A small country perched on the North African coastline, Morocco is packed with energy, colour and mystery. In just one day travellers can witness snake charmers and souks, traverse the Atlas Mountains, and end the day sleeping beneath the stars of the Sahara Desert.
What makes visiting Morocco even better? Low cost airlines frequently arrive from Europe and the U.K making this an easy country to explore on a budget.
The city of Marrakech can be a popular place to begin a Morocco experience, but by the same token can be overwhelming at first impression.
From Marrakech International airport, the city centre is just 7km away. A convenient airport bus service departs every 30minutes between 6:30am – 11:30pm, arriving at the Medina. From the Medina it’s walking distance to many accomodations and restaurants.
The Medina of Marrakech is a feast for the eyes. Buildings are centred around a main square that is a flurry of entertainment and activities. Snake charmers, monkey shows, souks (markets) selling colourful mosaic crafts, homewares and leathers. This is where the main action of Marrakech is.
While it is a lot of fun wandering the sights and taking in the bizarre antics of locals in the area, it’s useful to remember that locals who are putting on a show (snake charmers or monkeys for example) are looking for a tourist’s fee. If you take a photo, expect to pay. If you are passing by, expect to be approached. Many of the local women prefer not to be photographed too; demonstrate respect by asking permission first.
Surrounding the souk and Medina are roof top restaurants that provide a perfect viewing platform for the antics in the Medina below. Expect delicious Moroccan tagine, breads and hummus but remember this is an alcohol free destination and enjoying a beer or wine will be challenging to find.
Down the side streets of Marrakech tour operators are ready to book travellers on excursions to the Atlas Mountains, overnight Sahara Desert stays, camel rides, or transport to other regions. Although booking from your home country before you leave is often more cost effective, convenient and reliable.
The Atlas Mountains
Although the Atlas Mountains span farther than Morocco, into Algeria and Tunisia too, heading in the general direction for hiking opportunities is worthwhile. A day trip is out of the question as it takes a solid 12 hours to drive into the Mountains fully, but there are areas on the outskirts that serve well for those coming from Marrakech.
Less than 150 km from Marrakech is Jbel Mgoun (also known as M’Goun, Ighil Mgoun, Irhil M’Goun). Standing approximately 4000 metres, this is the 3rd highest peak of the Atlas Mountains. A hike or circumnavigation of the peak can take around 5 days and is readily accessible as an excursion from Marrakech.
For a day trip to the Atlas Mountains (return from Marrakech) many travellers choose to visit Imlil. Imlil is a small village which sits beneath the largest peak in the mountain range, Jebel Toubkal. Here travellers witness the impressive mountains surrounding, and observe a more remote Moroccon village to that of Marrakech.
The highest mountain in the Atlas range is Just 2.5hours drive along windy roads, from Marrakech. Toubkal offers an ideal opportunity for hikers to explore. A guide is necessary and expect rugged terrain with a variety of climates including rocky mountainous terrain and snow in some areas. Preparation is key as this is a mountain range after all; training and appropriate gear is necessary.
The Sahara Desert
The Sahara Desert is the largest hot desert on Earth, parts of which span into Morocco too. The Moroccon sections of the Sahara are the Zagora Desert and Merzouga Desert.
From Marrakech, it is convenient to travel to the desert. The route is winding and scenic, but well worth the effort for travellers interested in exploring Morocco’s countryside.
The distance to Zagora is 360km (7 hours by car). Closer than Merzouga and ideal for 1 or 2 overnights in the desert. En route to the desert, stop over at small villages where the buildings are made from red desert clay. Certainly interesting to experience!
It is popular for travellers to take an overnight to the desert and sleep in berber tents for the night. The experience generally includes driving from Marrakech through the small villages, past the Atlas Mountains, and on arrival to the desert, travelling by camel back to large berber tents for the night. Here travellers enjoy dinner under nothing but a starry sky, listening to the traditional drum beat of berbers. Booking can be arranged through your travel agent in your home country or through a tour vendor in Marrakech.