Visiting Morocco in Winter – What to See and Do from December to March
We love Morocco in Winter. It’s not as crowded, and if you like the comfort of cooler but still really pleasant weather it’s probably a better fit for you than the summer. It’s also really beautiful, the colours in the sky and natural lighting are a photographer’s dream, and because the air is clearer you can see further; the beautiful snow-capped Atlas Mountains are in full view in Marrakech, and usually set against a clear blue sky.
For winter sun seekers, there’ll be plenty of sunshine hours during the day particularly in December and January but even February can give some pretty sunny days. And whilst conditions aren’t ideal for sunbathing on the beach, it’s the perfect time for exploring Morocco’s magical cities, bustling markets, and traditional Berber villages.
Another reason to visit in 2019/20, is that Marrakech with be livelier and more happening than usual as it becomes the capital of African Culture in January.
Here are a few tips on Wintering in Morocco from the epic team, with some advice on what to pack and wear and the kinds of temperatures you might expect.
What is the weather like?
Morocco is a land of extremities, so expect a contrast in climate during the winter months. This is when you can expect the peaks of the Atlas Mountains to be chilly and blanketed in snow, yet it will still feel relatively warm at other altitudes. The contrasting weather means that mountain expeditions may not be suitable for everyone at this time of year. For experienced outdoor enthusiasts though, snow trekking can be a challenging, rewarding activity with some of the most spectacular views because of the clear skies.
The Mediterranean coast can be nice and warm during the daytime (it just turns a bit chilly at night). The climate in the Sahara is at its most extreme; hot and dry in the day and close to freezing after sundown so think about your packing.
If you’re moving around the country, average temperatures and rainfall can vary somewhat from city to city. So be sure to check the weather forecast for each destination.
Here are some country averages:
December – February
Low – 6°C – Low – 8°C
High – 19°C – High – 21°C
Sunshine averages around 8 hours during these months.
Rainfall average of 6.5 days, 13mm
Where to stay?
One thing Morocco is not short of is beautiful, authentic and high-and property – whether you fancy a traditional Riad with garden and central courtyard, or you want the indulgence of a luxury hotel, there is a lot to choose from. Riads are great for a romantic or reviving break or we could look into privatization for a different family or friends take on Christmas and New Year. Many of the luxury hotels offer great Christmas and New Year packages with entertainment laid on and of course the warm Moroccan welcome and a suite of added-value services such as hammam and spa treatments – just the thing to warm you up during the winter months.
Sightseeing in Morocco’s imperial cities can be much less crowded and more pleasant in the winter months, and you will sense a different calmer atmosphere. We would recommend diving into the sights and culture with a guide and finding cozy nooks and crannies to snuggle into for dinner.
There are fewer places for more exciting than Marrakech at any time of year, it’s a vibrant place which is bustling and bursting with atmosphere, no day is the same – there is always lots to see.
In Winter the view of the Atlas Mountains is spectacular and can be seen from street level, not just the rooftops. There is lots to do; cooking classes, food tours and visits to all the landmarks with their wealth of history and ornate architecture. The Majorelle Gardens and YSL museum remains popular with travelers and there are many other modern art museums to explore if that’s your thing. The restaurant, café and bar scene here is buzzing with lots of new openings of stylish modern eateries, fusion and vegetarian food as well as high quality, classic Moroccan places serving up delicious warming tagines and the local speciality; tangier which is slow-cooked in the embers of the Hammam furnatchi.
Epic can organize events with your riad such as storytelling dinners as well as tailoring guided tours to your needs, there is also a soon to be opening museum of Berber Culture on the way to the Atlas Mountains which will be a must-visit for families.
Rabat is sometimes overlooked by people visiting Morocco, and many people forget it is the modern capital of Morocco. It’s clean, fresh, elegant and green and has a rich cultural history and is a modern cultural centre. If you are into history and sites, you can visit the Kasbah of the Udayas and gardens, or the Chellah a necropolis that dates way back to the Marinids. Rabat also has an amazing modern art museum; Mohamed VI Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art which is well worth a visit. Activities you can consider are horse riding and golf, you can also spend time in the many shops, medinas, and the beachside yacht clubs.
There are plenty of fun day trips you can make from the city whether to Sale with its focus on artisan skills of pottery, metalwork, and weaving, or Casablanca for modern art and the Hassan II mosque which is one of the only mosques open to non-muslims.
Although it can rain a bit in December, temperature highs in Tangier can be 18°C or higher and the sun is always out. Tangier is relaxed, laid-back and slightly hipster, popular with some of the most renowned writers and artists throughout modern history. It’s an ideal place to stay if you like your cities to have a bit of edge. Don’t miss the Caves of Hercules, the Dar el Makhzen museum, or the breath-taking views from Cap Spartel.
Tamouda Bay is one of our favourite places to stay just outside of the city with its wealth of luxury properties and sandy beaches. So whether it’s a chance to relax and unwind by getting lost around medina streets, taking coffee and a long lunch or a more beachy break you’re after Tangier has a lot to offer. It’s also a good centre from which to visit Tetouan, Martil and Meknes, the train links are also superb with high speed, TGV style trains that run between Tangier and Marrakech.
Explore the Sahara
Winter is a great time of year to go trekking in the Sahara Desert, with December a favourite amongst travellers. Whilst it can still get hot during the day, it’s much cooler than the summer months. Making it much more comfortable for young children, and anyone who is particularly sensitive to the heat or prone to heatstroke. We can arrange camel tours at sunrise or sunset, which are a wonderful idea especially for photography fans, take your camera to capture those beautiful hues.
Ait Bougmez Valley in the High Atlas Mountains is wonderful in the summer, proving to be a nice respite away from the heat of the cities. In winter, it can get a little chilly with temps swinging from 3°C to about 15°C. But it’s still a great destination if you’re interested in exploring the great outdoor space in Morocco. Trekkers refer to this area as “The Happy Valley” and this is due to the friendly local people, who are always welcoming of tourists. A guided hiking tour is recommended if you want to get the most out of your time here, epic organize guided tours for different levels of traveler in terms of fitness, all with a guide who can speak your language.
One of Morocco’s best-kept secrets is its ski resorts. An unlikely destination for the skiing crowd, you shouldn’t expect the glamour or the high-end facilities of somewhere like Val d’Isère. But instead, a charming place that relies completely on natural conditions. There is no artificial snow production, so the weather controls the seasons each year. Moroccan resorts such as Ifrane, Oukaimeden and Tazaghart come alive when there is snowfall, you won’t find many Western tourists which is kind of nice. The later in the year you go, the better chance of snow coverage, but generally speaking, the season starts in December and ends in March or early April. Don’t forget to bring your own kit if you’re keen, as the kit you hire in Morocco won’t be of the usual standard of a European ski resort.
Have a go – it can be fun and picturesque, with donkeys trailing up mountains, vendors serving hot and spicey ‘snail soup’ in stalls and piping hot tagines. It’s a uniquely Moroccan experience!
We work with very good rock-climbing guides and companies that can supply expertise and equipment, we can cater for everyone from a beginner to the more advanced with a variety of different sites in Morocco from the Atlas to Todra Gorge. Once we’ve understood your level of interest and skill we can pull together the right trip to suit your needs.
Festivals and Events:
Morocco is a Muslim country so Christmas isn’t celebrated in many places excepting for the big hotels who do put on entertainment for tourists, but there are plenty of other events to pique your interest, and some fun things to do for New Year’s Eve. Here are some of the events taking place each year in the months of December, January and February giving you more reasons to choose Morocco as your Winter break destination.
The Tan Tan Music Festival
The Tan Tan Moussem is an annual gathering of over thirty different tribes from Morocco’s southern region. Taking place in the city of Tan-Tan in the south of Morocco near the border every December, this event is a celebration of traditional Berber culture, and the main draw for the tribes is camel trading, but there are also other exciting things taking place throughout the festival. Including weddings, inter-tribal competitions and games, traditional Berber re-enactments, and plenty of music and dancing.
Marrakech International Film Festival
This international film festival takes place in Marrakech every year and is one of the biggest events in the country. It makes way for film stars and Hollywood actors/actresses and features a competition and awards for new talent. Created in 2001 by His Majesty King Mohammed VI to promote the arts in Morocco, this festival is now one of the best in the world. Tickets are open to film professionals, press as well as members of the public.
New Years Eve
Another great event not to miss in Morocco is New Year’s Eve. Whilst Christmas isn’t widely celebrated, Morocco is a popular destination during the festive period. So expect it to get a little busier later in the month. By New Year’s Eve, some cities could become crowded again. Here, it’s tradition to see in a brand new year sitting under the stars in the desert. So if you’re interested in exploring the sights of the Sahara, December could be the perfect time. Or if you prefer to stay in the cities, you’ll find plenty of rooftop spots to celebrate and enjoy a delicious meal, epic can make a recommendation, or help you create your own event!
Berber New Year
The Berber (or Amazigh) communities in Morocco celebrate New Year around the 12th / 13th January, it’s called Yennayer and announces the beginning of the crop year. Head down to the communities in Agadir and Tiznit or to the middle atlas if you want to join in the singing, dancing and couscous!
At the same time in January, you will also see the streets of the cities festooned to celebrate the Moroccan day of Independence from France.
Every year Marrakech holds its annual marathon event, bringing runners from far and wide as well as encouraging local sports enthusiasts, whether you’re an armchair enthusiast or active fitness fan, it’s a fun day out for everyone with a great local atmosphere (just mind the bikes!).
Almond Blossom Festival
Tafraoute is a little town in the south of Morocco in the anti-atlas which holds a Berber Almond Blossom festival with singing, dancing and food. It’s become a popular local event and is now held in Roman Ruins in the Valle De Templi. A step off the beaten track and in a time of year that is less popular for your average traveler, it’s a nice trip for those who want a bit more of an insider view on Amazigh culture and who want to get out of the big cities and maybe spend a night or two in the desert.
154 Contemporary Art Fair
The 154 event has become the coolest event to be seen at and enjoy in the Marrakech calendar with events and openings all over the city, many with a free bar. With international star of the African Art World, Hassan Hajjaj, championing the Moroccan art scene around the world and value of Africa Art, it’s become a must-visit for art buyers, enthusiasts, and artists themselves. So come in February and find yourself rubbing shoulders with the up and coming stars of the art world and Marrakech hipster scene.
What to Wear and Pack
The weather as we all know these days can be very unpredictable! You could find yourself pretty hot over here, definitely needing T-Shirts and sunglasses in the day time, but it can get chilly in the evening so bring some light jackets and layers, and something waterproof and a trusty umbrella. Some years the weather can be unpredictably hot so you’ll still need to be careful with hats and suncream.
If you’re going into the mountains or the desert it can be close to freezing at night – so for desert treks and overnight camping, or mountain stays pack a warm coat and thermal layers.