Morocco. This beautiful magical land that has captivated so many.
I’ll give you the highlights. Morocco is a Kingdom. In the Maghreb region of North Africa. It has a population of 40 million. Of all the countries in the world, Morocco ranks right in the middle for size. In other words, half the countries in the world are smaller than this little gem. Morocco sits on the northwest corner of Africa. Which is interesting because that means that it is not sub-Saharan. It’s quite distinctly North Africa. North of, and including part, of the Sahara Desert. It sits up top with Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt and so on.
So it’s Arab then? Well, no. Not entirely. It’s more Arab West. As opposed to the Saudi peninsula which is the Arab East. See? Morocco is very distinctly western in so many ways. It is a fascinating and unique melting pot of Arab, Berber, European and sub-Saharan influences. Morocco was held under a French protectorate from 1912 until 1956, so there is a strong French influence here. The physical pieces of Morocco in the north are actually still held by Spain. So there is that influence as well. Essentially, the pieces and parts that makeup Morocco’s history make it something you just simply can’t imagine until you come here. And once you are here, you can actively find so many influences that you’ll recognize immediately. It’s really cool from that perspective.
The history of this place is long and fascinating. Parts the country has been inhabited since Paleolithic times. What? I KNOW! SO old. The Berbers, who are the indigenous people of North Africa and who make up the majority of Morocco’s population, date back to the 11th century. Much of their history is only now being recorded. They are nomadic, tribal and pastoral. Not a lot got recorded. It’s the very word of mouth. Like Morocco today. It’s great to have the benefit of the Internet in 2016 but this is still a word of mouth society so only some of what you need to know is recorded. Shrouded in mystery this place. Until you get here and discover for yourself. (Or read blogs, because bloggers like to tell tales!)
The two official languages are Arabic and Berber. But French is the language of business. And Darija is the dialect of Arabic spoken here. Predominantly. But there are a number of other dialects. And Berber, (surprise!), is not recorded. So you can’t just download Google Translate and select Berber. Nope. That is not a thing. So when you come to Morocco, unless you speak proper Arabic, your best choice is French. Almost everyone speaks some French. If you listen to people speaking Berber, you will hear very distinct French phrases. And some Arabic, and a little Spanish. And quite often the occasional English word. Its very nice. You can learn some Arabic + Darija fairly easily. Enough to be polite at least. But essentially – if you want to get around the country – get a licensed guide.
Geographically the country is as diverse as its history and languages. In the north is the port of Tanger, right across from Spain. You will find also Fes, Casablanca, Rabat (the capital), Meknes, and Chefchaouen (the blue city) on your route around the north. The driving distances are relatively short. Casablanca and Rabat have beautiful coastal areas and “resorts”. The mountains around Chefchaouen are spectacular. Those are the Rif mountains. Near Moulay Idriss, you will visit Volubilis which is a massive (comparatively) site of ancient Roman ruins. Seriously! So cool. The north is all about the cities and their history. The architecture and zellij (Moroccan tile work) are breathtaking. The medina in Fes, the oldest and largest in the world with over 900 streets, is a place in which you can get lost for days and still not see it all.
As you head south you start into the Anti Atlas and Mid Atlas Mountains. This is where you will find cedar forests, Ifrane (the Switzerland of Morocco), and monkeys, and Berber horses. The hills are rolling at times and chasm-like at other times. The landscape here is sharper. It becomes more spread out. And hilly.
Heading farther south you start getting into Marrakech, and beyond that to the south, the High Atlas mountains. The highest peak in north Africa is here – Mt. Toubkal at 4,167 m and the highest pass, Tizi N’Tichka clocks in at 2,260 m. That’s some altitude. There are amazing winding roads, traditional Berber villages, and fabulous mountain hiking. Heading further south towards the Sahara you find things start to flatten out after a lot of winding mountainous roads. The driving here is hard, and I would humbly admit, best left to the professionals. In the south, the terrain starts to look more desert-like. Passing through long beautiful valleys filled with rising cliffs, ancient kasbahs, and some amazing date palm groves. All this before you get to grab a camel and head off into the vast Sahara for a night under the stars and stunning sunrise and sunset amongst the dunes, with the famous “blue men” of the Tourag tribe who call the desert home and wear traditional bright blue scarves.
If you are lucky enough to tear yourself away from Ait Ben Haddou Kasbah (location for so many famous films), and head over to the coast you will be greeted by goats in trees (right? so cute!) eating Argan nuts, and the coastal towns of Safi, Sidi Kaouki, Essaouira and many other little hideaways. Beaches that rival the most beautiful in the world, argan oil, wineries. What’s not to love about that?
So there you have it. A 50,000 ft overview of Morocco. Just to get you started. Wherever you choose to join us, and however long you choose to stay, you will undoubtedly be enchanted.