Behind the Strait of Gibraltar, behind the corner of Europe, there is a kingdom that has hot Sahara and snowy ski resorts. How many countries can praise with something like this? And not just that. You can find here the sea and the ocean, the palm oasis with camel caravans and also the coniferous forests with the monkeys on the trees, modern avenue and living medieval, highest mosque, modern churches, synagogues and Jewish cemeteries. This kingdom of many worlds is called MOROCCO. 🙂
My name is František Kekely and I’m working as a guide in Morocco. I wrote about the royal Marrakech in the previous article. In addition to the interesting facts and attractions of this city, you can find practical advice „how not pay a lot uselessly“ there or what dishes awaits you in Morocco. Link to the article: http://travelers.sk/marrakech-experience-the-red-royal-madness-of-north-africa/
This new article is about other interesting, nice places that you can find in Morocco. 🙂
At first, how to move from place to place?
There are several companies that offering facultative trips to many parts of Morocco, including the Sahara. Such a trip can be ordered directly in the company, for example, it is not a problem find such offers for facultative trips in Marrakech, or you can order it on the internet. You will say/write to the company in which hotel you are sleeping and they will pick you up there in the morning.
Another way is to rent a car and drive across the country alone. Yes, it is possible in Morocco. I just remind you that some Moroccans drive a little bit differently than you are used to in Europe 🙂 – more crazy, sometimes without a system. Other advice: Police controls are almost everywhere. But still, yes, it is possible to drive by a rental car here. 🙂
Who does not want to drive here and is willing to spend more money for the Moroccan trip, it is no problem find and order a company on the internet that prepare a car with driver for you. He will drive with you all time around the country, where you want. I recommend these two options especially if you really want to see a lot of places of this country.
And some cities like Casablanca, Rabat or Fez you can also visit by train. I moved by local trains several times and I can say that local trains and especially some railway stations are not at a bad level. 🙂
So, I sum up this informations: If you do not want to go around the whole country and just visit a few places, even the Sahara dunes, you can order a facultative trip on the internet or dircetly in the Morocco. If that’s not enough for you, you can visit by the trains the Atlantic Ocean and cities as Casablanca or Rabat. But if you want to see a big piece of this country, visit a lot of places, it is better rent a car or care with local driver – that is more comfortable. 🙂
Recommendations where to go in Morocco
I start with cities that you can easily visit by train directly from Marrakech.
Ticket for a few euros, about 3 hours in the train and you are near the Atlantic Ocean in the largest and because of the local industry also the most important city of Morocco – Casablanca. This city has unofficially more than 5 million inhabitants. If you have not seen Casablanca movie, you can look it before you will come here because famous Rick’s café from the known movie can be your first stop. If you want to go inside, you need a reservation. In addition to walking along the Atlantic coast, you can visit some memories of the Europeans that are in this city, for example: the Christian French churches Notre Dame and Sacre Coer or Portuguese La Sqala fortress.
But, in my opinion, the most beautiful and interesting thing, which you should not miss in Casablanca, is the Hassan II mosque – one of the largest mosques of the world with the highest minaret of the world. This mosque is also open for non-Muslim toursits. 🙂 Just look at the opening hours.
Another important Moroccan city is close from Casablanca, also on the Atlantic coast, the capital city of Morocco – Rabat. The Moroccan king and his family are right here. I must say that if I had to choose some nice city from the big Moroccan cities, in my opinion, Rabat is the most beautiful Moroccan city. 🙂 It is a clean, modern city where you can also find a piece of history from the times of the Roman Empire or from the period of the Moroccan dynasties.
I recommend to visit the Mausoleum of Mohammed V. It is a nice place with honor guard where former kings of Morocco are buried – Hassan II (the father of the current king) and Mohammed V (grandfather of the current king). The curent king Mohammed VI will be buried on this place too. If you will have enough of the capital Rabat, you can go just a few meters behind the Bou Regreg river where is another interesting and even bigger city – Sale.
More far city from Marrakech is royal Fes that is probably the most important city of the Moroccan history. It was capital of this country a few times, even in the 20th century. Fes has a great uniqueness that I recomend to visit – the oldest and largest medina of the worldthat is also on the UNESCO list. If don’t remember or you didn’t read article about Marrakech, so medina is not just name of city in Saudi Arabia, but also name for the oldest part of North African cities. Medina of Fes is a labyrinth of more than 9,000 narrow streets that they return you back to the unreal atmosphere of history. I have not seen anything like this before! By the way, inside the medina is also the oldest university of the world – Al Qarawiyyin.
We have already mentioned Marrakech, Fes and Rabat, so we can add the fourth royal city of Morocco – Meknes. Only one king ruled from this city, but the great king of Moroccan history – Moulay Ismail. It is a historical city that is situated between Fes and Rabat. So it can be nice stop on the way. If you would like to visit something other in this region, if you like ancient history, close from Meknes is the interesting old Roman city of Volubilis.
If you would like to visit also the city of Tangeron the Strait of Gibraltar, where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean, or the blue city of Chefchaouen, these cities are in north part of Morocco. So if you will fly to Marrakech, you need a few days for visitng of this cities. It is more than 7 hours by car from Marrakech to the north.
You can find among the common facultative trips from Marrakech, for example, the really nice Ouzoud waterfallsthat are about 2 hours from the city (the cost of such a facultative trip is about 20 €), the city of Essaouiraon the coast (also about 20 €) and various trips or even treks to the High Atlas – it is also possible to go on the Jebel Toubkal that is more than 4000 m highest mountain of North Africa, but it is not technically difficult trek.
Immediately behind the snowy mountains that you can see from Marrakech, there is the largest dry desert of the world. 🐪 Many people imagine that the Sahara is an endless sea of orange sand with beautiful sandy dunes, but the reality is different, less romantic. 🙂 Most of the Sahara is stony. Sandy desert is just in some parts of Sahara. Morocco has two such sandy parts that are really very popular for tourists and where you can make a cool photo on sandy Saharan dunes. 🙂
The closer favourite sandy dunes from Marrakech are near city of Zagora. These dunes are a few meters high.
So if you don’t plan to ride by a rented car alone, the price for such two-day facultative trip from Marrakech to the Zagora dunes is about 60€. The prices includes transport there and back, at first with a minibus and then the last kilometers by camels :), accomodation on the dunes – probably in the stylish tent, local dinner (tagine) and breakfest in the Sahara. I can say that the best tagines are in the Sahara. 🙂 I think that 60€ for all of this is not bad price. Besides, you’ll have some very interesting stops on the way. 🙂 About them a little below.
The second very sought-after and popular sandy place in Morocco are the Eg Chebbi dunes near city of Merzouga. These are significantly higher sandy dunes than in Zagora. These are up to a few hundred meters in height.
If you want to visit this part of the Moroccan Sahara, you need three days for it because it is more far – you can see the Algerian border from there. The cost of such a three-day facultative trip from Marrakech is over 100€. If you have the choice and one more day extra, I recommend to visit this part of the Sahara. You will don’t forget about Erg Chebbi. 🙂
On the way to the Sahara
Whether you choose Zagora or Merzouga, you have to go through the High Atlas.There are the first stops and first nice views on the way. You will go through the mountain pass of Tichka, that is at an altitude of 2260 m above sea level. The landscape really changes behind the Atlas because you are coming to the Sahara.
The town you’ve definitely seen and you do not know it
One interesting town, which I definitely recommend to visit, is a shor distance from the High Atlas. If you decide to go to the Sahara with a company from Marrakech, I’m sure that they will have this small town on their program. Name of the town is Ait Ben Haddou. „The town that everyone has seen a few times, but no one knows,“ as I usual say to clients. 🙂 It is a beautiful kasbah city, which is also protected by UNESCO. Kasbah is a typical local house of this area or it is better to say: It is a typcial local small fortress. This kind of house was able to defend itself. Common kasbah looks like 4-leg desk that is overturned and the 4 legs are towers. Some kasbahs can have more towers and different form. Kasbahs are really very photogenic buildings and that’s a reason why is Ait Ben Haddou very photogenic too.
So, why anyone have seen this city and dont know it? Have you seen the movie Gladiator, Kingdom of Heaven, Prince of Persia, Cleopatra, Asterix and Obelix, Lawrence of Arabia, Legionnaire, The Jewel of the Nile, Bible… or are you watching the Games of Thrones? These famous movies were shot/created in this town. Russell Crowe started his gladiatorial career in the provincial arena right here. This town was with the help of computer editing Jerusalem in the Kingdom of Heaven and the granary on the hill was the grave of God, where Orlando Bloom went to pray in the movie. I recommend to go up because of great photos from there. Walk on the places where the holywood stars walk too and which helped create dozens of world-renowned movies. 🎞
Only a short distance from Ait Ben Haddou (maybe half hour by car) lies a larger city that is also associated with films. Ourzazate is as the capital city of the region with more than 70 000 inhabitants. There are a few movie studios that you can also visit. See where famous movie scenes were shot and created.
Ouarzazate is also known by its nickname „Gate to the Desert.“ A well-known stop of this city is also the beautiful kasbah of Taourirt that was home of the Pasha El Glaoui – controversial and powerful person of Moroccan history of the 20th century, so-called Lord of the Atlas, who allegedly tried to eliminate the royal family. (Pasha is a military rank in the Arab world.) The routes of those who go to Zagora and Merzoug are divided in this city. I want to attention for one more thing that is behind Ourzazate and both groups (to Zagora and also to Merzouga) will see it – a large solar power plant that you can remember from the Sahara movie. 🙂
If you continue to Zagora, you can enjoy other mountain serpentines. Then you will go along long oasis of Draa. Many people think that the oasis is only a few palms and some small place of greenery somewhere in the desert, but you can find out in Morocco that it may be a tens of kilometers long green belt of life in the middle of nothing.
If you continue to Merzouga, you have still a long road ahead you. On the way are other interesting and nice places, where you can stop and see something beautiful. If you go with a company from Marrakech, you will have some other place/places in the program too. If you go by car, you are doing the program yourself. I recommend, for example, the kasbah of Amridil in the Skoura oasis where is a really funny guide Reda.
Then you will continue through the valley of Damascus rose where is city of Kalap Guna. This may be especially interesting in June when local women collect these blooming roses. Another valley on the way is called Dades. Really beautiful places that I really love and where you should to stop are the Tinerhir oasis and the Todra Canyon.
That is the Kingdom of Morocco. I hope you’ve learned a lot of new and interesting things about the country. And that this kingdom of North Africa has become interesting for you. 🙂 I believe that this article also can be helpful for some of you in planning and implementing your own, new trip. Maybe, I will meet some of you there soon. 🙂
Photos & text
František Fefe Kekely