remnants of trans-Saharan trade routes, and lush palm-filled oasis towns like Zagora, M’Hamid and Tinerhir.
Top tour operators like Sahara Services, Endless Sahara, and Morocco Explores get excellent reviews from travelers for safety, service, and overall experience.
The Atlas Mountains contain some of Morocco’s most beautiful and diverse landscapes for hiking, climbing and outdoor adventures. Stretching 2,500 km across the country, the High Atlas, Middle Atlas and Anti Atlas ranges offer:
- Excellent hiking opportunities through lush green valleys, past waterfalls, and up the tallest peaks in North Africa. Toubkal at 4,167 meters is the highest summit in the High Atlas. Hire local guides to lead multi-day treks.
- Visiting traditional Berber villages to understand local culture. Have lunch or spend the night with a local family.
- Seeing spectacular geologic rock formations, caverns, and valleys throughout the mountains.
- Chasing thundering waterfalls like Ouzoud Waterfalls near Marrakech and Cascades d’Oumansour near Azrou.
- Exploring the extensive network of remote fortified kasbahs and ksours dotted throughout the mountains, especially in the Dades Valley.
The Atlas Mountains stretch diagonally across Morocco for 2,500 kms. The High Atlas near Marrakech and Midelt are most popular for hiking. The Middle Atlas is lush and green while the Anti Atlas is dry and stony.
Surfing and Beaches
With hundreds of miles of coastline, Morocco is a top destination for surfing and beach-going along both its Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean shores. Prime spots include:
- Taghazout – A small fishing village turned surf mecca located near Agadir. It offers excellent waves for surfers of all levels with many surf shops, camps and instructors.
- Essaouira – A world-class destination for windsurfing and kitesurfing because of its strong winds and currents. Equipment rentals and lessons are readily available.
- Oualidia – This serene lagoon is separated from the ocean by a thin sand isthmus. It attracts visitors with its laidback vibes, oysters, and pink flamingos.
- El Jadida – Historic coastal town with the scenic Crescent Beach tucked within the old Portuguese ramparts and cannons overlooking the sea.
The most popular beaches are found north of Rabat along the Mediterranean Coast where the water is cooler and cleaner than in the south.
From deserts to mountains to wetlands, Morocco has several stunning national parks that are worth visiting:
- Toubkal National Park – Dramatic scenery with North Africa’s tallest peak that’s ideal for hiking and climbing. It’s in the High Atlas Mountains.
- Erg Chebbi – Iconic Saharan sand dunes near Merzouga that rise up to 150 meters tall and stretch for 22 kilometers.
- Souss-Massa National Park – A biosphere reserve along the Atlantic where diverse wildlife like flamingos, jackals, falcons and storks can be spotted.
These parks offer guided hiking, bird watching, camel riding, 4×4 desert excursions and more to help visitors experience their remarkable landscapes first-hand.
Top Cultural Experiences in Morocco
Shopping the Souks
Every Moroccan city has its own souk, or traditional market, where you can browse stalls and practice your haggling skills. Top souvenirs to buy include:
- Lanterns – Decorative multi-colored metal and woven lanterns of all sizes.
- Rugs and carpets – Finely crafted wool rugs in colorful tribal patterns like Beni Ourain and Azilal.
- Wooden boxes and decor – Camel bone and cedar wood furniture inlaid with silver or painted wood chests and boxes.
- Leather goods – Camel leather bags, poufs, jackets and babouche slippers .
- Spices – Heaps of fragrant spices like saffron, cumin, paprika, and ras el hanout blends.
- Scarves and clothing – Intricately embroidered kaftans and billowy hijabs.
- Jewelry – chunky silver Berber jewelry and amber pieces.
- Pottery – Glazed pottery bowls, tagines, vases and more.
The largest souks are at Place Jemaa El Fna in Marrakech, in the Fes medina, and the Grand Socco in Tangier. Smaller cities also have great souks worth exploring.
One of the top reasons to visit Morocco is the delicious traditional Berber-Arab food. Classic Moroccan dishes to try include:
- Couscous – Steamed semolina grains served with meat, vegetables, and broth on the side. It’s the national dish of Morocco.
- Tanjia – A slow cooked beef or lamb stew cooked in an urn. Specialty of Marrakech.
- Pastilla – Savory pie with flaky phyllo dough filled with pigeon or chicken and crushed almonds and dusted with cinnamon and powdered sugar.
- Harira – Hearty tomato and lentil soup generally eaten to break fast during Ramadan.
- B’stilla – Sweet version of pastilla that’s filled with almond paste or custard.
- Mint tea – Sweet Moroccan style green tea made from Chinese gunpowder tea, lots of sugar, and fresh mint leaves.
Food tours, cooking classes, tastings, and restaurant week are great ways to experience Moroccan cuisine.
There are countless cultural sites and experiences throughout Morocco not to be missed:
- Kasbahs – Hundreds of ancient fortified Berber granaries and castles built from mud brick and rock throughout the desert and mountains.
- Ksours – Walled fortified Berber cities made of clay found mostly across Southern Morocco around the Draa Valley.
- Hammams – Relaxing local bath house experiences for cleansing the body and even exfoliating with an eucalyptus scrub.
- Festivals – Year-round cultural and music festivals celebrate everything from Sufi saints to Gnawa trance rituals and folk music.
- Dances – See choreographed folk dances like the Berber Ahwash with rifles and traditional costumes.
- Museums – View eclectic collections showcasing Moroccan Jewish history, arts, carpets and more.
Packing Tips and Travel Planning for Morocco
Morocco offers outstanding value for budget-conscious travelers. You can comfortably get by on $50-70 USD a day per person staying in budget accommodation like riads or Airbnbs, eating delicious local street food and eateries, and using affordable trains and buses to get around. Private tours will be higher cost. Budget extra for activities like surfing lessons, cooking classes, Eintrance fees and souvenirs.
Health and Safety
Morocco is generally very safe, especially in the main tourist centers. However, as a conservative Muslim country, women should dress modestly by keeping shoulders, midriff, and knees covered. Do not wear revealing clothing when exploring the old medinas. Only drink sealed bottled water and be cautious when choosing street food. If planning extensive hiking, get travel insurance in case of emergency.