Bruce Marais writes about why there couldn’t be a better time to go to Morocco, Africa’s top tourist destination. And his photographs will make you want to hop on the next plane.

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Camels in the Merzouga, a town on the edge of the Sahara.

I remember, about 15 years ago, paging through a magazine and seeing ads for Moroccan tourism. There were pictures of camels and sand, shiny teapots and men wearing colourful jilabas. I held onto that picture of Morocco, not knowing that one day I would have a home there. I currently live between 3 places: Cape Town, New York and Casablanca.

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Tetouan, nicknamed the White Dove.. Photos by Bruce Marais.

As the years pass I’m getting to know Morocco very well, and it’s exciting to talk about the growth and positive changes taking place. Morocco is to Northern Africa what South Africa is to the other extreme of the continent: a business leader and refuge to those looking for opportunities. We could ultimately become the bookends of the African economy, holding the No. 1 and 2 slots of most-visited countries in Africa, but political relations between our countries have been strained.

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Chefchaouen, the so-called blue city.

every city is unique, a gem.

 

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Fruits and vegetables taste out of this world.

It was once difficult to get visas, and direct flights between Johannesburg and Casablanca were discontinued years ago, but icy relations between the two countries are beginning to thaw. Morocco recently reopened its embassy in Pretoria and appointed a new, dynamic ambassador, Youssef Amrani. The economic benefits will be immense.

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Casablanca is financial hub and home to the world’s second biggest mosque.

For anyone visiting Morocco, it’s hard to recommend must-sees, for every city is so unique. Casablanca is like Johannesburg, the financial hub. Marrakech is their Cape Town, the main tourist attraction. But then you have Tangier, very European and only 11 miles from Spain. Chefchaouen (the blue city), Rabat (the capital), Fez (an ancient city with the worlds oldest university), Essaouira and Agadir (both beautiful beach towns), Ouarzazette (the gateway city to the Sahara desert and the majestic Merzouga dunes), Meknes (the wine region) and so many more gems.

You always know it’s Friday when you smell the couscous wafting through the streets. Everyone goes home then for this traditional meal.
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The entrance to the oldest university in the world, in Fez.

Moroccan food is healthy and delicious with lots of vegan-friendly salads and meat is often cooked with fruits, much like we do in South Africa. Moroccan people are charming and incredibly generous.


The infrastructure has also improved dramatically in the last 20 years, boasting new highways, impressive bridges and also the first high-speed train in Africa, connecting Tangier in the north to Casablanca in the west. There is also still the overnight train from Marrakech to Tangier.

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The medina in Tangier has a beautiful history and was the haunt of many famous artists and writers, especially in the 50s and 60s..
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In Ouarzazate, the gateway to the Sahara.

“You are always welcome to bargain for a deal.”

 

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Many of the old medinas have stray cats. The locals always put food out for them, so they’re normally very friendly.
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For anyone who thinks Morocco is just desert, consider this view of Casablanca.

Shopping is great: stunning pottery, spices, teapots, handwoven rugs and tajines, to name a few. You can get a good scrub in any of the many hamams and finish it off with a sweet Moroccan mint tea.

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At the Menara Gardens in Marrakech, you have a gorgeous backdrop of the Atlas Mountains covered in snow and fringed wih palm trees.

It’s also a good value-for-money destination, where you are always welcome to bargain for a good deal. Moroccans take pride in their good haggling skills. So visit Morocco and encourage Moroccans to visit South Africa, and Africa gets to keep the tourist dollars.

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Dromedary camels, also known as the ships of the desert.