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If you’re planning a winter vacation but don’t want to pay the premium for hot ski spots, Christmas markets, or mountain-top chalets, head to North Africa. Morocco is a beautiful and uniquely eye-catching country that has a fascinating mix of African, Arab, and European cultures. From gorgeous mosques to delicious tajine, it’s a memorable and affordable spot that’s perfect for anyone who wants to beat the crowds – and weather – during the winter months.
Beat the seasonal blues.
Morocco’s arid desert climate and close proximity to the coast provide mild, pleasant winters that are a lovely break from the country’s 40+ degree summer temperatures. Its geographic location also means that they can enjoy longer days during the season than many European countries. Whether you want to go for a trek in the desert or a stroll around the souks, you won’t have to worry about weather extremes in any direction.
Capitalize on low shop prices.
When it comes to shopping, you’re in for an experience unlike any other if you head to the shops in Marrakech. In the old town, or Medina, the shops are organized as a massive outdoor market made up of connected booths, kiosks, and constructed open-air storefronts. Walking through the labyrinth of energetic, clamoring vendors can be overwhelming but it’s an experience in and of itself. If you’re equipped with sharp haggling skills, you’ll easily find some deals. Regardless of whether you want to negotiate – which I would recommend, because the shopkeepers will literally question you if you don’t counter offer – you’ll still likely find prices that rival anywhere in Europe or North America. The souks are a great place to find all types of goods from clothes to jewelry to household items. Of course, you can also find a wide array of genuine rugs, leather, and hand-painted ceramics – if you have the eye for it.
Enjoy winter dining without the chill.
What’s better in the winter than a hearty meal? You might not encounter any snow or otherwise inclement weather in Morocco, but you can still eat like you’re sitting in front of a fire. One of the region’s culinary claims to fame is tajine and you can easily find a meal for two for less than $6 USD. This savory dish is named after the cone-shaped pot it’s prepared in, and it usually features a mixture of slow-cooked meat, vegetables, and nuts. Many restaurants specialize in this dish, and offer more than 15 or 20 different varieties. The country is full of tasty vegetarian options, as well. If meat isn’t your thing, try a plate of couscous and harira. Whatever you decide to order, add a frothy mint tea for the full experience.
Take advantage of ample – and cheap – authentic lodging.
One of the most interesting aspects of a trip to Morocco is where you’ll sleep. Unless you decide to go for a standard western-style hotel or hostel, you’ll likely be staying at a riad. Riads are traditional Arabic-style homes, and the ones that are peppered through Morocco often keep the standard upholstery, furniture, fixtures, and even paint jobs. Many homes have three stories, with a roof terrace and floor-level courtyard. Temperatures at night are quite lower than during the day, but it’s still temperate enough in the winter to enjoy a drink on the roof or dinner outside. Covered in brightly colored tiling, tapestries, and vibrant artwork, they’re an attraction all on their own.
Plus, you can expect to get more for your money that you would in Europe, Australia, or even parts of Asia. For two nights of my stay in Marrakech, I stayed at a 3-story, 4-bedroom riad for less than $90/night. In the US, that might get me a single motel room in the suburbs of a major city. Aside from lodging costs, just about everything else is incredibly affordable for anyone who’s used to the dollar, euro, franc, or pound. From food to private transportation, you’ll pay a fraction of what you’d expect back home – even if you don’t haggle your way out of the “tourist tax.” If you’re battling holiday prices and want to still have enough money left for an excursion or some shopping, Morocco is a great alternative to Paris, New York, or Rome.
Experience a unique, multi-dimensional culture.
One of the best reasons to cross the southern continental border is to encounter a culture that is similar yet so different from your own. Molded by bits of Arab, Spanish, French, and English influences, Morocco combines a loosely western vibe with eastern customs and atmosphere. Since it’s an Islamic country, they recognize different holidays than in many other parts of the world. Additionally, Friday is their equivalent to Sunday and the call to prayer can be heard from the crack of dawn to sundown if you’re within reasonable distance to any mosque. You won’t see neighborhoods covered in stringed lights or the standard red and green decorations (aside from their national flag), but you can build memories through having a completely different holiday adventure.
While you might have originally been thinking about heading to Tokyo, NYC, or the Alps for your next winter break, consider escaping the wind and seasonal markups for a unique and exciting destination that’s sure to take your breath away. Book a camel ride through the Palm Groves, enjoy a round of shisha, or simply grab a seat and a cup of mint tea while watching the city pass by. You’re in for an unforgettable experience that you wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else.