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The Insider’s Guide: 5 Ways to Get to Know the Real Morocco

If Morocco represents the kind of exotic travel you’ve always dreamed of, your dilemma may be deciding on how best to spend limited time in a country that is so diverse. Morocco is vast and distinctive, from the Atlas Mountains to the Sahara Desert, from the magical blue town of Chefchaouen to the fishing village of Essaouira, which has become a modern surfing destination. What is the “real” Morocco? Here are five suggestions.

Dine with a Berber Family

Some Berber mountain villages welcome visitors and it’s possible to visit a family for mint tea, a simple meal, or even an overnight homestay. An ideal way to experience the unique culture of indigenous Moroccans, such visits are included in some tours. If you plan to be near Tagounite Village at the edge of the Sahara desert, inquire about visiting a Berber home at Draa Oasis.  

Visit the tanneries in Fez

Take your pick from three major tanneries in the city — all of them manually strip the hair from animal hides and dye them with color created from natural pigments, the way it’s been done for centuries. It’s “pungent,” done with natural ammonia (from pigeon poo), but tannery visitors are supplied with sprigs of mint to help temper the stench. Mint is used to produce green dye as well. The red comes from poppies, the blue from indigo, and saffron creates the rich yellow. Marvel at the colorful array from your vantage point on nearby rooftops. 

Experience a Hammam

This is a cultural experience, not simply an invigorating soak and massage for tired muscles. The cleansing and rejuvenating ritual has its roots in an era when private plumbing was unavailable, and both men and women went to public baths. It’s a pampering experience that no visitor should miss, whether you go solo, with a partner, or with a group of friends. Enjoy a steam bath, hot and cold plunges, skin exfoliation, therapeutic argan oil massage, or a rejuvenating full-body clay treatment, and emerge relaxed and refreshed. 

Roses — in Morocco?

You bet, the Kelaat M’Gouna Rose Festival is unique to Morocco, held for two days on the second weekend in May. At other times of the year, the valley is worth a visit to see its palm trees, clay homes, and traditional mosques, all with the backdrop of the Atlas Mountains. The scenery is breathtaking and, if you’re lucky enough to visit when the roses are in bloom, you’ll never forget the scent — or the sight — of the spectacular pink flowers that are used both in Moroccan cuisine and for world-renowned lotions and cosmetics.

Make Time for a Prayer

The Hassan II Mosque, on the Atlantic seawall in Casablanca, the largest in Africa, has a striking minaret stands 690 feet tall, and is fitted with a laser beam directed toward Mecca. Remnants of other mosques, including the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalen, the Grand Mosque of Damascus and the Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakesh were used in its construction.

Finally, try to spend at least part of a night stargazing, whether from a peak in the Atlas range, or from the desert dunes. The stars above Morocco just seem to be closer and brighter than most other places on earth. Study the constellations beforehand so that you can recognize them! It’s an experience you won’t soon forget, and it’s worth missing out on sleep!

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