Morocco rocks: Activity and adventure in Berber country

Morocco rocks: Activity and adventure in Berber country

I’m miles from any water, but it’s still a good thing I don’t get seasick. I’m beginning to understand why camels have been called ‘ships of the desert’. Clinging to the saddle with my knees, I’m rocking back and forth like a ship in a gale.

However, once I get used to the motion, I’m free to look out over the dunes of the Sahara, stretching as far as the eye can see. Beyond the turbaned head of my guide, there’s nothing but sand, sky and a Berber encampment, where we’ll sleep in traditional woollen tents after dining under the desert stars.

What's on offer

The world’s most famous desert is just one of the stunning landscapes that has made Morocco a hugely popular destination for adventure tourism.

Marrakech is a must-visit, with its bustling main square, souks and historic buildings. It’s the centre of the Berbers, the nomadic people who held power in the region until the Muslim conquests in the 7th century.

For a contrast, suggest clients also visit the northern city of Fes. It’s the Arab heart of Morocco, with a beautifully well-preserved medieval citadel with cobbled streets and the oldest university in the Western world.

The Atlas mountains separate the Sahara from the Mediterranean and the Atlantic coasts. Trekkers can choose between scaling challenging peaks such as Mount Toubkal – North Africa’s highest at 4,167m – and ambling among fields of flowers and Berber villages in the foothills.

The Atlas mountains descend to the desert, where the Draa Valley is home to kasbahs, or desert fortresses, the most famous of which, Aït Benhaddou, has appeared as a backdrop in Lawrence of Arabia and Gladiator.

Trips into the Sahara and more relaxing visits to the coast – either to the resort of Agadir or the pretty walled city of Essaouira – add yet more diversity to the mix.

An easy sell?

With an ever-growing range of flights, a sunny climate and excellent value for money, Morocco should be booming. However, the unrest elsewhere in North Africa has had an impact.

Explore travel consultant Prue Payne says: “The political situation in North Africa and the Middle East is continuing to unsettle customers, but Morocco is one of the most stable countries in the area. There are plenty of flights, including low-cost airlines, and we are growing the number of tours in the area in the next few months.”

Intrepid Travel reports that Morocco sales in June were 25% down on the 2010 figure, but Imaginative Traveller’s Backroads of Morocco tour – an 11-day trip  costing from £830 including flights – is one of its top 10 sellers despite this year’s troubles.

Reassure clients that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has no restrictions on travel to Morocco. It’s also worth getting out a map and pointing out that Morocco is far closer to Spain than Libya.

Explore ran a fam trip for 10 agents in June, taking them on its 10-day Kasbah Trail itinerary, visiting Marrakech, camping in the Sahara, staying in a Berber village, climbing a peak in the Atlas and relaxing in a riad in Essaouira. It costs from £788 including flights.

Prue Payne says: “We were able to introduce agents to a country that feels a world away but which really is on our doorstep.”

Explore has 22 itineraries in Morocco, from family adventures and budget tours to trekking itineraries and solos departures.

The Adventure Company has 15 tours in Morocco, six of which are for families. Paul Medley, product and commercial director, says: “There has been a growing tendency for parents to stay active and adventurous with the whole family, so many are drawn to our Magical Morocco trip which has a minimum age of just two years old, and costs from £739 including flights.”

New for 2011 is an upgraded Kids in the Kasbahs trip, an eight-day holiday in greater comfort than the original itinerary. It costs from £969 including flights, instead of £709.

Musicians, Morocco

Bite-sized adventures

Morocco isn’t just for serious adventurers. It’s easy to add a small active element to a weekend break or a stay more focused on relaxation. Marrakech’s proximity to the Atlas means day trips to the mountains are easy to organise.

Kuoni offers a day trip visiting the Asni Valley in the High Atlas, where clients can climb up to the Berber town of Imlil, from £39, and a half-day camel ride in the desert from £25.

Do Something Different has a wide range of options including hot-air balloon flights over the mountains, horse riding and quad biking in the palm groves outside Marrakech, and Atlas Mountain hikes.

Thomson’s excursions programme offers a wide range of day and half-day tours, plus a two-day trip into the Sahara staying in a tent overnight.

Visitors with a little more time might want to spend a few nights in the Atlas mountains in a stunning retreat property such as Kasbah du Toubkal or the luxurious Kasbah Tamadot.

Anatolian Sky offers three and five-day stays at the four-star Le Bergerie, where it features three new guided walking tours (from £39) that visit Berber villages, a salt mine, ruined fortresses, mountain mosques and the beautiful Atlas peaks.

Learn more

The Moroccan National Tourist Office has an e-learning scheme  for agents, including a module dedicated to nature and adventure. Agents who complete the training may be invited to the tourist office’s roadshows and fam trips – there’ll be an adventure tourism themed trip later this year.

There’s also a sales challenge, rewarding the agents who make the highest number of sales with prizes including three-night breaks in Marrakech and Agadir (for two, staying in five-star hotels on a half-board basis, including flights), and an iPod, TV and DVD player.

Morocco: An agent's view

Katie Cunningham, senior travel consultant at Somewhere2travel2 in Ilfracombe, DevonKatie Cunningham, senior travel consultant at Somewhere2travel2 in Ilfracombe, Devon, travelled to Morocco with Explore in June

Before the trip, I had never felt confident selling Morocco because I didn’t know much about it. The Explore fam opened my eyes to a country so beautiful that I would love to go back and I’d be happy to send my customers there.

From sleeping under the stars in the desert to bustling Marrakech – not to mention travelling in a four-wheel-drive through the Atlas mountains – it certainly was a trip to remember. And while I knew none of the others in the group at the beginning, by the end we had become great friends.

Before this trip I had only sold a couple of adventure tours and did not fully appreciate what I was selling. Now I feel confident that any clients I book with Explore will be looked after and will have the trip of a lifetime experiencing the real country they visit.”

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