Originally published at www.JourneyBeyondTravel.com
In the world of travel, Morocco is climbing as one of the most sought-after exotic destinations in the world. Part of this is in thanks to the extra five million tourists per year who once frequented Egypt and Tunisia who are now flocking to Morocco. A reputation as a safe, secure, and stable country has its benefits.
Travelers interested in Arabian, Moorish, Berber (and even Roman) history, art, religion, architecture, and especially culture will find Morocco a satiating stomping ground where serene beaches, ancient fortified cities, snow-capped mountain peaks, the golden sands of the Sahara Desert, and remote villages beckon exploration.
Before you make your way across land or sea to the North African Kingdom of Morocco, we’ve put some thought into three insider tips that will help you make the most of your journey. While there are many must-dos and don’t-dos, the focus here is on pointers that will help you get past the usual first-time visitor mistakes leaving you with more time to enjoy one of the most diverse and fun countries on the planet.
Choose the Best, Least Busy Time of the Year
If you’ve got the flexibility, then Morocco’s got the good weather. The busiest time to travel in Morocco is April, May, September, October, and Christmas. Easter week is often one of the busiest periods and some favored boutique guesthouse hotels (called riads) often fill up six months ahead of time. If you can plan your travels outside of these peak times, you’ll not only encounter fewer tourists, but also have choice rooms to boot.
Some of the best off-peak times to travel are in March (the last two weeks of March can be amazing), the last two-weeks of October (and into early November), and even early December (where some superbly warm days can occur). It’s more likely in January and February to have rain and even snow in higher-altitude locations, although later February has proffered nicer days over the last few years. Those traveling from Malaysia, Singapore, and Hong Kong often enjoy this sunny, yet cooler period (since it’s often a hot and humid summer they wish to escape).
Book Ahead in Well-Situated Riads & Avoid Chain Hotels
Since Morocco is now receiving nearly 15 million tourists a year (the Ministry of Tourism’s goal was 10 million by 2010 – and you can read an updated overview of Morocco tourism), finding choice rooms in riads (as mentioned above) requires one to plan ahead. Three months or more is recommended. In Morocco, our team has some strict criteria we follow as we handpick each of the riads we select for our clients. One of these criteria is that it must be in a central, yet quiet location. If you find an amazing riad tucked deep into the medina, you’ll surely enjoy it. But, you may have to avoid walking to it at night (as in any city, the later it gets it can become less safe) and it may be from ten minutes to an hour from some of the main sights you wish to see. So, location matters.
Another pointer is to avoid chain-style hotels (when you can help it). While there are deals to be had in the new parts of any city in Morocco, opting for a riad experience will mean an enjoyable, intimate, and hospitable stay. As far as choices, don’t go for the cheapest option that you find on hotel search engines, but go for those properties that stand out in terms of location, style, preferred decor, and with quality reviews. It can be hard to judge, so we dedicate much time in helping our travelers with these choices.
Diversify Your Trip: Landscape, People, & Food
While you can hang out in Marrakesh for the entirety of your trip, it is better advised to explore a bit more. Traveler feedback tells us that two to three nights is sufficient to get a feel for the city and to explore its environs. Getting away from the hustle and bustle is as easy as making a choice to venture two hours into the mountains, a few hours to the coast, or taking a few days to travel to the Sahara Desert. In each place you decide to venture, be open to invitations from locals to visit their families. It’s the people that truly make Morocco shine. Their heritage is diverse and across the spectrum, so you’ll meet all sorts of people in the different regions you visit.
Both online and offline resources offer an extensive list of things to do and places to see in Morocco. At Journey Beyond Travel, we have insider destination guides with videos, maps, and travel information to popular places such as Essaouira, among other destinations, that readers can peruse at their leisure to help bring each location to life. Purchasing a guidebook (I helped write the Rough Guide, which makes a nice choice) might also be in your best interest, which can help whether you travel independently or with a local company.
Another key pointer is to request local food in each location. In Morocco, most tourist venues serve one of two dishes: couscous or tagine (a meat stew with vegetables and eaten with bread). While these two ‘national’ dishes are a treat, after a few days of eating them, you’ll be ready to move on to other types of meals. These ‘hidden’ menu items are another benefit of using a local tour operator since they can ensure a variety of quality food is served throughout your time in country. One great resource is the blog of MarocMama. She offers superbly chosen food ideas and even recipes from her base in Marrakesh.
Finally, be open to leave room for discovery on your adventure. Places like the oasis Valley of Ziz are true highlights that no bus-bound tourist frequents due to group-size and itinerary limitations. Another great location to truly immerse in local Berber culture is the Atlas Mountains. Here, mud homes sit perched overlooking mesmerizing valleys that will bring your adventure to life. And, getting here isn’t hard for those with a little gumption. As your search continues, don’t neglect the places that might be neglected by others. One example is the ancient stronghold of Telouet, which is often overshadowed by nearby hill-topping UNESCO-protected Ait Ben Haddou. A UNESCO stamp of approval doesn’t mean there aren’t other worthwhile marvels. Ultimately no matter how you go about it, do some prep work so that you’ll know where to dedicate some open-ended time to discover places that are not only locked in time, but will add depth and meaning to your overall travel experience in Morocco.