Under Moroccan Sun Blog
Each year, competitors from more than 30 countries around the world come to Morocco for the grueling Marathon des Sables, an ultra-marathon race that take 6 days and covers over 250 km through the Saharan desert landscapes of dunes, rocky climbs, and salt plains. Temperatures can reach over 50 degrees Celsius. Athletes must be highly self-sufficient, carrying their food, supplies, and gear throughout the race. Water is rationed, and those exceeding their allotment are charged a time penalty. The race takes place in 5 different stages, and Berber tents are pitched every night for the athletes to rest and recuperate. The MdS attracts around 1100 amateur and elite competitors, many whom are forced by fatigue and injury to abandon their efforts prior to completing the race. In support of the MdS are over 55 medical providers, 130 volunteers on the course itself, 120 all-terrain vehicles, 2 helicopters, and a Cessna plane. The 2016 MdS was won by Moroccan, Rachid El Morabity, in just over 21 hours total race time. This year’s race, the 32nd annual race, and festivities are from April 7th – 14th.
Henna is a flowering shrub, native to the Mediterranean regions. For thousands of years, its leaves have been dried, ground, and formed into pastes and then used to dye skin, hair, and fingernails, as well as fabrics like wool, silk, or leather. It's fairly certain that henna was developed in northern Africa and later introduced to Asia and India. In Morocco, the use of henna is traced back to the Berber culture.
Henna is not simply an adornment or alternative to permanent tattoos. In Moroccan tradition, henna worn on the body provides good luck and joy, as well as protection from illness or from the evil eye. It was and is often used in many celebration rituals including marriage, circumcision, and the Eid-al-Adha, for example.
Henna designs range from simple floral or geometrical patterns on a single body part, to much more intricate and elaborate patterns that extend from the extremities down the limbs. Based on the region of Morocco, designs vary as well. In the north, it is common for henna to be elaborate patterns of intertwining leaves, for example. In the south, henna is often layered over the fingertips, and on the entire palm of the hand or soles of the feet.
Many tourists enjoy experiencing a henna tattoo as part of their culture immersion. Your guide can assist in identifying a local person who specializes in this art. Tourists are encouraged to avoid "black henna" (which is not necessarily derived from the henna plant) because the dye may cause skin irritation and can contain harmful additives. Always opt for traditional henna, in which the paste is made simply from the ground leaves mixed with water, tea, or lemon juice (and sometimes sugar). Henna tattoos can last from days to a couple of weeks, depending on the skin type, duration of time the paste is left on the skin, and potency of the henna leaves (which can vary by the season).
Most travelers know that understanding or using a few native phrases can greatly enhance one's experience in a foreign country. So what should visitors to Morocco know about its native languages?
There are actually many languages being used in Morocco!
- Darija - the Moroccan dialect of Arabic, and the most widely spoken language. We include a couple of common phrases for visitors to try below:
- Salam alikum - Hello/Peace be upon you (general greeting)
- Labas alik - How are you?
- Afak - Please
- Shokran - Thank you
- Standard Arabic - most Moroccans understand this form of Arabic, which is spoke and written throughout much of the Middle East and North Africa. In general, Arabic television programs use Modern Standard Arabic
- Hassaniyya Arabic - spoken by over 40,000 inhabitants of Southern Morocco, this form of Arabic is also known as Moor
- Judeo-Moroccan Arabic - spoken by about 9,000 inhabitants in small, conscribed areas of the country
- Spanish, French, and English - Previously under control by Spain and France, Morocco has cultural and linguistic influences from these countries. Many Moroccans are fluent in Spanish and/or French, and a growing number are also becoming fluent in English.
- Berber dialects
- Tachelhit - this is a Berber dialect spoken by 3-4 million Moroccans
- Central Atlas Tamazight - another Berber dialect spoken by around 3 million Moroccans
- Tarifit - another Berber dialect spoken by around 1.5 million Moroccans
- There are also extinct Berber dialects such as Ghomara and Senhaja de Srair
UNESCO is the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization and among its missions is to catalogue and preserve sites of cultural or natural importance and, in their words, have “outstanding universal value…irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration”. Worldwide, over 1000 places have earned status as World Heritage Sites through a rigorous selection process.
How many UNESCO World Heritage Sites does Morocco have? NINE!
- The archaeological site of Volubilis
- The historic city of Meknes
- Ksar Ait-Ben-Haddou
- The Medina of Essouira (formerly Mogador)
- Medina of Fes
- Medina of Marrakech
- Medina of Tetouan (formerly Titawin)
- El Jadida (Portuguese City of Mazagan)
Morocco also has the following places on the “Tentative List” of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which means that they are being considered for nomination at this stage:
- Moulay Idriss Zerhoun
- Taza et la Grande Mosquee
- Mosquee de Tinmel
- Ville de Lixus
- El Gour
- Grotte de Taforalt
- Parc naturel de Talassemtane
- Aire du Dragonnier Aigal
- Lagune de Khnifiss
- Parc National de Dakhla
- Oasis de Figuig
To learn more about any of these amazing places, visit the UNESCO World Heritage website at http://whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/ma
What is Ramadan?
Islam uses a lunar calendar, meaning that each month begins with the sighting of the new moon. The lunar calendar is about 11 days shorter than the solar calendar, which is why the Islamic holidays "move" dates each year. Ramadan is the 9th months of the Islamic calendar. In 2015, Ramadan begins at sundown on June 18th. Ramadan refers to a "month of blessing" that includes prayer, fasting, and charitable contributions. Ramadan is the month in which the Quran was first revealed to Muhammad. Ramadan focuses on self-sacrifice and devotion to Allah (God). It's a time to made amends, to strengthen bonds in relationships, and to eliminate bad habits.
Fasting is one of the Five Pillars (duties) of Islam. Fasting serves many purposes: it reminds us of the suffering of the poor, and it's a chance to exercise self-discipline and to cleanse the body and mind. In this most sacred month of Ramadan, fasting helps Muslims feel the peace that comes from spiritual devotion and kinship with fellow believers. Starting in early adolescence, Muslims engage in fasting for the entire month of Ramadan. While fasting, Muslims may not eat or drink anything, including water, while the sun is up. Families wake early for a meal eaten before the sun rises. After sunset, the fast is again broken with a meal known as iftar, which typically begins with dates and milk or other sweet beverages. During Ramadan in the Muslim world (including Morocco), many restaurants, cafes, and shops are closed during the daylight and are instead open late into the night. If you are visiting Morocco during Ramadan, you will still be able to dine at the times you prefer, as tourism is a mainstay of the economy and plenty of restaurants do remain open. In fact, visiting Morocco during Ramadan will provide a unique opportunity to experience Muslim culture.
Ramadan conclude with the festival of Eid al-Fitr (July 17, 2015), which is a 3-day celebration ending the fast. Eid al-Fitr is on of the two most important Islamic celebrations and is a time in which people dress in their finest clothes, adorn their homes with lights and decorations, give sweets or treats to children, and enjoy visits with family and friends. Charity and good deeds are always important in Islam, but they take on special significance at the end of Ramadan when many of the faith share their blessings by feeding the poor and making contributions to mosques.
Touring Morocco is not just about the sites you visit but also where you rest and relax between destinations. What better way to experience authentic Morocco than by staying in some of its many riads. But what is a riad, and why stay there? The term riad comes from an old Arabic word referring to a garden. Riads are traditionally private homes, or even small palaces, within the walled medinas that are designed around a central, open-air courtyard decorated by ornamental and scented trees or plants, fountains, or even pools. Many riads have been restored in keeping with Moroccan techniques and design to offer modern amenities that equal the comforts of 4 and 5-star hotels. Although a riad may be steps away from the hustle and bustle of the medina sites, they offer a tranquil haven for their patrons.
On the riad’s first floor, there is typically an entryway, reception area, and comfortable salons to gather in and relax. The second floor features the bedrooms suites with windows and/or mezzanine walkways overlooking the interior courtyard below. Unlike the chain hotels, each bedroom is a unique size and shape with its own distinctive décor. Above, on the third floor, is typically a terrace overlooking the skyline and scenery, often with comfortable seating, shaded areas, and rooftop gardens.
Many of Morocco’s riads are quite historic, featuring unrivaled craftsmanship. Be it ornate zellij tilework, carved plaster, architectural delights, or décor, riads are an outstanding alternative to traditional hotels. Riads offer all the modern amenities (some even equipped with spas, Jacuzzis, etc.) and comforts while simultaneously providing a more authentic, private, and personal experience.
Aside from the unique accommodations themselves, riads also offer attentive and personable service that exudes Moroccan hospitality. Guests are often greeted by the riad’s owner or manager and offered mint tea and light snacks upon arrival, for example. Many of the riads also provide your meals, deliciously prepared in their own kitchen and served in the intimate setting of the courtyard or on the terrace.
Under Moroccan Sun is proud to have well-established relationships with many riads across the country, and we’d be delighted to select accommodations to suit your tour group's size and budget. If you are looking for a true cultural experience, choose a riad for an unforgettable sojourn!
- Rich History - The history of Morocco has been influenced by the indiginous Berbers and many diverse cultures in Africa and Europe over the centuries. Where else can you visit ancient Kasbahs, Roman ruins, royal palaces, and mosques?
- Diverse Landscapes - Morocco offers the perfect opportunity to see diverse landscapes from the snow-capped Atlas Mountains, to the breath-taking dunes of the Sahara, to the towering gorges, and beautiful beaches of both the Atlantic and Mediterranian coastlines. It's a feast for the eyes.
- Unforgettable Cities - Marrakech, Fes, Tangier, Casablanca, Rabat... Morocco's cities are unique and diverse, awaiting your exploration. Fragrant gardens, lively markets, peaceful parks, winding alleys, and street performers will make every turn an adventure.
- Delectable Cuisine - Because of its important place in the spice trade route, Moroccan food is known for its unique flavors and colors. Experience the ubiquitous mint tea, couscous, tagines, dates, olives... and wonderful infusions of seasonings like saffron, cumin, cinnamon, and cilantro.
- Hospitable Culture - Moroccans are known for their tolerance/openness and kind hospitality, which is extended to tourists with warmth and welcome...and plenty of mint tea!
- Interesting Architecture and Decor - Archways, courtyards, ornate caligraphy, intricate mosaic tilework, and colorful carpets typify Morocco and transport you to another world.
- Exciting Shopping - The souks (markets) of Morocco are brimming with exquisite handmade items of all variety from jewelry to textiles, from leather goods to spices. Even if you're not planning to buy, the bustling and colorful sites make a walk in the souk a quintessential Moroccan experience.
- Fun Festivals - Morocco hosts many festivals such as the Rose Festival, Marrakech International Film Festival, Erfoud Date Festival, the World Sacred Music Festival, or the Imichil Marriage Festival. Each offers the opportunity to experience a new facet of Morocco from ancient to modern.
- Relaxing Cafes - The sights and sounds of Morocco can often be enjoyed while relaxing in an outdoor or rooftop cafe. Watch the action in Jemaa El Fna, hear the Muslim call to prayer emanating from a local mosque, or simply observe the locals on a typical Moroccan day.
- Undeniable Value and Convenience - Morocco can be enjoyed by travelers with budgets from modest to luxurious. Under Moroccan Sun will help you formulate an itinerary that suits your interests and respects your budget. It may feel like you're worlds away, but Morocco is very accessible! It's only a quick hop away from Europe by flight or ferry, and travelers from the US can reach Morocco even by direct flights (such as New York to Casablanca) in a mere 6 hours.