Introducing… the Harri Travels guide to Morocco! NO.16 on my 25 aims for my 25th year list was to write an e-book and I’ve only bloody gone and done it. You can download my free guide here as a handy PDF.
HOW TO GET TO MOROCCO
Morocco is cheap and easy to get to. From London, EasyJet operates cheap flights most days to Marrakech. My personal favourite though, depending on what end of Morocco you’re planning on starting your trip from, is to fly to Madrid for a cheeky tapas-infused stopover and then hop over to Tangier on a short plane ride. Once in the country, you can hire a car (the roads are generally very good, but beware crazy drivers in Marrakech) or take trains and buses throughout the country. The transport infrastructure is impressive and the trains are wonderful – especially if you get your own carriage. Book trains through ONCF.ma and check out seat61.com for brilliant travel logistics.
WEATHER: In the summer months (July to September) Morocco gets very hot but the temperature varies widely from place to place. Essaouira tends to be cool and windy at 18 -20°C and the Atlas Mountains are cooler too, whereas Marrakech gets up to 50°C. If you want to ensure you’re not sweltering it’s worth going in March/ April when the weather is pretty much perfect.
CASH: the currency is Moroccan Dirham and you can get cash from the airport on arrival. The main cities have cash machines but if you’re heading into the mountains or the desert it’s wise to get cash before you go. Many guesthouses accept cash only so check before you arrive.
WHAT TO WEAR IN MOROCCO
PACKING: Morocco is a Muslim country, so tourists are expected to dress modestly. It’s wise to cover up your arms and legs – but take light, cool fabrics to avoid overheating. For the mountains you’ll want walking boots to enjoy the spectacular hikes, and for the city go for comfortable sandals like Solillas. You’ll also want suncream, a sunhat and sunglasses, and a bag that zips up for the souks to deter pickpockets. Check out my post here for more on what to wear in Morocco.
WHAT TO WEAR TOP TIP: Take a light shawl with you to cover up in particularly religious areas, or to shade yourself from the heat of the day.
Shoes in Fez
CHEFCHAOUEN: Chefchaouen is the most enchanting spot in Morocco. Accessible by CMT bus or 3 hr taxi ride from Tangier winding up into the mountains, the magic of this place lies in its blue washed walls and cobbled streets. Chefchaouen’s hillside position means there are hidden staircases, caves and crevices to be discovered.
FEZ: What a place! This ancient town, which has been labelled the ‘Mecca of the West’, is as crazy as it is incredible. The old town is where you want to be, but beware: it’s a maze of intricately woven streets that will have even the most able explorers scratching their heads wondering where they are. Expect incredible mosaic designs, religious palaces, smelly tanneries and gorgeous blue and white pottery.
ESSAOUIRA: The cool dude of Morocco, Essaouira is part European seaside town, part ‘traditional Morocco’ with souks and tagine galore. European beach bums head here to surf or enjoy the sandy beach, but don’t be put off if that’s not your scene – Essaouira is also rich with art galleries, impressively crafted woodwork and beautiful views to sea. Art stalls in Essaouira
MARRAKECH: Marrakech is the land of red; of heady incense pouring out of traditional hammams and fiery orange sunsets. Away from the frantic energy of the Djemaa El Fna, peace can be found in the tranquil courtyards of the city’s many riads. As the capital of Morocco, tourists flock in and out of Marrakech on their journeys around the country.
ATLAS MOUNTAINS: The Atlas Mountains are a mountain range south of Marrakech which extend for 2500km through Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. Expect dusty dirt tracks, terracotta soils and goats blocking the road around every corner. Imlil is the main spot for beautiful accommodation and adventurous activities.
Douar Samra, Atlas Mountains
WHERE TO STAY IN MOROCCO
DAR HABIBA, MARRAKECH: A haven away from the bustling heat of the souks and Jemaa El Fna square, Dar Habiba riad is tranquil and peaceful. The staff are helpful and welcoming and the breakfast on the roof terrace is delicious.
DAR L’OUSSIA, ESSAOUIRA: Built in 1954, this riad is tucked inside the medina walls just moments from the beach, with a roof terrace to rival those of Santorini. Visit in the summer months when the rooms are cheap (but Essaouira is still wonderfully sunny yet cool) to sample their luxurious rooms for just £50 per night.
DAR ECHCHAOUEN, CHEFCHAOUEN: hidden behind a wall on the hill overlooking colourful Chefchaouen is the beautiful Dar Echchaouen guesthouse. Highlights include a breakfast of fresh orange juice, olive tapenade and breads and the pool with spectacular views of the valley at sunset.
DOUAR SAMRA, ATLAS MOUNTAINS: This guesthouse has a fabulous location overlooking Imlil and the surrounding mountains. It is run by a charismatic Swiss woman who nurtures the colourful gardens and has made a rustic haven with hammocks, terraces and cushions. You can look forward to meeting the ducks, the donkey, the cat and her 4 dogs.
Restaurant in Essaouira
DOUAR SAMRA, ATLAS MOUNTAINS: This rustic guesthouse on the mountain slopes near Imlil offers some of the best Moroccan vegetarian food I’ve had. Delicious tomatoey tagines and aubergine salsa awaits.
CHEFCHAOUEN: Some of my favourite restaurants in Morocco are tucked down little lanes leading off of the small and pretty blue square in Chefchaouen. Explore every street and look up for gorgeous roof terraces adorned with glowing lanterns. The view from the top is incredible.
DOLCE FREDDO, ESSAOUIRA: One of my favourite things about going to Essaouira is this ice cream café. They offer delicious Italian flavours and spectacular hot chocolates (that may well induce a heart attack), all served on pretty tables overlooking the port and square.
CAFÉ CLOCK, FEZ: A quirky and fun restaurant in Fez media, this restaurant is situated above the ancient water clock in the rickety streets of Fez. They often have local music playing and there’s a wide and varied menu to choose from.
Taros bar, Essaouria
KOSYBAR, MARRAKECH: Expect dimmed lights, wicker chairs with comfy cushions, candles and giant hanging lamps at this cool Marrakech bar. Head there after a hot day in the old town around 7pm to get a table before the crowds arrive and catch the sunset from the roof terraces. Alcohol is available.
TAROS, ESSAOUIRA: This place makes you feel like a model breezing through in a photo shoot with its blue terraces, live band playing chilled house music and leafy plants swaying in the wind. There’s a beautiful view over the beach to one side and the sea and sunset to the other.
Shopping in the souks, Marrakech
WHAT TO DO
GET LOST IN FEZ: Fez is known for its complex souks and streets but that is the beauty of this historic city. Inside the patterned walls you can walk for hours sampling foods, buying goodies and visiting the spectacular palaces and mosques.
SHOP IN MARRAKECH: The souks of Marrakech need little introduction, with everything from spices to scarves to candles and lanterns, colourful shoes and pungent soaps on offer. If the bartering gets too much, dive in to Souk Kafe for a cool drink and a sit down.
BIKE THE HIGH ATLAS: Biking down the narrow passes on the mountains of Imlil in the High Atlas has got to be one of the best days of my life. You can hire a bike from Imlil and at the top of the mountain whizz off for hours arriving in Asni later. You’ll want a local area map so you can head off without a guide.
RIDE A CAMEL IN THE SAHARA: For the ultimate Arabian nights experience book onto a camel trip through the desert. I stayed overnight and camped at a Berber tent in the middle of the Sahara – the stars are enough to make you weep they’re so beautiful. Book through your accommodation in Marrakech.
PHOTOGRAPH CHEFCHAOUEN: The city of blue is one of my favourite places in the world. Its combination of colours and bright, friendly individuals make it a perfect place to photograph whether you’re amateur or pro.