With Its mix of Arab and Berber culture, Sub-Saharan African and European history Morocco remains a unique and popular destination for tourists from all areas of the world. The country has a constitutional monarchy with over 30 million citizens that are currently being ruled by King Mohammed IV who took over in 1991 after his father King Hassan II died. The current king is seen as being a bit of a reformer on economic and social matters.
Whilst the kingdom has had previous issues of upheaval in the Western Sahara in the 1980’s and bombings in the past 10 years travelling around the kingdom is easy and the local citizens friendly. Not surprisingly, Morocco attracted more than 10 million tourists in 2013. Tourism is the second largest industry and money maker in Morocco after the phosphate export industry.
In 2010 the government initiated its Vision 2020 plans to make Morocco one of the top tourist destinations in the world and to increase the annual number of international visitors to 20 million by 2020. The Foreign and Commonwealth office reports that almost 400,000 British citizens visit Morocco every year and their journeys are mostly free of any trouble.
My entry point into the country began in Casablanca via my six and a half hour flight from New York’s JFK airport. The city, the country’s largest, is known for its financial, industries and port facilities. Its first inhabitants and founders were Berber tribesmen in the 7th century. For centuries the city has grown and has been influenced by French commercial interests. But not surprisingly Casablanca is often known more for its cinematic backdrop of the 1943 film classic by Humphrey Bogart.
Hassan II Grand Mosque Morocco
One of the main attractions to visit is the Hassan II Grand Mosque. The mosque which can accommodate up to 25,000 worshippers is available for visiting by tourists. More than half of the property lies over the water at its location on the Atlantic coastline. Not only is it one of the largest mosques in the world but its minaret is the world’s tallest religious structure. The inside is vast and the exterior is covered in beautiful tilework. Visitors are given plastic bags to carry their shoes in as they must be removed before entering.
Casablanca Hyatt Hotel
So what about accommodations? My hotel in Casablanca was the Hyatt Regency with fantastic views of the city, shopping areas and Grand Mosque in the distance. The property is modern, offers executive club level amenities and has a great bar and pool area to enjoy the afternoons. It’s located in a shopping and business district that is great for walking and exploring.
My journey was next to Fez but first I made a stop along the way in Rabat.
Up the road from Casablanca is the capital, Rabat. The city is located on the Atlantic Ocean with a population of about 1.8 million, known for its textile, agriculture and construction industries. As well as home to foreign embassies and consular services that help make the city a very diverse one. One of the main attractions to visit is the 12th century Hassan Tower that is also the location of the mausoleum for Mohammed V who is considered to be the founder of what is today modern Morocco. Also worth visiting is the Oudayah Kasbah with its classic Moorish gardens, gate and walls. The Caliph Yaqub al-Mansur was responsible for the construction of the Kasbah that would have been the world’s largest mosque upon completion. After Yaqub died the construction stopped. What are now present are the unfinished mosque and the Hassan Tower.
Three hours from Rabat is the cultural heart of Morocco-Fez. You could spend days venturing around Old Fez with its thousands of alley ways, homes and souks. Getting around can be a little tricky as the alley ways can be narrow, uneven, and sometimes crowded but is well worth the time to explore. Moulay Idriss I founded the old quarter in the 8th Century AD and it is still home to Karaouine, one of the oldest universities in the world with the adjacent Attrine Madrasa Koranic School that was founded in the 14th Century. One other area to visit is the Jewish Quarter known as Mellah in Fez El Jedid built in the 13th Century all which has been preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Fez is also popular to find and send home locally made carpets and rugs from shops that can be easily found throughout the medina.
Sofitel Hotel Fez
My stay in Fez was at the Sofitel Fez Palais Jamal (www.sofitel.com) which at one time was the palace of for the Prime Minister. This comfortable property sits inside the walls of the city with excellent views of the local area also a large pool area and outdoor terrace for food and drinks in the evening. The two restaurants have both European and Moroccan cuisine.
My next full day of was to visit another UNESCO site, the 17th Century city of Meknes. While it is a three hour journey from Fez it is very much worth visiting. This is a good addition if your plans call for going to visit the ancient Roman ruins of Volubilis. The city has a number of monuments with the Bab Monsour with its granaries and royal stables designed to accommodate 12,000 horses.
Visitors to Volubilis will certainly enjoy the Arches, Capitals, mosaics and other sights at these Roman ruins. The mosaics in particular are very well preserved inside this well maintained archaeological park. Morocco was part of the North African empire that was administered by Carthage around the 1st Century BC. The site is large and care must be taken when walking in some of the areas of the ruins which consist of natural pathways and uneven ground.
Whilst it is indeed a lengthy journey to get to Erfoud it is worth the time to see the villages, Atlas Mountains and the sand dunes. The dunes are not only popular to visit by four wheel drive but also by camel as well. Desert tent camping can be arranged by travel operators especially if you are touring with a group. The sunsets can be stunning and very picturesque.
Camel trek in the Atlas Mountains and the sand dunes
Founded the 1920’s as a base for French soldiers this small city has become popular for its village of Ait Benhaddou with its hilltop Kasbahs and homes. The walk is winding and hilly but one of the attractions is its location for use in major films such as “Gladiator”, “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Jesus of Nazareth”. The cave used as a prison for Russell Crowe in “Gladiator” can be visited.
Another visit should be to the Glaoui Kasbah of Taourirt considered to be one of the best Kasbahs in Morocco with its luxury homes and clay houses.
Known as the ‘Red City’ for its terracotta colour buildings Marrakech is as beautiful as it is vibrant. One popular way to see the city is by horse drawn carriage. These tours can be arranged with your hotel and are a good way to see the many side streets for markets and neighbourhoods. One stop should be to visit the Jardin Majorelle that was designed by French artist Jacques Majorelle in 1924. All types flora can be seen along including bougainvillea, and various types of cactus. Streams and pools with fish are also present and is a great place to relax.
But the main attraction is visiting the old walled district of the city with its 12th Century minaret of the Koutoubia Mosque. A great example of Islamic architecture can be found nearby at Dar Si Said as well as The Bahia Palace. The main square, Dejemaa el-Fna has become popular for all kinds of kinds of events from artists and musicians and is a great starting point for visiting Marrakech’s well known souks.
Marrakech has become popular for E.U. retirees and others who want a second home or to perhaps retire. Construction can be seen in many locations of condominium, townhomes and upscale shopping malls.
My stay in Marrakech was the Four Seasons Hotel which provides not only a beautiful property to enjoy with its sprawling grounds, pools and bar areas but is a great location to easily get to the city’s main attractions. The other convenience of this hotel is its close proximity to the International airport as it’s just minutes away.
No visa required for stay up to three months for North Americans and Europeans.
Morocco has three main international airports: Casablanca, Tangier and Agadir. You can also fly direct to Fes, Marrakech and Oujda from Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin and other European cities. Most long distance flights arrive in Casablanca.
From Britain and E.U. to Morocco service is available from British Airways, Easyjet (London-Gatwick), Lufthansa, KLM, Air France, Alitalia, Royal Air Maroc, Sabena and Swissair.
From The United States on Royal Air Maroc through JFK Airport-New York City.
By ferry from Spain: Algeciras to Tangier is one of the most popular routes to Morocco. High speed ferries travel almost every hour and take about 30 minutes to make the journey.
There are numerous good tour operators, one that I like in particular is Abercrombie & Kent. In London: +44 2036677000 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. There is also a weekend office at Harrods. In the U.S.: 1-800 554 7016, www.abercrombiekent.com.
My Tour Guide on this journey: Mr. Hicham El Alioui, email: email@example.com.
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Online at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office U.K.: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/foreign-commonwealth-office Or U.S. Department of State: www.state.gov.
Article by: Kevin Murphy