It is said that Hercules (a hero of Greek legend) decided to pull Africa and Spain apart, using Gibraltar and the Moroccan mountain of Jbel Musa as his handgrips. They are known as “The Pillars of Hercules”. Morocco is the crossroads where the East meets the West, Africa meets Europe, and the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic Oceans. Morocco is filled with cultural and natural treasures that will not disappoint even the most adventurous traveler. Morocco’s fascinating medieval cities like Marrakech and Fez lie in between the great Sahara Desert and the Atlantic Ocean. The Atlas Mountains make up the backbone of Morocco, this is where traditional Berber culture still thrives today. Visitors are captivated as much by the sensory feast of mosques, palaces, ruins, souks and gardens of the imperial cities, as by the picturesque Kasbahs, valleys and gorges along the countryside. Whether you want to take a cooking class in the Marrakech medina, sleep under the stars in the Sahara, marvel at whirling dervishes in Fez, or simply enjoy the romance of staying at a traditional Riad, Morocco has it all and more!
Places to Visit
The signature of the Casablanca skyline, the King Hassan II mosque with its soaring 210m (689ft) minaret, is the world’s third-largest mosque, built on a rocky outcrop reclaimed from the ocean to commemorate the former king’s 60th birthday. The mosque holds 25,000 worshippers and can accommodate a further 80,000 in its courtyards. Most of all, it is the vast size and elaborate decoration of the prayer hall that is most striking. Large enough to house Paris’ Notre Dame or Rome’s St Peter’s, it is blanketed in astonishing woodcarving, zellij (tile work) and stucco molding.
The ruined Roman city of Volubilis, with its beautifully preserved mosaics, dates from the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD. The evocative ruins include an olive factory with storage facilities and foundations of the luxurious House of Orpheus showing sophisticated plumbing and heating systems as well as finely preserved mosaics. The Forum was the centre of life in Volubilis, with the arches of the Basilica and the columned Capitol still standing, as are the Triumphal Arch and the main street, lined by the remains of houses and palaces. The mosaics at Volubilis are what make this site so spectacular, and why it is designated a world heritage site.
Rabat was founded as an Arab army outpost in the 12th century and given the generic name for military encampment, Ribat, which is still in use today. It became one of Morocco’s four Imperial Cities in the 12th century when the great Almohad conqueror Yacoub Al Mansour made Rabat the symbol of his supremacy. Today Rabat is Morocco’s political and administrative capital and the official residence of the King.
Hassan Mosque, the city’s most famous site is the massive minaret of Hassan, dating from 1195, towering over Rabat, although the huge mosque itself was never entirely completed and was largely destroyed in an earthquake in 1755.
Mausoleum of Mohammed V – One of the great monuments of modern Morocco inaugurated in 1967 where the deceased king lies entombed in white onyx, surrounded by royal guards.
The Kasbah des Oudayas is a pleasant place to take a stroll to admire some interesting architecture. It was the Almohad citadel of medieval Rabat, and is guarded by an impressive arched gate built around 1195. Inside the Kasbah is the palace and Andalucian gardens, as well as a broad terrace, with beautiful views of the river and sea.
The Citadel of Chellah – Emerging from the boulevards of the Ville Nouvelle of Rabat one comes across the ruins of Chellah, once the thriving walled Roman port city of Sala Colonia, abandoned in 1154 in favour of Sale across the other side of the river mouth.
Palace Museum and Gardens – Built by Moulay Ismail after he subdued the pirate republic of Rabat and took over the Kasbah as a garrison for the Oudaias. Today the palace is a beautiful classic building, houses the Museum of Moroccan Arts featuring exhibits such as Berber jewelry, costumes and local carpets.
The city walls of Meknes stretch for 25 kilometers interspersed with ceremonial, fortress-style and utilitarian gates. The most spectacular gate is Bab Mansour, named after the architect, Moulay Ismail, a Christian slave converted to Islam. Visit the granaries and stables of the great Moulay and take time to stroll around the souks. The highlight of the Medina, is a delightful 19th century palace called Dar Jamai, now a museum of Moroccan art and handicraft.
As the crossroads of routes to so many different destinations, Tangier has been influenced by Phoenicians, Berbers, Portuguese and Spaniards even before it became part of Morocco. At the heart of Tangier is its Medina, the old town with two markets or souks: the Grand Socco and the Petit Socco. The town is also renowned for the Mendoubia gardens, with their eight-hundred-year-old trees, the Sidi Bouabid Mosque, the Kasbah Square and the great Mechouar where the pashas once gave audiences.
The Museum of Antiquities: If you walk into the former kitchens of the Dar El Makhzen palace, you will come face to face with Moroccan antiquity and pre-history, such as bronzes and mosaics from the Roman sites of Lixus, Cotta, Banasa or Volubilis. The history of Tangier and its region is told here on the first floor. Devoted to antique funeral rites, there stands an amazing life-size model of a Carthaginian tomb, amidst a group of small lead sarcophagi and a child’s tomb buried in a clay jar.
Grottes d’Hercule: This cavern has been eroded away naturally from an incredibly hard rocky outcrop. The main gallery has been expanded by man as from time immemorial stone has been extracted to make wheels for watermills. Man’s presence here dates back to the Palaeolithic age. In fact, it was here in this system of caverns that the famous pottery statues were discovered in 1930, confirming that Neolithic man held some kind of religious services in Tangier.
The 15th century Grande Mosque with its striking terracotta-tiled roof was built by the the son of the town’s founder, Ali ben Rachid. It is closed to non-Muslims. The Kasbah was built to defend the town against Berber tribes and Spaniards. The walls enclose a peaceful, blooming garden, a museum and some prison cells. The tower has been beautifully restored and affords wonderful views over the medina, centered on Plaza Uta el-Hammam.
The medina of Fes el-Bari (Old Fes) is the largest living medieval city in the world. Its incredible maze of 9400 twisting alleys, blind turns and souqs are crammed with shops, restaurants, workshops, mosques, medersas (theological colleges), dye pits and tanneries ~ a riot of sights, sounds and smells, and a World Heritage site.
Bou Inania Medersa: A 14th century (1357) college/dormitory/mosque complex, recently restored including the Water Clock, part of the Bou Inania complex on Talaa Kibeera.
Nejjarine Museum: The museum is an 18th century fundoq/caravanserai, beautifully restored, housing a fine collection of traditional woodworking. A fundoq is an inn for traveling merchants, who stayed upstairs and kept their animals and sold their merchandise downstairs.
Al Karaouine Mosque: Successive dynasties expanded the Al Karaouine mosque until it became the largest in North Africa, with a capacity of more than 20,000 worshipers. Compared with the great mosques of Isfahan or Istanbul, the design is austere. The University Karaouine is part of a mosque, founded in 859 by Fatima Al-Fihri, the daughter of a wealthy merchant named Mohammed Al-Fihri. The Al-Fihri family had migrated from Kairouan, Tunisia to Fes in the early 9th century, joining a community of other migrants who had settled in a western district of the city. (You will only be able to pass by My Idriss Mausoleum and Karaouine Mosque as they are not accessible to non-Muslims)
Dar Batha Museum: This museum is a late-19th century palace built by Sultan Moulay al-Hassan I, with a lovely garden and outstanding collection of Moroccan arts and crafts. This is the setting for the afternoon concerts of the Fez Festival of Sacred Music.
Arms Museum of the Borj Nord: 16th century fortress housing a large collection of antique arms. The building, craftsmanship of the objects, and view of the medina are wonderful.
Fortification Walls of Fez: This structure dates to the 11th and 13th century. It is possible take a drive around the ramparts from Palais Jamai to Bab al Fatouh.
Marrakech, known as the “Red City”, is the capital of the mid-southwestern Moroccan economic region, near the foothills of the Atlas Mountains.
Medrassa Ben Youssef: One of the jewels of Marrakech. The current structure of this Koranic school was built around 1570. It is the biggest medersa in the whole of the Maghreb.
Marrakech Museum: A magnificent late-nineteenth century palace, Dar Mnebhi, restored by Omar Benjelloun, to open its doors as the Marrakech Museum. It houses exhibitions of Moroccan art and sculpture, both traditional and contemporary.
Qoubba Almoravides: The ablution centre for believers going to the mosque. The complex was also one of the first fountains of the town and used to ensure the water supply for the inhabitants of Marrakech and their animals.
The Souk: Prepare yourself for a discovery in this labyrinth souk and get ready for shopping!! This is a maze of colorful alleys and small squares which are home to a bewildering array of stalls and ateliers devoted to specific crafts.
Jamaa El Fna Square: The square is host to a multitude of street artists, stalls offering dried fruit or orange juice freshly-pressed before you, and a variety of small restaurants that take over its centre from early evening, and contribute to the scent of its surroundings. No one really knows how it came into being, but over the years it has become the beating heart of Marrakech, where fire-eaters, mime artists, snake-charmers and street musicians perform at every turn.
The Koutoubia Mosque: This famous landmark dominates the local skyline and can easily be spotted from all of Marrakech. Koutoubia’s minaret went on to inspire the architects of the Giralda of Seville and the Hassan Tower of Rabat. Its square tower in finely-worked dressed stone is 77 meters tall, including its lantern. Built in the 12th century, the Koutoubia minaret is the most perfect Islamic religious structure in North Africa.
Badii Palace: The construction of this sumptuous palace lasted from 1578 to 1603. The richest materials were used to decorate the 360 rooms of the princely complex. The magnificence of the el-Badi palace is now old history. Its only inhabitants are now a couple of storks who have set up home there.
Bahia Palace: A masterpiece of domestic architecture which gives a good idea of how the privileged lived in the 19th century in the Imperial city. The use of marble, stucco and mosaics predominates in the apartments, opening on to courtyards filled with fountains and plant life.
The Todra Gorge is situated on the remote east side of the High Atlas Mountains. The Todra and Dades Rivers have carved out cliff-sided canyons on their final 40 km through the mountains. The final 600 m of the Todra gorge are the most spectacular as the canyon narrows to a flat stony track as little as 10m wide in places with sheer and smooth rock walls up to 160 m high on each side.
A ‘fortified city’, or ksar, Ait Benhaddou has been built on a hill over the Ouarzazate River along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech. It is situated in Souss-Massa-Draa and has some beautiful examples of kasbahs, which unfortunately get damaged each rainstorm. Most of the town’s inhabitants now live in a more modern village at the other side of the river; ten families however still live within the ksar. The houses crowd together within the defensive walls, which are reinforced by corner towers. It is a striking example of the architecture of southern Morocco and it is a World Heritage site.
The valley of the Draa is especially famous for its kasbahs, and being known as the date basket of Morocco. The water from the Draa River is used to irrigate Palmeraies and small horticulture along the river. Fruit trees and vegetables are the main crops but henna is also a well known product of the region. The history of the valley goes back thousands of years, accounting for many rock art engravings or petroglyphs. Most notable was the discovery of the Venus of Tan-Tan – the oldest human figurine ever found, dating dates back more than a hundred thousand years.
Formerly known as Mogador, Essaouira is a tourist resort in western Morocco on the Atlantic coast. The medina is home to many small arts and crafts businesses, notably cabinet making and ‘thuya’ wood-carving (using roots of the Tetraclinis tree). Essaouira’s craftsmen are renowned for their woodwork and lacquerware, but artwork of all kinds can be had here. The narrow streets discourage cars, making Essaouira look much as it did in the days of sea pirates. Powerful trade winds almost constantly blowing into the protected bay, makes this town ideal for kite- and windsurfing.
While safaris have traditionally been ‘all about the animals’, travelers can now truly “rough it” in style ~ having all their creature comforts and the best in wildlife viewing as well. Accommodation in Africa can range from lavish and luxurious to clean and comfortable. Take a minute to browse through the pictures and descriptions of these accommodations to get a sense for what style appeals to you.
Our approach is not to take a packaged tour ‘off the shelf’ and expect it to work for everyone. Instead we believe that each of our clients plays an important part in the planning of their own adventure. To begin with, you can review our suggestions either by the country that interests you or by the type of safari you are looking for, and we can then tailor it to your liking.