Next Stop: Morocco

Next Stop: Morocco
Primer's Guide to Your Next Great Vacation.

Morocco may not be the first place you think of when considering a vacation abroad, but it’s got a lot to recommend it – from some of the world’s best food and historic markets to beautiful weather and great surfing conditions. There’s still the allure of some old Hollywood romanticism to the country thanks to the lasting influence of Casablanca and countless spy films – not least last year’s Spectre. Oh, and it’s still pretty damn cheap once you cover the flights, so there’s really no good reason not to check it out.

Shakshouka in Morocco - Food of Morocco

by jenly

The Food

Moroccan food is quite rightly renowned. From slow-cooked tagines to ludicrously fluffy couscous, there’s a lot to recommend it. Thanks to the country’s unique location and history, it bears influences from Africa, the Middle East, and Mediterranean France and Spain – and has in turn influenced many of those places. Everything’s richly spiced, heavy with cumin, cloves, and saffron, while almonds and raisins are a common inclusion. Chicken, beef, and slow-cooked lamb are prevalent, while along the coast you’ll inevitably find plenty of fresh fish and seafood. Oh, and the less said about Moroccan baked eggs – a.k.a. shakshouka – the better, because otherwise I’m going to have to go and find some to eat right now.

Check out: Wherever the locals are eating. There may be no menu, but you could get eggs, bread, coffee and freshly squeezed orange juice – all for about $2.

The Surf

I don’t surf – it requires a degree of coordination, speed, and balance that I do not, and will never, have. But, for those more inclined that way, the Moroccan coast offers some great opportunities. There’s plenty of surfing up and down the coast near Agadir (home to one of the country’s bigger airports), with bodyboards, surfboards, wetsuits and other gear all available to rent – and, for the most part, cheaper than you’re likely to find anywhere in the U.S. There are quite a few small surfing communities around too, so lots of opportunities for tuition or just making new friends, including a few hostels and hotels dedicated solely for surfers.

And if you’re looking for something a little more relaxed, those surfers have brought with them plenty of yogis, and there are cheap waterfront yoga classes aplenty – it’s hard to overstate how much more enjoyable yoga is in the open air under the hot summer sun, the sound of the sea in the background, than pent up in a sweaty little urban studio.

Check out: Surf Maroc offer surfing and yoga, along with a few hotels and apartments, along the coast near Agadir, one of the country’s bigger international airports.

The Culture

Along with a few other countries along the north African coast, Morocco bears the triple influences of its African roots, and historical influence from both the Middle East and France. The result is a striking mix of architecture, culture, and language (most people are fluent in both French and Arabic). Marrakesh is rightly famous for its souks, or markets, which are bustling with stalls. You might have to fight your way past some tourist tat and fake handbags, but once you do there are some amazing finds, from tagine dishes and handmade carpets to local honey and an astonishing array of spices. Even if you don’t buy anything, the atmosphere alone is worth a visit.

Morocco spices

Check out: Herboriste Avicenne in Marrakech, a herb and spice shop that’s been around longer than you’ve been alive.

Morocco Airbnb

The Airbnb I stayed at.

The Accommodation

The major cities (Marrakech and Casablanca) boast most of the usual international chain hotel suspects, along with an array of hostels. As the tourism industry builds along the coast these are arriving there too, including the requisite resorts, but there are still plenty of undiscovered gems to be found. AirBnB might be your friend here (as it was mine), revealing not only people with a spare room but also loads of self-contained apartments and houses available to rent.

Mococco Airbnb

View from my Airbnb

This is even better if you go along with a group – once you’ve spent a holiday staying in a sprawling Moroccan riad, complete with roof terrace, balconies, and more beds than you can count, it’s hard to go back to a hotel – especially when you each only paid the same rate as your average hostel bed.

Morocco Airbnb

Inside my Airbnb

Check out: Taghazout is a small village just outside Agadir. You won’t get the benefits of the big cities, but you can stay in an absurdly luxurious riad like this.

The Health

Bear with me here. Parts of the country – though not all of it – are ‘dry’, and alcohol is nigh impossible to come by (unsurprisingly, these tend to be the more religious areas – Morocco has a predominantly Muslim population). Depending on your outlook, that might sound like a horrifying reason to rule it out as a destination straight off the bat, and I can’t say I’d blame you too much. But there’s an upside. How many of your holidays (especially in your early ‘20s) have seen you return home feeling worse than when you left – and certainly no more rested – after a few days of disgraceful excess? That’s a lot harder without bars or booze, so it can be an ample encouragement to actually rest and give your body some TLC with your trip. That, and just think of all the money you’ll save by skipping the bar crawl and dodging wine with dinner.

Check out: Avoid the big cities if you want to stay dry – booze is much easier to find there. Stick to smaller coastal towns like Taghazout or Banana Bay.

Moroccan Roll

If you like the sound of delicious food, beautiful weather, and fascinating culture, Morocco should be an easy sell. And if you don’t, then what the hell’s wrong with you? Sure, there are some downsides – for U.S. travelers, the transatlantic flight is probably an obvious one – it’s about 7 hours direct from New York to Casablanca. Then there’s the strong conservative Muslim cultural influence – fine for the most part, but any LGBT travellers in your party will have to be pretty discrete, and women should probably avoid any especially revealing clothing beyond the tourist-rich beach areas. Morocco is also a bit funny about their currency, which is tightly controlled, so you can’t exchange anything until you arrive there – and need to change it back before you leave. Rates are reasonable though, and living costs in the country are generally pretty low – as long as you’re savvy enough to spot when an opportunistic vendor is charging you the inflated tourist rate.

If you want a bit of sun, sand, and shisha in a pretty unique cultural melting pot, Morocco is just the place.

A London-dwelling philosophy graduate with a penchant for films, gaming, and technology, with the occasional bit of tennis thrown in there.

  • Jeff

    Love unique travel destinations. Great insight!

  • Isaact714

    I have heard stories of women being harassed with some frequency in Morocco. Did you see/experience any of that?

  • andy

    Highly irresponsible to be recommending a place where women and gay people are absolutely not safe.

    • http://www.primermagazine.com/ Andrew

      Unfortunately outside of North America and Europe, travelers will face a lot of risks, even in more tourist friendly destinations.

    • CryptoReporter

      Women are generally safe in Morocco. A friend of mine just went to Turkey and she had a great time there. She had landed about an hour after the attack in the airport and was drinking some Turkish coffee in another section when the blast went off. Besides that, she felt welcomed and people were friendly (and she traveled alone).

      Not sure about gays, but if you are gay and plan to travel abroad, you should consider the cultural differences wherever you plan to go and be respectful. Who is going to know you are gay unless you start protesting or something?

      • Isaact714

        Thanks!

    • Amīn Đī

      in morocco you are very safe because we are respect the tourist people

  • John

    I went to Morocco in 2011 and that was right around when the Arab Spring was heating up. I was in both Casablanca and Agadir and was with my girlfriend at the time, her sister, and her mother (weirdly enough). We did have some level of harassment, but nothing horrible. We went in a tour of a mosque and our tour guide said the girls were fine in their short shorts and some guy came flying after us and made them cover up but all was well. I will say, food was amazing, most the people were quite welcoming, especially the younger ones. I would certainly go back again, but now may not be most optimal time.

  • Dustin

    how about getting around? Trains are available? I’d be hesitant to rent a car with the language barrier (for street signs, etc)

    • sensh

      I drove the entire country for two weeks, in my own car (an old Range Rover which came across from Spain by ferry.) Street signs are either nonexistent, obvious, or in English. If you would feel comfortable driving in Western Europe, you would feel comfortable driving in Morocco.

      Outside the cities the road surfaces can be pretty bad, and off the beaten track riding fuel can be quite tricky. But it’s all perfectly doable. No worries.

  • sensh

    I spent two weeks in Morocco last year, crossing the country in an old Range Rover, from Nador in the north all the way down to Erg Chebbi in the south, and from the border of Algeria all the way to Casablanca. Off an on, I had people of all persuasions with me, including women. I never, EVER felt unsafe, and neither did any of my traveling partners. (I also never failed to find a drink. This “alcohol ban” seems to be for appearances only, and half the time when a local would invite me for a “Pepsi,” the “Pepsi” would turn out to be whiskey.)

    It’s a safe and lovely country. Very, very third world in a lot of ways, particularly outside the cities, but the people are almost universally warm and wonderful. Not in an affected, obsequious way, but as if it is a very natural part of the Moroccan culture.

    Oh, and the food is absurdly good. I could eat Moroccan food every meal of every day. No question about it.

  • Rentacar

    I’ve tried Asian, American, Mexican, European cuisine. But I’ve never tried African, in particular, the Moroccan food. I’d really love to change this mistake as soon as possible.

  • Tono García Ballester

    Morocco is considered one of the most safe countries in the world for mens and womens. People used to care a lot of about what they heard in news. We are running a surfcamp in Morocco from 4 years ago and we are super happy with its culture, people, country and for sure the waves!
    If you want to have a look here is our link:
    http://www.bluewavesmorocco.com

  • Tono García Ballester

    Nowadays Morocco is a safe country. Even for gays. We have some friends that came with groups of gays every year and they really love the country, the people, the landscape offer and for sure the food.
    We have a camp: http://www.bluewavesmorocco.com and we know about turism. I think that the problem start in the western civilitation where the people have a lot of prejudices.
    If you travel around Morocco and you are respecfull with the culture you will not find any problem as SENSH say.