Morocco is just 12 km from the Spanish southern coast and yet it feels a million miles away. All your senses tingle from the earthy, spicy smells to the vivid, flamboyant colors to the sounds of exotic birds and monkeys. There are the cosmopolitan areas where you can experience the hustle and bustle of the lively farmer's markets or you can enjoy a camel trek across isolated dunes that look more like moonscapes. That's what I love about Morocco; it is so full of contrasts.
For the responsible tourist getting to Morocco couldn't be easier. Catch a train from any major European city to Spain and then hop on the ferry to Casablanca.
There a plenty of green activities and a year round temperate climate. The people are very friendly and the food really varied and exciting with many organic and vegetarian options.
The geography of Morocco spans from majestic mountain ranges to sweeping coastlines to sprawling deserts. Staying in Morocco is very affordable with Moroccan guest houses commonly found throughout the country. Called 'Riads', many are on organic farms offering the responsible tourist a chance to really support the local Agri-economy.
There are many Tour operators that especially cater for nature lovers. You can participate in a 12 day Ornithological tour which boasts a comprehensive itinerary, giving you the opportunity to study an amazing variety of exotic birds seen nowhere else.
The official Moroccan tourist board promote Eco Tourism and they have compiled a guide entitled 'Responsible Tourism'.
In 2010, Morocco was one of six host countries chosen to lead the celebrations for Earth Day. Launched in 1970, Earth Day has taken place in many countries throughout the world and when Morocco was chosen to be a host, the government embraced the chance to highlight the efforts they've made to increase awareness of sustainability and Eco Tourism. On Earth Day, the Moroccan government proudly revealed their new 'National Charter for the Environment and Sustainable Development'.
This charter is the first in the Arab world and their goal is to achieve 42% of their energy needs through sustainable/renewable resources by 2020.
The capital city of Morocco is Rabat which is about an hour from Casablanca. It's a charming city with a thriving market contained within the city's fortress-walled medina. There's an abundance of locally produced and fresh food to be found and I particularly recommended the spices; cumin, paprika and coriander. This region is also famous for its saffron, considered by chefs to be the finest in the world and of course you must try tajine, a traditional stew that's rich, very spicy and typically Moroccan.
Rabat features some of Morocco's oldest monuments such as the elaborate mausoleum of Mohammed V, the ruins of the Chellah which are graced by resident storks and the ancient Hassan Tower.
The city of Meknes is less visited by tourists but worth a trip to see as it is a World Heritage site featuring massive tombs, gardens, lakes and beautiful mosques. Meknes is also famous for its olive groves, fruits farms and vineyards.
Formerly the capital, Fez Medina is now considered the spiritual centre of Morocco. It is peppered with many mosques, palaces and fountains. Venture outside to the village of Azrou and you'll be rewarded with the sight of oak and cork woods and a perfect spot for picnics on the summit of Ras Kharzouza. On the plateau beneath lies the home of the Berber Shepherds who welcome guests openly to their homes, keen to show travellers their unique way of life.
Another place I recommend seeing is, Merzouga a village in the Sahara Desert located on the edge of Erg Chebbi, where sand dunes reach up to 350m in height, that's taller than the Eiffel Tower! A popular activity here is camel trekking across the dunes which includes sleeping in tents under the stars. With little light pollution in the desert, visitors get a chance to see the night sky like they've never seen before.
For rock climbers a trip to the outstanding Todra Gorge is a must. It's up to 300 metres deep in places and by far the most spectacular in the country. There are many walking routes available catering for all different abilities.
The World Heritage site of Ait Benhadou is famous for being the backdrop to many films including Lawrence of Arabia. Here you can find some of the best conserved Kasbahs in Morocco.
Essaouira is a traditional fishing harbour and it offers a wide range of shopping in traditional souks and a good range of restaurants serving fresh seafood. You can also hire a camel or horse to explore the stunning beaches dotted along its vibrant coast line.
Marrakech is considered to be the gateway to Morocco; it is a lively city full of soul. Immerse yourself in this fascinating culture and sample the best Morocco has to offer. Historic sites worth seeing are the Saadian Tombs and the Badii Palace. Maison Tiskiwine and Musee de Marrakech are two renowned museums that are fascinating to explore. There are lovely gardens to see as well; Yves St Laurents Majorelle Gardens and the Agdal Gardens are two worth a special mention.
I also recommend taking a trip to nearby Toubkal National Park, it's just 40 minutes from Marrakech. There you can stay at the famous Dar Itrane Cultural Eco lodge, a trekking and cultural activities centre.
All in all, I think Morocco tries really hard to be greener and more appealing to the responsible tourist. The fact that it is easy to access from Europe for those who want to avoid air travel, makes this destination a really practical option. A visit to Morocco allows you to reduce your holiday carbon footprint, support organic farmers and contribute to the local economy.
Phot Flickr by DavidDennisPhotos