Morocco, a large country in North Africa, is full of intrigue and is always a feast for the senses.
Stretching all the way from the Mediterranean coastline in the north down to the heat of the Sahara desert in the south, the country boasts an impressive variety of landscapes and cultures.
While most international visitors tend to focus their attention on the winding Medina marketplaces of the country’s major cities, Marrakesh and Fes, Morocco’s real magic and lasting appeal is arguably better found in some of the lesser-trodden locations.
Morocco tourist attractions are therefore plenty and will make most types of travelers happy with this incredible destination.
One such area is the Atlantic coast and the mountainous interior of the southwest of the country.
A firm favourite with domestic tourists from Morocco’s ever-expanding middle classes, this area of the country remains a relative unknown for many foreign visitors.
However, with the constant building work and tourism infrastructure expansion currently taking place there (including the construction of many big names, international hotel chains), it is unlikely to stay that way for long – meaning now is the perfect time to discover this memorable part of the world.
Hidden Gems To Visit In Southwest Morocco
As you head south along Morocco’s western, Atlantic coast, moving past the heavy industrial areas that characterise much of the northern section, you arrive at the charming city of Essaouira.
Often featured as a backdrop for the big screen, the city stands proudly aside a natural, crescent-shaped sandy bay and boasts a traditional Medina (market area) and UNESCO World Heritage-listed Kasbah and coastal fortifications along with a lively bar and restaurant scene and world-class watersports.
Not just a highlight of Southwest Morocco, Essaouira should be high on the itinerary list of anyone visiting the country as a whole.
The city’s name ‘Essaouira’ literally translates as ‘the well designed’, derived from it being the only formally planned Medina layout of any city in Morocco.
This planning has created a pleasant and spacious area to explore, which is a far cry from the cramped and, at times, claustrophobic feel of the Marrakesh or Fes Medinas.
The Essaouira Medina also pleasingly has far less of the constant hassle and misinformation that can at times, unfortunately, follow visitors around those larger cities.
All this doesn’t compromise the shopping experience – the city remains a centre for handicrafts and still offers an authentic and atmospheric shopping experience for tourists – just how you’d expect Morocco to be, only nicer than the larger cities.
Essaouira also has a reputation for being more liberal and open to foreign influences than some of the more conservative areas of the country.
Expect to find fully licensed and hip beachfront and rooftop bars sitting alongside more traditional tea shops and market stalls.
A prevalence of art galleries amongst the old town only adds to this pleasant, somewhat bohemian vibe.
If looking to stay in the heart of the old town, Palazzo Desdemona occupies a historic building and offers beautiful rooms full of antique charm, as well as a roof terrace to relax on with sea views.
Walking outside of the walled, old city brings you first to an atmospheric and still working fishing port that is bustling and great for photos.
Beyond the port sits the long, sandy bay – perfect for relaxing on or having a go at some watersports.
As well as surfing, the consistent Atlantic trade winds have made the city an international magnet for kitesurfing.
Several companies offer equipment hire and lessons for anyone wanting to give it a go.
There is even an inland lagoon for beginners to hone their skills on before braving the Atlantic waves.
Lastly, at the far end of the beach sit a line of beachfront restaurants, the pick of which is the excellent Ocean Vagabond.
With a range of outside tables with unobstructed views of the sea, the restaurant offers a full food and bar menu and sometimes features live music.
The area around the restaurant also serves as the starting point for horse or camel rides along the beach, ensuring a steady procession of these wonderful animals to admire.
Essaouira really is ‘Morocco in a nutshell, so it should be high on anyone’s list of places to see when visiting the country.
Following the coast south from Essaouira brings you towards the city of Agadir.
Before you get there, though, you first arrive at the charming town of Taghazout.
Once a sleepy little fishing village, the town has gained fame in recent years as the epicentre for surfing in Morocco.
It all started in the early 2000s with the opening of Surf Maroc, a surfing and yoga retreat and guesthouse, which remains a great place to stay or seek surfing instruction.
The success of this outfit has given rise to many other surf-related guesthouses and hire shops, giving the town a cool, laid back vibe with plenty of international influences.
Despite this, the town still retains its traditional fishing market, there to service the assortment of small barbecue stallholders and ensuring that plenty of quaint charm remains.
The town sits next to a large, attractive sandy beach and boasts year-round sunshine, adding to its appeal.
As well as the surfing beach break found here, the surrounding area includes several other locations that offer a range of surf conditions to suit surfers of all abilities.
Although the main draw of Taghazout is undoubtedly the selection of surf and yoga guesthouses, those with no interest in these will still enjoy soaking up the town’s unique vibe with a mint tea or even a camel ride along the beach.
This charm has brought several large international hotel chains to town, with construction all around, so don’t wait too long to visit, or it could have changed forever.
Ignoring the larger and somewhat brasher coastal towns along the way, continuing further south eventually brings you to the interesting town of Sidi Ifni, in Morocco’s deep southwest.
Still, under Spanish rule until as recently as the 1950s, the crumbling art deco buildings of the old town are a real treat for anyone with an interest in colonial or historic architecture.
The main buildings of interest are clustered around the Place Hassan II square, including an old cinema and town hall, all constructed in an art deco style and completely different to anything that you’ll find anywhere else nearby.
It comes as a real surprise.
The town retains a fairly old-fashioned character, however, so don’t expect to find many (if any) licensed premises in town, with standards of dress for women, in particular, also very conservative.
As well as this unusual collection of crumbling colonial-era buildings, the town also has several pleasant sandy beaches in the surrounding vicinity.
Its position so far south ensures a warm and sunny climate to enjoy all year round.
The pick of these beaches is arguably at nearby Legzira.
A favourite with paragliders who descend from the cliff tops down onto the beach, the sandy beach features an attractive natural sea arch feature, as well as a few cute, beachfront cafes to relax in.
Heading any further south along the coast from Sidi Ifni would bring you towards the disputed territory of Western Sahara so, rather than cling to the coast any longer, to experience all that this region of Southwest Morocco has to offer, I’d instead suggest moving slightly inland towards the mountains.
Although many might only think of the High Atlas mountains when considering mountains in Morocco, to the south of these sit their ‘little brother’, the Anti Atlas mountains.
Although admittedly not as high as their namesakes to the north, the Anti Atlas mountains are no less impressive.
Twisting, striped sedimentary rocks and seemingly endless red granite boulders characterise the landscape, giving it a truly otherworldly feel.
The lack of visitors (or people in general) also ensures that it is never hard to achieve a feeling of real isolation if desired.
At times, when driving through, it feels as if you could be on the surface of Mars!
Sitting proudly at the centre of these mountains is the historic trading and oasis town of Tafraoute.
With pleasant palm-lined streets, it comes as a stark contrast to the barren landscape all around.
It makes the perfect base for exploring the area, which is perfect for lovers of outdoor pursuits like trekking, climbing, or biking, with several outfits in town set up to cater for this trade.
If that all sounds too energetic, a great place to stay, eat and relax is the beautiful Auberge Kasbah Chez Amaliya.
This charming guesthouse and restaurant, with a swimming pool, is overlooked by an impressive rock feature known as the ‘lions head’, visible in the cliff face high above.
If visiting Tafraoute, be sure to take a short drive out to the nearby ‘painted rocks’.
This slightly bonkers collection of brightly painted boulders occupies a surprisingly large area of wilderness outside of town.
The large boulders were originally painted by a Belgian artist in predominantly blue, but also a variety of other bright colours (and have been repainted periodically by locals ever since).
It’s unlike anything else you’re likely to see anywhere else in the world, so it shouldn’t be missed.
Getting to Southwest Morocco
Morocco is home to several international airports.
The best positioned for the southwest of the country is at Agadir, although the airport that is more useful and serves the most locations globally is at Marrakesh.
From Marrakesh, it is easy to take a bus to get to Essaouira.
Although limited public transport options do exist to some of the other locations featured, you will find it far easier to have or hire a car of your own.
Don’t let the thought of this worry you – admittedly, the driving conditions can be pretty insane inside the very centre of the larger cities, but outside of these, the roads are pretty straightforward and easy to follow and really are nothing to fear.
Because of its isolated mountain location, Tafraoute takes longer to get to than the towns that hug the coast, but the landscapes on the way ensure that you will be rewarded with a truly unforgettable drive.
The land borders between Morocco and neighbouring Algeria are all closed for overland traveling, and the only way to travel between the two countries are by flying.
Elsewhere in Morocco
Morocco, for the most part, is a beautiful, welcoming and varied country, full of colour and surprises all around.
The region of the southwest was a real favourite of ours when we visited but was, by no means, the only highlight of our trip.
Besides the well-visited larger cities (that mix both magic and irritation in sometimes equal measures for their tourists), some of the other particularly unforgettable experiences for us were riding camels to a Saharan desert camp in Merzouga and visiting the beautiful blue city of Chefchaouen in the northern Rif mountains.
Morocco is a country packed full of sights, sounds and smells to delight the senses. It makes for a fun and culturally interesting place to visit at any time.
While the majority of foreign visitors congregate around the traditional Medina markets of the larger cities, there is so much more to see elsewhere.
One region of the country that really stuck with us was the southwest.
Packed full of hidden gems to discover, from beaches to mountains to deserts, taking the time to explore this area makes for a truly great adventure.
About the Author
This article has been contributed by Rachel from Children of Wanderlust, a family travel and parenting blog.
She last visited Morocco back in January 2020, touring the country for a month in her vintage motorhome with her husband and 3 young children.