By Briana Seftel
There is just something incredibly alluring about Morocco. The bustling, fragrant markets, graceful mosques and sweeping desert have attracted travelers for centuries. Today, it is known as the gateway to Africa and one of the world's most popular destinations. If you're thinking of heading to Morocco, read up on the top 10 destinations.
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Most travelers choose to begin their vacation in Marrakesh, known as Morocco's “Jewel of the South." An ancient city that has been invigorated with new hotels, restaurants and bars, Marrakesh feels like old and new Morocco. The can't-miss sight in Marrakesh is Jemaa el-Fnaa, one of the world's great markets and the heart of the old city. Day and night, the open-air market bustles with locals selling spices, rugs, street food and kitschy souvenirs. After a whirlwind experience at the market, find some peace and quiet at Majorelle Garden, a Moorish-style botanical garden designed by the French painter Jacques Majorelle.
Just across the Strait of Gibraltar from Spain, Tangier is a lively port city that has been a gateway between Africa and Europe since Phoenician times. While it's a common day trip from Spain, it's worth spending at least two days here to get a sense of the city's culture and history. Wander through the tight lanes of the medina (old city) that once beckoned the likes of Matisse and Delacroix, admire Moroccan art at the Sultan's Palace and experience the city's Spanish flavor at the Plaza de Torros. About 40 miles from Tangier is the city of Tetouan.
Also spelled Fes, you may know it for its red cylindrical cap, but there is so much more to this city that's known as Morocco's cultural capital. The major highlight here is the medieval medina, an intoxicating, maze-like blend of riads (traditional Arabic houses built around central courtyards), shops and handicraft workshops. This is one of the best places to pick up an authentic Moroccan rug, so put on your bargaining hat and get to searching! Adding to its allure is an excellent array of restaurants and the annual Festival of World Sacred Music celebrating world music.
We're going to be honest: there isn't much to see or do in Casablanca beyond the obvious, touristy Rick's Cafe - a cafe recreated in 2004 to resemble the cafe that Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman frequented in Casablanca. That doesn't mean you should skip Morocco's largest city altogether; within the city center is Hassan II Mosque, the largest mosque in Morocco and one of the largest in Africa.
The Atlas Mountains, a mountain range that runs 1,600 miles through Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, is one of the country's iconic sights. Home to soaring mountain peaks, remote villages, and deep valleys, the Atlas region is one of Morocco's off-the-beaten-path destinations. It's also one of the best places to experience the rich Berber culture. The Berbers, an indigenous group in North Africa, are known as highly-skilled farmers and craftsmen. They are also extremely warm and welcoming, so don't be surprised if you get invited over for a cup of sweet mint tea!
The capital of Morocco, Rabat is a UNESCO-certified city situated along the Atlantic coast. Smaller than you would expect, the city is famous for its fairytale 12th-century Kasbah of the Udayas, perched majestically over the water. The Mausoleum of Mohammed V is an architectural marvel with its colorful mosaic tiles and graceful arches. If you plan on visiting, remember to dress modestly.
A port city on the Atlantic coast, Essaouira is that hip, in-the-know destination that travelers are clambering for. While it's not really a beach destination - the winds are much too strong - the city has plenty more to offer. The walled medina is one of Morocco's finest, while its dramatic 18th-century ramparts make the perfect photo op. The colorful port filled with blue fishing boats is another highlight; if you really want to see Essaouira in action, head to the Saturday market by the port and watch the fisherman sell their catch to restaurants.
If you're wondering what Moroccan town is featured on practically every travel Instagram account, this is it. Famous for its bright blue medina, Chefchaouen is simply magical. Nestled at the foot of the Rif Mountains, the town was founded in 1471 and was conquered by Spain in the early 20th century, giving it a unique Spanish flair. Its winding, steep lanes are reminiscent of Santorini, while the lush green valley surrounding the town will make you feel world's away from the hustle and bustle of larger cities. A haven for cat lovers, Chefchaouen is also famous for its freshly-squeezed orange juice - try some while you're there!
Riding a camel through the Sahara Desert is just one of those unforgettable bucket list experiences. Luckily, that's perfectly doable in Morocco, which is home to a large part of the Sahara. If you plan on adding the desert to your itinerary, you'll most likely want to base yourself in the village of Merzouga, where the sand dunes (known as "ergs") of Erg Chebbi lie just outside the village borders. Whether you go on a trek for a few hours or a few days, this is one adventure you'll never forget.
You probably haven't heard of Meknes, but you will. Often overshadowed by Fez and Marrakesh, this hilltop city is finally getting its dues thanks to the intricate Bab el Mansour gate and Heri Es Souani, the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail, one of the most notorious Moroccan rulers. Nearby, the Roman ruins of Volubilis attract travelers looking for a glimpse of ancient Morocco that can't be found anywhere else. Combine Volubilis with the whitewashed town of Moulay Idriss, considered the holiest town in Morocco.