Morocco is a land of contrasting landscapes and cultures. The climate is no exception- in winter you can be driving through heavy snow in the mountains and within 80 km be enjoying mild, sunny weather in Marrakech! Morocco can be visited all year round, although you might need to adjust your itinerary accordingly. We give 6 reasons why you should visit Morocco this winter. We also provide some packing suggestions for enjoying your winter holiday.
“Winter is not a season, it’s a celebration.” ~ Anamika Mishra.
1.Warmer winter weather
In some parts of Morocco, winter is quite mild, especially in comparison to nearby Europe. After a short flight tourists can enjoy the warmer conditions and relatively inexpensive accommodation and cuisine Morocco has to offer. Marrakech has an average winter temperature of 18°C (65°F). The average daily temperature along the coast in winter (ie. Casablanca and Essaouira) is about 12°C (54°F). Inland temperatures, such as in Fez, are more extreme with warmer days than on the coast, but nighttime temperatures drop to 5-7°C (40-45°F). Interestingly, in winter this year southern Morocco experienced snow for the first time in the last 50 years. In fact, two snowfall events occurred in Ouarzazate in early February 2018!
2. Enjoy off-season quietness
Tourism is lower in the winter months and some places offer reduced rates for tours and accommodation. Navigating the bigger cities like Marrakech is much more pleasant during this quiet phase. It also provides an opportunity to get a better idea of real, everyday Morocco versus the bustling tourist-orientated Morocco. We visited end of January this year (ie middle of winter) and found that most of the tourists, particularly in the blue city of Chefchaouen, were actually Moroccan families.
3. You’ll save on sunscreen
In summer the Sahara Desert can be unbearably hot during the day. For some, this might make climbing the dunes and other activities less desirable. In winter, however, you’ll be able to enjoy the dunes all day long. Try to ensure that you have 2 nights in the vicinity of the desert, as sometimes the weather may be bad. No one wants to go through the effort of driving through to Merzouga to not get to enjoy the amazing sunsets and sunrises over the red dunes and bask under the glorious starlit sky.
Although you might not be able to lounge around at the beach in winter, many activities will be more pleasurable, especially for those not used to such hot weather. Hiking, for example, is much easier in the cooler weather, with less likelihood of sunburn and dehydration. There is very little shade at the ancient Roman ruins of Volubilis near Fez and Meknès. If you really want to take in all the beautiful mosaics of this large old town, exploring in cooler conditions is better. Wondering the medinas will also be more comfortable and your brain won’t be frazzled by the heat so maybe you’ll be better at haggling!
4. You can ski in Africa
You probably wouldn’t associate a desert holiday with the opportunity for skiing. The Oukaimeden Resort near Marrakech is the best-known ski destination in Morocco. The small European-styled town of Ifrane also offers opportunities for skiing and other snow sports. Some places don’t have ski lifts so skiers are transported to the top of the slope on mules – quite the unique experience! The quality of skiing is very dependent on the weather as the snow at the resorts is natural, not artificially created.
Traveling between Ifrane and Azrou enroute to the desert, you might spot macaque monkeys playing among the cedar trees. Many families were stopping along the roads to play in the snow and watch the funny monkeys.
5. Sweat it out at a local hammam
After a long day of adventuring, what can be nicer than stripping off all your layers and relaxing in a lovely, warm steam room at a hammam (Moroccan bathhouse). Warm-up your tired and achy body in the steam room, splashing yourself with hot water. Revitalize yourself with scrub down by an attendant revealing the softest, pinkest skin. Enjoy a relaxing massage of argan oil and beautifully scented essential oils. Finish off the experience with a cup of herbal or mint tea to have you floating out the hammam, back into the fresh air of society.
The Moulay Yacoub hot springs near Fez are also popular for a day of relaxing in the natural hot water. Many local people swear about its healing properties and visit regularly to treat various ailments.
6. Hearty Moroccan cuisine
Moroccans love indulging in large family meals consisting of many dishes. Warm soups, tagines, and couscous take center stage with ample delicious bread for dipping. After a chilly outing, hot mint tea and these wholesome meals will leave you warm, satisfied, and wanting more. Nothing like tender, fall-off-the-bone lamb or chicken with perfectly flavored potatoes and veggies to fill that empty spot!
I’m drooling just thinking about all the great meals we enjoyed in Morocco. I just don’t think we would have enjoyed these foods as much in really hot summer conditions. In summer we would rather opt for salads and not hot meals. Sickly sweet hot mint tea just does not sound so appealing when it’s boiling outside?
Packing for a Moroccan winter
Morocco is a Muslim country and although not overly strict, women are expected to be respectful by dressing conservatively. This is not problematic in winter and you would be covering up to stay warm. The end of January in Morocco was extremely cold, I wore long sleeves and pants, with thermals underneath, every single day during our two-week holiday. (Remembering that I’m from South Africa where an extremely cold day is about 9 degrees- I had never even seen snow before Morocco!). If you are used to the cold then women should wear three-quarter sleeve tops. Men typically don’t wear shorts, but it’s not like anything will happen to you if you choose to do so. Skinny jeans are acceptable, just maybe not in religious sites (although mosques are not open to non-Muslims anyway).
Traditional Moroccans wear thick woolen jellabas in winter (like a long overcoat with a zip and hood). I noticed quite a lot of women in the medinas wearing fluffy zip-up gowns in typical bedtime prints-really quite adorable to see these frowning old ladies missioning through the streets in pink heart-covered fluffy housecoats!
Be aware that heaters are not common in Moroccan accommodation, check before booking as otherwise, you might be spending a few cold, sleepless nights. If you have a restricted budget then maybe consider packing a light sleeping bag.
To be warm and stylish during your winter vacation in Morocco follow these tips:
- Pack your thermals!
- Layer: thermals, top and pants, jersey, coat
- A good coat: those lightweight fleece ones are great as are the three in one type jackets
- Waterproof, comfortable shoes or boots.
- Accessorize: think scarves, thick socks, beanies, gloves, and even ear muffs. You’ll still need your hat and sunglasses for the sunny weather.
Now you are all prepared for your winter holiday in Morocco. I hope you have a thoroughly enjoyable time soaking up the warmth and hospitality of Morocco and its people. Let me know if you have any great Moroccan winter activities! Or any clever packing hints?