It’s safe to say you won’t find anywhere more exotic, exciting or alluring within a 4 hour flight from the UK than Morocco, and thanks to the proliferation of low-cost flights to destinations across Morocco, it’s becoming ever easier to explore this fascinating country.
Geographically Morocco is defined by the Rif, Middle Atlas, High Atlas and Anti-Atlas Mountains that spread across the country like fingers of a giant hand. Historically they provided refuge for the indigenous Berber people in the face of numerous foreign invasions, and remain Berber heartlands to this day. The mountains divide the country climatically as well as culturally, preventing rainfall from Europe and the Atlantic reaching inland and south; so the south and east are generally dry and hot, with the north and west being a little cooler and wetter.
Any trip to the country is likely to involve a mixture of city experiences and more rural experiences, a contrast Morocco does very well. Her greatest cities, like Fez and Marrakesh are maelstroms of intoxicating sights, sounds and smells, very medieval in feel, whilst once you get out into the more remote oases, valleys and mountains, houses hunker down against the weather and invaders, clustered in ksour (fortified villages) overlooking by kasbahs whose mud-brick walls are covered in intricate decoration. Along the coast, fortified ports boast battlements designed by French and Portuguese invaders, whilst much more modern constructions, like the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca are no less inspiring or photogenic because of their modernity.
Morocco is such a diverse country that it’s almost impossible to convey the breadth of experiences on offer, but we hope this website gives you some idea of why we think it’s such an incredible country, and well worth a week or two of your precious holiday time!
Food & Drink
Over the last decade or so Moroccan cuisine has become more familiar to us here in Europe, and most people are familiar with its staples: the tajine, couscous and perhaps pastilla. Tajines, the classic one-pot stews that marry chicken and lamb with soft fruit (dates, apricots and prunes), and pastilla (a slightly more unusual sounding dish of pigeon in layers of filo pastry dusted with cinnamon and sugar) exhibit one of the defining features of Moroccan food, the marriage of sweet and savoury in one dish. The standard accompaniment of couscous is to Moroccans what rice is to the Chinese!
Tajines, couscous and pastilla are “special” meals, ones that Moroccans would normally have on feast days, or public holidays. The more day-to-day food is actually just as tasty and is best exemplified by the street vendors of the Jemaa El Fna square in Marrakesh: brochettes (kebabs, barbequed) with fresh bread and salad (although if you want something more “challenging”, like whole sheep’s head, that’s on offer too!). Perhaps one of the most pleasing dishes, certainly for freshness, is to be had in places like Essaouira, where fish, straight off the boats moored next to your harbour-side food stall, is paired with a simple salad of tomato, onion, cucumber and coriander – one of our personal favourites!
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the lengthy French presence in Morocco, there is a long-established wine industry. Granted, for most of its history, the industry has produced little of note, but that is changing, and vineyards, notably near Essaouira in the south and Meknes in the north, are producing better and better wines. They are certainly a cheaper accompaniment to your meals than imported wines, and increasingly, just as tasty too.
When to Travel
This is a slightly tricky question, and any trip covering more than just a couple of places is going to involve compromising on the weather somewhere. As a rule the coast and High Atlas Mountains are best in the summer: the coast because it will be warm enough to swim in the sea in summer, and the High Atlas because the winters get remarkably cold and snowy. The far south, along the great oasis valleys to the Sahara, gets very hot in summer, so is really an autumn / winter / spring destination, whilst the north of the country is a little more year-round and moderate in its climate.
Given these contrasting weather patterns, most people opt for a spring or autumn trip, missing the worst of the summer heat where it’s an issue, but also avoiding the colder, wetter winters where they occur.
Perhaps more than almost any other country, the accommodation will be a defining feature of your trip, largely down to the phenomenon of riads. These are traditional town houses, built around one or more internal courtyards, that have been converted into guesthouses and hotels. They are prolific in Marrakesh (there are 1,800 registered guesthouses in Marrakesh and any number of unregistered ones), and increasingly numerous in other major cities.
As a rule, riads are superb and match nicely with our preference for smaller, owner-run and managed hotels, which tend to have more character and better service than larger, chain hotels. Needless to say with so many of them about it’s important to choose the right one, for quality and for the security of your money: that’s where we come in because if we feature a riad or hotel, then we’ve visited it, we know exactly what it’s like and we know it’s a legit, trustworthy operation!
There is more to Moroccan accommodation than riads, and another trend of recent years has been the conversion of old kasbahs (or the building of new hotels but in a kasbah style). These are particularly numerous around Ouarzazate and Skoura in the Dades Valley. More simple, as a rule, than riads, they none-the-less have bags of character and are something to elevate a trip from the ordinary to the truly memorable.
There are a large number of low-cost flights now from various UK airports to various cities in Morocco, and relatively little in the way of scheduled carriers. BA and Royal Air Maroc do operate, but their route network is nowhere near as comprehensive as EasyJet and Ryan Air. We can assist with booking scheduled carrier flights and some low-cost carriers, which gives you the added protection of ATOL bonding, but it is usually more expensive for us to arrange flights than for you to do it yourselves, which is why the sample prices on this website are exclusive of flights.
For UK passport holders, no visa is required to enter Morocco.
The main languages of Morocco are Moroccan Arabic (which is quite distinctive from Classical Arabic and the Arabic spoken in much of the rest of the Arab world), Berber (there are a number of Berber dialects spoken, all being derived from the main Amazigh language), and French. English is not that widely spoken, certainly not outside of the cities, but most people will speak a few words; for getting along on a day-to-day basis, French is very helpful unless you happen to speak Moroccan Arabic or Amazigh!
We don’t recommend self-driving in Morocco, for a number of reasons. The first is that, when in the older cities, navigation through the medinas is extremely difficult, and driving conditions (very narrow streets clogged with pedestrians, donkey-carts, vendors) are tough. Outside the cities, driving standards are not especially high, and road conditions are difficult at times. For locals, who are used to driving in Morocco, it’s not a problem, but even pretty experienced drivers can find things very hard going – exactly the sort of stress you really don’t want on a holiday!
Morocco is a relatively conservative Islamic country, but is liberalising. If you’re visiting any religious monuments it’s polite to cover arms and legs, especially for women, but almost everywhere else, shorts and t-shirts will be acceptable. Going topless, for men (except by the pool / beach) and women, would be considered very insensitive and should be avoided.
As we’re not medical experts we feel it is essential you contact your G.P. regarding vaccinations and the like for travel to Morocco. What follows is some suggestions, but they must be verified by a medical professional. In addition to such vaccinations as you’d routinely have for living in the UK, further boosters are recommended for Hepatitis A, Tetanus and Typhoid.
We also like these guys but again you must talk to your GP first: The Travel Doctor, an interactive website providing specialist health information for travellers plus customised lists of travel medicines, vaccines and malaria tablets for holiday makers, global adventure travellers and expeditions.
Money & tipping
Currency in Morocco is the Moroccan Dirham (MAD). Credit and debit cards are accepted at most hotels, although not many restaurants or shops accept cards, so you’ll need to keep topped up with cash. ATMs are readily available in towns and cities of almost any size; sometimes they may not accept your card or be out of order, but there’s nearly always an alternative machine you can use – just ask your driver / guide to find one for you!
Haggling is an integral part of the shopping experience in Morocco, especially in the souqs. There’s no hard and fast rule as to what price you should eventually settle on given the initial price asked – but you should never accept that first price! Consider what it is you want to buy, decide how much you’d be happy to pay for it, and walk away if the vendor won’t come down to that price.
Tipping is ubiquitous and expected for almost any service rendered. As well as the usual 10-15% in restaurants and cafés, tips will be anticipated by porters, drivers, guides (official and unofficial), shoe shiners, vendors, and so on. Try to keep a stash of small Moroccan coins (exchange as many as you can early in the trip, enlist your driver / guide’s help in this) to give out for the inconsequential services. We’ll give you guidelines before you go on how much to tip drivers and guides before you go.
Travellers Code of Conduct
- We provide all of our clients with a “Travel Facts” document upon confirmation of your booking. This details useful facts and travel advice for your chosen destination, including restaurant recommendations, reading tips, basic language, cultural traditions, climate information and brief historical overviews. We feel that this offers a useful insight into the country you are visiting, and can help you interact with local residents in a more sensitive, well informed manner. Please try to take the time to read this information before your visit, if at all possible.
– A number of the countries in which we operate holidays are religious societies with a widely observed set of customs. Always respect these norms, particularly when visiting religious buildings.
– To the best of our knowledge, all of the hotels, lodges and camps within our portfolio operate stringent measures to minimise water usage. Many of our destinations have issues with water supplies to a certain extent so feel free to raise any possible wastage should you encounter it during your stays, either with the accommodation or with us upon your return.
– Please ask before taking photographs of people, and respect their wishes should an individual not be happy to be photographed. We find that friendly requests and a smile are usually met with assent.
– Strive where possible to make your own contribution to environmental practices within the destination you are travelling. This might include minimising your electricity usage, avoiding smoking in protected areas, sticking to marked roads at all times while self-driving, avoiding coral while snorkeling and safely disposing of all litter (recycling where possible).
– Where possible, try to purchase from local suppliers. This includes shopping for souvenirs, eating out in restaurants and booking further excursions during your free time. In areas where haggling is an accepted part of daily life, don’t become angry or offended if you are unable to obtain what you perceive as a fair price for an item. We emphasise to local suppliers that our clients should never be taken on unsolicited shopping trips, but if this does happen, try to retain your sense of humour, provide a firm refusal to participate and tell us about this on your return. We pass on all feedback from every trip undertaken with Holiday Architects to the relevant local suppliers, who share our commitment to travelling with sensitivity.
– Please don’t remove any indigenous items from their natural habitat and attempt to bring them back as a souvenir. This particularly applies to coral, shells, plants and food in the natural world, and to cultural artifacts and antiques.
– If you are unsure about anything relating to the above, please feel free to ask our local suppliers or your Holiday Architects specialist. All of these people either live or have travelled extensively in the country you are visiting and will be more than happy to offer their considered advice.