I knew before going in that Morocco was a treasure trove of unique landscapes, culturally-rich cities, and otherworldly experiences. Even with those lofty expectations, Morocco still managed to blow me away. From its vast swathes of Sahara Desert, to long stretches of rugged and untouched coastline, Morocco’s natural beauty was diverse and awe-inspiring. A road trip to the desert saw us driving through snowy mountain passes, towering canyons, lush farmlands, and cities made of clay. The cities of Morocco were varied as well, from the blue houses of Chefchaouen to the labyrinthine medina of Fes, each destination felt like entering a new world.
Traveling in Morocco has been one of my favorite travel experiences. Every day I’d spent in Morocco only made me feel like I’d seen less and less of the country. I arrived in Chefchaouen expecting it to be one of my final stops before taking the ferry from Tangier to Spain. I ended up backtracking and visiting half a dozen more places before finally arriving in Tangier. And once I arrived in Tangier, I ended up tacking on two more destinations, visiting Tetouan and Asilah before finally accepting that I would need multiple trips to see everything this country has to offer.
The long stretches of coastline dotted with fishing villages and surf spots, the majestic beauty of the Atlas Mountains, the waterfalls of Ouzoud, the monolith of Tafraoute, the list goes on. Morocco has no shortage of incredible travel destinations. Even in my six weeks of fast-paced travel throughout the country, it felt like I was diving into a bottomless pit. It would take years to see everything that Morocco has to offer, and alas, very few of us have that kind of time.
If you’re looking for the best places to visit in Morocco, these are some of my favorite travel destinations in this stunning North African country. From its gorgeous coastline to its maze-like medinas, Morocco truly has beauty in every corner.
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Essaouira: A Culturally-Rich Coastal Paradise
Roaming through Essaouira’s medina was like taking a leap back in time. The cobbled streets, peeling white paint of the houses, and wooden carts clip-clopping their way through the medina… Essaouira brought a strange sense of nostalgia. Life is simple here. One can spend the entire day kicking back and relaxing on the long strip of beach, or weave their way through the cramped souks and alleyways of the historic medina. Essaouira is a great place to try out surfing or kitesurfing, and many places will offer lessons or rentals. I’d recommend staying at Essaouira Beach Hostel, just steps away from the beach and offering lessons and rentals for aspiring surfers and kite surfers.
At night, Essaouira comes alive as one of Morocco’s top nightlife destinations. That’s not saying much, considering that nightlife is pretty hard to come by in the country. However, Essaouira has several beachside bars and clubs to choose from, as well as some underground bars for a cozy afterparty. The vibes are good in Essaouira, and it’s easily my favorite destination among Morocco’s abundance of coastal paradises.
The Backpacker’s Travel Guide to Essaouira
Imsouane: Chilled Out Surf Vibes
This quiet fishing village and surf haven sits about halfway between the bigger towns of Essaouira and Agadir. For a laid-back beach destination, look no further than Imsouane. It’s a tiny beach town and hippie paradise, where barefoot is the dress code and you can watch your lunch being caught right in front of you. Imsouane is one of those places that simply suck you in for much longer than planned. The simple way of life here is attractive to many, and you’ll find that many of its inhabitants have accidentally turned a detour of a few days into one of a few weeks or months.
For hardcore surfers looking to catch big waves at wild beaches, I’d recommend road tripping and hitting up some of the lesser-visited hidden gems along the coast. The villages of Taghazout and Tamraght also receive rave reviews from backpackers, surfers, and hippies. A few of the hidden gems we visited on our road trip include Sidi Kaouki and Tafedna, along with countless nameless beaches without a single soul on them.
Rabat: Morocco’s Well-Rounded Capital City
Rabat is perhaps the most well-rounded destination in Morocco. The few travelers that visit Rabat typically only spend one or two days here, and most skip it entirely. However, Rabat won me over for a number of reasons and I ended up spending nearly a week in Morocco’s vibrant capital city.
The vibe of Rabat is what made me stay, and I found it to be a destination that’s perfect for slow travel, but can understand why longer-term travelers tend to brush over it. Rabat has a beautiful old medina, but for those who have time to visit Fes or Chefchaouen, it pales in comparison. Rabat has beaches, but nothing along the lines of what you’d see along the coast from Essaouira to Agadir. There aren’t must-see destinations like the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca, and in general, for nature-lovers, there isn’t much to do at all.
However, Rabat was a much-needed break from the intense cultural immersion of Morocco’s other destinations. It was a place where I could start the day off by working at a trendy cafe, walking through one of the city’s many parks and gardens, roaming aimlessly through the medina, and capping the day off with a sunset on the beach. Being the capital city, Rabat is quite international, to the point where travelers often don’t get a second glance on the streets. If you’ve been in places like Marrakech or Fes, you know just how appealing that can be. I love walking through cities for hours at a time, and in Rabat, I could do just that without being hassled or harassed.
I loved Rabat, and understand why some travelers would skip it. If you’re short on time and want to see the best of Morocco, then Rabat won’t have the cultural immersion of Fes or the natural beauty of Chefchaouen. However, it is a great introduction to Morocco, home to a lively medina, nice beaches, and many historic and culturally significant monuments. There aren’t many hostels to choose from in Rabat, but if you can snag a bed at Hostel Kayezer, it has a cozy, family vibe and a perfect location to explore the city from.
Fes: A Medieval Labyrinth of Sensory Overload
Whew. Where does one even begin with Fes? Getting lost in the labyrinthine streets of the world’s largest medina is an experience. Few places have made me feel so utterly, helplessly lost as Fes did, a city where even Google Maps often proved futile. For the most intense cultural immersion one could hope for in Morocco, a visit to Fes is a must.
Wander through the endless streets of the medina, where vibrant carpets and handicrafts contrast with the peeling pastels of its old buildings. Visit a tannery, a unique but smelly experience where you can see how Fes’ famed leather goods are made. Hike up to castle walls for a beautiful sunset over the city. Fes is sensory overload at its finest. To let your brain go into auto-pilot is to get hopelessly lost in the maze of the city, and that isn’t entirely a bad thing. Take a free walking tour of Fes to get situated to the city, and then explore for yourself and see what wonders you’ll encounter. Stay at Medina Social Club, an absolutely gorgeous property that is the perfect oasis from the mayhem of the medina.
For travelers looking to prioritize a raw, unfiltered cultural experience, Fes is the top destination in Morocco.
Chefchaouen: Morocco’s Blue Pearl
Chefchaouen surprised me in many ways. Even before visiting, I had preconceived notions that Chaouen was nothing more than blue alleyways and cute houses for people to snap their Instagram photos. What I expected to be a quick two-day stop turned into a five day detour, alternating between aimlessly wandering through the charming medina and hiking amongst otherworldly landscapes.
It was also much more budget-friendly than I expected from a tourist hotspot. I could have easily stayed much longer simply enjoying the chilled out vibes, as many travelers have before me. Seriously, at my first hostel were people who have been there for months, smoking hash on the hostel terrace and taking in some incredible views.
There’s a reason why Chaouen is one of Morocco’s most famous destinations. It truly lived up to the hype.
Akchour: Welcome… To Jurassic Park
A short taxi ride outside of Chefchaouen, you’ll find landscapes reminiscent of Thailand’s limestone karsts and lush, green mountains. Akchour is home to great hiking, with the most famous destinations being its waterfalls and a natural geologic formation known as God’s Bridge. Akchour is the perfect place to visit during the hot summer months, as you’ll actually be able to dive into the inviting waters of the river and natural pools.
Regardless of time of year, it’s a great place to visit if you want to chase some epic views. The town of Akchour doesn’t have much to it. Aside from a couple of restaurants and small shops, there isn’t much else to warrant spending any time here aside from the hiking. It is possible to camp here, if you do want to spend a little extra time out in this breathtaking area of Morocco.
Tangier: Where the Mediterranean Meets the Atlantic
Morocco’s port city of the north is one that can’t be missed. The all-white houses of the medina, the turquoise blues of its long beaches, and vibrant nightlife make it a well-rounded travel destination for anyone looking to experience what Morocco has to offer.
While I didn’t find Tangier to have too much to do, it has a number of day trips in the area. Hercules Caves, Asilah, and Tetouan are all less than an hour away and give you a chance to see more of Morocco. Asilah is a quiet coastal town, similar to Essaouira but smaller and less touristy. Tetouan is known as the “White Dove” of Morocco due to its all-white medina. The city is nestled in the mountains but only a short distance from the beaches of the Mediterranean. Chefchaouen, Morocco’s famed Blue Pearl, is also doable as a day tour from Tangier.
Other than that, Tangier simply has a nice vibe to it. The medina is not as chaotic or overwhelming as other Moroccan cities. Its long strip of beaches offer plenty of room to escape from the city life. Outside of the medina, Tangier has tons of great restaurants and bars to choose from, and even some nightclubs if you want to dance the night away. Watching the world go by at one of its many cafes is a favorite pastime of many Moroccans. There are few better places to do that than Tangier.
Merzouga: The Vast Dunes of the Sahara
No trip to Morocco is complete without visiting the desert. In the eastern part of the country, you’ll find Merzouga and Erg Chebbi, home to some of the largest sand dunes in Morocco.
Although the desert is undeniably beautiful, my experience was quite interesting, and a little less authentic than I expected. I booked a 3-day tour through my hostel for about $90 USD, a deal that seemed to good to be true. It turns out, we got exactly what we paid for: a cheap experience to match the price. Perhaps my expectations were too high, expecting to be immersed in a true desert caravan, conversing with nomads akin to Santiago’s experience in The Alchemist.
If you book a tour to Merzouga, I’d recommend comparing your options and potentially paying more for a more intimate, authentic experience. However, if your primary goal is to see the Sahara Desert, then this will accomplish that goal.
Marrakech: Mayhem in the Medina
Perhaps Morocco’s most famous travel destination, Marrakech attracts travelers far and wide. It is often a polarizing destination, with some loving the mayhem of Marrakech and others leaving with a bad taste in their mouth. I liked Marrakech, but in hindsight, it might be my least favorite big city in Morocco.
It’s a great introduction into Morocco, with some beautiful monuments, culturally-rich old city, and a relatively tourist-friendly infrastructure that caters to travelers. However, Marrakech also left a sour taste in my mouth. It is intense here, and it’s often hard to walk without being harassed, hassled, or outright scammed. There are plenty of gems to be discovered in Marrakech, but as someone who loves aimlessly wandering and meeting the local people, Marrakech left me a bit disappointed.
The Backpacker’s Travel Guide to Marrakech
Imlil: A Trekking Mecca in the Atlas Mountains
Home to Morocco’s most iconic mountains and best trekking, Imlil is a can’t-miss for nature lovers and outdoorsy adventurers. It’s the kicking off point for the popular trek to the summit of Morocco’s tallest mountain, Toubkal. At 4,167 meters high, it is actually the tallest peak in the entirety of Northern Africa. It only takes two days to reach the summit, with one night spent at a mountain refuge. You do need to hire a guide if you have aspirations of reaching the summit, as you won’t be permitted to do it yourself.
Aside from the summit of Toubkal, Imlil is home to many other hikes. Only an hour outside of Marrakech, it is the perfect getaway for hikers and nature-lovers.
Ait Benhaddou: The City of Clay
A village lost in time, Ait Benhaddou is one of the most unique destinations in Morocco. With scenes from Gladiator, Game of Thrones, and many others being filmed at Ait Benhaddou, cinema buffs can’t miss a trip to Ait Benhaddou.
It is very small, and a few hours here should be enough to cover the entire old city and the ruins of the kasbah at the top. Most tours to Merzouga will include a stop at Ait Benhaddou with a walking tour of the old city. It’s truly one of the most unique places I’ve ever been.
Todhra Gorge and Dades Gorge
Along with a stop at Ait Benhaddou, most Sahara tours will also include stops at Todhra Gorge and Dades Gorge. While we only stopped at one viewpoint of the Dades Gorge, the Todhra Gorge was definitely a highlight. The lush, green farmlands contrasting with the towering, reddish canyons of the Todhra Gorge was a sight to behold. We walked along vibrant fields and a beautiful river flanked by canyons the entire way. It is an essential stop for anyone road tripping towards the Sahara.
Casablanca: The Heartbeat of Morocco
Morocco’s largest city is hit-or-miss for many travelers. I felt the same, but think one needs a different attitude when taking on Casablanca. It’s an unattractive destination for backpackers, and I can agree with the sentiment that there isn’t too much to do. The mosque is absolutely stunning, arguably the most beautiful in the world. One can also take a walking tour with a local truly get an understanding of this multicultural and industrail city. Besides that, one can argue that there isn’t much else to do from a tourists’ standpoint.
However, Casablanca is a city that requires a different approach. It’s far from a charming city of romance as the movie would have you believe. I’ve actually never seen the movie, but can’t really imagine it being a good setting for a love story either way. Casablanca is gritty. The old medina is filled with decrepit buildings that have gone ignored while a multi-billion dollar mosque sits just outside its crumbling walls. There are dozens of medinas in Morocco that are worth visiting, but I’d pass on Casablanca’s. Casablanca is a city to let loose, escape from the budget backpacker life for a while and treat yourself to all of the things that you’ve been unable to find in Morocco so far. Eat some octopus at a tapas bar and sip on a cocktail while a singer performs in an outfit far too haram for the streets of Morocco.
Meknes: The Imperial City
One of Morocco’s imperial cities, Meknes is a good destination for history and culture lovers. It felt like a smaller, more local version of Fes. Unfortunately, most of the attractions were closed or under construction when I visited. While Meknes has some beautiful places, the medina didn’t have much of a vibe to it, and even the main plaza was noticeably tame due to many parts of it being under renovation.
It’s a good alternative to Fes if you want to go off the beaten path, home to some stunning mausoleums, palaces, and mosques. Few tourists visit Meknes, and the medina was much more local, giving a more authentic glimpse into Moroccan way of life. However, if you are short on time, I wouldn’t recommend spending too much time in Meknes.
Moulay Idriss and Volubilis: Small Town Life and… Roman Ruins?!
The small town of Moulay Idriss Zerhoun and the nearby Roman ruins of Volubilis are the highlights of my detour to Meknes. Moulay Idriss is about a 45-minute ride from Meknes, a journey that cost 11 dirham with the grand taxis. I opted to spend the night there, although it can easily be done as a day trip. From Moulay Idriss, I walked to the ruins of Volubilis. It was about an hour’s walk through some beautiful landscapes, passing by agave fields and friendly locals along the way.
The ruins cost 70 dirham to enter, and while most of it is rubble, there are still a few structures still standing. It’ll only take about an hour or two to see all of the archaeological site, although I stopped for lunch at one of the nearby restaurants just outside the ruins. It’s hard to believe these ruins are in Morocco, and is definitely worth the journey from Meknes. I took a taxi for 30 dirham back to Moulay Idriss and then hiked up to a viewpoint for the sunset. After a quick tagine at the local market, I turned in for the night before heading back to Meknes the next morning.
There are countless more destinations in Morocco to explore, but this list should be a great place to start. Many places still remain on my Morocco itinerary, and my biggest lament about going in the winter is how I didn’t get to hike in the breathtaking Atlas Mountains. Summiting Mount Toubkal is a must for my next adventure to Morocco, as are the countless small towns I pinned on my Google Maps as the bus passed by them. Ouezzane seemed like a gorgeous city to break up the journey from Fes to Chefchaouen. My hostel in Marrakech implored me to visit the small town of Tafraoute. The waterfalls of Ouzoud might be the most unique waterfalls I’ve ever seen pictures of. The list goes on and on. Morocco is simply blessed with an abundance of incredible travel destinations.
Travel Insurance for Morocco
And of course, before you go, it’s always a good idea to have travel insurance handy. I use SafetyWing to keep me covered throughout my travels for as low as $45 a month, and their coverage includes Morocco among the 190+ countries that they cover. It’s handy to have travel insurance in Morocco, especially if you plan on hiking in remote areas, high altitudes, or taking to those crazy winding roads with even crazier drivers.
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