Land of golden sunsets: a trip to Morocco
From the Sahara Desert through the Atlas Mountains to the Atlantic coast. Blue cities, Berber huts, and famous kasbahs are just a few of Morocco’s attractions. Enjoy the photos and plan your next trip!
Photographer Anastasia Kolesnikova told PRTBRT about her two-week trip to Morocco.
We all love to travel and often begin with the well-trodden popular routes. But is everyone willing to travel to a country far removed from the usual tourist attractions? Giant canyons, the hot endless Sahara, the blue city of incredible beauty, waterfalls, the snowy Atlas Mountains, the wild and welcoming Oasis and more! All this is Morocco.
Photo: Anastasia Kolesnikova
Casablanca – Chefchaouen – Fez – Rashidia – Merzouga – Ouarzazate – Marrakech – Sidi Ifni (Legzira) – Essaouira – Casablanca. It all took 16 days.
Visa: You can stay in Morocco without a visa for up to 90 days.
Airfare: Direct flights are provided by Royal Air Maroc, but with a connection will be much cheaper.
Lodging: Often, when people hear “travel all over Morocco,” they wonder: how is it possible? For some reason, most people imagine this country to be an undeveloped Arab hole. In fact, the opposite
The Kingdom of Morocco is very well prepared for travelers and is always happy to accommodate them anywhere in the country. We looked for accommodation through Booking, Airbnb and directly on site. All of the options turned out to be very good and cost-effective. It is quite difficult to choose something special, because each city had its own flavor. We wanted to stay in traditional places where everything was infused with the spirit of the African country. No five-star hotels filled with monotonous boring furniture and perfect service.
Rent a car: We rented a car right at Casablanca airport. Our requirements were modest: a good ride, roomy luggage, GPS, music, and low fuel consumption. The difficulty was to withstand the first Moroccan bargaining: we spent a whole hour in the booth! We bargained with 30,000 rubles (about 5,700 dirhams) for 20,000 rubles plus 6,000 for the navigator. A GPS with a map of the country is a must, especially in the cities. Even the best paper maps of Morocco do not shine with details – to get lost in the center is not worth it. And it’s not customary to write street names here. (If you do not want to spend money on a navigator, we recommend downloading the application Maps.me. – Editor’s note).
National Cuisine: The main national dish is tagine. This word means both a crockery and a dish cooked in it. What is a tagine? A clay pot with a high, conical lid. It is very tight, because during the cooking there is no steam coming out, not even an aroma. Therefore, the taste is rich and bright. There are three types of tajin: chicken, fish and lamb meat. The table is necessarily served with olives (sometimes several kinds) and bread flatbread. A complex dinner also includes soup, vegetable salad, dessert and drinks (both hot and cold).
A well-known Moroccan dish is couscous, which is usually served hot at the end of dinner. It is prepared from cereals and olive oil, the ingredients are stewed in a thick-walled cauldron with the addition of vegetables, raisins and lentils. Couscous is served with aromatic tortillas of xrah. Drinks are aromatic green tea with fresh mint.
It is the seventh-biggest mosque in the world and the largest in the nation.
The building stands on a ledge that is washed by the Atlantic Ocean. It is the seventh-biggest mosque in the world and the largest in the nation.
. With a minaret 210 meters high, it is the tallest religious structure in the world. On top of the minaret is a laser, the light from which is directed toward Mecca.
Our first accommodation in Morocco exceeded all expectations: a reservation on Airbnb turned into a huge apartment, hospitable hosts and a table with refreshments. We were also treated to Moroccan tea. It is drunk from small glass tea glasses. The locals pour it from a raised silver kettle.
Azure steps, cornflower shutters, turquoise flowerpots and blue houses – that’s all Chefschaouen, the city where the sky has settled! You have to walk around the city only on foot, no transport will let you feel the beauty of this place. And the roads here are narrow and paved. Start your walk with the central square of the Old Town, where the main monuments are concentrated. From the terraces of the cafe one can admire the view of the city, and the red sandstone fortress, and a mosque with an octagonal minaret, and the panorama of the majestic mountains.
In Chefchaouen we booked a riad, a traditional Moroccan house or palace. Riads usually have a courtyard with a garden, where natural light penetrates all the rooms of the house. The interior of the blue riad Riad Nerja Chaouen is striking: living rooms with cozy soft couches and dim lighting, soft carpets on the floor, friendly staff, excellent clean rooms. All this pleasure cost about 6 thousand rubles for two nights for four people.
Interesting fact: In the evenings you are sure to meet locals selling marijuana. Chefchaouen is the leader in Morocco in growing cannabis, which locals call chocolate. It is grown here for industrial purposes, and it does not affect the crime situation in any way.
After a five or six-hour drive, we arrive in Fez, the f.ormer capital of Morocco
The third-largest city in Morocco, Fez, has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
. It is the embodiment of the country’s history and its spiritual and religious capital. It is also home to the world famous dye houses (Moulay Abdellah Quarter). It smells, as they say in all travel guides, disgusting. The Moroccans, however, offer you a bundle of mint at the entrance to mitiage off the smells wafting around you. The enterprising shopkeepers will readily let you in to see the dyehouses from above for free. They expect you to buy something in return.
There is an excellent market in Fez (Medina of Fez) with many handmade goods: dishes and carpets. Bargaining is a must!
Be careful as you wander through the streets of Fez. They are full of secret passages, which create a real maze to get out of. So we recommend finding a Moroccan guide. He will tell you about the city and take you to the right places. You can find it in the city center.
Merzouga and the Sahara Desert
One of the goals of the whole trip was to see the Sahara Desert, which is a 500 kilometer journey through the Atlas Mountains. The road from Fez to Merzouga is one of the most beautiful and varied that I have ever driven: cedar forests soon changed to Martian landscapes, red-brown untidy villages, then mountain snow ridges, and by morning, rocky valleys with palm oases. At times you had the impression that you were not in Africa, but somewhere in Norway or Iceland. Just before the desert, everything changed again and became golden. Merzuga is a gateway to the Sahara for travelers, and it was here that we felt like real heroes of an oriental fairy tale: wrapped in plaids from Fez, we sat by the fire on a barkhan and drank tea. By morning the sunlight slowly colored the sand pink, and the dunes towered over us with warm graceful lines for hundreds of meters.
We also rented lodging there on Airbnb – modestly Berber, but inexpensive and five minutes by car to the dunes. Even camels and an equine were grazing in the yard!
Gorge of Todra
European climbers who perfect their skills here are well-known for the Todra Gorge, which was developed in the High Atlas Mountains.
The river created the canyon, leaving only ten meters of width between the 300-meter vertical walls at its narrowest point.
Palm oases invariably accompany every village here, diluting the greenery of the monotonous ochre color.
Atlas Corporation Film Studios
The route is to Ouarzazate and the Atlas Corporation movie studio. It is regarded as being among the biggest in the world.. Parts of Cleopatra’s castle, the temple of Ra and Seth, Arab huts, parts of Jerusalem, the Colosseum prison, Ali Baba’s house and courtyard are erected in real size in Atlas.
Walking around the film studio – it’s amazing: all the time you want to climb up the stone block of a giant staircase, the roof of the village house, which, as in life, has grown into a second house, then you want to run around and do, as in “The Matrix”, somersault, pushing away from a giant stone column … But there is a problem: all objects look very realistic, but in fact made of artificial materials and very fragile.
Films made in this film studio: “Asterix and Obelix: Mission Cleopatra”, “Lawrence of Arabia”, “Gladiator”, “Alexander”, “Troy”, “Clone”, “Star Wars”, “Babylon”, “The Man Who Knew Too Much”, “The Kingdom of Heaven”, “Alexander the Great,” “The Last Temptation of Christ,” and more titles.
Ouarzazate and Ait-Ben Haddu
This ancient city is made up of dozens of kasbahs, clay fortresses of varying height, each topped with a crenellated tower and decorated with tracery. Numerous circular arches and narrow passages connect the winding streets and create a complex maze. On the slope itself, flat-roofed dwellings form tiered terraces.
The valley of the Ouarzazate River runs through the desert; the river begins on the southern slopes of the High Atlas and then loses itself in the sands of the Sahara. The red mud-brick kasbahs are surrounded by green palm groves, which is nothing short of a movie set! And indeed, filmmakers never pass up an opportunity to use this unique natural backdrop for filming; even if you’ve never been to Morocco before, you may be familiar with the view of Ait Ben-Haddou from dozens of films.
Xar was and still is a very popular location for films that use Oriental subjects in one way or another. Larry of Arabia, The Man Who Would Have Been King, Nazareth-born Jesus, The Pearl of the Nile, Sparks from the Eyes, The Last Temptation of Christ, Time Bandits, Under Cover of Heaven, The Mummy, Gladiator, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
The main attraction of the city is the central square Jemaa el Fna, which attracts tourists from all over the world. This is the heart of the city, which lives 24 hours a day. The smell of apricots and spices, fresh orange juice, the shouts of fortune tellers, dancers, orators, medicine men, beggars, tattoo artists, snake charmers with cobras and hundreds of people. All this will draw you into the maelstrom right here.
In the morning, nothing exciting occurs on the square.. Everything starts in the afternoon. People begin to move into the square, hastily setting up pavilions, setting up roughly chipped benches and tables, rolling out cauldrons and starting the nightly action. The entire center of the vast square turns into an open-air kitchen. Here you can try the delicious meshui – tender and very juicy meat, which is roasted for several hours on coals, tajin – lamb stewed in a special clay pot, and hariru – thick rich tomato soup with lentils and lemon. After sunset, the entire area is enveloped in clouds of steam and smoke and begins to burn with hundreds of small light bulbs.
Next we headed to the Atlantic Ocean to Lezgira Beach. But before we did, we stopped at Ouzoud Falls.
Ouzoud Falls is a place that makes you shiver: water cascades from a height of 110 meters, and the slopes of the cliffs are dotted with olive trees. By the way, the name Uzud is translated from Berber as “olive”.
The waterfall can be seen from all sides: from the foot, from the observation deck in the middle of the water flow, from the bottom and along the river, and on the right and left, wherever. Closer to sunset, an amazing picture opens up: whole armies of monkeys come to Uzud.
To get to Legzira Beach, you must head to the town of Sidi Ifni, as it is near the Gold Coast. Sidi Ifni itself is a cozy seaside town wrapped in white and blue hues. There is practically no intrusive service typical of Arab countries: no locals around with offers of accommodation, and no shouts in the restaurants. Tourists there are three kinds: surfers, older married couples from Europe and hippies.
The road from town to the beach is pretty straightforward, and there’s even a sign on the side of the road that tells you where to turn off. The car can be parked right on the edge of the cliff, over the hotel and cafes standing nearby in the sand.
Legzira is considered one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. However, for swimming it is not suitable – too strong waves and stone ridges, going into the ocean. But for surfers and paragliders – an ideal place. Huge red sandstone arches have made Legzira a postcard view of Morocco. These arches have been formed for thousands of years by sea currents, tides, and tides. In the rays of the setting sun (and you have to come for the sunset), it all merges with the ocean in a dance of color.
The final point of the route is Essaouira. The most colorful city on the Atlantic coast of Morocco, whose name translates from Arabic “how beautiful”. It is a city with an amazing port atmosphere: an old Portuguese fortress, narrow medina streets and the inseparable smell of fish. Like Chefchaouen, Essaouira is painted blue and white, the colors of sea and sky. A fresh breeze blows from the ocean and you feel like a grain of sand on the giant beach. Jimi Hendrix once came to Essaouira, which is why hippies were frequent visitors here in the 1970s.
Interesting fact: Game of Thrones was filmed here. It was here, on the walls of the city’s fortress, that Daenerys negotiated the purchase of the Unsullied army.
Because of its magnificent fortifications, Essaouira is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the number of foreign visitors increases every year. Most of them come from France (as in most Moroccan cities, French is the language of communication). Essaouira is still a market town, where Berbers bring their products and noisily offer them to the citizens.
After a walk through the old town, past the fish market, reach the gate beyond which a huge bay with a beach opens up. The sandy beach contrasts with the touristy Old Town, which is full of European tourists.
Locals say there is no seasonality in Essaouira: there is a year-round moderate temperature (about +25 ° C). So people from all over Morocco come here to enjoy the warm weather.
For lovers of outdoor activities here you can go windsurfing, biking and boarding.