With its eyes directed north across the Straits of Gibraltar, Morocco sometimes appears less anchored in Africa than Europe, and is indeed the only nation of Africa excluded from the African Union. Definitively rooted in the Arabic traditions of the Maghreb, Morocco occupies the gateway to the Mediterranean, and has been a territory of strategic interest since the time of the Roman empire.
Morocco is mainly a cultural destination with attributes of the French and Spanish Mediterranean merged with a dense overlay of Ottoman, along with some discernable traces of Berber, Judaism, black African and Anglo/Americanism. All this is reflected in both the modern and ancient society of Morocco, the main surviving images of the latter being in the many preserved and inhabited historical sites and monuments scattered along the length of the Mediterranean and Atlantic seaboard.
In arts, music, cuisine and dance Morocco expresses a rare sophistication and individuality. The main cities of Rabat and Casablanca both occupy positions on the country’s Atlantic seaboard, with Casablanca, as the names implies, the more Europeanesque, while Rabat, the capital, is steeped in the traditions of the Moroccan monarchy. Both cities have old and new, and both lead into a sparse interior of desert and mountains, and the mythic city of Marrakesh. Morocco is the most accessible to Europe of all the nations of Maghreb, and is a popular designation for Europeans and Americans searching for a touch of the exotic in a safe and accessible environment.
Why Travel to Morocco
Just a short hop south of Spain is a quantum leap of cultural shift when you step onto the soil of Morocco. There is plenty in the way of good, solid western influence to help you keep your equilibrium, but equally there is a land of unspoilt, some would say canned exoticism that offers a rare, in fact a thousand rare glimpses into a world that simply no longer exists.
Just one example of this is the Aït Benhaddou, a former fortified settlement situated on the inland caravan route, and preserved now as a UNESCO International Heritage Site. It has also been a favourite for movie sets over the years, having been featured in such epics as Lawrence of Arabia, Ridley Scott’s Gladiator and Alexander, to name but a few. All of this has tended to add impetus to the preservation of the site, which is both evident and gratifying.
Morocco is also unexpectedly a major bird watching destination, with other facts and features of interest to the nature traveller, and with geographic landmarks such as the Atlas Mountains, and the Sahara Desert itself. Both of these are reasonably accessible, and both, in combination with the cultural sights, sounds, smells an tastes of Morocco, tend to make for a very worthwhile and rewarding travel destination, either as a one-off, or a beginners course in long range African travel.
When to Visit Morocco
The climate of Morocco, particularly along the coastal belt, is Mediterranean, and as a consequence is pleasant most of the years, with the summer months tending to be warmer and drier, and increasingly hot the further inland you travel. Most visitors seem to prefer the winter months between October and April, although coastal fogs and wet weather are not uncommon. This is also the ski season in the Atlas mountains, where summer hiking and trekking is favoured.
Morocco is listed by the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office as being in North Africa/Middle East, which lumps that country in a neighbourhood that traditionally gives western governments the jitters. The threat of terrorism or terrorist action is automatic, and incidences have occurred, but they are perhaps in this region more theoretic than actual. More foreign injuries and deaths occur annually as a consequence of abysmal road safety standards in Morocco that anything else. Street crime is comparatively low as a travel risk so long as the usual rules of common sense are applied.
Morocco has put a lot of effort into trying to reduce the virtual epidemic of street hustlers the likes of which are often associated with mass tourism in countries with thick strata of deep poverty. Usually these are in the form of faux guides and touts, and they can be unbelievably persistent. They are unfortunately a fact of life in Morocco.
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