My Best (and worst) of Morocco, a.k.a why Morocco is one of the most beautiful places I’ve been but why I also hated many aspects of it, a.k.a why Morocco would be great if was uninhabited…
I could have many titles for this post. I spent 5 weeks in Morocco last November and December and half the time I hated it, the other half I loved it. It’s a place that I think people should visit because they’ll see and experience things that they’ll never see or experience anywhere else. You’ll probably leave feeling dazed and amazed – but also relieved.
Related: 5 weeks in Morocco (and on dealing with liars, scammers and bullshit)
This post covers things and places I loved in Morocco and well as the things and places I didn’t like at all…
My Best of Morocco
Morocco is up there with some of the most beautiful geography I’ve seen anywhere. Not just beautiful but varied geography: mountains, desert, coasts, gorges…
Here are my Top 6 Places
1. Toubkal National Park.
I spent 3 days hiking in the mountains just south of Marrakesh. The main gateway to the park is Imlil (1 ½ hours from Marrakech) but I really recommend that you go to Aroumd which is straight up from Imlil. It’s a small town that looks out at the whole valley. The best way to get up there is by mule. The area has some of the best hiking I’ve ever done and the geography is varied: you’ll have dry landscapes and bare rocks but you’ll also pass through valleys where you’d swear you were in Switzerland but at non-Switzerland prices: my riad (ie. hotel) came out to $35 US (including meals) and the mountains guides I hired cost the same. Incredible. Lots of detail on my 3 days of hiking around Toubkal.
2. The Semi-desert landscapes on the way to (and around) Ait Benhaddou.
Coming from Marrakesh in the direction of Ait Benhaddou you’ll go over the Tizi-n-Tichka pass. That’s impressive enough. But instead of continuing along the main road after the pass, the road to Telouet is all semi-desert with red earth, plateaus, green valleys, snow-capped mountains and a river gorge that cuts through the landscape. It is stunning and you might not see anyone else along the way (it’s a bit off the beaten path. Best to do what I did and get yourself a private driver from Marrakech). Getting from Marrakech to Ait Benhaddou. Make sure to stop at Kasbah Glaoui.
Prior to Merzouga I had never been in the desert. I spent 3 days there hiking, taking camels rides, and driving an ATV. But I’ve never forget the stillness and solitude of the desert and my highlight was an afternoon spent walking through the desert and sitting on a dune looking out at the highest dunes in Morocco. Why Merzouga is a highlight of any Morocco trip.
4. The Blue City of Chefchaouen.
Nothing new here and if you know anything about Morocco you know about Chefchaouen. It’s a favorite of Instagrammers which is reason enough to hate the place – if it wasn’t so beautiful. It’s one of those towns (like Guanajuato in Mexico) that you’ll always remember. I’ll remember Chefchaouen for having been bitten by bedbugs. Didn’t stop me from loving the place though.
5. The Atlantic Coastline at Essaouira.
I spent a week in Essaouira and would enjoy walking along the beach in the morning, looking at the rising mist over the Atlantic. There’s not much to do in Essaouira and it is touristy…but it’s a lovely, picturesque town with lots of history and a very different geography than what I saw anywhere else in Morocco.
6. The gorges, mountains, and valleys on the road from Ait Benhaddou to Tinghir.
More incredible semi-desert landscapes with gorges thrown in. Again, the best way to explore this route is with a driver. More on the landscapes and highlights between Ait Benhaddou and Merzouga.
Really, the geography that you see above was my absolute highlight in Morocco. My biggest advice is to leave the cities behind* and to get out into the countryside.
* I wrote about Fez and Marrakesh here. But Moroccan cities weren’t a highlight for me.
But there were other aspects of Morocco that impressed me.
The Old Forts
Morocco has lots of old forts and palaces and most travellers miss them visiting the cities. Some of my highlights were Kasbah Glaoui (outside Telouet), Kasbah Amridil (near the town of Skoura), and the whole of Ait Benhaddou which is a fortified village and UNESCO world heritage site. I love the tilework that you see in many of the palaces, it is for me one of the most beautiful aspects of Moorish design (see the Saadian Tombs and El Bahia Palace in Marrakesh and El Glaoui Palace and Bou Inania Madrasa in Fez).
Markets in Morocco have a lot of colour and you’ll see lots of beautiful carpets, leatherware, ceramic plates and materials. If you’re a shopper you’ll go crazy. When Lissette and I have an apartment again we’ll go back to Morocco just to pick up some decorations.
I didn’t much like the food in Morocco (more on that below) – but I LOVED the mint teas. They’ll serve it to you whenever you check into a hotel, it’s what you can count on more than anything. And they’ll usually bring you cookies to go with it. I love Moroccan tea more than any other tea anywhere in the world (btw, their coffee, “nous nous” is fantastic as well).
You should stay in a Riad in Morocco, which is a hotel in a typical Moroccan house with an interior courtyard. There are riads of all kind, from budget to super exclusive. But all have that beautiful Moorish architecture with the tile work, colourful carpets and pillows, and romantic lamps. The best riads I stayed in were Ibn Battouta (in Fez), Ksar Bicha (in Merzouga), Riad Maison du Sud (in Essaouira). Click on them just to see what a riad looks like.
My Worst of Morocco
If I didn’t like a place in Morocco, it wasn’t so much about the place itself. I didn’t like Marrakesh, but that’s not so much because of Marrakesh. It was the people (I’ll get into that below). Same for Fez. I’ve heard people hating on Fez because of the pushiness. I think it’s a lot less pushy than Marrakech. I didn’t mind Fez, it was my favorite of the cities I visited. I didn’t like Casablanca because it’s not a pretty place and I wasn’t really that impressed with the Hassan II Mosque (yes, it’s the largest mosque in Africa. But it was built in 1993 – I found it to be a modern mosque with no ambiance). But again, I didn’t dislike Casablanca. In fact the one thing I liked about it was that I was able to walk around without anyone hassling me.
But here’s what I didn’t like:
People and culture
I didn’t like the people in Morocco. There, I said it. Pushy, moody, unfriendly, brusque. Of course there’s exceptions: I did meet some nice locals, mostly on those long bus rides that I took around the country or in the riads I stayed at. But mostly I found that they were all out to make a buck off you and if they were friendly well, it was to make a buck off you. I wrote a post about it on my first few days. I adjusted to Morocco, but that was by hardening my attitude.
It’s a very male-oriented society. I’ve never seen men arguing like I saw in Morocco. Yelling loudly at each other while waving their arms around. A crowd of other men would form around them. It was like a piece of theatre, other men holding back each combatant while they continued yelling at each other. I’d see this over and over again and this drama struck me as some kind of fake machismo. They struck me as backwards. And don’t even get me started on how they throw their trash all over the place. I’ve never seen a people less conscientious of their natural environment.
If I never have a tagine again in my life I consider myself lucky. If I had to compare it to anything it would be baby food: the flavour might be different but the texture is basically the same. Couscous is something else you’ll often find on a menu, usually served with chicken/beef/lamb and vegetables. But it has the same consistency as tagine (ie. baby food). It was ok the first week, by the time the 2nd week came I was looking for a burger (I actually became a regular eater of camel burgers. Pretty good). I just didn’t find traditional Moroccan food very inspiring.
Would I go back to Morocco?
I’ll never love Morocco. But I would go back, mostly to show the country to Lissette. Morocco is exotic, beautiful and colourful. I think it has to be on every traveller’s list. But having travelled around the country for 5 weeks I would do it differently. I think to fully appreciate Morocco you have to spend a bit of money (and I say “a bit” because it’s not an expensive country). Stay in a nice (romantic) riad, hire a driver so you can get to some of those beautiful places in the countryside, and have a guide show you around the cities like Marrakesh and Fez. Do it in style. You’ll enjoy Morocco a lot more doing it that way.
Related: The Ultimate guide to Surviving Morocco
Related: Morocco as a solo female traveller
What do you think? Would you go to Morocco?
Or, if you’ve been – what do you think?
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Morocco is definitely on my itinerary. I plan to cycle from Casablanca to Tangier (by not the most direct route, of course). Been wanting to go there for many years.
Lots of beautiful landscapes Stephen!
I’m here now just waiting to get over the sickness the coughing woman in my train compartment spread to me so i can finally leave… Earlier than planned. Thank you for the validation; this place sucks. I’ve backpacked SE Asia for six months and never experienced the amount of frustrations, incompetence, possibly willful ignorance in all that time as i have in a week of being here. Just to take a taxi from the airport to the center of town six men have to argue about its location as if they don’t have Google maps showing exactly where it is SMH. And you haven’t even begun the shit show off bargaining yet. I’ve been reading numerous articles by ex-pats about why they love the place and every dang article sounds as if they’re biting their tongue to keep from saying what they really think cuz example after example of shit they hate piles up in these articles to the point you’re wondering what exactly do they even like?? Thanks for saying exactly what you think. “There, i said it” lol
I’m trying to remember how much I paid when I took the taxi from the airport in Marrakesh to the center. He dropped me off outside a gate (because he couldn’t drive into the center) and I think charged me 15 Euros (or 20?) for a 10 minute ride. And that started 5 weeks of non-stops bargaining and fighting over every aspect of life. Like I say: some incredible beauty…but I’ll never be a fan of Morocco.
A random moor
That’s the problem with tourists in Morocco. You go to touristic cities and then complain for being treated like a piece of meat. Even Moroccans have issues with Marrakech because of the avidity of the people there. One advice: if you wanna discover any country, and especially Morocco, don’t go to popular places where tourists go everytime. Just, dont. Or go, and dont complain. Because there people have seen millions of people like you (tourists) go coming and going to their city, and of course they will hustle. Sorry but you can only blame yourself for this one. if you are an avid traveler, you should know from experience that tourist traps exists.
ou should have gone to another city, that are not really used to tourists if you wanna enjoy Morocco. I would advise Rabat, the capital. Underrated city by the beach. The downtown is not that big compared to the size of the city, but the people will leave you alone more than in Marrakesh.
About the agressivity, that’s another topic, but yes, Moroccan society can be quite agressive (it can be ranked top 10). That’s mediterranean blood, mixed with islamic culture and moorish roots, you get that. It can be surprising for tourists that comes from a cold weather wealthy society like you (and I dont even wanna talk about your privileges, that’s another topic, but I wanna point that out cuz you seem rather to look down on Moroccans), agressiveness may look bizarre. But that’s on you buddy.
One advice: next time when you travel somewhere, do some research and
Like I said in the post, I spent 5 weeks in Morocco. I spent a total of about 4 days in Marrakesh. Still, just because it’s a touristy city (lots of touristy cities in the world, but few where you’ll get hassled “like a piece of meat”) it’s not a reason to avoid. Would you avoid Venice because of the dirty water? No, because as much as Venice is touristy people should at least see it once in their lives. Same goes for Marrakesh.
I was in Morocco 30 years ago, I knew what to expect. No, the reason I write about the aggressiveness of the people is that so that readers are aware before coming. Yes, I know of our “privileges”, it’s something that seems to permeate the attitude of many Moroccans to foreigners. Like the (again) aggressive attitude I received at the hotel in Chefchaouen when I dared complain that I had bedbugs in my bed (I showed a dead one, they said I brought it). That kind of attitude just doesn’t endear travellers to the locals.
Your bottom line seems to think what Moroccans seem to think: Give us your money and shut up with your complaints. I can bring you to the must touristic places in California and never get near to the bad treatment you’ll get in marrakech. “Go to where no tourists go to see the real…” is what every person says but it’s all the real -insert country here. I suppose if you come to New York and get mugged you’re never gonna complain about it to a soul huh. If only we could all be so stoic as you Zeno. You want the traveler to take responsibility for knowing ahead of time bad treatment, but how about taking responsibility for the negative aspects of your culture instead
I’m Happy that you left the country! We don’t want condescendant tourists like you.
you obviously have no respect for any one your self. you lack empathy,open mind ness and have no ability to adapt. please don’t come back. Thanks
That’s a very rude comment. It actually proves Frank’s point. Apparently you really aren’t very nice people. Instead of being touchy, maybe some reflection on your part would be in order? Just saying.
Wow, This only confirms the author’s opinion. Thanks for the illustration. :/
I have only had a two day stop over in Casablanca. It’s a pretty unremarkable place but I experienced not one single person trying to hussle or hassle me. I’d like to see more of Morocco but I think a lot of your negatives are pretty much what I expected. Still, I’d like to experience more of the country. Just seems like the cities such as Marrakesh have seen a lot of tourism over a long time now and that has had a negative effect on the people who live there. Happened in a lot of places, but I’ve always imagined that it was particularly bad in Morocco. great post great insights
Thanks Andy. Exactly my experience in Casa and Moroccans also complain about Marrakech. You’ve been to a lot of off-the-beaten-path places…sure you’ve dealt with places like Marrakech in your travels.
Frank, I appreciate and love your honesty. There is so much to love about this country, certainly the geography, the amazing hikes, the history and the more off the beaten track places. I would love to do a road trip there, possibly with our motorhome. But I also like the idea of staying in a riad. Great post and photos.
Thank you Gilda! I wonder what it would be like in a motorhome. You’d certainly get a lot of attention 🙂
Thanks for this post – honest and interesting perspective on Marocco. Was interested to learn about the local customs, food and culture.
I’m with you Frank, I have a love/hate relationship with Morocco and it’s totally because of the people. I have the same ‘affair’ with India but there, it’s not the people but the craziness of the country itself and so I keep returning. But, with Morocco, it’s a different story. I look at our photos and think “that country looks great” but then I remember the grief you get from the men (never the women) on a daily basis! One thing for sure though, it was much easier visiting the place at my current age than it was when I was twenty-one!
You’re right, always the men. Morocco needs more women running things.
Interesting what you say about India, a place we haven’t been yet and that we always put off. Just recently met some people from there and they’ve convinced us that we should come for a visit. We’ll get there one of these days.
Avoid India like a plague, it’s a total nightmare. If you think the people are bad in Morocco, you have no idea what it’s like in India. I have traveled the world and been to loads of countries in Middle east, Africa and everywhere else. I would never ever go to India again, everything you described in Morocco is a million times worse in India. I have traveled a lot and I am myself a discerning traveler and do not take BS from anyone. Most people who love India are wannabe Hindu’s or looking to be more “spiritual”. But what they don’t know is the locals are laughing behind their back and profiting from the westerners nativity. This might be a harsh sounding post, but I am just being truthful with you.
Thanks for the comment Mirza. India’s been a place on our list but we’ve avoided going for all the reasons you’ve listed. Plus diarrhea is no fun…
I’m curious, what was your India itinerary like? I had the same love-hate issue with Morocco, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s what we have in the itinerary as tourists in a foreign culture?
Anita @ No Particular Place to Go
“There, you said it,” simply and succinctly! The sad part of it is, I get it even as it’s hard to admit it out loud. Morocco has to be the most foreign place I’ve ever visited and I remember being assaulted on all sides by the sights, sounds, smells, crowds and the palpably edgy energy. I had a meltdown in Marrakech after being (almost assaulted) and forcibly hennaed by two women which forever clouded my reaction to that city. That said, we stayed in some beautiful riads and were blown away by the history, architecture, mosaics and artistry of the carved stucco. It’s a fascinating country and well-worth the visit (maybe more than once?) but I think your tips about upgrading to a nice place and hiring a guide to run interference are really good. We hired a car and driver (at an outrageously low cost) which made our experiences in Fez more memorable and enjoyable. Hmmmm …. a camel burger???
Great comment Anita. You can love/hate a place and that’s ok right? At least it doesn’t fade into mediocrity…
I had a driver through two legs of my trip (Marrakech – Ait Benhaddou and Ait Benhaddou and Merzouga) and it was totally worth it because of the highlights along the way. The rest of the time I took long bus rides which were fine (except that time on the Chefchaouen – Casablanca bus when a Chinese guy puked a river down the aisle).
Camel burger – the Clock Cafe. They have outlets in Mararkech, Fez and Chefchaouen and a regular on the menu is camel burger. It’s pretty good but honestly their beef burger is better. I guess your meat can’t be that tender when you constantly have to trek through the desert…