You often see and hear about people making trips to the North African country of Morocco. The place is a magnet for the seasoned adventurer looking for new places to explore, but why?
It turns out that Morocco is a little different from your average African country. For one, it’s set up for tourists, a little bit like the Maldives, with plenty of places to go, guided tours, and special zones where attendants wait on you hand and foot.
But Morocco is more than this. It’s a vision of the best that the continent has to offer and a sign of what Africa might be like in the future.
Morocco is a wild land. Outside of the main coastal cities, it’s nothing but the stunning Atlas Mountains and deserts that stretch endlessly. The country is intensely connected with Europe, particularly Spain, and relies on the Mediterranean to bring it both goods and people.
Being a coastal civilization, there’s something colorful and cosmopolitan about it. While it lacks the gleaming city offices you find in western capitals, it has a kind of merchant feel of its own. There’s something unique about the way that tradespeople organize themselves that you don’t find in the heavily regulated western markets. There’s a buzz in the air, and frantic beavering in the cities as residents try to eke out a living.
For tourists, Morocco is a real eye-opener. The country does so many things differently, but also well. Top of the list of attractions is the unique food combinations. Morocco has created a brand of cuisine all of its own, on par with, say, Thai food more than any other Africa country. Tagines abound, as do garbanzo beans. You’re never very far from the smell of cinnamon and dried fruit.
Then there’s the adventuring which we will talk more about below. Here’s a country that provides a genuine wilderness for you to explore. Head twenty miles outside of the main cities, like Casablanca, and there’s nothing - just thousands of miles of uninhabited desert. If you’ve ever wanted to feel like you own the world, this is the place to be. You can walk for hundreds of miles if you wish and not see another soul - save for the odd plane flying overhead.
For the sightseers and history buffs among you, the country is also home to numerous fabulous archaeological sites, many of which have been preserved by the dry climate. The Ait Benhaddou, for instance, is so well maintained that it's served as the backdrop for numerous Hollywood films. If you visit it, you’ll see why.
Then, of course, there are the beaches, the clubs, and much more. Suffice to say that Morocco is a country that whisks you off on something of an Aladdin's adventure. You’ll get to see the peace and prosperity that a little tourism and enterprise can bring. It’s quite remarkable.
So, without further ado, here’s what makes Morocco so different from the rest of Africa.
The Twisting Streets Of Marrakech
Most African countries don’t contain cities that feel like a twist on the traditional layout of, say, Vienna or Prague, but Morocco is the exception.
Marrakech is genuinely unique. It has all of the color and chaos of a typical Moroccan trade hub but isn’t set out on a grid system. Marrakech has been a center of trade and commerce for centuries, and the city grew up organically. This process gives it a unique vibe and architecture. You feel as if you’re stepping into something authentic whenever you set foot in the middle of the city, with the place brimming with people darting from stall to stall.
What’s terrific about Marrakech is the sheer mess of the place. What people say about Jemaa el-Fnaa square is true. People really do their eating, shopping, and tattoos all over the place in a makeshift way. It’s far more anarchic than anything you’d see in the western world where you have to get licenses for everything. Thus, in many ways, it feels more free and natural compared to the sterile city environments of, say, northern Europe. You can pretty much buy and sell as you please; though, as a tourist, it’ll be more buying than selling.
In the past, before the internet, books, and television, cultures transmitted important information by word of mouth. If the stories were important enough, people would stand up in the village square and proclaim it to passers-by to spread the news.
It’s a part of our culture that has long since disappeared. Instagrammers are on Instagram - they’re not shouting their heads off on street corners.
The tradition, however, remains active in Marrakech and other Moroccan towns, which is one of the things that makes the place so appealing.
Listening to storytelling is actually a lot of fun. You get some free entertainment while also diving right into something completely new. Storytellers want to add value so that you tip them, so sometimes their tales are utterly riveting - well worth a listen while you’re munch on some street food.
The Mint Tea
In Morocco, you don’t go out for a beer. The country isn’t a warm Germany with beerhalls littering the landscape. Instead, the culture focuses on other beverages, especially mint tea.
The locals love their mint tea. They spend hours brewing pots of it to get the flavor right, making sure that they buy the highest quality leaves they can find.
It’s a sugary treat, so it’s not all healthy, but it doesn’t half taste good once you get used to it. Of course, you can drink just the mint and get a health kick from that. They say that mint is good for male pattern baldness: who would have thought?
The Support For Tourists
Going to a new place and experiencing a radically different culture is always a challenge. You want to dive in and make good use of your time, but doing so is a massive challenge.
The good news is that you don’t have to do anything yourself in Morocco if you don’t want to. The Best Morocco tours take you on a whirlwind adventure of the country, showing you all its best features and introducing you to its people in ways you never expected.
What’s more, you get to see all of the sites without having to hire a car or arrange tickets yourself. It’s all done for you.
Morocco is almost unique in Africa for this. The country worked out a long time ago that the way to attract money from abroad was to make life easy for tourists. The more you could pamper them, it seemed, the more that they came. Hotels, tours, restaurants, and personal holiday assistants all abound, making it a great place to go if it's your first visit to the continent.
If you live in a western country, you’ll often read news stories about “exciting new commercial, office, and residential developments.” Once you’ve been to Morocco, though, these sanitized versions will seem almost laughable compared to the medinas.
Medinas are something that you find in practically every Moroccan city. They’re essentially mixed-use areas where people both live and work. What’s impressive about them is their authenticity. Things here haven’t changed a great deal in over a century. Locals compete with each other to woo the tourist trade and attract punters to their shops and restaurants.
If you’re looking for a delicious meal, this is the place to have it. While you can head to the more tourist-focus eateries in the middle of town, the medinas are probably the best for getting food that’s unique to the area. Look for where the locals go and follow them. It’s that simple.
Tagine-Fuelled Hiking In The Atlas Mountains
Africa does have mountain ranges, but they aren’t well-known. More to the point, they’re not accessible to tourists. You have to be ready for an expedition if you want to tackle them.
Not so with Morocco’s Atlas mountains. The range is flanked by towns and villages, all of which offer places to eat and stay. You can go for a long hike in the hills and then return to a cozy place in the evening to refuel on tagine and couscous. It’s a little touch that makes the trip a heck of a lot more interesting.
If the mountains aren’t your thing, then there are other opportunities for fun too. These include trekking in the Sahara on the back of a camel.
The Sahara is a unique experience. The shifting sands and endless desert scenery are totally alien to the landscapes you’re used to seeing if you live in temperate regions. It’s surprising just how fast the desert arrives once you leave the lush coast and head inland.
So, in summary, we’ve learned that Morocco is different from the rest of Africa in several important ways. What’s more, it’s probably the most tourist-friendly place on the continent to go adventuring, with its never-ending scenery and buzzing city culture.