Sitting atop the northwest corner of Africa, Morocco represents a spectrum of cultures that have lived side by side for centuries. Offering isolated beach towns, stunning mountain getaways, seeming endless stretches of sand dunes, and cosmopolitan yet ancient city centers, Morocco has been a favorite vacation spot for travelers of all walks. You could happily get lost in the alleyways of Marrakesh or enraptured with the vibrant blues running through the rustic beach haven of Essaouira, but once you dig under the surface of the culture, you’ll find a marvel of diversity and history that goes back literally thousands of years.
From Fes to Rabat to Marrakesh, the mosaic-like mixture of Arab, African, and European cultures fill the big cities of Morocco. Beautiful Islamic architecture and colorful tile work stand out among the contrastingly urban design, where a sense of modernity is interwoven with the ancient city walls and maze of souqs (markets) that hold the cities together. Casablanca is of course the largest Moroccan city, acting as a New York City in its own right as an urban giant compared to many other parts of the country.
Essaouira, along the coast, puts forth its 17th-century Portuguese ramparts in juxtaposition to the vibrant blue that can be found in various towns around the country and still stunning to see every time. Each year early in the summer the city of Essaouira hosts the Gnawa Festival, showcasing the diversity of African music in a colorful display of international culture that fits right at home in Morocco.
Along the Mediterranean in coastal cities like Tangier, Tetouan, and Nador, the Spanish influence is indistinguishable, everywhere from Spanish being spoken commonly to the Spanish quarter of Tetouan. The drive along the coast is not one to miss if you enjoy mountain landscapes jutting out into the bright blue-green of the Mediterranean waters.
Southeastward, across the High Atlas Mountains, the landscape changes dramatically as the mountains into the Sahara. From Marrakesh to the desert city of Ouarzazate, you pass over the windy Tichka pass, and can go southward along the Drâa River Valley famous for the lush palm tree fields lining the river, or eastward through the Magouna mountain range all the way out to the red-hued sand dunes of Merzouga. This region of Morocco calls home to a prominent amount of Amazigh people (commonly referred to as Berber), indigenous to North Africa, whose native Tamazight tongue (also commonly referred to as Berber) is one of the oldest languages in the world. Within the villages spread across this large region reside numerous tribes from different parts of the Arab and African world who to this day still maintain their ancient cultural traditions, embodied vibrantly through their music, as well as through their architecture, where you will find large rammed-earth compounds filled with 10+ family members and gorgeous pomegranate or olive tree groves. For any visitors to this region, it would not be surprising if you find yourself in one of the households sharing a glass of the famous Morocco mint tea, and leaving genuinely struck at the kindness shown to you by your Moroccan hosts.