Souks, Spices, and the Sahara on a Morocco Vacation

On your Morocco vacation you’ll travel from the Atlantic Ocean to the Sahara Desert, from ancient city to Andalusian village, experiencing varied landscapes, rich history, and great diversity.

One of the great joys of a Morocco trip is staying in a charming riad in Marrakech or Fes, from where you can explore the city’s gigantic puzzle of souks and alleys. As soon as you enter the labyrinthine streets of the medinas, the historic heart of Moroccan cities, the aroma of spices and freshly baked bread fills the air. In Old Fes, trawling the intact medieval city is a surreal experience. Old and new mix in the capital Rabat, and in Casablanca where art deco architecture and café-lined Corniche Walk provide an interesting contrast to the rest of the country.

Walk along the ramparts of the walled city in windy and colorful Essaouira. Roam the cobblestoned alleys of the charming hilltop Andalusian-style village of Chefchaouen where houses are painted blue, and women still wear the traditional a red-and-white-striped fouta, and straw hats topped with pom-poms.

Take a break and relax on golden sands at the tranquil crescent bay of Agadir. A short way from Agadir is Taroudant, an ideal stop, specially if you’d like to expand your understanding of Berber culture. Savor fresh oysters from a local farm in the coastal town of Oualidia, which sits on a picturesque coastal tidal lagoon teeming with birds. Sipping mint tea is central to the Moroccan way of life and so is bathing in a hammam. You can live like a local by signing up for a traditional hammam experience, and get scrubbed clean in a building of fantastic Moorish architecture.

Your holiday turns even more interesting as you ride a camel through the Agafay Desert outside Marrakech, at the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. Look upward in stunned silence at millions of stars crowding the night sky when you camp overnight, with Bedouins, on the undulating red-tinged dunes of the Sahara near Merzouga.

You can rely on Enchanting Travels to help you select the right riad for your stay, or find the most authentic cultural experiences. We’ll guide you through the planning, so when you’re on the ground in Morocco you’ll make the real connections and get to the heart of the place.

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Best Time to Visit Morocco

Moroccan weather can be unpredictable from October through February and can vary from one year to the next; some winters are moderate and others are wet and cold. Follow the link to discover when to visit Morocco.

Best time to visit Morocco

Morocco Travel Tips

Our destination experts have compiled the most important information and tips for your Morocco tour. Follow the link to read more about local customs and traditions in Morocco.

Morocco Travel Tips

Safety in Morocco

Morocco has more of a laid back feel to it for visitors and is, generally speaking, safer than its neighboring countries. For more information and safety tips, follow the link below. 

Is Morocco safe

Top 10 Things to do in Morocco

From colorful souks and medinas to Moroccan mint tea and Sufi music festivals, discover the top ten things to do and see in Morocco.

Things to do in Morocco

Culture in Morocco

A lot of Moroccan culture is founded on the indigenous culture of both the Berber tribes of northern Africa and that of Islam. Each has added something to the country, which has made it a rich tableau of languages and heritage.

You’ll quickly fall in love with the sandy streets, the warm air and the uniqueness of the colors incorporated into the buildings and homes. Much of modern day Moroccan architecture is heavily influenced by the Moors, the French and Islamic culture. They brought with them colorful Zellige tiling, fountains, mosques, and Arabesque patterns and motifs. Fes in particular is an architecture lovers’ dream with many resplendent untouched historical buildings, the grand Fes el Bali medina, and its famous tanneries.

Leather dying in a traditional tannery in the city Fes, Morocco
Dying leather at a traditional tannery in Fes

For the culture vulture, it’s impossible not to be distracted. Plenty of galleries and international exhibitions have popped up all over the country. Realizing its potential to promote the emergence of homegrown and international contemporary art, the Marrakech Biennale began in 2005 and has gone from strength to strength reinforcing Morocco’s image as an artistic powerhouse in Africa. While Casablanca has the Villa Des Arts, Marrakech is also home to some of the country’s most stunning museums including the Dar Si Said Museum, the Museum of Islamic Art, and the Majorelle Garden once owned by Yves Saint-Laurent.

Abroad, Morocco has always been in the limelight. The multiculturalism of Tangiers from the 1940s-1970s created an artistic mecca and its own literary history by drawing the likes of Paul Bowles, William Burroughs and many others.

Casablanca has always been an import seaside city and port but international attention spiked with the release of the 1942 titular Hollywood classic and never let up (you can still check out Rick’s Café). Morocco’s first international film festival took place in Marrakech in 2000.

Moroccan Arab Bedouin music is well-known internationally and in recent times the music scene has become a melting pot of cultures and influences that includes: Andalusian, Chaabi rock bands, folk, classical, Persian and recently hip-hop.

A selection of drums being sold at a souk in Marrakech
A selection of drums being sold at a souk in Marrakech

The official currency of the country is the Moroccan Dirham (MAD), with one USD being roughly equal to 9.7 MAD. While Visa and Mastercard are commonly accepted at larger shops and restaurants, smaller hotels and bazaars prefer cash transactions, even if they have stickers on the door to say that cards are accepted. Even many larger establishments are known to decline American Express cards, or ask for a surcharge of 3 -4 % for card transactions. While ATMs are available in all major cities, some only accept Debit Cards.

Morocco has two official languages spoken throughout the country – Berber and Arabic. French is also widely spoken everywhere while Spanish is common in the northern areas. While English is not as common in the less touristy areas, it is commonly spoken in all major cities.

Morocco is a welcoming holiday destination for just about anyone, with friendly faces and colorful buildings all around you. If you are willing to put yourself out there and mingle, Moroccan people will welcome you into their homes and make you feel instantly comfortable, often telling you tales of their homeland.

Cuisine of Morocco

Moroccan Cuisine

a Maghrebi dish which is named after the earthenware pot in which it is cooked.
Moroccan tagine – a Maghrebi dish named after the earthenware pot in which it is cooked.

This is synonymous with the use of the tagine and is characterized by its fragrant and colorful plethora of spices, including coriander, cinnamon, cumin, saffron, dried ginger and paprika.

You must try the fantastic flavorful stews called tagines that are found everywhere, prepared with meat or fish, vegetables and/or almonds, apricots or prunes.

Common dishes include the versatile couscous, a type of steamed semolina. In Morocco it is tradition to mix this with raisins or nuts, and a little pinch of spice. It usually accompanies roasted chicken with lemon and olives, and harira, a thick tomato-based soup with chickpeas and meat, traditionally served during Ramadan.

You must try the fantastic flavorful stews called tagines that are found everywhere; although each cook has his or her own secret recipe, the basic ingredients are meat or fish, vegetables and/or almonds, apricots or prunes. The word ‘tagine’ is also attributed to the cone-shaped terracotta pot that is used in making such succulent stews. The air circulation in a tagine cone helps cook the ingredients while evenly retaining the moisture.

If you’d like a tasty meal and a spectacle, you should try the mechoui. This is a whole goat or lamb, seasoned with cumin powder and slow-roasted until the meat is tender and the skin crisp, usually accompanied with a fresh salad. Pastilla is a very popular sweet and savory Moroccan pie and consists of a rich combination of layers of meat and filo pastry, coated with powdered sugar and cinnamon. It’s delicious at any time of the day.

For those with a sweet tooth, you’re in luck. Try the popular pastry khab el ghzal (“gazelle’s horns”), a pastry stuffed with almond paste scented with orange flower essence. It’s extraordinary! Most desserts do not revolve around heavy doses of chocolate and more often than not contain plenty of sugar, honey, almonds, sesame seeds, and filo dough instead. Crème caramel or ‘flan’ is served in most restaurants.

Moroccan mint tea
Moroccan mint tea

There is a very prevalent tea culture in Morocco.

Fruit is often eaten after a meal, along with a glass of mint tea (spearmint and sugar). There is a very prevalent tea culture in Morocco and sugar is the name of the game, so be sure to let your server know if you’d rather have your sugar on the side. And how best to drink this delicious beverage? Hold your glass by the base and the rim with the finger and thumb and wrap a tissue round the teapot handle – they can be very hot.

History of Morocco

The Berbers – a vast multilingual ethnic tribe indigenous to northern Africa – ruled Morocco through a series of dynasties. Some of the most historically significant ruins from this time can still be seen at Volubilis where there are remains from 3rd century AD of a Berber/Roman city and another site, Lixus, dated from the 4th century AD near the town of Larache.

Morocco as we know it today began with the first major shift away from the centralized control of the Berbers.

With the Islamic conquest of the Maghreb state of Northern Africa in the 7th century AD, Arabic became the primary language and Islam the primary religion. Thereafter, Morocco’s Arabic heritage came to be forever entwined with the ancient indigenous tribal influence and traditions of the Berbers. This new Morocco is still evident today when you visit the likes of Fes el Bali in Fes; part of the old original city built under initial Islamic influence in the 8th century AD, is of huge cultural and historical importance.

Though Islamic dynasties came and went, Morocco was at its most powerful under the leadership of the Berber dynasties from 11th-16th century. During this time, a number of stunning historical buildings were commissioned and can still be viewed today under UNESCO protection; the unfinished Hassan Tower in Rabat of red sandstone, the incredibly recognizable blue buildings of Chefchaouen near Tangiers and the stunning Ben Youssef Madrasa College in Marrakech.

Morocco is the blue city of Chefchaouen, endless streets painted in blue color. Lots of flowers and Souvenirs in the beautiful streets of Chefchaouen. A magical fairy-tale city of heavenly color
The blue city of Chefchaouen.

The current Moroccan royal family, the Alaouite family, came to power in 1666. Since 1864 they have resided at their Dar al-Makhzen palace in the capital Rabat, which is definitely worth a visit.

In the 19th century, France stepped tried to gain influence and power. By 1912, Morocco was lawfully declared as a dependent state of France and Spain. Steered by King Mohammed V, Morocco was declared fully independent under the 1956 agreement. From 1999, under King Mohammed VI, Morocco saw new legislation and modernization.

With the incredible year-round weather, the emergence of direct flights from all over Europe, and a boom in the activity and adventure sector, Morocco now sees more than 10 million tourists a year! There are historically important sites everywhere you look from the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech built in the 12th century to the ancient Kasbah of Tangiers. Morocco has a lot to offer and it should be on everyone’s bucket list.

Koutoubia Mosque and garden in Marrakech
Koutoubia Mosque and garden in Marrakech

Architecture of Morocco

The introduction of Islam in the 7th century AD gradually brought with it a strong Arabic architectural heritage that contrasted beautifully with the indigenous Berbers simplicity. When it came to architecture, Berbers preferred functionality to opulence. Colors tended to be restrained, and based on different shades of mud brick and paler hues. Today, Berber design is still evident through strong desert fortifications and well-protected palace walls. The fortified village of Aït Benhaddou or the village of Amtoudi with its still resplendent granaries are perfect examples of this.

Kasbah Aït Benhaddou in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco is a typical example of Berber architecture.
Kasbah Aït Benhaddou in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco is a typical example of Berber architecture.

The adaptation of one culture into the other meant that most buildings extended in size bringing a myriad of colors, tiles, water features and floral motifs. The Tin Mal mosque in Tinmel for example is steeped in Berber and early Islamic culture. With its mud brown color, dozens of pillars and arches in sequence, and all those tiny intricate details, it is unlike anything else around.

In contrast, the much larger, grander Great Mosque of Taza was built a little later with a sense of opulence in mind. On the outside is was made to look solid and fortified but inside, its walls are awash with color and there is even a three-ton chandelier.

From the 13th to the 15th century, the influence of the Moors spread from Spain and contributed with their own use of mosaics and arches. By the 20th century the French had arrived and almost immediately implemented tough legislation on construction. Buildings could no longer be over four storeys, only flat roofs were permissible, and the importance of gardens and courtyards was stressed. All of these designs helped build what has now become the ultimate iconoclastic Moroccan home; the riad. An inward looking building, the riad was usually built two or three storeys high with a courtyard or garden at its center.

Courtyard of a Moroccan riad

To residents, the courtyard provided peace, privacy and somewhere to relax. The walls were usually coated with tadelakt (waterproof) plaster and the interiors decorated with calligraphy and/or tiles. Marrakech in particular has seen much restoration of these buildings under its UNESCO protection.

As of 2016, there are nine official protected sites, with a number of tentative ones waiting in the wings, and they extend the length and breadth of the country. Morocco is a country built on layers of history which reach across Africa and into Europe and is evident everywhere you look.

Festivals and Events in Morocco

Morocco is an exciting and entertaining country that lays claim to plenty of cultural, historical and religious holidays and festivals. At any given point of the year there is a Moroccan city or Berber community hosting glorious festivities. Here is a list of some of the most popular festivals and events in Morocco.

1. Ramadan

An Islamic holiday where Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset for one month. In Morocco during this month, day-to-day life moves at a much slower pace but after the sun has set the streets come alive.

  • Where: This takes place throughout Morocco.
  • When: May/June 2019

2. International Nomads Festival

An open-air event celebrating all aspects of nomadic culture. It invites local, national and international artists to showcase their poetry, music, dance, storytelling and handicrafts.

  • Where: M’Hamid El Ghizlane
  • When: March

3. Marathon Des Stables

The Sand Marathon is one of its most unique events -albeit not as much of a Moroccan festival as the others- that takes place every year over the course of 10 days. This one-of-a-kind marathon is considered the toughest foot race on Earth, covering 251 km (156 mi) in a 6-day event.

  • Where: The Sahara Desert
  • When: April

4. Sufi Music & Culture Festival:

This festival is in honor of Sufi spirituality and music. The festival brings together Sufi religious leaders as well as artists from around the world to showcase their poetry, films, music, dance and artworks. Scholars also gather to discuss important themes in Sufism such as human rights, cultural diversity and world peace.

  • Where: Fes
  • When: April

5. Festival of World Sacred Music

A gathering of musicians, scholars and art enthusiasts from all over the world. The weeklong event features free concerts, a film festival and a forum where debates are held.

  • Where: Fes
  • When: May

6. Gnaoua World Music Festival

Over the course of four days, the festival celebrates the Gnaoua people and their ancestral contribution to the world. Over half a million people attend the festival to watch dance and musical shows and connect with the artists in more intimate performances and open debates.

  • Where: Essaouira
  • When: June

7. International Culture Festival

Artists flock here to showcase their work and paint murals on the medina’s ancient walls. The star of the show, however, is a three-day horse festival which includes a Moroccan fantasia (a traditional exhibition of horsemanship).

  • Where: Asilah
  • When: July

8. Moussem Moulay Abdellah Amghar

A fascinating religious and cultural festival honoring the historical ancestral soil of Moulay Abd Alah Amghar, a region that saw many victorious battles against occupying forces. Over 500,000 attendees gather to watch all expressions of Moroccan folklore art including fantasia performances, traditional orchestras, songs and dances.

  • Where: El Jadida
  • When: August

9. Imilchil Marriage Festival

Travel back in time with this traditional Berber custom, which happens once a year and seeks to bring together families of various local tribes to meet and marry their sons and daughters.

  • Where: Imilchil
  • When: September

10. Aid el Kebir

Every family traditionally sacrifices a sheep and shares the meat at a family meal. The holiday is in remembrance of not only Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son at God’s command but also of God’s mercy by replacing the son with a sheep.

  • Where: Throughout Morocco
  • When: August

Our destination experts are happy to customize your vacation according your specific interests and preferences and ensure that your Morocco tour is indeed your journey of a lifetime!

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