I first visited Morocco when I was 17 years old and fell in love with the vibrant culture and warmth of the people. Returning a few years later on my Gap Year, I spent a month in the desert, living amongst a Bedouin tribe, and working on a project to promote the Moroccan Sahara to European travellers. Even as a solo female traveller, I always felt safe and found travelling around very straightforward. Inspired by such marvellous memories from this magical country (and with return flights from London for under £50), I decided to spend the last two weeks of my Christmas holidays exploring as much of the beautiful country as I could on a very tight budget.
Trying to pack in as much as possible in a short time, we decided to start in Marrakech, then go to Meknes, Fes, Chefchaouen, and finally Rabat. Travelling with my boyfriend meant that we would stay in authentic guest houses (/riad/s) rather than hostel bunk beds; courtesy of the brilliant ©Airbnb, we found lots of lovely accommodation, meeting so many gracious hosts along the way. With constant sunshine and temperatures around 20ºC, it is a really great time of year to really lose yourself in this diverse, diverting land.
Here are my top three recommendations:
> Get lost in the sprawling souks, which last for miles and sell everything from artisanal leather goods to camel rugs and TV aerials. You can easily spend an afternoon weaving between the stalls and accidently end the day with a rogue henna tattoo, a new bag, lots of spices, and a rug.
> Visit the impressive ruins of El Badi Palace, once home to the powerful Saadian dynasty. Today, as you walk through the imposing palatial walls and underground passages, you truly get a sense of how magnificent the palace used to be. Walk on top of the Palace walls for some unreal views of the city.
> Enjoy a mint tea on a rooftop terrace overlooking the Jemaa El-Fna. Every night is truly alive in this expansive square, filled with countless street performers and thousands of tourists. Also, definitely head to the street food section — this is where we ate some of the best food in Morocco!
I would recommend staying at Riad La Boheme, a beautiful 400-year old /riad/, in the heart of the Medina. It’s a stunning accommodation choice for a good price, and the hosts Amal and Dave are so friendly and hilarious.
> The nearby town of Volubilis is an unmissable sight. This extensive Roman town in the rolling green hills is one of the most important historical sites in the country, and I personally found it even better than Pompeii. Also, rather than splash on an expensive tour, jump in a shared taxi from Meknes for 10DH, (£0.85). Squashed in with some friendly locals, why not take the opportunity to chat with them on the 40-minute journey?
> Walk all around the vast city walls, and visit the old, ruined royal stables, winding your way along the crumbling, narrow passages.
> The beautiful hilltop town of Moulay Idriss, home of Morocco’s most famous saint, is a very famous Islamic pilgrimage site. Visit his mausoleum, and climb all the way to the top of the town for some unreal views!
> Visit the huge tanneries, where lots of fair trade leather goods are made in the traditional ways. Also a very good place to stock up on unique leather goods, there are so many cool backpacks; however, be warned: shop owners will try to make you pay an unreasonable amount of money, so haggle to reach a better price.
> Visit the nearby mountain town of Ifrane. Built to look like a Swiss ski resort, it is home to lots of wild monkeys.
> Discover tucked away medieval mosques, rooftop terraces, and animal skins hanging everywhere, or get lost in the seemingly infinitely winding souks...
> Go hiking! Definitely a highlight of my trip: following the mountain footpath, we hiked all the way up to the highest peak. At 1800m, it’s a difficult climb, but it’s definitely worth it as the views are amazing. After our 7-hour hike, I felt like I could justify feasting on the delicious local goat cheese.
> Relax at the refreshing waterfalls. Perfect for a dip in warmer weather, you might also want to indulge in the local speciality of Kif — the locally grown hash.
> The Kasbah (castle) is one of the most dramatic places in the whole of Morocco. Built on a hill next to the sea, it’s such a stunning area to explore. Entrance is free, and you can easily spend an afternoon exploring its ornate gardens, cafes, and small artisanal shops.
> Go to the beach, perfect for both those who love people-watching and surfing. Board and wetsuit hire is widely available, and the waves are great for beginner/intermediate surfers.
> Slightly further from the centre of town is the Chellah, tombs of a long-gone dynasty, now a wonderfully atmospheric, crumbling set of ruins where storks nest atop truncated minarets, and odd patches of tilework appear through overflowing vegetation.