Top 5 Coastal Towns In Morocco
Sunday, November 18, 2012
Spain still has the monopoly on coastlines blighted by ruinous tourism development, but Morocco, just a ferry-ride away, is still largely untouched.
Aside from Agadir and its package holiday resorts, Morocco’s coastline harbors many intriguing settlements. Some of these have long been on the independent traveler’s radar, but some have hardly been explored at all.
Given the country’s diverse interior geography, it should come as no surprise to find out that its almost 1,200 miles of coastline exhibits a similar diversity.
So what are you waiting for? Dive in and choose the spot that suits you best.
1) Al Hoceima
This Berber port town has it all: isolated beaches, nearby hiking in the Rif Mountains and a remarkably friendly population. Due to its location on the east side of a small promontory, it enjoys glorious sunrises over its shimmering share of the Alboran Sea, a part of the Mediterranean.
Developed by the Spanish during the colonial era of the early to mid-20th century, the town hugs its coastline tightly, overlooking a precipitous drop to its port and town beach. Its center is an organized grid of inspired colonial architecture, which will keep you occupied for an evening, but it’s the captivating natural beauty of the surrounding area which will provide the most interest.
Of the numerous nearby beaches, the Plage Asfiha stands out. Easily reached by taxi, this stretch of golden sand is technically about 160 feet from Spain. Morocco’s northern neighbor claims three small islands here, a relic of its colonial ambitions and a much disputed geopolitical issue. Enjoy an afternoon here before walking back through the hills for some spectacular views.
The town is now easily reachable by a recently constructed coastal highway running east from the popular tourist towns of Tetouan and Chefchaouen. Alternatively, you can try the ferry route from Almería in Spain.
A truly unfrequented destination, Larache was the main port for the Spanish in northern Morocco. Like Al Hoceima, it boasts characteristic colonial architecture, though with more of a variety of styles. From Portuguese forts to the unique look of the municipal souk, these attractive constructions are largely centered on the main roundabout that links the old town, the coast and the modern town.
Apart from being able to lose yourself in a genuine Moroccan medina without the accompanying hassle from tourist touts, Larache possesses a stretch of wild Atlantic coast across the river Loukkos. Getting there is as much fun as the beach itself. On sunny days, the competition with families to get a space on the many overcrowded dinghies that ply the route can be fierce.
A bus ride away lie the humble ruins of Lixus, a Roman settlement with a small amphitheater and proof that this region of Morocco was once popular with visiting Europeans.
In typically Spanish style, Larache’s inhabitants congregate en masse in the city’s streets for the paseo, or evening stroll, making the town an agreeable and pleasant place to spend a few days.
It may not be relaxing, it may not even be pretty, but Tangier is a must-see for any visitor to Morocco. An utterly convoluted recent history places this coastal enigma in a league of its own, and offers the discerning traveler an opportunity to delve deep into a past forever tied to the sea.
Its location on the Strait of Gibraltar and the meeting point of ocean and sea give Tangier its importance. The inspiration for Casablanca, Tangier was subject to a complex experiment in international cooperation, which led to the city acquiring an unscrupulous reputation.
Crumbling mansions and theaters, villas and consulates all played host to these intrigues, and now offer the visitor an enchanting maze of streets to explore.
Of course its inhabitants were profoundly affected by this international attention, but one lasting legacy is the unhurried cosmopolitanism of the city. Locals will greet you in a surprising range of languages.
Though thoroughly neglected following independence in 1956, Tangier has recently become the focus of significant investment, both foreign and domestic. This has led to a broad development of its infrastructure, and the making of a memorable destination from which to contemplate the sea.
By now a well-known destination for visitors to Morocco, Essaouira is a fortified fishing town due west of Marrakech. Its proximity to that metropolis makes it the most accessible destination on this list.
Battered and eroded by Atlantic swells for centuries, the town has a worn but defiant appearance. As an example of impeccable naval defensive design it is unparalleled, but its attraction extend far beyond such impersonal details. An active artistic community, expatriate and local lends an genuinely creative spirit to the narrow lanes and alleys of the medina. With abundant galleries and art shops to stumble across, Essaouira is inspiring yet undemanding.
To fill your day you could ride south along the beach, around the bay to the mouth of the Oued Ksob to enjoy the simple power of the ocean with Mogador Island in plain view.
In the evening, as the wind blusters overhead and the unassuming fish stalls near the port prepare their delicious snacks, you will quickly understand the town’s enduring appeal.
5) Sidi Ifni
Surely one of the most singular and curious little towns on the planet, Sidi Ifni is an eternally laid-back remnant of Spanish colonialism situated on the violent Atlantic coast of southern Morocco. Almost entirely constructed during a 30-year period in the early 20th century, it features a number of exceptionally interesting buildings, from a former naval academy in the shape of a ship to a central square with some distinctive Art Deco design. Ifni’s curiously empty streets have the feel of a town lost.
With time, however, you’ll find a population of affable fishermen and Berber musicians, a couple of great restaurants (Cafe Nomad and the Suerte Loca Hotel), and even some comfortable bars. Days can be spent hiking the hills that surround the town, lazing on the town’s spotless beach or even taking a stroll around the ruins of a zoo once built for the families of Spanish soldiers stationed in the zone.
Nearby excursions include the obscure mausoleum of Sidi Ouarsik and a rusting cargo vessel shipwrecked on the beach. For the more active traveler, the renowned beach of Mirleft and its accompanying surfing community are well within reach.
If you visit during the summer, a haunting Atlantic mist will be one of your abiding memories. Visit in winter, however, and you may be surprised to see dozens of French retirees with their camper vans on the beach. Ifni has long been a quiet destination for independent travelers in the know, but it’s still a relatively well-kept secret. Experience it while you can.
By Aidan McMahon
[Vue de Sidi Ifni by Hugues/Flickr; Remaining photos via the author]
About the Author
Aidan McMahon is an aspiring filmmaker and likes languages, history and cheap hotels. Browse his city itineraries at UnAnchor.com.