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.
We spent two nights here, and as everything is within walking distance, we managed to explore the city well before hopping on the train to our next destination. Tourism is very developed here, and it’s also one of the few places in Morocco where you can get away with speaking English, so it’s probably the best place to start if you’ve never been to the country before.
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!
After a few days in the buzzing Marrakech, we headed north to the beautiful former capital Meknes. Much more laid-back than the better-known tourist cities, this was one of my favourite places to visit. With its chilled back vibe, winding narrows streets, ancient palaces, and classic Medina, it’s an enchanting place to visit.
> 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!
Despite its popularity amongst travellers, Fes was probably my least favourite place on the trip. It has a very masculine atmosphere and lacked the beauty of the other places. Its main attractions are the huge tanneries and confusing maze of souks. Although unmissable if you want to buy a Fes, it’s not really worth spending too much time here, and it’s definitely inferior to its main tourist rival Marrakech.
> 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...
I could have spent weeks at Chefchaouen, a hippie hilltop town and former Spanish enclave in the north where all the buildings are blue. This laid-back backpackers’ paradise is one of the most beautiful places that I have ever visited, and I loved every second here. Surrounded by mountain paths, national parks, and waterfalls, it's ideal for nature lovers.
> Wander the relaxed blue medina full of artisanal goodies and unique jewellery.
> 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.
Not normally a tourist hotspot, I was surprised by how enchanting the capital city of Rabat was. The calm city is made up of the Ville Nouvelle, full of colonial French architecture, bistros, and cafes, as well as the old 12th-century walled medina with its whitewashed buildings and stunning sea views.
> 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.