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Although the country sees numerous visitors throughout the year, there are still some places in Morocco that lie gloriously off the tried-and-trodden track. Leave the tourist crowds behind and visit some of these striking and fascinating hidden gems on your next adventure in the Maghreb.
In the foothills of the High Atlas Mountains, Demnate is surrounded by some of southern Morocco’s most picturesque scenery. It’s a fantastic place for hiking and exploring the great outdoors. One must-visit spot is the gorge and natural stone arch of Imi n’Ifri. A bird conservation area, it also attracts keen ornithologists. Venture farther into the mountains to Iwaridene and you can see ancient dinosaur tracks in the reddish-coloured rocks. The city of Demnate is one of the oldest cities in southern Morocco and has a small medina where you can experience the local way of life.
In the northern part of central Morocco, the city of Khenifra enjoys a scenic location alongside the Oum Er-Rbia River and surrounded by the Atlas Mountains. Nature lovers should visit Khenifra National Park, a short distance from the main city. It is home to two beautiful lakes and fragrant Atlas cedar trees. You can also visit the source of the Oum Er-Rbia River with its cascading waterfall that tumbles down the reddish-brown rocks.
Northern Morocco’s Larache sits alongside the Atlantic coast. A Spanish colonial city in times gone by, a stroll through the white-washed walls of the medina is a great way to see how local people live. Relax in the tranquil Jardin de Lions and take plenty of photographs of the street art. Detailed and colourful paintings cover long walls in the city centre, with natural scenes, buildings, and social messages.
In the east of northern Morocco and close to the border with Algeria, Oujda combines a long history with a modern outlook. It is a peaceful city that is great for spending a few days relaxing and taking leisurely walks around the souks and medina. The pretty Park Lalla Aicha is popular with locals on hot days. Highlights of the city include the old gateway that leads into the medina and the large clock, called Le Horloge, on Boulevard Mohammed V.
El Jadida sits on the Atlantic coast. Despite being a popular summer vacation destination for Moroccans, the city attracts relatively few foreign visitors. An old Portuguese city, the atmospheric remains of the UNESCO-listed Mazagan Fortress provide great views over the ocean and city. The architecture in the medina is more akin to that in Europe. The water cisterns provide an unusual local attraction; open every day, it costs just 10 Moroccan dirhams (US$1) to head underground and explore.
The beaches nearest to the city can get quite packed with domestic holiday-makers during the summer. Head a short way from the city, however, and there are quiet and clean stretches of golden sands, lapped by the cool sea waters, with barely a soul in sight.
Ouezzane, located in northern Morocco, is a terrific destination for anyone who is interested in religious history and culture. Indeed, the town was previously often referred to as the spiritual heartland of the country. Moroccan Jews visit Ouezzane on pilgrimage, visiting tombs of saints. One tomb in particular, that of an 18th-century rabbi called Amram ben Diwan, is said to have been the scene of several miracles. The Jewish part of town contains attractive tiled buildings with a distinct Andalusian flavour.
Ouezzane is also important for Muslims, especially those who practice Sufism, with many Sufi shrines around the town. Non-Muslim visitors can admire the ornate Moulay Adbullah Sharif Mosque from outside the gates.
A bustling port city and former Portuguese colony on the Atlantic coast, Safi is split into old and new areas. The newer area has the eerie ruins of cathedral built by the Portuguese and charming seaside holiday homes. The older area has many traditional homes and a number of pottery shops displaying locally made colourful wares.
Head into the hills overlooking the city, to Collines des Potiers, to see how local ceramics are made. There are two historic Portuguese fortresses to explore too – Dar al Bahar and the Kechla. The sea offers powerful waves, great for surfing enthusiasts. The city is known for having created the biggest sardine tagine in the world. Made in 1999, the tagine dish is now displayed in the city centre.
Northern Morocco’s small port town of El Jebha is nestled between the Mediterranean Sea and the Rif Mountains. While the dusty town may appear to offer little of interest at first glimpse, a boat ride reveals stunning views of the harbour and curved bay, offset quite wonderfully by the mountains in the background.
A popular domestic holiday destination along the Atlantic coast, Oualidia is a fine place to relax on sandy beaches and swim in the refreshing sea. The curved lagoon is one of the most scenic in Morocco. Seafood restaurants are abundant, and the area is especially known for fresh oysters. Take a trip to the nearby wetlands in spring or autumn to see a variety of enchanting bird life, including pink flamingoes.
A scenic oasis close to the popular tourist destination of Ouarzazate, Fint sits on the edge of the Anti-Atlas Mountains. The name alone should be an enticement to visit; it means ‘hidden’ in Amazigh, the language of the Berbers. The oasis is surrounded by palm trees and fruit trees, which offer plenty of shade in the heat of the day. The lush greenery is a striking contrast to the black rocks around the valley and the desert terrain.
Located almost halfway between Marrakesh and Rabat, the city of Settat boasts one of the country’s prettiest golf courses. It also has a horse-racing heritage, with a large horse statue standing proudly in the heart of the city and a race track close to the city centre.
Within easy reach of Agadir, the small Berber village of Imouzzer Ida Ou Tanane holds a hidden secret – it has one of the most spectacular waterfalls in all of Morocco. Reached by travelling through the beautifully named Paradise Valley, there are two sets of cascades to admire. Though the first are impressive, do continue to the second set, as there is an enticing pool that is suitable for swimming. Jump from up high into the pool, sunbathe on the smooth rocks, and go hiking in the natural surroundings.
Apart from these, Morocco has many other hidden gems just waiting to be discovered. Asilah is fairly popular with Spanish visitors, though sees low numbers from other international travellers. History lovers will appreciate Azzemour, a former Portuguese area on the Atlantic coast. Although it is starting to see more tourists nowadays, the ski resort of Oukaimeden, the Roman ruins of Volubilis, the Swiss-like town of Ifrane, the Cascades of Akchour, the blue city of Chefchaouen, and the spiritual town of Moulay Idriss are also well worth adding to your Morocco travel itinerary.