From luxury resorts and beachfront spas, to mountain lodges and sand dune hikes, if you can dream it, to shine up an old cliché, chances are good that if you can dream it, you can do it. For many, that dream includes adventure in Morocco. No matter your definition, whether getting lost in a winding medina, trekking the high peaks, camping amid sand dunes or just getting through your first taxi ride, Morocco provides ample opportunity for thrill seekers.
If the idea of hiking into the wilderness strikes your fancy, Morocco’s famous mountain ranges are the perfect place to test your skills. Novice hikers can take part in any number of day hikes from the innumerable mountain villages that dot the High and Middle Atlas. Imlil, just an hour from Marrakesh, acts as trailhead for those looking to ascend Jbel Toubkal, North Africa’s highest peak. Setting out for just a few hours along the trail will lead you to remote villages, religious shrines and some of the most spectacular alpine views in the country. Azilal, in the north, lies in the foothills of the Middle Atlas and is a beautiful place to use as a base from which to explore the region.
Opportunities also exist for multi-day hikes, weeks-long excursions and even a full traversal of the country. There are plenty of local guides and mountain hotels to aid you in your quest for adventure, or if you feel comfortable in the wilderness you can go it alone (making sure to take appropriate safety measures, of course!).
If your thought of adventure veers more toward the enigmatic Sahara, a day (or two or three) in the desert may be in order. M’hamid, near Zagora, is an ideal starting point. You can set off via camel or all-terrain vehicle and head toward a Berber encampment for the night. A few days will take you to Erg Chegaga, the largest sand dune in the country and, at over 300 meters tall, an amazing sight to behold.
Unlike mountain hikes, an excursion in the Sahara is not to be undertaken single-handedly. No matter how prepared you may feel, you will be humbled. The desert is hot, dry and unforgiving, and an experienced guide is essential.
What if, though, you picture not the great outdoors, but experiencing a new and wholly different culture? In Morocco, you can try two! While Moroccans are, first and foremost, Moroccan, they also hold some small allegiance to their ancestry, be it Arab or Berber. While the two cultures have, in many ways, blended over the past few centuries, there are many aspects of each that remain distinct, and even native Moroccans can be flummoxed by the traditions or sayings of the other half.
Urban centers in the north, particularly old imperial cities like Fes and Marrakesh, are bastions of Arab culture. Here you will hear Moroccan Arabic (with, yes, a smattering of French). A stroll through the central medina in Marrakesh will lead you past merchants and fortune tellers, habadashers and butchers. Palaces are tucked away within the winding alleys, and no one seems in any particular hurry. Likewise, Fes’ medina is akin to a time machine. The ancient tanneries are still in use, and you will get the chance to see tanners practice their trade just as they have for hundreds of years.
Outside the northern cities and into the mountains, you will find a culture no less ancient, but one wholly different. Berbers still speak their own (and highly regional!) dialect, and, in day-to-day life, Arabic is rare. A visit to a Berber village is one that you won’t soon forget, as the agricultural calendar still dictates daily life, and simple things like dress and foods are noticeably different from Arab centers. There’s also a very good chance that you’ll be invited in for tea with the family!
Whether your adventure is one in the mountains, the desert or in the living room of a Berber family as they teach you folk songs and decorate your hands with Henna, it will be one you won’t soon forget. Morocco’s varied landscapes are reflected in the diversity of its people. While it would be impossible to experience everything in a single trip, make sure not to exclude anything, if you can help it. The best adventures, after all, come from an open mind.
Written by Margaret Jackson.
Photo by placid casual.