Journey through Morocco
If you spent your childhood reading the 1001 Nights fairy tales and watching the Aladdin cartoon wondering where the city of Agroba is, then you can be sure that a trip to the Kingdom of Morocco will fulfill your childhood dream of seeing “the magic East, where spell and revenge, courage and honor, palaces and sand” with your own eyes. Today we have compiled for you not just a list of attractions in Morocco, but the whole route from the ocean to the desert through the most interesting and memorable cities.
Casablanca is the largest and most developed city in Morocco, and its international airport receives the largest number of tourists in the country, so this is where we will start our journey. Most of the city is industrial areas, but there is also an authentic historical center, beautiful buildings from the French colonization era, as well as good markets. In Casablanca you must see the Mosque of Hassan II, which was built for five years by the hard work of 6,000 Moroccan craftsmen. The majestic building is decorated with detailed mosaics, marble columns and floors, moldings and carved ceilings. Only Muslims are allowed inside, but even outside the mosque looks like a real work of art. Evening will be nice to spend on the central square of the city, which bears the name of Mohammed V; it is surrounded by beautiful old buildings built by the French at the beginning of the last century, and in the center there is a fountain with a colorful night illumination.
After a couple of days in Casablanca, the way is north along the coast to the city of Tangier. It is the northernmost point of Morocco, a port city that is washed on one side by the Atlantic Ocean and on the other by the Mediterranean Sea. Tangier has many well-kept city beaches, but the most beautiful are outside the city limits; for example, the famous “Hercules Pillars” caves, washed by sea water in the cliffs. The old part of the cities in Morocco is called the medina; in Tangier, the medina grew up around an 18th century fort built by the Portuguese. From the observation deck of the fort you have a panoramic view of the Strait of Gibraltar, and on clear weather you can see the shores of Spain. The medina is really big, so as you walk through the narrow streets you will see large mosques, palaces and ancient houses. The brightest and liveliest place is the “Great Bazaar”, where in the best traditions of Arab countries traders noisily invite visitors, and at the intersections entertain the crowd of gawkers snake charmer, fakirs and dancers.
It’s time to leave the coast and head for the Rif Mountains. Our next destination was Shefshauen, a sky-colored town on the slopes of the Rif Range. Chefchaouen was founded in the late 15th century by an Emir who came to Morocco from Andalusia. Subsequently, many Spanish Muslims and Jews migrated here, and built the city in the image and likeness of their native provinces. For many centuries, the city was considered sacred, and non-believers who decided to get there could face the death penalty, so the unique medieval architecture has survived to this day. A distinctive feature is that the vast majority of buildings in the city are painted blue. It is said that houses were painted in shades of blue, as this color reminds believers of heaven and God, but the following version seems more plausible. The sun shines brightly in this part of Morocco throughout the year, reflecting off the white buildings to the townspeople, and so the walls must be painted. A blue hue is easily obtained from the vaida plant, which grows in abundance in North Africa and has been used since the ancient Egyptians; when added to plaster, it gives a heavenly hue. The best thing to do in Chefchaouen is to walk from dusk to dawn with your camera in hand, and be sure to try the famous local goat cheese.
The next stop on the way to the desert is Fez, the oldest imperial city in Morocco. The medina is called Fez El Bali and consists of 9,400 narrow streets that are hard not to get lost in. The old part of the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as the cultural and spiritual center of the country, while the new part, built by the French, will seduce you with its picturesque broad boulevards with trendy stores and modern cafes. Fez El Bali is like a huge anthill, teeming with life in its mazes, and as you wander around you’re bound to see local artisans at work, colorful merchants in authentic rug shops, gardens, minarets, and squares with beautiful mosaic fountains. Even the very gates to the old city are impressive with their monumentality. Be sure to visit the palace square and the art museum located in the palace of Dar Bath. To relax after a long walk, go to a relaxing steam bath hammam, and if you’re already thinking about souvenirs, you can buy quality leather goods in the city of Fez.
It’s time to get closer to the Sahara Desert, and the last frontier on the way is the small town of Merzouga. Dusty town can not boast neither ancient architecture nor modern infrastructure, but very clearly shows tourists what real life on the edge of the desert. If you’re lucky enough to be traveling through Morocco in late winter, visit Lake Dayet Srji west of town. After heavy rainfall, it fills with water and becomes a real oasis with flocks of pink flamingos and storks.
The jewel of a trip to Morocco is a camel ride into the endless dunes with an overnight stay in a tent under the star-studded black sky of the Sahara Desert. Every day from the town of Merzouga start small caravans of tourists. During the trip you will try the traditional dishes of the desert people, hear the real songs and music of the Berbers, learn about their life and culture. If that’s not enough, you can get a bird’s eye view of the desert during a hot air balloon ride and then ride the giant dunes on quad bikes, skis or snowboard!
Head southwest along the desert border and stop at Ait Ben Haddou, which emerges from the lifeless sand like a mirage in the blazing sun. In ancient times caravans used to pass through it, here weary travellers could rest and replenish their water and food supplies. Today, Ait Ben-Haddou attracts tourists with its beautiful multi-tiered architecture and narrow streets, which form a bizarre maze of classic Moroccan medina. The flat roofs of the lower levels of the city are folded into picturesque terraces, which offer views of the vast expanse of desert. Many famous films such as “Gladiator” and “The Mummy” were filmed in the vicinity of this city.
A trip to Morocco would not be complete without a visit to the city of Marrakech at the foot of the Atlas Mountains, which we suggest ending a long and busy journey. Marrakech is often called the “red city” because its mud houses have a reddish hue. The Jemaa Al Fna Square in the heart of the medina is one of the most tranquil and calm areas in the city, with live music, acrobats and entertainers performing all day long, and at night the square transforms into a huge open-air restaurant, offering a wide variety of traditional and exotic dishes. Marrakech is also famous for its lush gardens and parks, olive groves and majestic palaces. In the old city it is worth seeing the Koutoubia mosque, which is 77 meters high. We recommend spending the last days of the trip in a relaxed mode, sitting in tiny cafes, sipping the famous Moroccan mint tea, wandering through the markets, buying souvenirs and gifts for friends, and gain strength for the upcoming stories about your experiences.
Tangier is a port city in northern Morocco, on the shores of the Strait of Gibraltar. It is not the imperial grandeur of the East, it is a distinctive place that opens the way for Europe to Africa.
In the 1920s, Tangier was divided into international zones to be controlled by several European colonial powers. But in fact, the states were never able to agree on the ownership of the territory. In 1923 the city was actually ruled by France, Britain and Spain, and later they were joined by Italy, Portugal and Belgium. Nominally Tangier remained under the control of the Moroccan sultan, but in fact it was under the authority of the international administration. During this period it became most attractive to travelers, writers, and musicians from all over the world, who easily became expats here. This lasted 44 years before the administration returned to Morocco as part of decolonization.
Tangier is still the most Europeanized and multilingual city in the country – Arabic, French, Spanish and English are all spoken here.
How to get there
There is no way to get to Tangier without a connection. The round trip ticket price starts from 43 000 rubles*. Ibn Battuta Airport is located 12 km from the city center. A cab to the city during the day will cost 120-150 dirhams*. By the way, Russian S7 Airlines launches direct flights to Morocco at the end of April – its aircraft will fly from Moscow to Casablanca. Royal Air Maroc also flies to this direction.
Before you travel, take care of the certificate with a negative result of the PCR test for COVID-19, received not earlier than 72 hours before the trip. You will also need proof of hotel reservations and a completed form.
Where to stay
When arriving in Tangier, the first thing tourists rush to the area of the ancient Medina. There are mosques, cafes and restaurants, old buildings and a market. On the Grand Soukko (“great bazaar”) sell carpets and handmade pottery, spices and sweets. We recommend settling near the old town to get into the spirit of the East.
Here are a few suitable options:
In Tangier it is worth visiting the market and the Grand Socco (“big market”), to get in touch with the creative atmosphere at the Cinema Rif and the art space, to enjoy the local cuisine at the Chez Hassan Cafe. We also recommend visiting the Kasbah quarter and the legendary Librairie des Colonnes bookshop.
Grand Socco Square and Market
Located in the old Medina district. Its stalls are hung with bundles of sweet tangerines and bananas, and the air fills with the scent of mint and freshly baked bread. It gets especially crowded in the evenings, when the place transforms into a noisy, colorful bazaar.
This is where almost all of Tangier’s restaurants and cafes are located. This makes the square the gastronomic center of the city. Be sure to visit one of the many places to have a couple of glasses of mint tea for 10-20 dirhams* and watch the buzz of life go by.
Journey through Morocco
An ancient cinema and the main art space in Tangier. Inside is a cafe where the local intelligentsia gather in the evenings. Here you can order a cup of coffee, light alcoholic drinks and snacks or buy bags and T-shirts with the logo of Cinema Rif. And the bartender will tell you about the upcoming events.
On the shelves you’ll find free newspapers with information about the screenings: films in English, Arabic and French are available for rent. Be sure to stay for a screening of any film – the soft red armchairs and the special atmosphere of the cinema hall will be remembered forever.
Chez Hassan Cafe
A small place with an open kitchen, known for delicious food and a good-natured owner. While they’re cooking you, flip through the book of comments and suggestions, where visitors have been leaving wishes and thanks since the early 1980s. There you’ll find messages from travelers from all over the world.
At Chez Hassan Cafe, try the national dish, tagine. It is cooked in special clay pots – a deep dish covered with a cone-shaped lid. The main ingredients are potatoes, minced pieces of meat, chicken on a bone. You can also order a vegetarian version or tagine with seafood.
On average one dish will cost you 24-35 dirhams. A basket of bread and olives are included.
Librairie Des Colonnes
The bookstore has been around since 1949. The founding family was interested in highlighting the literary life of Tangier, and over time the store became the main cultural center of the city. The reading room was frequented by many writers. For example, Mohammad Shukri, Paul Bowles, Tennessee Williams, Jean Genet, Juan Goytisolo, Jack Kerouac, and others. Here you can buy editions in various languages and grab postcards as a keepsake.
The Kasbah is a separate quarter of the city where the historical museum of the same name is located. It is housed in Dar el Mahzen, the former sultan’s palace. Most of the exhibits are in seven halls located around the central courtyard. Signs are signed in French and Arabic, but there are also pamphlets explaining them in English.
You will see huge flint tools, wine vessels with scenes of feasts, and a floor mosaic from Volubilis. There are special interactive rooms where historical chronicles of the city are broadcast on screens. Before you get ready to leave, don’t forget to admire the exotic Sultan’s garden in the courtyard.
This place is located not far from the Kasbah. At one time, the Rolling Stones were the main visitors to Cafe baba. And in 2013 Jim Jarmusch shot here one of the scenes of the movie “Only Lovers Live”, which is now commemorated by dozens of photos on the walls. At Cafe baba you can chat with the owner, Abdullah, and hear first-person stories about the famous filmmaker.
You can also feel like the hero or heroine of a movie at Cafe baba. Here you’ll find another of Jarmusch’s sets – near the Kasbah Museum, at the very top of the fortress, is the same courtyard with the gazebo from the final scene of Only Lovers Survive. It is especially nice at night, when illuminated by the warm light of the lamps.
At 14 km from the city is Cape Spartel, which cuts through the Atlantic Ocean and the Strait of Gibraltar. Be sure to charge your gadgets – rocky bluffs, a sandy beach, and foamy caps of waves await you. You can get to the place by cab.
Here is the main “mythical” attraction of Tangier – the Hercules Caves. These are two rocks in the area of the cape, where, according to legend, Hercules liked to rest before his next feat. Once he broke through the mountains so that between them there was a passage for the Strait of Gibraltar. And now one of the rocks, Abila, belongs to Europe, and the other, Jebel Musa, located on the territory of Morocco, belongs to Asia.
Around the caves stretched beaches – it is great to have a picnic, meet the sunset and swim in the refreshing waters of the Atlantic.