Visit Jemaa el-Fnaa Square in Marrakech's Medina
The square of Jemaa el-Fnaa in Marrakech—located in the UNESCO world heritage site of the walled medina—is a destination not to be missed. The square feels like you're stepping back in time, and as evening approaches you'll be delighted by the lively performers, storytellers, and food stalls that emerge.
The nightly bazaar is a sensory overload worth experiencing. You'll see everything from Berber musicians, acrobats, fortune tellers, comedy acts and Henna tattoo artists. You might even see a snake charmer or two, beckoning their serpents with a flute. During the day, the square is more subdued, but you'll still find peddlers selling things like fresh grapefruit and orange juice, dates and nuts.
Spend a Day with Village Locals
Leaving Morocco's major cities to visit local villages is a great opportunity for cultural immersion. Consider booking a day trip to the village of Imozer, located about two hours from Marrakech and situated in the High Atlas Mountains. Drink tea with locals, tour organically operated farmland, and enjoy a traditional lunch. Or head to the Amizmiz area, about one hour from Marrakech, where you'll hike through a number of small villages and stay the night with a local family.
Rissani, a desert town located in eastern Morocco is another notable village with a small town square and souks. Rissani is home to the Maison Touareg bazaar and cultural center where you can learn about tribes in the area, a well as, shop for local handicrafts.
Touring Morocco in private transport with a guide is a great way to learn more about the culture and traditions of the country. Many drivers are Berber and they know the ins and outs of the desert communities. Your driver or guide will also be able to help you meet and communicate with local nomadic families if that's something you are interested in.
It's quite common to enjoy tea with Berber tribes in their tents—in these situations, it's good to be aware that a small tip is very much appreciated. For more information about ideal day trips from Marrakech, check out this article.
Get Lost in Morocco's Traditional Souks
One of the highlights of visiting Marrakech are the souks in the old city, where a maze of markets are connected through different alleyways. It’s a thrill for the senses, with the scent of spices in the air and artisan goods like leather shoes and bright lanterns overflowing out of stalls.
There’s an entire souk displaying intricately woven Arab rugs and one dedicated to pretty babouches, or Moroccan slippers. You'll see artisans in their shops doing everything from carving wood to tailoring shoes by hand, with artisans often grouped together by their craft.
The spice souk is worth a visit simply for the smells and visuals, with displays of cumin and saffron piled high. Souk Semmarine and Souk el-Kebir offer all sorts of trinkets and at Souk Cherifia, you’ll find designs by local designers, with everything from hand-embroidered linens and towels to leather bags.
You’ll find souks all throughout Moroccan villages and towns, selling local goods. The medieval city of Fes is well-known for its souks, and visiting the local markets can feel like you are stepping back in time. The medina of Fes el Bali is where you’ll find some of the best markets, displaying everything from spices to silk fabrics.
Visit Collectives for Artisan Goods
Artisan collectives can be found throughout Morocco. The oasis town of Erdoud in the Sahara Desert is famous for fossils, while you'll find handmade ceramics in Fes that are handpainted with a plant-based paint. Fes is also famous for ancient dyeing vat tanneries. The Chaouwara tanneries are the city's most famous and you'll be able to view the pungent process of turning hides into leather and dying them. You'll find a range of leather goods throughout the city, including wallets and handbags.
Sefrou is located less than 20 miles from Fes, and provides the opportunity to visit with local artisans. You'll find everything from traditional Berber rugs to wooden bicycles and woven goods. Houddadine Square is where a large group of artisans gather, with everyone from blacksmiths to tinsmiths honing their crafts.
Known as the city of roses, Kalaat M’gouna in Dades Valley is famous for its roses and produces an abundance of high quality rose oil and rose water. Rose oil is predominantly used for beauty purposes, while rose water can be used for both beauty and culinary. Every May, the city hosts a festival of roses to celebrate the harvest.
Argan oil is one of Morocco's most sought-after products and some of the best quality argan oils are found at fair trade cooperatives around Essaouria. The Amal Women's Cooperative, in Tamanar just south of Essaouira, sells products to support the ancient tradition of argan oil making and provides a fair salary to the women in the cooperative.
Learn to Cook Like a Local
One of the highlights of visiting Morocco is trying the local cuisine and learning to cook the country's traditional foods like cumin-laced kefta meatballs and chicken with preserved lemons. You’ll find that most cooking schools offer a market visit, where you'll learn about local produce and spices, and Marrakech offers some of the best cooking classes in the country.
Dar Les Cigones, a boutique hotel, offers daily cooking classes where you might make anything from bread to yogurt, and the well-known restaurant La Maison Arabe offers workshops where you’ll prepare a full three-course meal. The Amal Centre is a non-profit that teaches disadvantaged local women cooking skills so they can find work in restaurants, and offers an onsite restaurant and cooking classes for visitors. For further cultural immersion, Traveling Spoon in Marrakech, Rabat, and Casablanca pairs you with a local family that will teach you how to cook a dish in their kitchen.
Even if the culinary arts is not your forte, diving into Moroccan cuisine is one of the best ways to learn about the culture. The fare is fresh and complex, with influences that stem from Berber, Mediterranean, and Arabic roots and varies from region to region. Being situated on the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts, the food is also seafood heavy and flavors like harissa and saffron are staples. Popular must-try dishes include fragrant vegetable and meat tagine—a stew cooked in an earthenware pot—and pastilla, a meat pie.
Get Scrubbed Down in a Traditional Hammam
A hammam is a traditional Moroccan bathhouse and a regular part of everyday life for many Moroccans. There are a variety of different types of hammams, ranging from high-end luxury spa retreats to more affordable, no-frills experiences.
Many hammams offer separate bathing areas for women and men. Others have days of the week for men and days of the week for women, while some only service one gender. The ritual varies, but is normally done in three steps. You'll first sit in a steam room to open your pores, then your body will be washed with a traditional black soap and scrubbed with a scrub glove, called a kessa, by a hammam attendant. Then, a cold water bath is customary.
Local hammams include everything from large steam rooms to pools and it is completely acceptable to go nude. For an exclusive experience, many hotels offer sumptuous retreats—try the luxe Royal Mansour or La Mamounia in Marrakesh. You can't go wrong at the opulent Le Bains de Marrakech either, one of Marrakech’s first private bathhouses.
See The Sand Dunes of the Sahara
The sand dunes of the Sahara are a must-see, and a camel trek is an ideal way to experience the desert landscape and interact with Berber tribes in the area.
You’ll ride camels through the desert to oasis towns and Ouarzate, where you can spend the night in a traditional riad. During the tour, you'll also be able to spend the evening with a Berber tribe around a campfire listening to local music and listening to traditional stories, as well as explore the Ait Benhaddou kasbah (a UNESCO World Heritage site).
The two best places to experience the Sahara are Merzouga, where you'll see the sweeping sand blown sand sea of Erg Chebbi, and Zagora's famous sand sea at Chegaga. Interested? This 4-day tour is a great example of how you can maximize your time. You'll hike through a river gorge, wander through a classic kasbah, and—of course—ride camels in the desert.
Experience a Local Music Festival
The Gnaoua (Gnawa) Music Festival in the eclectic beach town of Essaouira is one of Morocco's largest music festivals and attracts thousands of music lovers every year. The festival is four days of free concerts set in an outside venue, with both traditional and contemporary music. Gnawa music was traditionally created by African slaves and has been preserved through generations. The dreamy style of music combines poetry with dancing and today, the festival encapsulates both modern and old with a mix of world music, blues, reggae, and hip-hop.
The Master Musicians of Joujouka festival is held every in June in the village of Joujoka, an Ahi Srif tribal area in the Rif Mountains. It's essential to book early if interested, as the festival offers only fifty people the opportunity to spend three days in the mountains listening to traditional Joujoka musicians. The music originates from the 15th century and those that are lucky enough to score a ticket will have the chance to listen to traditional folk music, drums and rhaita, a North African double reed instrument.
At the Fes Festival of World Sacred Mus,ic you can experience 10 days of eclectic concerts. It is the countries oldest festival, created in the 1990s to represent religious and cultural tolerance. Each year the festival combines diverse musicians from different faiths to perform together throughout the city in different venues.
A Note on Local Customs
As Morocco is a Muslim country, there are certain things to be aware of when visiting. Modest clothing for women is the norm, and every day you'll likely hear the loud and poetic call to prayer from mosques. It's a unique experience and one that exemplifies daily life in Morocco. Also known as the adhan, the call to prayer plays a central role in Islamic society—you'll hear it five times each day, starting at dawn.
If you do visit a mosque during your time in Morocco, there are a few things to remember. Shoes must be taken off before entering the mosque prayer hall and men and women should wear conservative clothing, covering their shoulders. Women are also traditionally expected to cover their head with a scarf while inside the mosque. At mosques allowing non-Muslim visitors, there will be guides to help you along.
When shopping in Morocco, shopkeepers may seem pushy at first, but many times they simply want to show you their store and won't pressure you to purchase their goods. Speaking to shopkeepers can be an interesting way to learn about local culture and traditions, and bargaining is expected.