Unique Moroccan towns: An insider weighs in

There are the usual Moroccan attractions, such as the “Ochre City” of Marrakesh, the imperial city of Fes, and the Saharan getaway Ouarzazate. Then there are the unique Moroccan towns: Spots loved by locals, yet barely known by foreigners. On this post, I share some of the gems I discovered while studying and living in Morocco for four months.

Essaouira

Catch it while you can–the once-sleepy fishing village on the Moroccan west coast is starting to emerge in more itineraries. Beautiful architecture, an expansive coast, and a 16th-century fortress make this remote UNESCO World Heritage site worth visiting.

Don’t miss: The Essaouira fish market. Once there, select your favorite fish and take it to a nearby restaurant so it can be cooked for you.

Essaouira's walled city from the fish market (Primeroz, Flickr)

Essaouira’s walled city from the fish market (Primeroz, Flickr)

Chefchaouen

Imagine being transported to a blue fairy tale world–this is Chefchaouen.All the walls in this town by the Rif Mountains are blue-washed. While its proximity to Tangier Med Port (only 1.5 hours away by private car) and Spain make it a popular destination, many travelers still don’t know that towns like these can be found in Morocco. Excited now? Plan to visit in the off-season (winter), as European visitors flock in the summer months. Also, avoid Catholic holidays if you can: Spanish tourists love to come down during Semana Santa and Christmas.

Don’t miss: Throw your map away and get lost for a few hours in Chefchaouen’s Old City. Witness how life has carried on, almost unchanged, for centuries.

unique Moroccan towns, Chefchaouen

“One of the many blue-painted streets in Chefchaouen, Morocco” (Mark Fischer, Flickr)

Zagora

Located in the valley of the Draa River, Zagora is an oasis in Morocco’s deep south. Also known as Tazagourt, it is a great alternative to touristy Ouarzazate if you wish to go on a Saharan Desert safari and visit genuine kasbahs. An unexpected bonus? It will be easy for you to find a Moroccan guide and outfitter to practice your Spanish with.

Don’t miss: The “Timbuktu, 52 days” sign (estimated travel time on camel), which once directed medieval travelers to that important city in Mali.

unique Moroccan towns, Zagora

View from a hotel in Zagora (Dutchy Doo, Flickr)

Melilla

We were introduced to the Spanish exclaves in Morocco on a previous AOB post. The least known of the two, though, is Melilla. Due to its rocky cultural and political past, visiting its museums and walking through its Old City is a history buff’s dream. Visit the beautiful harbor, take in some underground history at Las Cuevas del Conventico (caves), and learn more about its Jewish, Berber, and Christian backgrounds via special exhibitions at the Almacenes de las Peñuelas Museum.

Don’t miss: Capilla de Santiago by the city walls, as this chapel is the only true example of Gothic architecture in Africa.

unique Moroccan towns, Melilla Spain exclave

Iconic buildings in Melilla, Spain: An exclave in Morocco (GonzalezNovo, Flickr)

Dakhla

A city in the widely-disputed territory of Western Sahara, Dakhla is located 600 miles south of Marrakesh. It has morphed into a great beach, kitesurfing, windsurfing, and surf casting destination in recent years, with an airport served by the Moroccan airline Royal Air Maroc. Yet, it still remains a well-kept secret in Africa. Additionally, it is a great destination for cultural travelers to discover: Here, you can learn more about the the nomadic Tuareg peoples.

Don’t miss: According to the NY Times, Dakhla it is becoming “one of the world’s greatest wind- and kite-board surfing destinations.” Check out one of the many shops and book your first lesson. Also, make sure you camp in the Saharan desert for a least one night.

32 Comments

  1. Jeff Dobbins on July 18, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    Love this. I’ve been to Essaouira (and long to return), but now my wanderlust has been stoked for the others cities/towns as well. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Maria Alexandra Laborde on July 19, 2012 at 4:13 pm

      it is natural to want to see new places instead. But remember: Morocco is very close to Europe, meaning that low-budget airlines fly there 😉 so if you’re headed to Europe or want to see more of that continent, Morocco can easily be a weekend away! 😀

  2. Jeff Dobbins on July 18, 2012 at 5:42 pm

    Love this. I’ve been to Essaouira (and long to return), but now my wanderlust has been stoked for the others cities/towns as well. Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Maria Alexandra Laborde on July 19, 2012 at 5:13 pm

      it is natural to want to see new places instead. But remember: Morocco is very close to Europe, meaning that low-budget airlines fly there 😉 so if you’re headed to Europe or want to see more of that continent, Morocco can easily be a weekend away! 😀

  3. Dyanne Kruger on July 19, 2012 at 5:23 am

    Ah yes, Essaouira! (or as I like to call it “The Land of Vowels”)  And dear, dear Chefchaouen – purely THE most enchanting place on earth.  Just two of the reasons, Morocco remains in my top favorite places I’ve been.  Indeed, I could move to Morocco in a heartbeat! 

    • Maria Alexandra Laborde on July 19, 2012 at 4:06 pm

      I lived there for a semester and loved it! Would live there again in a heartbeat as well 🙂 glad to hear you feel the same way

  4. Dyanne Kruger on July 19, 2012 at 6:23 am

    Ah yes, Essaouira! (or as I like to call it “The Land of Vowels”)  And dear, dear Chefchaouen – purely THE most enchanting place on earth.  Just two of the reasons, Morocco remains in my top favorite places I’ve been.  Indeed, I could move to Morocco in a heartbeat! 

    • Maria Alexandra Laborde on July 19, 2012 at 5:06 pm

      I lived there for a semester and loved it! Would live there again in a heartbeat as well 🙂 glad to hear you feel the same way

  5. Daniel McBane on July 19, 2012 at 6:16 am

    When I went to Morocco I only had a few days, so I stuck to Marrakech. While I liked it a lot, so many people have told me since that it’s actually one of the worst places in Morocco. Your post only made it more clear to me that I really need to go back and see the rest of the country.

    • Maria Alexandra Laborde on July 19, 2012 at 4:05 pm

      Ah, Marrakech…its unique charm, but not my favorite 😉 You have to go back to Morocco now! So much more to see

  6. Daniel McBane on July 19, 2012 at 7:16 am

    When I went to Morocco I only had a few days, so I stuck to Marrakech. While I liked it a lot, so many people have told me since that it’s actually one of the worst places in Morocco. Your post only made it more clear to me that I really need to go back and see the rest of the country.

    • Maria Alexandra Laborde on July 19, 2012 at 5:05 pm

      Ah, Marrakech…its unique charm, but not my favorite 😉 You have to go back to Morocco now! So much more to see

  7. Mary B. on July 19, 2012 at 6:43 am

    This is awesome! I think Morocco is one very interesting place to visit with its rich culture and the architecture, I wanna see those structure standing. The “Blue City” is interesting. I haven’t been in Morocco, now I know where to go when I’ll pay a visit there. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Maria Alexandra Laborde on July 19, 2012 at 3:58 pm

      Happy you liked it. Morocco is a beautiful country with so much to offer. Tell us when you visit!

  8. Mary B. on July 19, 2012 at 7:43 am

    This is awesome! I think Morocco is one very interesting place to visit with its rich culture and the architecture, I wanna see those structure standing. The “Blue City” is interesting. I haven’t been in Morocco, now I know where to go when I’ll pay a visit there. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Maria Alexandra Laborde on July 19, 2012 at 4:58 pm

      Happy you liked it. Morocco is a beautiful country with so much to offer. Tell us when you visit!

  9. Adam Rapp on July 19, 2012 at 9:16 am

    Chefchauen is worth visiting for the hike to the Mosque ruin on the hill overlooking the city… incredible! And worth the bus ride north if you’re in Fez…

    • Maria Alexandra Laborde on July 19, 2012 at 3:57 pm

      Indeed! Yet, I don’t recommend people fly into Fez if they wish to visit 
      Chefchauen. Would be much better to fly into Tangier. Although, if you’ve never seen Fez, you should start there! 😉

  10. Adam Rapp on July 19, 2012 at 10:16 am

    Chefchauen is worth visiting for the hike to the Mosque ruin on the hill overlooking the city… incredible! And worth the bus ride north if you’re in Fez…

    • Maria Alexandra Laborde on July 19, 2012 at 4:57 pm

      Indeed! Yet, I don’t recommend people fly into Fez if they wish to visit 
      Chefchauen. Would be much better to fly into Tangier. Although, if you’ve never seen Fez, you should start there! 😉

  11. Jonas Wynn on July 19, 2012 at 1:03 pm

    Wow that picture of Essaouira ..that looks ancient! How old are those buildings?

    • Maria Alexandra Laborde on July 19, 2012 at 3:55 pm

      You mean the 16th-century fortress? 🙂

  12. Jonas Wynn on July 19, 2012 at 2:03 pm

    Wow that picture of Essaouira ..that looks ancient! How old are those buildings?

    • Maria Alexandra Laborde on July 19, 2012 at 4:55 pm

      You mean the 16th-century fortress? 🙂

  13. Stephen on July 19, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    Looks like some really cool towns…have to get to Morocco of these days…

  14. Stephen on July 19, 2012 at 8:37 pm

    Looks like some really cool towns…have to get to Morocco of these days…

  15. Nick Huggins on July 19, 2012 at 10:38 pm

    I’m going to be in Chefchauen in a few weeks. Can’t wait, it looks amazing!

  16. Nick Huggins on July 19, 2012 at 11:38 pm

    I’m going to be in Chefchauen in a few weeks. Can’t wait, it looks amazing!

  17. Margyle on July 21, 2012 at 7:23 pm

    The blue in your first two pictures are amazing… particularly the boats contrasted against the buildings in the first one! What a beautiful country!

  18. Margyle on July 21, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    The blue in your first two pictures are amazing… particularly the boats contrasted against the buildings in the first one! What a beautiful country!

  19. Stefania-The ItalianBackpacker on September 7, 2013 at 3:28 pm

    How I’d love to go to Morocco, it’s one of my dream destination. As a girl travelling alone, however, I’m a bit hesitant…

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