First Time Visitor’s Guide to Morocco

Morocco is unique north African country, with remarkable diversity that includes Spanish, Portuguese and French flavor. Visitors can explore everything from exciting, chaotic cities with atmospheric charm along with bohemian coastal towns, rugged mountains home to Berber villages, and vast stretches of Saharan desert home to nomads.

For the first-time visitor, trying to decide what to see and do in Morocco can be almost overwhelming. To help narrow it down, here are our top picks.

Djemaa El Fna, Marrakech, Morocco
Bahia Palace Marrakech, Morocco

Marrakech

Get Lost in the Maze of Stalls in the Souks

Immerse yourself in authentic daily life by wandering through the labyrinth of bustling souks in Marrakech. The maze of stalls overflow with everything from colorful spices to handcrafted items, antiques and carpets. Joining a guide will make it much easier to navigate the narrow alleyways and master the art of haggling with the merchants. If you go on your own, just get lost in the excitement. If you keep on going, dodging the donkeys, carts, motorbikes and people, you’ll eventually reach the medina wall. When you need a break, there are plenty of rooftop cafes for relaxing over a cup of mint tea, soaking up the atmosphere from a distance.

Snake Charmers and Storytellers in Djemaa El Fna

The main square, Djemaa El Fna, is the epicenter of Marrakech. Visit in the morning and then returning in the evening to discover how it’s metamorphosed. During the day marvel at snake charmers who bewitch their cobras with flutes while medicine men display their interesting cures. In the late afternoon, it begins its transformation. Many come to promenade in the early evening hours, when the square begins to fill with a carnival-like atmosphere of acrobats, storytellers, musicians, and entertainers, while aromatic food stalls serve delicious, affordable meals.

El Badi and Bahia Palaces

Get an interesting glimpse of Marrakesh history, witnessing firsthand how the architecture and art has changed by visiting the El Badi and Bahia palaces. El Badi, or Badia, is in a semi-ruined state, built in the 16th-century. It was once the most spectacular palace in the western reaches of the Muslim world. Today, only the vast courtyard with its reflecting pools and sunken gardens remain, providing a hint of its former majesty.

Bahia Palace was built in the mid-19th-century and expanded around the turn-of-the-20th-century. Some of the highlights include intricate painted ceilings, a courtyard with a white Italian Carrara marble floor and beautifully carved cedarwood doors.

Fes, Morocco
Fes, Morocco

Fes

Learn to Cook Moroccan Food

Fes is the Arab world’s most complete medieval city, with an enchanting mix of modern world meets Middle Ages. While it can also be difficult to navigate, it’s easy to become immersed in the chaotic, daily life while wandering through the twists and turns in the centuries-old high walled streets. For those who want to take home a souvenir that will last a lifetime, cooking lessons are taught here in a local family’s home. You’ll shop for ingredients in the souk and learn how to make a traditional Moroccan dish like tagine and traditional bread.

The Tanneries

Fes is home to three colorful tanneries where you can buy high-quality leather items and watch leather as it’s made and dyed using traditional methods.

 

High Atlas Mountains

The High Atlas Mountains are just 45 minutes from Marrakech, revealing a striking contrast where you can hike through the rugged landscape, visit authentic markets and experience Berber culture. Each one of the villages is known for a particular trade like stonemasonry. By taking a tour you can visit the villages and learn more about the work and lives of the people. You might even be welcomed into a local’s home for a cup of mint tea.

Essaouira, Morocco
Erg Chebbi, Morocco

Essaouira

This former Portuguese fishing village on the Atlantic coast has an interesting mix of Arab-Berber, Jewish and Christian influences along with beautiful beaches and reliable waves that attract surfers. It’s also a great place to learn how to make local Moroccan pastries. An instructor at the cookery school will take you shopping in the souk for the ingredients, teach you the art of making the sweet treats and give you recipes to bring home.

Erg Chebbi

The impressive Erg Chebbi is a 3-mile-wide and more than 30-mile-long stretch of sand dunes that tower up to 1,150 feet high. Unlike anywhere else in the country, visitors can take camel treks into the desert, getting a taste of Bedouin life, complete with Berber food and music, and camping under the remarkable dark night’s sky that highlights stars and the constellations in a traditional camp.