Why you should see Morocco

Castles on hilltops. Bustling metropolises. Bucolic vineyards. No river captures the breadth of the European river cruise experience like the Danube, which offers all these (and more) along one route stretching from Bavaria to the Black Sea. Options abound at every turn: Take a weeklong cruise, or extend your journey up to a monthlong expedition. Focus on a few regions that most interest you, or cruise the entire river. Stick close to the water, or go on excursions to farther-flung sites.

"The Danube has a lot of small-town charm and big-city interest—more variety than you'll find on other rivers," says Allison Walker, one of AAA's top travel agents. “River cruising suits every age and activity level. I have cruised with both my parents and my 20-something children. Cruisers can choose to take driven tours, easy walking tours, or sail and enjoy the sites. Or if a more active approach is preferred, hiking, or my personal favorite, biking, on a variety of excursions will satisfy every interest. It’s a great way to get out amongst the locals and the charming nooks and crannies of a village or larger town. ”

With so many choices, advice from experienced experts is invaluable. Read on for just a few highlights of Danube cruising, plus insights from Allison, who has 21 years of experience as a travel agent and has cruised the Danube three times with three cruise lines. 

Andria Gonzalez riding a camel

Andria Gonzalez is here to share her tips and insights on Morocco. AAA can help you plan the perfect trip to Morocco, or wherever your dream vacation is. Contact a AAA travel agent today, or visit a branch to meet with an agent or take advantage of other travel services.

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Morocco is a vibrant cultural crossroads at the northwest tip of Africa. Originally settled by Berber peoples in prehistory, it was strongly influenced by Arab conquerors from the east and then by French and Spanish colonization from the north. American travelers may know Morocco best as the setting of the 1942 film Casablanca, but there's much more to discover on an adventure through the kingdom's many bustling souks, stone-walled medinas, and garden oases.

"Morocco is a magical destination for travelers of all ages," says Andria Gonzalez, one of AAA's top travel agents. "Morocco has some of the coolest doors—the detail and architecture of the buildings, mosques, and riads are beautiful. Walking the medinas and smelling the different spices and seeing all types of vibrant colors around you makes this destination so unique and like no other; there is just so much history and culture. One of the greatest gifts of travel is the people we meet. Exploring other traditions and cultures can really put life into perspective."

With so many choices, advice from a travel agent is invaluable. Here are just a few of Morocco's highlights, plus insights from Andria, who has traveled around Morocco from the coast in Casablanca to the Sahara Desert, and seen much in between.

Andria Gonzalez riding a camel

Andria Gonzalez is here to share her tips and insights on Morocco. AAA can help you plan the perfect trip to London, or wherever your dream vacation is. Contact a AAA travel agent today, or visit a branch to meet with an agent or take advantage of other travel services.

Find an Agent | Find a Branch

Fast facts

 

Currency

 

Morocco's currency is called the dirham, pronounced "DEER-hum" and often abbreviated as Dh. The exchange rate is usually between 8 and 10 dirhams per U.S. dollar.

 

Useful phrases

 

  • Hello! — Salam alaikum! (sah-LAHM ah-LAY-koom)
  • Please — Afak (AFF-ak) 
  • Thank you — Shukran (SHOO-krahn)
  • Do you speak English? — Wash katref negliziya? (wash kuh-TREF neh-glee-zee-UH?)
Morrocan money, in paper bills

Language

 

Arabic and Berber are Morocco's two official languages. While Modern Standard Arabic is used for writing and official business, most Moroccans speak Darija, a distinctive Arabic dialect heavily influenced by Berber. Morocco was once a French protectorate, and French is taught in schools and frequently used as a universal second language. Spanish and English are spoken by fewer people, but not uncommon. 

Fun fact

In 1777, Morocco was the first country to recognize the United States' independence when it included the new nation on a list of countries to which Morocco’s ports were open. The two countries later signed the Moroccan–American Treaty of Friendship in 1786, which is still in effect and is the longest unbroken treaty relationship in U.S. history.

What to see

The Hassan II Mosque

This outstanding mosque in Casablanca stands on a promontory looking toward the Atlantic. Its 210-meter minaret is the world's tallest.

 

ANDRIA SAYS: "One of the largest mosques in Africa and the fifth largest in the world. Amazing how it holds up to 105,000 worshippers. The detail is amazing, and it sits on a platform over the Atlantic Ocean. I found it fascinating that part of the floor is made of glass, so worshippers can pray directly over the sea. Also, one of the only mosques in Morocco open to non-Muslims. It is not necessary to cover your face or head when entering, but to respect the country’s dress code, a woman traveling to Morocco should wear long skirts, dresses, jeans, or shorts long enough to cover the knees, and shirts that cover the shoulders." 

The Hassan II Mosque in Morocco

Ait Benhaddou

This UNESCO World Heritage Site was once a merchant village on a trade route; today, its exquisite clay architecture attracts more travelers than traders. It's a kasbah, which refers to buildings within walled fortifications.

 

ANDRIA SAYS: "There's nothing more enchanting than encountering a mysterious kasbah at the end of a long day. The views and sunset were breathtaking after reaching the top. The Ouarzazate area is noted as a filmmaking location where such movies as Gladiator, Game of Thrones and The Mummy. One of my favorite parts was reaching the top with a beautiful sunset and hearing the call of prayer from afar."

The walled village of Ait Benhaddou in Morocco

The medina in Marrakesh

Marrakesh's medina is the city's old town, founded by the Almoravids nearly 1,000 years ago. This is where the famous souk markets are—prepare to bargain if you feel like shopping. The heart of the medina is the Djemaa el-Fna square, which comes alive after sunset with food vendors.

ANDRIA SAYS: "Brimming with activity from dawn to dusk. One of the best markets you will ever encounter. A huge square area of Arab, African, and Berber cultures. One of the most fascinating places to immerse yourself in the sounds, sights, and tastes of Morocco. Take a foodie tour, bike ride through the medina and streets of Morocco, visit the Majorelle Garden, take a horse carriage ride, or spend the day shopping—it will definitely leave you with an overweight suitcase and longing to return."

Djemaa el-Fna square in the Marrakesh medina

The Atlas Mountains

Morocco's wonders aren't all man-made. The country sits on the border between the African and Eurasian tectonic plates, and the collision of those plates created the present-day Atlas range, which separates coastal Morocco from the Sahara Desert in the southeast. Travelers must cross the mountains to reach places such as Ait Benhaddou and the Sahara. And with soaring peaks and grand vistas, they're worth seeing on their own.
The Atlas Mountains on the way to Ouarzazate

The tanneries in Fes

Fes has three tanneries that produce some of the finest leather in the world using centuries-old practices. The tanning vats are filled with liquids of every color as the artisans use various chemicals to prepare the animal hides for further work, then to dye and finish them. 

 

ANDRIA SAYS: "An almost 1,000- year-old method of dying leather—talk about hard labor! Seeing the process of tradesmen separating the skins and soaking them in various vats was interesting and worth the visit. The scent can be overwhelming, but it will intimidatingly impress you since the process has barely changed since medieval times."

A tannery in Fes seen from above

Fes pottery

Fes is famous for its ceramic artisans, too, with one of the best-known workshops being Art Naji. The family-run business has been creating pottery for generations; the beautiful products are well-known in the area.

 

ANDRIA SAYS: "Visit a pottery store to see how pottery and mosaics are made, and buy directly from artisans who make them in a showroom you can see while visiting. Shop till you drop for items as small as cups to large garden fountains and tables. Prices are fixed, and they ship internationally with FedEx."

Pots and other ceramic goods for sale in Fes, Morocco

Ready to explore Morocco?

Andria Gonzalez and AAA's other travel agents can help you plan a trip that's the right fit for where you want to go, what you want to see, and what you can spend. Learn how to get in touch with Andria and AAA's other travel agents.

What to eat

Lamb (or chicken) tagine

One of Morocco's most famous dishes is tagine (pronounced "tah-ZHEEN"). It's named after the conical pot it's cooked in, which is designed to retain most of the evaporated fluid and let it flow back down into the stew, reducing the amount of water necessary to cook—important in arid climates.
 

ANDRIA SAYS: "Lamb is a must! If you are not a lamb lover, tagine chicken will be just as satisfying. A Moroccan classic cooked in a cone-shaped ceramic vessel, the mixtures of spices are rich, complex, and delightful. Serve with traditional couscous topped for a fabulous meal."

Tagine in the traditional ceramic cookware

Olives

ANDRIA SAYS: "The most delicious in the world; they come in a rainbow of colors and flavors! If you don’t like olives, you haven’t tasted theirs. They are locally grown, handpicked, and seasoned with so much flavor and spices such as thyme, rosemary, and oregano, and are served as an appetizer. Morocco is a serious contender when it comes to exporting of olives."
Large piles of olives for sale at a market in Morocco

Pastilla

ANDRIA SAYS: "We had the opportunity to try pastilla at a local’s home as they prepared lamb and pastilla as the main course. Pastilla is sweet and salty. It is made of crisp layers of crepe-like dough; shredded chicken slow-cooked in broth and spices; and a crunchy layer of toasted and ground almonds, cinnamon and powdered sugar. Save room when eating in Morocco—it’s more like eating a five-course meal."
A sliced pastilla, showing the stuffing
Where to stay & how to get around

Stay in a luxury desert camp

Travel southeast from the major cities near the coast, over the Atlas range, and you'll find yourself on the edge of the Sahara, the world's largest desert. There are many tour itineraries that take guests across the massive sand dunes to intimate tent camps, and there may be no better place on Earth to spend the night stargazing, far away from the light pollution of civilization.

 

ANDRIA SAYS: "The four-wheel-drive journey to Merzouga was a bumpy but fun drive. A night in the desert singing by the fire with Berbers, watching the sky with thousands of stars, sleeping in a luxury tent, and waking up to a camel ride is something everyone must experience."

A woman at the entrance to a tent in the Sahara Desert

Stay in a riad

A riad is a traditional multi-storied Moroccan house with a central garden or courtyard. Historically, they were often built by wealthy families as an estate. Today, many in the heart of Morocco's big cities have been reimagined as hotels that offer authentic Moroccan lodging.

 

ANDRIA SAYS: "Beautifully decorated and a true oasis. The ones in Marrakesh and the city of Ait Benhaddou are both close to tourist areas or a short taxi ride."

The courtyard of a riad hotel in Morocco

Getting around Morocco

Walking is the best way to experience many of Morocco's attractions, such as the medinas and souks. Many areas also have bike rental services, which allow you to see more in less time. For greater distances, there are also public buses and trams. If you'd like to take a cab inside the city, look for one of the licensed red petits taxis.

 

For travel between cities, there are trains and long-distance buses (and, depending where you are, flights). 

 

ANDRIA SAYS: "I highly recommend to be on a guided tour. A small group would be definitely better, such as Club Adventures."

Red "petits taxis" in Morocco
Other destinations to add to your trip

Andalusia

Some tour companies offer itineraries that include both Morocco and the southern Spanish region of Andalusia. Where Morocco is a predominantly Muslim country with strong European influences, Andalusia is the mirror image: Centuries of rule by Islamic conquerors in the middle ages created a cultural fusion that endures in Andalusia's unique architecture, clothing, and language. Must-see sights include the Alhambra (Arabic for "the red fortress"), a ninth-century castle that looks over the city of Granada; and the Plaza de España in Seville. Andalusia is also the birthplace of tapas, the famous Spanish appetizers, and there's no better place to try them.
Part of the Alhambra in Andalusia, Spain

Lisbon

Portugal's capital is a common layover city for travelers to Morocco, and with a little planning, you can add it to your trip either before or after your time in Africa. Lisbon basks in the sun reflecting off the Tejo River and quickly seduces most visitors. The mixture of history and modernity, of small town and metropolis, of the antiquated and the shining new is irresistible. Add excellent shopping, late but safe nightlife, and restaurants with Europe’s best fish, and you have Lisbon in a nutshell.
Pedestrians walking in Lisbon, Portugal

Paris

Paris is another common layover city on the way to North Africa, and for Francophiles, it's a perfect place to spend a few days before visiting Morocco, a former French protectorate. Few cities match the iconic status that Paris boasts in travelers' imaginations. In fashion, gastronomy, the arts, she is queen. As you visit the quartiers of the City of Lights her moods shift from gritty to sophisticated, haute couture to punk. There is always something to discover in Paris beyond the legendary sights and museums many know so well. This fabled city has a way of getting under your skin and feeling instantly familiar to all who wander her hypnotic streets and linger at her inviting cafes.
Club Adventures logo
Ready to explore Morocco?
Club Adventures was created exclusively for members who want to explore our world through a local lens. Global journeys are 8-14 days, groups are small, and tour leaders are local. Club Adventures' Moving Morocco lets travelers wander through bustling medinas, take in the aromatic smells of the spice markets, and journey through the desert aboard a camel. The 11-day package is $2,249 per person and includes a stay in a luxury desert camp. 

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