The Sultan Moulay Ismail: Morocco’s Much-Feared, Long-Lived Ruler

The Sultan Moulay Ismail: Morocco’s Much-Feared, Long-Lived Ruler

The long history of Morocco is filled with characters that seem to leap off the page. Perhaps none more so than the Sultan Moulay Ismail. At once feared and respected, villainized and lionized, this Moroccan sultan literally stood head and shoulders above other world leaders. His tall, lithe figure cut bright through his palaces—particularly on beheading days when his flowing saffron-yellow robes reflected the high noon sun of the Middle Atlas, framing his dark features. The sultan’s wrath, his justice, inevitable, like the fire-rimmed eclipse of the moon gliding over the sun. (more…)

Travel Tips for the Anti-Atlas Mountains

anti atlas mountains moroccoLocated in southwest Morocco, the Anti-Atlas Mountains are far off the beaten path and can deliver an unspoiled experience for travelers willing to make the journey. This range derives its name from its big, better-known northern neighbors, the High Atlas Mountains, where walking and trekking in Morocco was made popular; “Anti-Atlas” means “Lesser Atlas.”

This range is hardly lesser, however, except when it comes to a tourist population. Within the mountains, outdoor enthusiasts can enjoy the landscape and glimpses of Berber village life without a crush of other visitors. The Anti-Atlas range extends all the way to Ouarzazate, where many choose to begin tours of the Sahara Desert, so many itineraries combine mountain and desert. (more…)

Visiting Beni Mellal and Ouzoud Waterfall in Morocco

beni mellal moroccoThe city of Beni Mellal is one of the fastest growing cities in Morocco. Positioned between the Middle Atlas Mountains and Atlas Mountains, it is a great location for adventures in this region of the country. Beni Mellal is almost exactly between Marrakech and Fez making it a great stop over point if your journey takes you between these two cities, and it is an especially good destination to add to your Morocco itinerary if your plans include a visit to the Ouzoud Waterfall. The city itself is not known as much of a tourist destination but here are five things to experience if your journey takes you there.

Kasbah Bel-Kush and Kasbah Ras al Ain

This Kasbah, built in 1687 by Sultan Moulay Ismail, is one of the oldest remnants intact in Beni Mellal. There are two mosques still in operation. The Kasbah is not in great condition though it still is inhabited, primarily low-income families. The nearby Kasbah Ras al Ain and garden of Ain Asserdoun are in much better condition and worth a visit. Inside this Kasbah is a spring and it is believed the Kasbah was built to protect this vital water source. (more…)

Ifrane National Park 101

monkey morocco africaIfrane National Park is a superb place in Morocco to enjoy the great outdoors and one of only a few spots where you can meet the Barbary Macaque, the endangered primate. This park is probably the opposite of what a lot of people have in mind when traveling to Morocco.

Located in the Middle Atlas Mountains, Ifrane National Park covers 51,800 hectometers of the largest cedar forests in Morocco and the world as well as rivers, lakes and volcanic plateaus. Visitors to the park will find more than 200 species of birds (including storks, flamingo, ducks and woodpeckers), 30 species of reptiles, Barbary apes, sheep and much more. It was created in 2004 to control hunting and to protect cedar trees and the diminished number of animals in the park. It is located between the towns of Ifrane and Azrou in the West Central Middle Atlas, about 60 kilometers south of the imperial city of Fez.

Ifrane National Park is open with no entrance fee and accessible year-round, seven days a week. You can visit the park during any season of the year with the guarantee to have a great experience. Trails take you into cedar forests, near volcanic plateaus, across green pastures and atop mountains where you can enjoy true peace and quiet. (more…)

Weather in Morocco

Marrakesh Morocco rainIf you haven’t taken a holiday package to Morocco before, you may have little idea of this country’s varied climate.  The Moroccan climate may differ widely depending on the region or the time of year. You can experience warmer, pleasant temperatures on the coastal regions, both the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. Further inland, the weather becomes hotter and more arid year round. And during the winter months of December and January, nighttime temperatures drop significantly.

During the height of summer, the heat of daytime temperatures is downright oppressive, especially in cities like Fez, Marrakesh and toward the southwest. In contrast, cities like Essaouira, Rabat and Casablanca are a bit cooler due to their exposure to ocean breezes.

The Atlas Mountains region is far less predictable, and weather depends in large part on the elevation. The winters are quite cold from November through March with plenty of snowfall, but the summers are mild but sunny. Northern Morocco may get light snow showers from time to time in the winter. The form of precipitation is often based on whether you are venturing to the High or the Middle Atlas Mountains. Rainfall is more common in the Middle Atlas between November and February. (more…)

Health and Safety Tips for Hiking and Trekking in Morocco

Donkey in mountains MoroccoWith five distinct mountain ranges, trekking in Morocco is a year-round activity. From the rugged Rif mountains in the north to the dramatic Anti Atlas that spill out to the southern Souss plains, dozens of routes for hiking and trekking are accessible during whatever season you plan to visit Morocco. Being prepared and planning ahead will help keep you healthy and safe during outdoor pursuits.

Consider the Weather

The Atlas Mountains are best accessed from late spring to early fall, although the higher peaks remain above the snow line until mid to late June. If you want to summit Jebel Toubkal or hike at higher elevations before the snow melts, you’ll need proper equipment for winter trekking. Jebel Sarhro, a volcanic range in Morocco’s southeast is best accessed from December to mid April before water sources disappear and the mercury starts to rise. The Anti Atlas, Rif and Middle Atlas can be hiked during all four seasons, although conditions in the Middle Atlas vary widely during the winter months; you could experience days warm enough to wear t-shirts in December or need to bundle up for a blizzard in March. (more…)

Things to Do in Fez, Morocco

Panoramic View of Fez MoroccoLocated in the Middle Atlas Mountains, Fez serves as Morocco’s cultural and religious center. The stark contrast between the old city’s narrow lanes, where donkeys barely have enough clearance to pass pedestrians, and the Ville Nouvelle’s wide, tree-lined streets is striking for many travelers, and it is this juxtaposition of medieval and modern that makes Fez one of Morocco’s top tourist destinations.

Explore the Old Medina

The central place to enter Fez’s walled city is at the gate of Bab bu Jeloud; petite taxis can drop you off there. Before getting out of the taxi, decide if you want to explore the medina on your own or hire a guide, because, as soon as you open the car door, local tour guides, both official and non-official, will close in on you to offer their services. If you don’t have a map and don’t speak French or Arabic, it can be worth hiring a guide for a walking tour so you don’t get lost. (more…)

Introduction to Meknes, Morocco

Meknes MoroccoMorocco’s Imperial Cities are the old capitals of historic empires and include Meknes, Fez, Marrakesh and the current capital, Rabat. The smallest and most relaxed of these is Meknes. Known for its grand architecture, medieval walls and beautiful gates, visitors will find much to be enchanted by in Meknes.

Founded in the early 11th century as a military settlement, Meknes became a capital under the rule of Sultan Moulay Ismaïl in the 17th century. The sultan turned Meknes into an impressive city with the creation of vast gardens, numerous edifices, mosques and monuments as well as 40 kilometers of thick walls and monumental gates lining the city.

The 18th century marked an end to Meknes’s glory days with the death of Sultan Ismaïl and an earthquake in 1755 that destroyed parts of the city. In 1996, the city of Meknes made the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites due to its exceptional design including “elements of Islamic and European design and planning in a harmonious fashion.” The designation also fueled many serious renovation projects to help preserve these incredible monuments for the future.   (more…)

Whitewater Rafting in Morocco

whitewater rafting moroccoIf you are looking to give your feet a break on your next trip to Morocco, consider finding a reputable whitewater rafting company. Day trips are possible but you also have to opportunity to float for a few days, which allows you to experience a great camping experience as well. One of the most popular places to begin a whitewater rafting trip is from the Middle Atlas Mountains on the Ahanssel River. The area is remote, but knowledgeable guides and warm weather make it easy to get used to the isolation.

Journey Beyond Travel is one of the more reputable tour companies on the water who can customize trips and combination packages that mix time on the water with a trek in the mountains of Morocco. For the most part, these trips are reasonably priced and family friendly. While you are on the river, all meals will be provided so you only need to bring your clothing and other personal items. (more…)

10 Reasons to Vacation in Morocco

morocco things to doWhen you travel, do you like to poke around palaces, indulge yourself in history at a museum or sip coffee at a local café? Do you prefer to take part in extreme sports or wander through the wilderness?

The beauty of Morocco as a vacation destination is that it’s a country diverse in adventure, culture and heritage, and regardless of your travel style, you’ll find something here that suits you. Whatever your preferences when it comes to travel, here are ten good reasons you’ll want to make Morocco your next holiday destination:

1. Trekking experiences are plentiful. The main mountain ranges in Morocco are the Rif Mountains, Atlas Mountains, Middle Atlas Mountains and Anti Atlas Mountains. The Rif Mountains, located in the northern section of the country, are covered with cascades, forested land and caves. Expert trekkers will find more challenging terrain in the High Atlas Mountains. (more…)

Azrou, Morocco

Azrou MoroccoTucked into the hills of the Middle Atlas Mountains, Azrou is a welcome break from the crowds and noise of the imperial cities, and, at nearly 3,940 feet (1,200 meters) in elevation, it’s also a great place to escape the heat.

Azrou, which translates literally to ‘rock’ in the local Amazigh language, is named for the large, black volcanic outcrop in the center of town. The name is fitting in more ways than one. The verdant Middle Atlas rise above Azrou, with hardscrabble cliff faces serving as the only break in the landscape. The city also serves as the foundation of regional trade and social life. Locals in mountain villages nearby make use of the bustling market as their weekly source of food, supplies and gossip. (more…)

Take a Trip to Ifrane, Morocco

ifrane moroccoLocated in northern Morocco in the Middle Atlas Mountains, west of Ifrane National Park, is the city of Ifrane, an oasis with verdant forests. Lakes, fountains and greenery in the city offer a breath of fresh air from some of the other busier, dustier cities in Morocco.

Built by the French in the 1930s, Ifrane became a retreat of sorts. With wide avenues for driving, European-style villas and natural green spaces within easy access, you might feel like you’ve stepped into a summer resort in Switzerland with the sloped roof chalets and natural springs. During the winter months, Ifrane becomes a destination for skiers, and there are several resorts set among the hills. In the summer, these same hills are lush and green and become a hot spot for hiking, walking, mountaineering and rock climbing. (more…)

A Visit to Azrou Morocco

A photo of a woman in Azrou MoroccoWith a population around 50,000 people, Azrou, Morocco, in which “Azru” in the Berber dialect means “stone” or “rock,” is one of the more-populated towns in the Middle Atlas Mountains. Dwarfing nearby Ifrane in number, Azrou is an important Berber town and functions as a junction to the market centers of Fez, Meknes, Midelt, and Kenifra.

With surrounding pine and cedar forests, high meadows, and blooming wild flowers (in the spring!) Azrou feels nothing like its population suggests and is truly a place to get off the beaten path, relax, and unwind. Moreover, Azrou is has a massive weekly souk (or souq, currently every Tuesday from 10 a.m. until about 3 p.m.) where animals, produce, and even Berber carpets are brought in for locals and tourists alike to test their bargaining skills. (more…)

Exploring Ifrane Morocco

Barbary Macaque in Ifrane, Morocco Ifrane is a small city of less than 10,000 people (50,000 in summer) located in the Middle Atlas Mountains of Morocco, just 58 kilometers south of Fez. The town was set up by the French during their colonization period as a quasi-ski resort, and they actually took the name from nearby Sidi AbddalSalam Zawiya, a small Berber village 15 kilometers away. Not many tourists spend a whole lot of time in Ifrane, but giving it a day or two is worthwhile once one discovers the outlying natural gems that surround the region. (more…)