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!