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