I have always loved, and will always love, holidays in Europe. You really do have everything—mountains, beautiful coastline, sun, snow, rivers, vibrant cities, varieties of culture. But European holidays, especially for a Brit, are no longer what they once were. Visiting Berlin in 2015, I exchanged pounds to euros when the exchange was really at its peak: 1.4409. If you exchanged £300, you could get €430 back. At the time, this seemed normal—and European holidays (to countries that do use the Euro, that is) were cheap because of it. In 2019, the exchange rate is averaging out at a dismal 1.147. Especially if you’re travelling to countries that aren’t much cheaper, expenses-wise, like Germany or the Netherlands, you’re likely to be spending a lot more on your holiday now than you would a few years ago. All this, of course, has to do with Brexit, which is making European travel more uncertain for Brits. Nothing has really been made clear about the rights Brits will continue to enjoy, or lose, once Britain has left the European Union. So, 2019 could be the year of decreased holidays to Europe for Brits, and in terms of alternative holiday options, Morocco is a great choice.
When I was preparing to go to Morocco, there was a lot I was worried about. How different would it be to the countries I’m used to? Will it be expensive? Will I really enjoy it? My first port of call was reviews from other travellers, who all lauded the inexpensive of the country. £1 will get you 12 Moroccan Dirham, and though the currency is only available in Morocco (unlike Euros, which always seemed practical because you could exchange a lot and use them for holidays in different countries), this rate means everything in the country ends up being so much cheaper than in the UK. An average lunch would cost you maybe 70-90 dirhams, depending on your choice of drinks or dishes—between £5.80 and £7.50. And these were ‘established’ cafes and restaurants—to eat in the souks in Marrakech was substantially cheaper, perhaps 40 dirhams for a vegetable tagine (£3.30). With the food so cheap, for four days it felt like I was living like a queen, choosing the more expensive options for drinks or desserts because they were, in fact, not that expensive.
Another aspect to holidaying in Morocco that I hadn’t expected when I first booked to go, was the sheer variety of culture, activities, and scenery. From Marrakech, you can be in the Atlas Mountains in just over an hour, where you can visit untouched-by-tourism Berber villages, go camel riding, and see the highest mountain in North Africa, Mount Toubkal. If I’d had an extra day in Marrakech, it would also have been possible to take a day trip to the coast; Essaouira and Agadir are both popular beach destinations only about an hour outside Marrakech. In the north of Morocco, the more cosmopolitan Casablanca is infamous for its inclusion in Hollywood movies, but also contains much more to draw tourists. When I left Marrakech, the plane flew directly over Casablanca and, not far down the coast, the capital Rabat, their dense urban landscapes visible even from this far away.
It’s this diversity that makes a trip to Morocco worth it. Granted, it is a large country—bigger even than Spain—but I doubt that many travellers know how much of a varied landscape the country offers. I know that I thought, as the plane passed over the Algarve and into Morocco and the view outside the window passed from the blue of the sea to the beige of the desert, that I would feel trapped in a sandy landscape, no way to escape the dust and heat. But with the Atlas Mountains so close—closer even than the nearest mountain ranges from my home in the north of England—there’s easily places to escape to if the desert climate isn’t for you. The rooftop terraces of the cities also provide a welcome respite from the hectic urbanity below, almost as if you’re on a beach in the Algarve, minus all the tourists. In the middle of March, temperatures were already reaching almost 30 degrees, a high you wouldn’t normally expect in the peak of summer in England. It was entirely possible to spend the entirety of the trip in our little hotel, if we wanted to—we had food available, a spa, roof terrace, and pool, as well as thoughtfully provided board games. If all you’re after is a relaxing, sunny, cheap holiday, of course you could get a villa in Spain; or, you could combine your holiday with seeing a country so very different from anywhere in Europe.
While I really believe in travelling alone, and would recommend any one take a trip on their own at some point in their life, Morocco (or, at least, Marrakech) isn’t the place to do it, especially not as a woman. Travelling with my partner, it felt like I was protected from the stares of the men in the souk, a bodyguard always right behind me. But I witnessed Moroccan men ogling at groups of girls—a mother with her two daughters—muttering ‘beautiful’ under their breath and craning their heads to watch them as they walked past. With its Islamic tradition, Morocco just isn’t the place for a solo female traveller, not unless you’re well accustomed to shrugging off unwanted male attention. And though I never felt unsafe in Marrakech—there was always something going on, someone around—the Medina isn’t somewhere I would have wanted to be wandering alone at night.
So while I will still be visiting Europe this year—there’s still so much of it I haven’t seen that it will always remain my top travel destination—it might be time to explore countries and cities a little more off the beaten track. Morocco offers it all—amazing food, sun, culture, landscape. If you haven’t already experienced this vibrant country, now is the time.