8 Days – Morocco, The “Arab West”
Morocco is a world apart, barely 20 miles from Europe, that is part Arab, part African, with a character all of its own.
Morocco’s cities are the obvious draws. Marrakech and Fez are the places to explore the medieval alleys of ancient medinas, packed with donkeys, traders and the scents of Africa. Casablanca and Rabat are modern with elegant boulevards and a Gallic café culture, while Tangier and Agadir are sophisticated cities where the beach takes centre stage.
Drill down to the smaller towns and Morocco’s heritage is more distinct and accessible. Chefchouan, in the north, where cornflower-blue houses sprawl on a fertile hillside, or the fortified coastal town of Essaouira, once a Portuguese outpost on Atlantic Africa. Inexpensive taxi rides reach stunning highlights – Roman columns preserved by the desert at Volubilis, mud-built forts towering over folding mountain landscapes, and the surf communities on the sun-soaked southern coast near Agadir. Trek to Berber villages huddled against adobe castle walls in the Atlas Mountains and join nomads on camels to cross Saharan dunes.
When to Go
The seasons in Morocco are similar to other countries in the Northern Hemisphere, with winter from December through February, and summer from June through August. As you head south towards the Sahara desert, the climate becomes hotter and drier; while the north and northwest are cooler because of the influence of the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. In the High Atlas Mountains, where higher elevations bring cooler temperatures and more precipitation, snow is not uncommon.
In Morocco’s summer months (June to August) the heat is particularly fierce in the Sahara Desert; whilst mid-level altitudes and cities along the Atlantic coast, like urban Casablanca and laid back Essaouira, are pleasantly hot. The north coast and Rif Mountains enjoy a temperate Mediterranean climate with long, hot, sunny days.
During the winter months (November to February) daytime temperatures in the south are still mild. The north of Morocco experiences wet and cloudy winters and the High Atlas Mountains can be exceptionally cold, sometimes retaining their snow-capped peaks until as late as July.
The country is at its most beautiful in spring (mid-March to May) when the landscape is green and lush, making for spectacular mountain hiking. Morocco is also lovely in Autumn (September to October) when temperatures are very pleasant.
What to bring in Morocco will partly depend on what time of year you are visiting, where in the country you are going, and the type of activities you have planned. In general bring clothes that can be layered – cardigans, sweaters, tank tops, lightweight t-shirts, or long undershirts. Pants that can be worn comfortably and a good pair of sturdy walking shoes. You may want a warmer jacket if going to the mountains or desert during winter months. For women, bring a longer shirt and a scarf when visiting holy/religious sites. Also bring over the counter medication, allergy medication, and copies of your travel documents, flight itineraries etc.
Morocco does not have a high crime rate, however, thefts do happen, so it is unwise to carry large sums of cash or valuables on your person. This is especially true in crowded places such as bus and train stations where pickpockets like to operate. Credit card fraud is also something to be wary of. Never let your card out of your sight when paying for anything.
Customs & Traditions
Due to its unique location, Morocco has been influenced by many cultures throughout the years – African tribes from the other side of the Sahara Desert; Islamic traditions from Arab neighbours; and European colonists. The strongest influence in the country’s architecture (both in the past and the present) is Islam. In addition to the Islamic influence, Hispano-Moorish architecture (a type of architecture characteristic of North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula) also took roots in Morocco during the Almoravid dynasty. Today, a combination of these two particular styles can be found in most buildings throughout the country.
Morocco has different traditional dances and musical styles rooted in Arab, Berber and African culture. Famous Moroccan dances include Shika, commonly known as the ‘belly dance’; and Guedra, a traditional dance of the Tuareg Berber. Ahwash, a dance performed around a fire, is common in the High Atlas Mountains. Gnaoua has sub-Saharan roots, and is performed usually by a group of men to evoke saints and drive away evil. Other folk dances include houara, a dance of the Inezgane area; ahidous, a tribal dance of the Middle Atlas; ouais, a type of Arab ballet; taskiouine, a warrior dance; and haha, a male dance accompanied by the flute.
Greetings involve a handshake and friendly inquiries after health, happiness and family, and no business is discussed until after these pleasantries. In the Souks, vendors like to joke around and strike up conversations before bargaining begins. Access to mosques and holy places is forbidden to non Muslims. When offered tea, it’s polite to take a sip as this is a sign of hospitality. Casual wear is widely acceptable, avoiding provocative clothing. If you want to photograph somebody, don’t forget to ask for permission. Smoking is widespread, though sometimes limited to smoking sections in restaurants.
Most Moroccans are of Berber, Arab or mixed Arab-Berber descent. The Berbers were Morocco’s first occupants and they form the majority of the population. Generally they are divided into four groups and speak four variants of the Berber language – the Rif, the Middle Atlas group, the Berbers of the High Atlas, and nomadic groups of the southern provinces.
Almost all Moroccans follow Islam and a large majority are Sunni Muslims, belonging to the Maliki school of Islamic jurisprudence. Other minority religions include Christianity, Judaism and Bahaism.