An interview with our Morocco region expert - Emily Burrows
Morocco can feel like an intimidating place to travel for some people. But it is indeed one of the most magical destinations offering epic adventures and rich culture. We interviewed our Morocco expert Emily Burrows to help get some of our most asked questions answered. Emily made Morocco her base, and has travelled extensively here, working in tourism in Morocco and in other roles. She will be among the first to tell you that Morocco offers it all in one captivating package – mountains, desert, coast, and an enthralling culture – and hopes that every visitor to Morocco leaves with the same feeling.
Where should an Adventure seeker go in Morocco?
Morocco offers something for everyone - numerous Mountain ranges, the Sahara desert, the Atlantic Coast and much more. It really depends on what you are looking for as a traveler.
When is the best time to visit?
Mid September through mid May is typically the best window to visit Morocco in general. You will find cooler temperatures in October through April. Winters can be very cold and wet, especially in the North of Morocco, such as Chefchaouen, Tangier, Fes.
Winters in Marrakech, southern Morocco and the Sahara are warm by day and cold at night. But Winter light conditions for photography are ideal, especially in the Sahara, with low sun/late sunset. February is a good month to visit for early Spring blooms, blossoms, migratory birds, and is a quieter visitor season.
Snow falls on the high peaks from as early as the end of October, and remains until early May. However, snowfall has been sporadic in recent years, and first real snows may not arrive until February/March in a mild/dry year.
The Coast is temperate year round, with strong breezes on the Atlantic coast it appeals to kite-surfers and surfers year round. August on the Coast offers respite from the inland summer temperatures, but is also the busiest time to visit due to Moroccan school holidays.
What Regions to consider?
As above, depending on the activity.
The Arabic name given for Morocco is “al-Maghrib al-Aqsa”, translated as furthest westerly kingdom (of the Maghreb countries). Morocco is just 13km from Spain but is smaller than its neighbor, despite its territory bordering 3500km of the Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines. It's slightly larger than California.
What is the best city for rich culture?
Each city offers something unique. The medinas of the Imperial Cities (Rabat, Marrakech, Fes, Meknes) are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
If I were to choose it would be a toss up between Marrakech and Fes.
Marrakech is both a gateway and a destination in its own right - a gateway to the Coast (3 hours away), a gateway to the Atlas mountains (within 90 minutes), and a gateway beyond to the Sahara desert. Marrakech is an accessible destination, as it is the most 'cosmopolitan' of the Imperial Cities. It seems to bridge the ancient and the modern, and has seen its ancient Medina and new town adapt to accommodate 'the familiar', in that the visitors expect to dine out, shop, visit museums/gardens, and sleep in the boutique riads.
The Fes Medina is purported to be the largest urban car free zone in the world. It feels of another age, compared to Marrakech. It isn't as 'familiar' and as cosmopolitan, but it is the seat of the founding Arab dynasty of Morocco, so its religious/cultural roots are hugely important. Fes, like Marrakech, still maintains a strong crafts tradition and many artisans continue their handicrafts. Fes is also a great base for the North, if you plan to incorporate Chefchaouen, Tangier into your trip.
What are the must try Foods/Drink?
Must-tries are -
- 'Sand-bread', baked in the hot sand under the embers of a campfire
- Moroccan tea with seasonal herbs added
- Argan oil (a distinctive nutty taste, delicious with fresh bread dipped in, or use it to dress over a salad).
Moroccan food is all about loads of fresh, seasonal fruits & vegetables - lean meats (often lamb) and a variety of colorful herbs & spices (paprika, saffron, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, coriander, etc). Well-known dishes include tagine (named for the conical earthenware pot the dish is slowly cooked in, over charcoal) and couscous (semolina steamed three times to keep it light).
Other notable dishes include pastilla (filled filo pastry parcel, sweet & savory), mechwi (roasted whole lamb or sheep, sometimes cooked in a fire-pit in the ground, popular at weddings and festivals), harira (bean and chickpea soup, tomato-base, eaten to break the fast during Ramadan), tanjia (jugged beef or lamb, slow-cooked in the embers of a fire), and flavorsome salads.
Dessert is not really a big deal at mealtimes, and usually fresh fruit (pomegranate, melon, peaches, grapes, for instance) is served. Other fruits particular to Morocco are figs, dates and prickly pears.
Moroccan pastries are often made with almonds and honey, flavored with orange flower water.
How many days do I need in Morocco?
A minimum of a week to scratch the surface and get a feel for the Kingdom (i.e. combine a city break with the Sahara). Even spending 2 months here wouldn't allow a complete deep dive.
Our 'Highlights of Morocco', is 8 days and aims to cover a broad introduction to the landscapes, culture, adventure and more.
What is the best way to get around Morocco?
- Bus/train in the North (trains travel as far south as Marrakech).
- Bus/local taxi is best in the South
- Private driver-transport for Sahara desert and southern Anti-Atlas mountains.
Top adventures to consider?
- Desert hiking in the Sahara, spend several days walking with a camel caravan and camping wild under the stars each night - finish this experience off with a final night at the Erg Chigaga dunes (the longest sand sea in Morocco).
- Hiking the Anti-Atlas mountains and Valleys near Tafraoute.
- Beach sports near Taghazout, surfing center
What are your personal top 3 places in Morocco?
- Sahara Desert
- Draa Valley palm oases (The Draa is Morocco's longest river)
What are the top reasons a traveler needs to put Morocco on their bucket list.
Awe-inspiring natural beauty, its ancient civilization, an enthralling culture, and the genuine welcome from its people.
A favorite off the beaten track location?
The palm oasis outside the village of Mhamid, which is on the Draa Valley. Mhamid is at the end of the tar road, literally the Sahara desert frontier. While most visitors pass through, directly into the heart of the desert, it is worth spending a few days at the outlying palm oasis and exploring the desert settlements and countryside. It's like stepping back in time, and a great way to switch off the outside world for a few days. I also think it's a good buffer, between the isolation of the Sahara desert, and re-joining the 'real world'. It always takes a couple of days to readjust to the real world anyway, having spent a few days in the desert.
Is Morocco Safe for a solo traveler?
Yes it is, safer than ever. I first came as a solo traveller and used the vast network of public (shared) taxis to move around, and also the train.
One of my first trips to Morocco was by train from London (which took around 42 hours, London to Fes through Paris, Madrid, Algeciras, Tangier). I remember being ridiculously over-laden with books I'd packed, as I was heading into the mountains to trek after visiting Fes. I don't remember reading a single one of those books!
Now, driving around the country as a solo traveller, the open roads are a pleasure to drive, and more and more visitors are self-driving. As in any new destination, a first-time visitor should take the usual precautions.
Tip - ask to be guided by your riad staff to the front door from the vehicle drop point, especially if arriving at night.