In Morocco, it’s easy to find a place to stay that feels like something out of an “Arabian Nights” fantasy. You might find yourself sleeping one night in a feudal kasbah in the spectacular High Atlas Mountains, and the next night amid fountains and mosaics in a traditional riad in the Marrakesh medina. You can even camp under the stars on the dunes of the Sahara Desert.
It’s almost impossible to travel in Morocco without staying in a riad — and why would you want to? These traditional guesthouses, many of them older buildings that have been carefully restored, offer the type of charm and atmosphere that you can’t find at a chain hotel.
The word “riad” (also spelled “ryad”) means “garden,” and reflects a typically Moroccan style of architecture in which the house is built around an interior garden courtyard. You’ll also see the word “dar,” which means “house,” in the names of many Moroccan guesthouses. The terms are used interchangeably in most instances.
Most riads only have a handful of rooms, arranged on several levels around the courtyard. They’re exquisitely decorated with colorful mosaics and ornate woodwork, and many have rooftop terraces with incredible medina views. A select few have small swimming pools. Breakfast is often included and may be served in the courtyard or on the roof (when weather permits). Many riads are located in city medinas, a convenient location for travelers looking to explore the historic section of town, but this can also make them difficult to find amid a maze of twisting alleyways.
Riads can be lavish and luxurious (with a price tag to match), but many are surprisingly affordable, especially thanks to a favorable exchange rate between most Western currencies and the Moroccan dirham. Be sure to read reviews of any property before you stay, especially the less expensive ones, as the quality of service and attention to detail does vary.
A few caveats: Many riads do not have elevators, and some that are located deep in the medina can be reached only on foot — so they may not be the best option for travelers with physical challenges. The unique courtyard design is surprisingly effective in keeping buildings cool, but some guests may be bothered by the lack of air conditioning in many riads. Finally, sound often carries easily between rooms, so pack a pair of earplugs if you’re sensitive to noise.
Morocco has its share of modern hotels, many located in the newer parts of major cities outside the medina walls. While they may lack the charm of many riads, these hotels are ideal for those seeking conveniences such as air conditioning, elevators, Wi-Fi and fitness centers.
You’ll see familiar international brands in Morocco such as Sofitel, Four Seasons, Hyatt, Best Western and Ibis, but you may also want to check out locally owned chains such as Kenzi and Atlas, both offering mid-priced lodging in various locations across the country.
Some but not all hotels are rated by the government; though the ratings can be a bit erratic, you can generally expect properties with four or five stars to have amenities such as restaurants, pools, room service, air conditioning and facilities for the disabled. Budget one-star properties may have shared bathrooms and small, basic rooms. As with riads, it’s vital to read reviews in advance.
Aside from city hotels, Morocco also has its share of beach resorts along the coast. Some of these can be impressively opulent, such as the Mazagan Beach & Golf Resort in El Jadida (near Casablanca). Here you’ll find Morocco’s largest casino, an 18-hole golf course, a private beach, multiple pools and sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean.
Morocco Kasbahs and Desert Camps
Morocco’s remote mountains and deserts are the settings for some of the most spectacular lodging the country has to offer. The most famous of Morocco’s several kasbah hotels is Kasbah du Toubkal, a retreat in the Atlas Mountains that was once the home of a feudal Berber chief. Today it’s a popular spot for travelers seeking pristine scenery and a base for hiking to Berber villages.
Equally stunning is the Richard Branson-owned Kasbah Tamadot, also in the High Atlas. This luxury retreat has 27 individually decorated rooms and offers a variety of activities including cooking classes, spa treatments, hiking and mule trekking.
Another option for a remote escape is to camp — or “glamp” — in the desert. Near Zagora in the southern part of the country, Erg Chigaga Luxury Desert Camp offers the latter, with spacious tents equipped with private toilets, king-size beds and solar-powered lighting.
If you’re looking to rough it a bit more, consider a camel trek with camping under the stars. While several hotels in desert locales can help you arrange a shorter trek, Complete Morocco offers a five- or six-day option that features walking through the desert by day (with camels to carry your bags) and sleeping in small tents at night.
Morocco Vacation Rentals
Vacation rentals are ideal for groups, families or travelers who enjoy having a little extra space and/or preparing their own meals. Morocco’s rental properties include urban apartments, spacious villas and even entire riads. They can be as basic as a simple room in someone’s home or as opulent as the Villa Taj Omayma, a 16-room luxury home in Marrakesh that boasts a swimming pool and landscaped grounds with views of the Atlas Mountains.
With so much variation, it’s important to check ahead of time for amenities that are important to you. Is Wi-Fi available? What about air conditioning, TV or a dishwasher? Also, be sure you know how to get in touch with the owner or caretaker if something goes wrong during your stay. If the owner isn’t responsive to questions in advance, consider whether he or she will adequately attend to any problems that might crop up while you’re actually there.
Morocco’s hostels are the best alternative for travelers seeking budget accommodations — and don’t worry, they often have private rooms, sometimes even private ensuite rooms, if you’re long past the age of bedding down in a dorm with seven or eight other people.
Hostelling International operates about half a dozen properties in Morocco’s major cities, including Marrakesh, Fez, Casablanca and Rabat. HI hostels hold themselves to high standards of cleanliness and security, and offer discounted prices for members. However, they’re just a few compared to the many independently owned hostels across the country, many of which also offer clean, basic rooms and friendly fellow travelers. Use the websites below to find them, and remember: read the reviews!
–written by Sarah Schlichter
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