The Kingdom of Morocco is one of the most authentic countries you’ll ever encounter. It is one of those travel destinations that will exceed the expectations of even the most demanding travelers.
First things first: Getting there
Most international flights to Morocco land in Casablanca. If you fly from Madrid, you will have a chance to see the Gibraltar Strait; a spectacular scene of two continents.
How much time is needed to visit Morocco? We spent two very active weeks exploring the country and although we took advantage of every minute of the day, we still missed some important areas.
But we were able to cover must-see historical areas as well as some beautiful coastal towns of Morocco.
Once you land in Casablanca, I will strongly recommend heading to Rabat (the capital of Morocco) to start your trip. It is only 55 miles northeast of Casablanca and offers a great introduction to the history of Morocco.
The main places to visit in Rabat are Old Town, the Mausoleum of King Mohammed V, Hassan Tower, the Archeological Museum, and the Royal Cemetery in Chellah.
The Mausoleum of King Mohammed V is a beautiful architectural masterpiece from the Alaouite Dynasty.
The elegant building contains the tombs of King Mohammed V and his two sons: King Hassan II and Prince Abdullah (see photo).
Across from the Mausoleum, as you pass by the Yacoub al-Mansour esplanade, you will find the Hassan Tower. Construction began on this minaret in 1195, but was left incomplete in 1199 after the death of Sultan Yacoub al-Mansour.
Just 30 minutes from downtown Rabat is the Royal Cemetery in Chellah. You know you have reached your destination the moment you see its fortress-like entrance surrounded by a long wall.
The Royal Cemetery houses historic ruins that used to be structures from the 12th century. There are also a great number of gardens and monuments, as well as the tombs of sultans from the 14th century.
From Rabat you can drive back to Casablanca. Today, this urban city doesn’t look remotely close to the one presented in the classic movie “Casablanca” with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman.
Casablanca is actually the second largest city on the African continent after Cairo, Egypt. Its modern districts with department stores and chic cafés, plus the sight of luxurious cars driving on the main avenues reveal that some Moroccans still live like sultans.
Despite being a bit noisy and full of traffic, Casablanca is well worth a visit.
Here you’ll find one of the most iconic landmarks of Morocco– the Hassan II Mosque, the largest on the continent. This impressive structure also houses the world’s tallest minaret standing 689 feet high (see photo).
The construction of this remarkable mosque cost US$750 million and was built to celebrate the 60th birthday of King Hassan II.
If you love nightlife, Casablanca has all types of dance clubs, fine dining, and live-music bars. For great music and good food, I recommend La Bodega; it is a popular spot to see and be seen.
About a two-hour drive south of Casablanca, you can’t miss the picturesque town of Marrakech. This is where you can browse the world famous market square of Jemaa el Fna, which has been a central trading post for hundreds of years.
Today, tourists brush up on their bargaining skills as they shop for uniquely Moroccan souvenirs.
Negotiation is expected, so being strong and firm as you bargain will earn you the respect of the local merchants. After all, they will never sell you anything at a loss.
Some of the traditional crafts you can find are furniture, fine rugs, paintings, wooden carved figures, leather goods, pillows, and a huge variety of jewelry.
Back at the main square take a few minutes to enjoy a fresh squeezed orange juice from the multiple stands. They’re all numbered and I highly recommend stand #8.
In the market, there are plenty of restaurants offering delicious Moroccan cuisine, including dishes like Tagine and Cous-cous.
Don’t forget to order an appetizer with delicious regional olives along with a local red wine. The wine region of Meknes produces excellent wines and exports all over the world.
After Marrakech, we headed west to the coastal city of Essaouira, which is about a two-hour drive. Formerly known as Mogador, Essaouira is a white and blue medina that enjoys a cool breeze and an average temperature of 77 ºF.
Historically, Essaouira has been an important seaport ever since the Carthaginian explorer Hanno established a commercial port around 500 BC. In addition, the active trading of the Phoenicians on the west coast of Africa increased its importance.
But later, and as the Arabs developed Essaouira into an important commercial port bringing wealth to the region, battles were fought.
The Portuguese occupied the city and built a fort in the 16th century but Essaouria was later recovered by the Arabs. The fort is well preserved to this day and the canons serve as witnesses of Essaouira’s historical past.
Today Essaouira is a very friendly and welcoming city offering visitors relaxing beaches and great shopping.
Strolling through the narrow streets of Essaouira is the best way to explore this charming town.
The colorful merchandise from the street vendors blends with the white and blue facades on the old buildings. Friendly smiles from the locals will brighten your day.
After a busy day walking around town, enjoy a Moroccan tea on the main square. Listen carefully and you might hear bands playing antique musical instruments.
On your way back to Casablanca, Al-Jadida makes a great stopping point for lunch. It’s another gorgeous coastal town with a long beach and a variety of fine Moroccan and international restaurants.
It’s no surprise why so many prominent Moroccan business people and politicians have their summer homes here.
Our trip to Morocco has been one of the best and I’m sure you’ll have a great time visiting this magnificent country.
Next time we return, places like Fez, Tangier, and an excursion to the Atlas Mountains are on our must-see list!
No matter where you are in the world, there’s nothing better than a birds-eye view of a city. At your next destination, instead of paying big bucks to ride the elevator to an observation deck, consider checking out a swanky sky-high wine bar.
Here are a few wine bars you might want to check out:
Set high above the modern hustle & bustle of Shanghai, a surreal experience awaits! The highest bar in the world is a must-visit destination.
Grab a drink and enjoy the awe-inspiring 360-degree view from Cloud 9 on the 87th floor of the Jin Mao Tower. Or, if you want to take it higher, grab your drink and head up a floor to the Sky Lounge to check out the view from an open deck!
New York City, USA
If you can’t make it all the way to China, rub elbows with New York City’s crème de la crème when you enjoy a bottle of wine at the elegantly luxurious Salon de Ning, located on the rooftop of the Peninsula Hotel. The décor is East meets West and reflects the elegance of 1930’s Shanghai.
Grab a seat at the indoor bar or, on warmer days, comfortably lounge with friends al fresco as you check out the views up and down Fifth Avenue.
Boasting a 360 degree view, 365 days a year with floor to ceiling windows, Orbit Lounge Bar can’t be missed when you’re in Sydney, Australia!
This rotating bar, 47 floors closer to the heavens above, offers stunning views and an equally as stunning wine list with labels from around the world.
How’s that for an evening in the Land Down Under!
Dubai, United Arab Emirites
Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be treated as royalty in the Middle East?
The Skyview Bar in Dubai’s Burj Al Arab just might offer a slightly affordable excuse to visit the hotel. It’s the closest you’ll get to being treated like the rich and famous, unless, of course, you’re willing to pay a lot of money per night to sleep in the seven-star hotel’s swanky digs.
At this classy bar, it’s clearly all about location, location, location coupled with a good view because the interior design looks like a partnership between Carnival Cruise lines and Dutch artist Mondrian.
(Photo Credits: Salon de Ning- ClubPlanet.com)
The Point Loma Lighthouse, located on the grounds of the Cabrillo National Monument Park, was built in 1855 and helped guide boats into the San Diego Bay.
A great advantage, which was also a huge drawback, was the fact that it was built 422 feet above sea level. When it was clear it offered great direction to sailors, but on foggy nights the low clouds buried its light. Due to this technicality, its operations only lasted 36 years.
Today, the Old Point Loma Lighthouse is a historical site and a museum. The National Park Service has done a tremendous job refurbishing the interior of the lighthouse just the way it looked in the late 1800’s.
The cathedral took over 100 years to complete and was consecrated in 1993 by Pope John Paul II.
Perhaps the most important event celebrated at the Almudena Cathedral was the wedding of Prince Felipe de Asturias to Princess Letizia in May 2004.
The Almudena Cathedral is open to the public and is today one of Madrid’s most iconic buildings.
Staying in shape while traveling is a challenge for both business and pleasure trips.
You’re out of a normal routine, jet lag is killer, or perhaps you’re not staying in an area conducive to outdoor fitness. Whatever the reason, it’s way too easy to say no to exercise while traveling and it’s unfortunately too easy to say yes to those extra calories!
Here are a few ideas to help you stay fit and healthy while traveling:
1. Pack Resistance Bands. They don’t take up too much room and a lot of times, if you’ve gone to the trouble of carrying them all the way there, you’ll have to use them! Resistance Bands can be used from the comfort of even the smallest hotel rooms. Well, almost!
2. Inquire within the hotel. Big name hotels are helping people like us stay fit while traveling. Download a Sheraton Travel Training Program, order in-room exercise kits at the Omni, or hop on a treadmill in the hotel fitness center at a place like the Marriott. Sometimes hotels will even have special deals with nearby gyms, so check at the concierge desk for details.
3. Connect with locals who love what you love. Groups like GoTribal have branches all over the United States for women who love triathlons. Before you travel, check with the branch leader to see if they have anything going on while you’re in town. In addition to a great workout, you’ll meet some phenomenal folks who just might become great friends or, at the very least, give you an awesome must-see list while you’re in town! Who knows, maybe you’ll see them at the next big competition!
4. Use MapMyRun. Not sure where to run? All you have to do is type in the city name and several running maps will pop up along with the mileage and description.
5. Pack an exercise DVD. Chances are, you’re bringing your laptop or iPad along anyway, so you might as well throw in a DVD. Exercise videos like Pompilates help keep you toned and firm in only 15 minutes. We all have a few minutes, right?
We want to know: How do you stay in shape when you travel? Do you workout when on the road?
(photo via SheKnows)