Morocco and Spain may be separated by just 13km at the Strait of Gibraltar, but tourists enter a completely new world when they set foot in the North African country.
Many tourists head straight for the markets of Marrakesh or Fez, but these destinations can be overbearing. There are tons of foreigners and you will face a constant bombardment of sellers barking you, buy this! For an introduction - or break - from the Moroccan hustle, try visiting the capital, Rabat.
After a day or two relaxing in Rabat and practicing your bargaining skills, you'll be refreshed and ready to head back out and see all that Morocco has to offer.
It may seem unusual that the capital is often overlooked by tourists. However, it's mainly a city of governmental officials and foreign embassies. So, if you lose your passport, you'll be headed to Rabat as well!
The capital was moved to Rabat from Fez by the French who invaded in 1912, hence the French language and smaller population of Rabat.
Although Rabat is more modern and governmental, don't be turned off. It still has beautiful mosaic tiles, a medina filled with shopping, and the historical ruins tourists expect of Morocco. Best of all, it comes relatively hassle-free.
Often times Rabat is considered boring by travel guides in comparison to other Moroccan cities; however, calmer certainly doesn't mean boring. This calm atmosphere will be a welcomed change to any person spending at least a week in the country.
Here's a couple of the not-to-miss sights of Rabat:
Medina of Rabat
Rabat is the perfect introduction to the medinas throughout Morocco. Medinas are often the old section of town filled with leather goods, henna tattoos, and other touristy items. After having a monkey placed on your head and unprovoked henna drawn on your arms in Marrakesh, the experience of shopping in Rabat will be refreshingly calm.
Shoppers can wander through the medina with the locals finding leather goods, traditional menthe tea, pottery, and spices. Just be careful about buying leather. Some will reek of camel even years later, and you don't want to spend the rest of your trip rooming with a person who smells like camel.
Bargaining is also simpler in Rabat; an easy back and forth often gets a good deal, with no need to pretend to walk away. There's also less invocation of Allah by the seller. An important part of bargaining in any country is deciding what the goods' value is to you, because tourists never get the local price.
Abandoned in 1154, Chellah is the remains of a Roman town which was moved to neighboring Sale. The ghost town was then used as burial grounds and, over time, monuments, gates, and a mosque were built to honor the royals buried there. The mixture of Islamic and Roman wreckage takes tourists back into the complex history of the city.
Although many of the ruins have been damaged by erosion and the 1775 Lisbon earthquake, this site is still rated the top place to see in Rabat by TripAdvisor users. At one point, the Moroccan government attempted to restore the remains as a tourist site with gardens, however the gardens aren't maintained.
Kasbah des Oudaias
Take out your camera, because the neighborhood of Kasbah des Oudaias will make you trigger happy. Enter through the enormous Almohad gate of Bab Oudaia, built in 1195, to a mainly residential community perfect for a stroll. Several guides will approach you and offer their services or say the neighborhood is closed. Just ignore them, as a guide isn't needed. Plus, there's no place better in Rabat to wander aimlessly. The neighborhood is reminiscent of Santorini, Greece, with blue accented whitewashed homes lining the cobblestone streets.
After finding your way through the maze of homes, there are spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean and surfers catching a break.The beach is packed with hundreds of locals enjoying the ocean - but don't wear a bikini. If you do, you'll find Morocco is the land of a hundred stares. Like anyplace in Morocco, wear what the locals' wear (which often means wading in the water in your street clothes).
Check out the Kasbah Mosque, Andalucian Gardens, and cafes overlooking the ocean to make a great afternoon in Rabat.