With low-cost airlines now flying into five Moroccan cities, the country is well and truly on the tourism map. But if you want to escape the crowds, there are plenty of options. WORDS: Justin Walley
Edge of the Sahara
If you’re already in the High Atlas mountains and have a few days to play with, then invest in a trip to the edge of the Sahara.
Follow the road south-east from Ouarzazate through the kasbahs of the Draa Valley to the Tinfou sand dunes. If you’re a Sahara virgin, you’ll be rewarded with your first taste of the world’s most famous desert landscape.
Another 100km or so south you will reach the end of the road at the oasis town of M’Hamid, a camel’s groan from the Algerian border. Here the Berbers live side by side with the wonderfully named Blue Men.
The 100m-high sand dunes are less than half an hour away on the back of the same moaning and spitting desert beasts.
Morocco’s Atlantic coast runs all the way from the Straits of Gibraltar to the disputed territory of western Sahara, where the Canary Islands lie just 100km to the west. In other words, if you can’t find your own stretch of deserted beach paradise in Morocco, you won’t find it anywhere.
With direct flights from the UK into Agadir, Marrakesh and Casablanca, tourist-free stretches of coastline are never far away, while the fishing communities and Portuguese ramparts of towns such as Asilah, El-Jadida and Essaouira should not be missed.
Essaouira has been pulling in a mixed bag of hippies, artists, craftsmen and well-heeled foreigners for years. The town is simply charming and has a laid-back, breezy vibe that might cause you to lose track of time and miss your flight home.
Pin in the map
One way to guarantee escaping the tourist crowds is to choose a town or city that isn’t serviced by airlines or the ferries that link Europe with North Africa. Just hop on a local bus or share a Grand Taxi to the nearest urban area with a name you’ve never heard of.
Beni Mellal, for example, lies 200km to the north east of Marrakesh and is a sizeable city of half a million people. You’ve probably never heard of it unless you have chosen to stop here to break your journey from Fes to Marrakesh, but that’s the beauty of making an overnight stay at a place where the locals will stare at you bemused and wonder why the hell you’ve added their hometown to your itinerary.