Why go to the Sahara? Paul Bowles, in his essay Baptism of Solitude, suggests:
The answer is that when a man has been there and undergone the baptism of solitude he can’t help himself. Once he has been under the spell of the vast, luminous, silent country, no other place is quite strong enough for him, no other surroundings can provide the supremely satisfying sensation of existing in the midst of something that is absolute. He will go back, whatever the cost in comfort or money, for the absolute has no price.
The Sahara has a magic all its own that draws you to experience a night under the stars, to climb the dunes to watch the sun rise, to ride a camel to a nomad camp in the solitude. A two-day stay is best: on arrival, transfer by 4WD to a luxurious tented camp (or ride camels into camp). Next day, explore the Berber villages and experience life in the desert having tea with nomads or riding a camel to an oasis. Watch the sun set, have dinner under the stars and enjoy some music round the campfire. At dawn, wake to watch the sun rise over the dunes.
We have longer journeys by camel, too. You can also take a 4×4, but we don’t recommend quadbikes as they destroy the fragile environment.
Walking and trekking in National Parks
The High Atlas Mountains with its gorges, high plateaux and kasbah villages nestling in the valleys, the Middle Atlas to the north and the Anti-Atlas to the south form a spine running down the length of Morocco. Eastwards into the Sahara lies the dry Jebel Sahro, and to the north abutting the Mediterranean coast, lies the green and verdant Rif. There is a wealth of walking and trekking in these mountains, from half a day to five days or more. Guides are well-trained and knowledgeable and there are mules to carry packs when necessary. Many routes take you to villages and farms where you can interact with local Berbers and stay in their homes. Recently some intrepid guests enjoyed overnighting with some nomads in their cave homes in the Dades Gorge. Gîtes are comfortable though rustic, and bathrooms shared. Hot water? Maybe. Great ambience and good food? Definitely.
Treks of varying lengths can also be arranged on horseback, by camel or by mountainbike.
Cedar Forests of the Middle Atlas Mountains
In the Middle Atlas mountains, you’ll find the Ifrane National Park between the towns of Ifrane and Azrou. Spend a day hiking in the magnificent forest and watch the endangered barbary macaques. You’ll have a local guide, who will also take you for lunch with a local family.
(photo courtesy MonkeyWatch)
The Tazekka National Park is an hour’s drive north of Fez and out of the busy summer season, you’ll likely have the park to yourself. Set up to conserve cedar trees, the park boasts a dozen walks of varying lengths and the Friouato Caves, a speleologist’s dream.
Hiring bikes in Morocco has been slow to take off, but gradually there are some companies setting up and offering tours for a couple of hours or a whole day. In Marrakech you can explore the new city and the medina in a half-day excursion, or take off-road bike out to the palm groves just outside the city. In Rabat we can offer half- or whole-day sightseeing tours that visit the major places of interest where a local guide is provided. These include the chellah, the Hassan Tower, the Mausoleum, the pottery in Sale and the corniche.
With such a diverse topography and climate, it’s not surprising that Morocco is a paradise for birdwatchers: 454 species have been recorded and 209 regularly breed here. And every year millions of European birds migrate to or pass through Morocco in spring and autumn. There are the northern mountains and Mediterranean coast with their impressive raptors and storks; the wetlands and lagoons of the Atlantic coast, the forests of the Rharb, the mountains of the Souss and, of course, the desert. Endangered or rare species include Bald Ibis, Dark Chanting Goshawk, Tawny Eagle, Eleonora’s Falcon, and African Marsh Owl, as well as other species such as Dupont’s Lark, Moussier’s Redstart, Desert Warbler, Black-crowned Tchagra, and Desert Sparrow. We have expert guides on hand and can offer delightful accommodation in the best birding spots.
Top tips: Moulay Bousselham and Ouarzazate.
Explore the Mediterranean coast of Morocco by basing yourself in Al Hoceima. It’s a magnificent coastline, still largely unspoilt, and boasts a little-visited National Park that has trekking routes and homestays with local Berbers.
Pirates built bases all along the Atlantic coast to terrorise shipping and to trade in slaves and gold. Their forts survive: south of Tangier, the small town of Asilah was home to the pirate Rassouli. Today it sports a pristine medina with interesting art galleries, an Arts Festival in July and excellent fish restaurants. We have superb accommodation available in beautiful guesthouses and private homes.
Spanish-influenced Larache and adjacent Roman ruins of Lixus are rarely visited. Nearby is the small village of Moulay Bousselham with its lagoon and beautiful beach, perfect for relaxing and superb birdwatching. Comfortable guesthouses are available in these towns.
It was Portuguese pirates who built El Jadida’s coastal fort with its serenely beautiful cistern, and nearby Azemmour that artists love for the quality of its light. Oualidia has splendid beaches and abudant oysters. We have stylish guesthouses in these coastal towns.
Essaouira is famous for its pretty medina and the blue boats in the fishing port, its long beach perfect for wind- and kitesurfing and its wealth of good restaurants and guesthouses. Ride camels in nearby Diabat or try the surf in Sidi Kaouki. From Essaouira, take a half-day trip to the Sunday souk to see how local people still ply ancient trades, or there’s a full-day trip south to a women’s co-operative producing argan oil.
Just north of Agadir is the surfers’ paradise of Taghazout. You can hire equipment and stay in beachside villas and apartments. Many are now offering yoga retreats, too. If you’d rather catch an empty wave, talk to us about our exclusive surfing retreats to the long swathes of Plage Blanche – just you and your board, a 4WD vehicle, and a driver and cook to set up camp each night.
Not quite as far south as Plage Blanche, dreamy Sidi Ifni beckons, with its magnificent beaches and crenellated buildings alongside relics of the Spanish occupation.