Morocco Travel Guide: Marrakech, Atlas Mountains and Essaouira

Between Spain and Algeria lies Europe’s
gateway to exotic adventures, a country that exudes culture and history. Where the medinas create a maze of narrow
alleyways, and the sand dunes paint an endless picture of crimson and gold. Where you can feast on tajine before relaxing
with a steaming cup of mint tea, often accompanied by delicate sweets. Where are we heading to this time? The ever-enchanting North African Kingdom
of Morocco. With a single journey, you could find yourself
surfing across the mighty North Atlantic swells in Essaouira, living amongst the nomadic Berbers
of the Atlas Mountains or navigating your way through the souks of Marrakech. Whichever experience calls to you, Morocco
will rise to the occasion. And so, without further delay, let’s venture
deep into the heart of this incredible country where we will explore the lively city of Marrakech,
the coastal resort town of Essaouira and the mesmerising Atlas Mountains. Our journey begins in Marrakech, in a city
often mistaken as the capital of Morocco. While that title actually belongs to Rabat,
most travellers and locals would agree that Marrakech is where the heart of Morocco lies. This vibrant city is the perfect place to
head off on your North African adventure. Start in Jemaa El-Fnna, the city’s main
square and marketplace, where performers and merchants, tourists and locals blend together
into one incredible sensory experience. Throughout the day, the market is full of
stalls selling everything from freshly-squeezed orange juice to leather goods and fragrant
spices. And don’t be surprised if you pass by a
few snake charmers along the way. As the day wears on some vendors will depart,
making room for the dancers, storytellers, and magicians who will entertain crowds of
locals and travellers well into the night. And as the sun begins to set, claim a spot
at one of the nearby rooftop lounges where, for a small cover charge, you can unwind with
a drink in your hand as the sun sets over Marrakech. Before heading towards the coast, pay a visit
to the city’s souk which borders the main square. This traditional North African market is a
popular shopping spot for locals and tourists alike. Here you’ll find everything from delicately
crafted lamps, carpets and handbags to delectable treats such as dates, sweet candies and even
fried donuts. A perfect way to bid Marrakech Ma’a salama! Now let’s go west towards the coast where
the charming resort city of Essaouira, is a short, but scenic 3-hour drive away. This colourful port city is the laid-back
alternative to Marrakech, and spending a couple of days here will allow you to fully bask
in its old world charm. The city itself is a favourite amongst travellers,
thanks to its unique aesthetic which extends to every corner of Essaouira’s fortified sand-coloured
borders. Like Marrakech, this part of Morocco is a
cultural melting pot, mostly because of its location. The city lies at the crossroads between different
tribes and ethnic groups, with a modest European influence hanging in the air. This extraordinary and unique fusion of cultures
in these parts is one of the many beautiful things about Morocco. If you’re feeling indecisive about how to
spend your day, consider joining a tour, where you can explore the winding streets of the
old medina and Jewish mellah, alongside a local expert. Discover the freshest mint leaves, finest
leatherwear and handcrafted ceramics you’ve ever seen. And before you leave, don’t forget to shop
at the spice-laden stalls and see the work of local artists in the city’s many art
galleries. The medina in Essaouira is surprisingly easy
to navigate, but if you feel yourself getting lost, simply look skyward and follow the seagulls
to reach the harbour where you can enjoy a hearty plate of freshly caught fish that has
been grilled to perfection over a bed of charcoal. But if the hunger pains have yet to strike,
you can simply watch the local fisherman at work in the nearby port or stop for a moment
to enjoy the picturesque views over the harbour. Pair these experiences with the infectious
live music and traditional dancers who fill Essaouira ’s many public spaces and you’ll
find yourself planning your return before you’ve even left. But of course, no trip to Morocco would be
complete without exploring the majestic Atlas Mountains. About a day’s drive from Essaouira, you
will find the scenic Middle Atlas Mountains and the peaceful town of Midelt. Spend your afternoon watching the nomadic
shepherds tend to their flocks and head over to the village of where you can see the local
farmers in action. End your first day in the Atlas Mountains
by gathering around the local musicians and enjoying the sounds of their traditional songs
under the star-filled night sky. With the glow of the stars to keep you company,
enjoy a sound night’s sleep, knowing that in the coming days, you’ll journey deeper
into this mountainous region The next day, head towards Todgha Gorge, a
series of impressive limestone river canyons in the eastern part of the High Atlas Mountains. If you can make the time, visit El Khorbat
Oujdid, a fortified village that is also home to a modest oasis museum. And once you finally arrive in the valley
of the gorge, be sure to dedicate at least one full day to explore the breathtaking natural
scenery. The best way to experience the area is by
taking a guided hike through the gorge. Choose from one of several circuits that vary
in length and difficulty. And don’t worry, most trails are ready for
hiking no matter your fitness level or ability just as long as you take the necessary precautions. If you take the most popular trail, you’ll
be greeted by high walls of grey and pink rock towering over you – an incredible sight
to behold. This particular trail will also have you passing
by Berber villages and green palmeraies along the way. Your visit to a Berber village will give you
a chance to learn a little about ancient mountain culture. The Berbers themselves are an indigenous people
that hail from all over North Africa, not just Morocco, who are renowned as much for
their hospitality as they are for their stunning craftsmanship. They speak a variety of languages and in recent
years, have begun to open up their homes to travellers so that their distinct culture
and history can flourish in a modern landscape. We promise this is one experience you will
never forget. And after a couple of days exploring the villages
and valley in this majestic gorge, it will be time to visit yet another of Morocco’s
unique and marvellous sites: the Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou. On the edge of the High Atlas Mountains lies
this traditional mud brick city, which served as the former caravan route between the Sahara
and Marrakech. Known as Morocco’s desert hotspot, Ait-Ben-Haddou
is an iconic highlight in North Africa and has even been featured in several films and
televisions series throughout the decades, including everything from Oedipus Rex to Game
of Thrones. A perfect example of southern Moroccan architecture,
the city used to serve as a critical stop along the caravan route between Sudan and
Marrakech where traders and their camels could refuel. In its heyday, Ait Ben Haddou was teeming
with life thanks to the traders transporting gold, silver, and salt that passed through
the city in large numbers. In those days, there was everything from sparkling
palaces to large, lively community squares. Nowadays the city has a much different vibe
and its importance as a trade route is all but a distant memory. From a distance, it’s not hard to imagine
a bustling city full of traders and craftsmen but upon closer inspection, you’ll feel
more like Indiana Jones on an expedition through a lost city. Despite the passage of time, Ait Ben Haddou
has managed to maintain its authenticity and you won’t be disappointed by its network
of earthen buildings, defensive walls and guard towers. During your visit, you can meet with the few
locals who have chosen to remain residents of this otherwise abandoned fortification. Sip mint tea at a cafe designed to provide
visitors with a perspective into the traditions and heritage of life in the fortress. Or observe nimble-fingered women weave spectacular
designs into brightly coloured rugs. And if you’re just looking to unwind, you
can simply sit back and watch as the shadows descend on the alleyways around you, taking
this peaceful moment to reflect on your time in this remarkable country. Marrakech, Essaouria, the Atlas Mountains
and the nearby city of Ait Benhaddou are but four highlights of a country filled with cultural
and natural wonders. Join a multi-day group tour to experience
the very best that Morocco has to offer and discover the unforgettable magic of the countless
other must-visit sounds and sites awaiting you in cities like Fes, Rabat and Casablanca. If your quest for exploration is yet to be
fulfilled, head over to TourRadar to book your next adventure so you can experience
this astonishing destination for yourself. If you’re seeking further inspiration, stick
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