Dangling on the edge of Northwestern Africa a short ferry ride from Spain, Morocco is a traveler’s dream come true. African and Arab history and culture merge into a timeless world of colorful-painted villages, souqs (marketplaces), and medinas (medieval quarters.) Surrounding it all is a fascinating mix of natural beauty from high mountains to desert dunes and Atlantic and Mediterranean coastline.
There is so much to see and do in Morocco, planning your journey can be overwhelming. The best way to experience Morrocco is to visit its most famous landmarks. Be sure to include some of the following historic, cultural, and natural landmarks on your Moroccan itinerary.
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Palacio da Bahia means brilliance in Arabic. Indeed, the Bahia Palace in Marrakech is one of the most dazzling and best-preserved historical sites in Western Morrocco. The palace was first begun in 1859 by Si Musa, Grand Vizier of the Sultan, and completed by his son between 1894 and 1990. It is situated on two acres in the Marrakech medina.
The sprawling palace features 150 fabulous rooms and a harem off the sunny Court of Honour. It was originally built for the personal dwelling of Si Musa who was a former slave that deftly climbed the ranks. It was later occupied by his son Bou Ahmed. It was during his reign that the palace’s brilliance was intensified by the addition of lush gardens. All of the rooms were decorated in an elegant Moroccan style with carved cedar wood and stucco. Today Bahia Palace is a historical museum open to the public.
The fantastical and impressive Ait Ben Haddou has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. Made of red clay bricks, the fortress was a major stop on the caravan route between Marrakech and Sahara. The castle is a fine representation of South Moroccan architecture during the 17th century.
The desert castle with its orange-hued turrets and fairytale look captured the imagination of Hollywood and is featured in several movies including “Game of Thrones” and “Gladiator.” Visitors who want the full Ait Ben Haddou experience can opt to spend the night, but be warned, there are no comforts within the mud-bricked walls including electricity.
Travelers headed to Morocco’s High Atlas region should definitely plan a visit. Early morning or late afternoon is the best time to visit. You can avoid the tour bus crowds that arrive between 10 am and 2 pm.
Volubilis is a ruined Roman city and one of Morocco’s best-preserved archeological sites. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. The city was formerly the administrative center of the province Mauretania Tingitana and situated on the westernmost border of Roman conquests (now present-day Morocco.)
The ancient Mauritanian capital was founded over 2,000 years ago and served as a Roman trading post. It is thought that the ancient city had over 20,000 residents in its prime. The fertile surrounding land contributed to the wealth of the city by producing grain and olive oil for exportation to Rome. Some of the lavish homes can still be recognized today along with column and temple remnants and intricate mosaic floors.
Get a glimpse of the noise and colorful culture of the local life in the bustling Marrakesh medina. The major tourist attraction is entered from the huge plaza of Djemaa el-Fna Square where throngs of locals converge all day and well into the evening. The square is filled with stall vendors, traditional musicians, amateur acrobats, and snake charmers. Once inside the medina, you’ll enter a maze of alleyways lined with shops. It’s a no-miss stop to experience authentic Moroccan life.
Hasan II Mosque is a major landmark and point of interest in Casablanca. It’s the only mosque that non-Muslims are allowed to enter. The awe-inspiring mosque was created solely to show off the greatness of Morocco. Completed in 1993, this modern mosque is elaborately decorated on every part and includes delicately carved marble, colorful mosaics, and zellige tile. Clearly, it was created as an homage to Islamic architecture and ideals.
Built by over 10,000 craftsmen and artisans, the mosque features the world’s tallest minaret (tower) at over 200 meters. It’s crafted of cedarwood from the Atlas Mountains and marble from Agadir. It’s the eighth largest mosque in the world and can accommodate 25,000 people inside and 80,000 in the courtyard.
If you have seen photos of Chefchaouen, you may think they’ve been photoshopped. But this outlandish Moroccan landmark is for real. Almost the entire medina (old town) is painted a baby pastel blue. The quaint buildings are whitewashed with doors and accents painted blue. Even the people wear blue clothing most of the time. It is said that the prominence of blue is in recognition of the first inhabitants who were Jewish.
The Blue Town of Chefchaouen is a mountain city in northeastern Morocco. The backdrop of the Rif Mountains adds even more drama to the picturesque town. It’s a very popular landmark for tourists and is quite the conversation starter. Shopping is also a favorite touristy thing to do. The shops offer native crafts, wool garments, and woven blankets you won’t find anywhere else in Morocco. Goat cheese is produced here and is also a popular item for travelers to pick up.
Also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Essaouira medina is one of Morocco’s most mesmerizing old towns. It’s located on Morocco’s North Atlantic coast about 350km from Casablanca. It began as a quiet fishing village and grew into one of Morocco’s significant port towns. The seafront medina is encased within fortified walls with 18th-century gates and is the main attraction for visitors.
The Mogador Island acts as a barrier and protects the harbor from strong winds and high seas making it an excellent spot for a beach vacation. It’s also one of Morocco’s main art centers and features boutiques, small art galleries, restaurants, and traditional souq shopping.
This charming laid-back town was a major hippie hangout in the 1970s. You’ll still feel the Bohemian vibes from the past when you visit Essaouira Medina.
Fes is one of Morocco’s major cultural destinations. The town is much less gentrified than other towns such as Marrakesh. It’s easier to soak up the old traditional local culture. Called the Fes el Bali, the medina here is a labyrinth of narrow back alleyways. Travelers tend to enjoy wandering the twisty streets even though it’s easy to get lost. You’ll see a few palaces and monuments along the way.
The city’s artisan heritage is obvious in the souq traditional shopping areas. One of the city’s most iconic sights is the huge vats of colored dye in the tanneries. The souq streets are filled with traditional crafts and other local goods.
Most world travelers are surprised to learn that Morocco is not all desert and velvety sand dunes. The mountain landscape is the most dominant while the desert region is relatively small.
The High Atlas Mountains are one of Morocco’s most prominent natural landmarks. The Berbers call North Africa’s highest mountain range Idraren Draren meaning Mountain of Mountains. The range acts as a barrier to separate the mild Mediterranean from the Sahara’s scorching heat.
The mountain villages and outstanding surrounding scenery attract many visitors to the area. Experience trekkers who dare go exploring are rewarded with incredible views.
The Todra Gorge is one of a series of deep limestone river canyons found in the eastern section of the High Atlas Mountains. Carved out over time by the Todra and Dades Rivers, the cliffside canyon is hard to get to, but the geological formation is so remarkable, it is considered one of Morocco’s most impressive natural landmarks. Further, it is considered one of the most spectacular canyons on the planet. The river dried up long ago leaving one to reflect on the powerful forces of nature that carved the reliefs and etches in the rock.
The Todra Gorge is found in the Province de Tinghir near the Berber town of Tinerhir. Although the gorge is seemingly in the middle of nowhere, the town of around 35,000 people swells to around 90,000 during the top tourist months.
Of all the natural landmarks in Morocco, or in the entire world for that matter, nothing compares to the vast expanse of sand dunes known as the Sahara Desert. With an area of 9,200,000 square kilometers, it’s the world’s largest hot desert and the third-largest after the deserts of the northern Arctic and Antarctica. Located in Northern Africa, the desert’s size can be compared to the United States or China area-wise. The dunes of the Sahara can be as high as 180 meters.
Riding a camel across the Sahara dunes just before sunrise under billions of stars is a dream of many world travelers. Lucky are the ones who can get to experience the magic.
An erg is a vast sea of dunes formed by wind-blown sand. The Erg Chebbi’s dunes are one of the largest that lie within an area north of the vast Sahara and not a part of it. Other notable ergs include the Erg Chigaga near M’hamid. The dune fields are found east of the High Atlas Mountains near the border of Algeria.
Erg Chebbi is the most popular for travelers and a prime place for dune bashing in a four-wheeler, dune surfing, and camel trekking at sunrise or sunset. Travelers can combine their adventures with an overnight stay in a tented desert camp. You can book a desert experience package from Fes or Marrakesh that includes overnight camping. Or you can opt to visit the dunes by traveling independently from the nearby village of Merzouga.
The Erg Chigaga dune field is Morocco’s largest but is less popular than Erg Chebbi because it is further southeast and less accessible. But travelers to this 40-kilometer dune field will find it less crowded.
The main base for access to Erg Chigiga is the oasis town of M’Hamid about 55km away. Get there by heading north into the desert on a four-wheeler or a multiday camel trek for overnight camping underneath a canopy of stars.
The dunes are 55km from M’Hamid. The town is near lots of other smaller dune fields for shorter sunrise or sunset camel treks.
Admirers of waterfalls shouldn’t miss the Cascades d’Ouzoud, one of the most popular and amazing natural landmarks of the High Atlas Mountains. Surrounded by sleepy Berber villages, the falls are the perfect getaway when visiting noisy, bustling Marrakech. The waterfall is stunning with a height of 110 meters. But what makes the sight so special and rare is its location in the hot, arid North African region.
A significant population of macaque monkeys makes their home in the area. Although they may be cute and interesting, be careful when interacting with them. They are skillful thieves that will steal you blind. Hang on to your phone, sunglasses, and other loose items.
The Dades Valley is one of the most picturesque places in the High Atlas region and is a must for hikers and nature lovers. The slow-paced rural area is an excellent chance to connect with Africa’s natural surroundings away from the chaos of the souqs in Fes and Marrakech.
The remote villages in Dades Valley are surrounded by orchards and farm fields with the snow-capped peaks of the High Atlas visible in the distance. A good time to visit is in spring when the fruit trees in the orchards are in bloom. Day walks and bird watching opportunities are plentiful.
Architecture aficionados and history buffs shouldn’t miss a journey to Draa Valley. The valley connects the southeastern High Atlas region to the desert. It extends from Quarzazate in the east to Zagora in the west and is intersected by the Draa River. The road on the way to the town of Zagora passes through lush palm tree oases.
Stop and explore the Berber villages amid palm groves and the old kasbah (fortress) made of mudbricks. Be sure to visit Kasbah des Caids in Tamnougalt a, site where Hollywood movies have been filmed.
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