From seemingly endless deserts to dramatic mountains and enigmatic cities, Morocco has so much to offer visitors. And while the colorful city of Marrakech is a great place to start, there are plenty of hidden gems to discover further afield, as longtime Moroccan resident and author Alice Morrison reveals.
Eight years ago, Alice Morrison moved to Morocco to train and compete in the Marathon des Sables, a grueling event that involves running six marathons in six days across the Sahara Desert.
But after taking on the challenge, Alice realized she didn’t want to leave Morocco, a country that had a seemingly magnetic pull on her. “People were so welcoming and friendly – I immediately felt at home here,” she says.
Image courtesy of Alice Morrison)
So she moved to the small Amazigh (Berber) village of Imlil in the High Atlas Mountains. In addition to being the ideal setting for her many adventures, it is here that she fell in love with Moroccan hospitality and the sweetness of life.
In 2016, she started filming a documentary for the BBC, From Morocco to Timbuktu: an Arab adventurewhich involved crossing the Atlas Mountains, traveling along ancient salt roads and through the lonely expanses of the Sahara Desert in a quest to reveal what makes the country so magical.
She is also the first woman to cross the legendary Draa River, which she did on an epic 932-mile (1,500 km) trek with two Amazigh guides.
The village of Imlil, Morocco, which Alice calls home (Image: Alberto Loyo/Shutterstock)
We spoke to Alice about what makes Morocco so unique, the little-known places that many tourists avoid, and her expert advice on how to get the most out of your trip.
Alice’s Top Tips
1. Choose one or two cities to visit
Morocco is home to four imperial cities: Rabat, Meknes, Fez and Marrakech. The latter is usually the first port of call for tourists and for good reason: it’s a captivating mix of bustling medinas, elaborate Moorish architecture, incredible food and fascinating cultural attractions.
If you have two weeks ahead of you in Morocco, Alice advises choosing one or two towns to visit before heading into the desert and mountains.
The bustling city of Marrakech at night (Image: Marrakech posztos/Shutterstock)
2. Don’t miss the Atlas Mountains…
High on the list of places Alice recommends visiting are the Atlas Mountains, which stretch some 1,200 miles (2,000 km) from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.
Offering world-class hiking, climbing and mountain biking opportunities, these historic peaks are a playground for adventure seekers. But in many small villages clinging to mountain peaks, “you will also see a very different way of life – the Amazigh way of life.”
3. …or the Sahara Desert
Meanwhile, the Sahara Desert, which lies south of the Atlas Mountains and spans an impressive 3.3 million square miles (8.9 million square kilometers) of North Africa , is another must visit.
Image courtesy of Alice Morrison
Although Alice acknowledges that venturing into the desert may not be for everyone, she believes there is a “spectacular void” to be found there. “As you walk through it, your soul or spirit is cleansed by this amazing scenery – and it reminds you of how small you are, as a human. It makes you feel alive.
4. Consider trekking
“I love to walk, so I would recommend that if you’re two weeks old, you should do a five-day hike during that time,” says Alice.
Trekking with a local guide is also a great way to immerse yourself: “the guides I have worked with are so knowledgeable that they will tell you everything there is to know about their country”.
For female travelers who wish to follow in Alice’s footsteps, Intrepid Travel is currently offering a unique expedition to Morocco, which will run from October 15-20 this year and will be led by Alice.
Beginning in Marrakech, the six-day trip will take visitors deep into the Atlas Mountains, where they can meet Amazigh women, hike in the mountains and stay with local families.
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5. Get stuck in street food
Thanks to its unique cultural history, Moroccan cuisine is a fusion of influences, including Berber, Arabic, Jewish and Spanish. Tagine – a dish of chicken cooked with spices, olives, lemons and other aromatics, cooked in a traditional clay pot – is a classic for a reason.
“Go get a tagine at a little place down the street,” advises Alice, where it will be “much tastier and cheaper” than most versions you’ll find in restaurants. If you’re worried about eating street food, “stick to stalls where there are a lot of people around.”
Traditional Moroccan tagine served in a market (Image: Curioso.Photography/Shutterstock)
Feeling adventurous? Camel milk is a must: “It’s absolutely delicious!” Other unexpected must-haves are chicken and fries – “you’ll find it on small stalls all over the country, it’s the best in the world” – as well as briouats (pastries with almonds and honey) and amlou ( sweet almond butter with argan oil and honey).
6. Dress the room
When visiting Morocco, visitors, especially women, are generally advised to dress conservatively, ensuring that shoulders and knees are covered.
But it’s not just about making sure you feel comfortable. “If you wear Western clothes, you will have a Western experience. If you wear a bit more modest clothes, you will be able to approach people more easily, especially women,” says Alice.
7. Learn some Arabic
Learning a few phrases in Arabic before you go will make a huge difference when it comes to engaging with the locals.
‘As-Salaam-Alaikum’ is a common greeting, meaning ‘peace be upon you’. To answer, you must say ‘Wa-Alaikum-Salaam’ (peace be with you too).
Alice hiking with two Moroccan guides (Image courtesy Alice Morrison)
“Shukran” means thank you, while “zwin” means good, beautiful or delicious.
“There’s a saying in Morocco, ‘Duyuf Allah’, which means visitors come from God,” says Alice – which she says is a good summary of the incredible hospitality many tourists receive.
8. Trust your intuition
As a long-time solo traveler, Alice is adamant that “the biggest misconception about women traveling is that it’s dangerous”. And while there are certainly risks to be aware of, Alice thinks taking a few simple precautions will go a long way to making you feel safer.
Image courtesy of Intrepid Travel
“Make sure you feel comfortable in the hotel, riad or guesthouse you are staying in – that you feel comfortable with the owners, that the doors are lockable.”
She also advises letting someone know before you go alone, as well as exchanging contact details so you can get in touch to let them know when you’ll be back.
Finally, “if you are worried that something is wrong, just listen to it. Your intuition is usually good.
9. Take your time
Morocco is not a country where you have to rush, tourist checklist in hand. Rather, it’s a place to sink into a gentler pace of life. “Take the time to talk to people and if someone invites you for tea, accept the invitation!”
“If you come with an open mind and heart, you’ll have an amazing time,” says Alice.
READ MORE: Top tips for solo travelers
Alice Morrison is currently offering a unique women’s expedition to Morocco in partnership with Intrepid Travel, taking place October 15-20, 2022. To learn more about the trip and reserve your spot, click here. Alice has published four books, the last of which, Walk with nomads, was released in March 2022 and is available on Amazon. Learn more about Alice by checking out her website or following her on Instagram.
Main image: Courtesy of Alice Morrison