South Morocco and northern Morocco can feel like different countries sometimes.
Replacing the fertile green valleys and forested mountains famous in the north are vast arid plains studded with isolated palmeries. This half of the country also lacks the rail links that make travelling through this sizeable chunk of North Africa easy and efficient.
But that’s all part of the south’s charm. Take a bus, hire a car, or simply join a tour and thread your way through diverse landscapes of pink granite mountains, magnificent Atlantic coastlines and remote dusty villages on the horizon, and discover a side of Morocco that you probably didn’t know existed.
Artists and surfers have been flocking to south Morocco for years. Nowhere is this more evident than in Essaouira. Back in the 60s, this port city on Morocco’s Atlantic coast was a beacon for hippies and counterculture types from all over the world – including guitar legend Jimi Hendrix. Half a century later, Essaouira’s creative spirit still endures. Artists proudly display their creations outside their studios in the winding lanes of the city’s medina – and Essaouira is famously a location in the epic fantasy TV series Game of Thrones.
Buffeted by winds off the Atlantic Ocean, Essaouira attracts its share of kite and windsurfers from around the world. But those keen on staying on land will find plenty to do, too. Follow the pungent aroma to the port, where you can take photos of the blue fishing boats and weathered fishermen selling their daily catches and mending their nets. Time your visit just before it gets dark and you’ll be able to capture a stunning Atlantic sunset. Then plant yourself at one of the cafes set among whitewashed houses with bright blue shutters for a traditional Moroccan coffee, or the freshest seafood you’ve ever had, and simply wait for the traditional musical entertainment to come to you.
The undisputed surfing capital of Morocco, those who make the trip down to Taghazout will be rewarded with gnarly swells and T-shirt weather pretty much all year round. A stone’s throw away from Agadir – a popular entry point to south Morocco for European visitors but offering nothing special to the intrepid traveller – Taghazout is your typical surf town, complete with surf shops, Rastafari-themed cafes and droves of board short-wearing surfers who flock here from all over the world in search of that ever-elusive perfect wave.
A former fishing village holding onto its traditions despite its fame growing every year as a surf hotspot, Taghazout still retains that semblance of village life, making it a chilled and charming place to hang your hat for a while. This is also the place to come for a week’s surf camp: the prices are affordable and the surf reliable. For more sedentary folk, simply perching yourself at one of the ocean-side cafes for some Moroccan mint tea and wave watching is a perfectly good reason to visit.
Situated in the fertile Sous valley with the snow-capped High Atlas mountains as a backdrop, Taroudant is south Morocco’s bustling commercial hub and former capital of the Saadi dynasty who ruled Morocco for over 100 years during the 16th and 17th centuries. Enclosed by its honey-gold ramparts, the fortified town bears a remarkable resemblance to Morocco’s fourth largest city, earning it the nickname ‘Little Marrakesh’.
But looks are just about the only thing Taroudant has in common with Marrakesh. This walled town is far more relaxed, and Taroudant’s souks and squares – whilst still colourful and alive with commercial fervour – are more laid back than those of Marrakesh, making a leisurely stroll through the historic medina much more of a relaxing experience. Come to Taroudant also for a fascinating glimpse into local Berber life that hasn’t been affected (too much) by tourism, or use the city as a base for trekking in the nearby Jbel Aoulime: home to remote Berber villages and dozens of waterfalls.
Tempted to give this beautiful part of the world a visit? Check out our range of small group adventures in Morocco.