Why Morocco could be the best Middle East experience outside the Middle East
Western-most part of North Africa, how did this kingdom keep itself from toppling like so many other dominos in the Arab Spring? 29 July 2011, Morocco established its own constitution and formed a government, getting out in front of the revolution before it could take hold. Crossroads of culture; you’ll find Arab, Berber, Spanish, Portuguese and sub-Saharan influence in much of the country. You can see desert, beach and mountains all in one vacation. Camel rides, surfing and snake charmers all fall within the realm of possibility in this exotic country. Fun fact: Morocco was the first country to recognize U.S. independence!
What to see:
- Medinas: Most towns have a medina. Find the one that best fits your personality and travel plans. A small sampling:
- Fes: The medina to end all medinas is Fes – one of the four imperial cities (the current being Rabat), you could be lost and never return from the sights smells and sheer wonder of the Fes Medina (not to mention a thousand years of unwashed streets – take your hand sanitizer). Check out damaskine, an artisanal treasure found only in Fes and Meknes which inlays silver onto forged iron – Located on Rue Skkatine
- Marrakech: Rowdier crowd with snake charmers, higher prices and lots of haggling.
- Chefchaouen: The mellow little brother in the mountains.
- Essaouira: Laid back, artsy community. Love surfing? Go here. Love mountains? Go to Chef.
- Traces of the past: Plenty of historic places dot the landscape of Morocco to include NINE total UNESCO sites: Two of my faves:
- Volubolis: UNESCO world heritage site, Volubilis is one of the most well preserved Roman ruins in Morocco.
- Chellah: Castle dating back to the Mauritanian kingdom, see my review of Rabat for more
- The Desert
- Agadir: Resort town in the South.
- Merzouga/Ouarzazate: Prefer the basic, stripped down desert experience? Try one of these towns.
- Mountains span the length of the country
- Toubkal: Two to three day hike to the highest point in N. Africa and the Atlas mountains.
- The Rif: Mountain area in the Northern edge of Morocco.
Why you’re good to go – the Kingdom is very serious about tourism:
- Infrastructure: Morocco is improving infrastructure country-wide to allow visitors to experience more and more.
- According to CNN, Morocco doubled the number of tourists between 2002 and 2011.
- Security: Compared to some of its MENA compadres, Morocco can boast a low-crime environment. Like many MENA countries, worry is focused on what happens when extremists who left to fight in Syria return home, but for now, everything seems in hand. In fact, driving may be the most dangerous thing you can do in Morocco.
- Tourist police: Think a cabbie is charging too much? Hassled by beggars? Got a faux guide? Make your way to the nearest tourist police and file a complaint. They will do something about it.
In case you needed more proof:
Things to know:
- Visa requirements: There are none (for Americans) with a 90 day stay.
- Export of Moroccan Dirhams is prohibited.
- Passports are not allowed to be sent through the mail.
- Your initial entry stamp contains a number specific to you. You will be required to present this number and fill out a form at each hotel you stay in. This sheet will then be taken to the local police station for their records.
- Shame goes a long way here towards accountability. In front of others you’ll get model behavior. It’s when no one’s watching that things can get unpredictable. Avoid parks at night and stick to populated places if you’re going out late.
- You can be evicted for proselytizing.
As always – when traveling:
- Let State know you’ll be in country, enroll in STEP to make it easier for them to contact you should there be an emergency.
- Take U.S. Embassy contact info
- Let your friends and family in on your travel plans. TripIt offers a great app.
- Travel insurance: In case of emergency, trip cancellation or lost luggage. The concierge service alone is worth it. I’ve had great success with TravelGuard.
- Follow alerts via the State Dept Twitter feed