Between mountains, desert and sea, the city of Agadir on the southern Atlantic coast of Morocco has all a nature lover could want. Whether you’re looking for an extreme sports adventure, authentic bazaar or relaxing spa, here are a few activities that might surprise you.
From humble fishing village to laidback surftown, Agadir is an intoxicating mix of ancient and modern, having been extensively rebuilt following a devastating earthquake in 1960. A shiny new marina may rub shoulders with the stone ruins of the kasbah here, but the city’s traditions and lifeblood remain intact: simply by strolling through the souk, observing fishermen on the beach, or hearing strains of Berber song. In the high season of June and July, you’ll find the beaches packed with surfers, but October through March offers milder weather and fewer crowds, with the possibility to surf or swim in a wetsuit.
A day or overnight trip west from Marrakech or Essaouira will lead you to a more relaxed, bohemian locale with year-round sun: a paradise for surfers, hanggliders, golfers… And for people who choose not to do any of that stuff and simply bum around on the beach. The most adventurous travelers will find opportunities to see the landscape from above in a hot-air balloon, or explore the beaches on terra firma via horseback or camel hump.
While the terrain may push you outside your comfort zone, the affordable accommodation rates ensure that a group of travelers can enjoy all the comforts and warmth of Moroccan hospitality by privatizing a stunning riad, while those exploring alone or as a couple can rent a room in a lavish yet authentic guest house.
Catch a wave on the beaches of Agadir or Taghazout
Whether you’re an absolute beginner or glide over the waves with ease, Agadir offers some of the most breathtaking and discreet surfing destinations in the northern hemisphere, enjoying constant swells from September to April (don’t let names like Devil’s Rock or Killer Point discourage you). First-timers: find a less crowded or family-oriented beach to start with, or book a session or retreat with local guides like The Yoga Surfer (Route d’Essaouira, Tamraght): not only have their dedicated teachers been surfing here since childhood; their riad accommodation boasts one of the most beautiful rooftops in the area and provides all the equipment you’ll need to catch a wave in one of those spots only locals know about. Does surfing just seem like swimming with a table to you? There’s plenty of beach to enjoy sans board.
Snap up a bargain at the Souk El Had
The Souk El Had (from the word for ‘Sunday’, recalling the city’s traditional market day, though it is open every day except Monday) claims to be the biggest in North Africa, though some souks in Marrakech and Fez may give Agadir’s a run for its money. With 6,000 stalls, it certainly is a labyrinth, but an ingeniously organized one, and one of the most authentic experiences that tourists can embrace side-by-side with the locals. (Groups splitting up to shop in different areas should designate a specific meeting point and time, at one of the numbered entrances.) If it’s fragrant Moroccon spices, fresh produce and pottery you’re after, head to Gate 5; jewelers are grouped around Gate 9 , while furniture and booksellers can be found at Gate 11. Expect to (politely) haggle and don’t be afraid to compare prices at similar stalls before making your decision. Leave with a jumble of things: handwoven baskets, a Berber rug, a kilo of spiced nuts, leather babouche slippers, an exotic fruit you don’t know the name of.
Take a camel for a spin
Get around Agadir as locals have done for centuries, on the hump of a camel. Accompanied by a guide, you can cover more ground off the beaten track while bonding with these well-trained and gentle animals. Most small groups pass through the traditional village of Aghroud Bensergao and along the Souss river to scout for flamingos and other migratory birds. On a camel’s back is also one of the best vantage points to enjoy the sunset.
Pamper yourself at a hammam
They really know how to do self-care in Morocco, with the timeless beauty and purification ritual of hammam spa. Most begin in an aromatic steam room to open the pores and quiet the spirit. From there, you’ll want to get comfortable with a trained practitioner scrubbing you down with locally produced black soap and rhassoul clay, removing all impurities and leaving skin baby soft (best not to do this after sustaining sunburn on the beach!). Sip some mint tea before you emerge feeling deeply refreshed, or stay on for a massage with the region’s argan oils. You can book an opulent treatment at the Sofitel’s Thalassa Sea and Spa, but smaller riads such as Der Haven (Hay Ait Soual, Tamraght) offer an authentic and no less luxurious experience.
Savour some seafood and cocktails on the beach
Head to the busy Port d’Imessouane to discover just how fresh the fish can be. There are plenty of sunkissed, beachfront eateries grilling the catch of the day directly in front of you for a fraction of the prices of restaurant in town: that’s why Cafe Hassan Jolo does the job, and although the seafood platters are served with no fuss on plastic tables, you can expect a spectacular view of the fishing boats and sparkling waves. For an even more down-to-earth experience, head straight to the source and eat at the fish market itself: whiting, prawns, sole, calamari straight from the fishermen’s swag. Wash it all down with a drink at a stylish hidden spot on the water, like Bohemian Berber Bar in Taghazout, on the rocks below the DFrost Almugar Surf Villa.
Picnic in Paradise Valley
A scenic hike (or drive) will get you away from the city and deep into the Atlas Mountains. Follow the Honey Road of Immouzar and stop in at the Botanical Gardens on the way to Agadir’s most cherished natural location, Paradise Valley, an oasis of clear natural pools framed by the rocky mountains and thousands of palms. If you’re feeling adventurous and are accompanied by a guide, you can find a safe spot for cliff diving, or just enjoy a dip.
Discover the secrets of argan oil-making
One of Morocco’s most important and distinctive exports, argan oil is one of the country’s beauty and culinary essentials. The oil of the argan tree also nourishes arid desert landscapes, and is part of Agadir’s artisinal heritage. Visit one of the city’s argan oil factories to see women using centuries-old traditions to pick and press the nuts of the thorny trees and extract their rich flavor and health benefits. You can also purchase cooking and beauty products direct from the source here – no haggling required. Be sure to try delicious some delicious amlu (a nut spread made of argan oil, almonds and honey).
Surf the Sahara sand dunes
If you’re seeking a new thrill but want to stay dry, why not try surfing down smooth, golden sand instead of wiping out on a wave? Bring a local guide and some friends to cheer you on for this new way to use a surfboard – no wetsuit required. Roll through the unique landscape rogue commando-style in the guide’s Jeep to find just the right spot, with silence and panoramic views to the sea to district you as you gaze towards the precipice. It’s hard to believe that such a peaceful place still exists in the world, and that you can use it like a giant slippery slide. Did you have the urge to hurl yourself off a sand dune after watching Dune? Do it here under the watchful eye of your desert guide, without the hassle of being pursued by giant interplanetary worms. After an afternoon of adrenelin-pumped sandboarding, you’re likely to catch an out-of-this-world sunset on the way back.
Smile at a crocodile
Crocopark, Agadir (Photo: Dariusz Kanclerz for Unsplash)
This improbable haven for reptiles and their admirers gathers more than 300 Nile crocodiles for one intimidating pool party. Located in the nearby town of Drarga, easily accessible from central Agadir by shuttlebus, Crocopark is a zoological center dedicated to preserving endangered species, the only facility of its kind in North Africa. The crocodiles have plenty of reptilian company in their cohort of tortoises, pythons and iguanas. View them all safely and up-close – but not too close! – in this unique wildlife reserve founded in 2015. Plant and nature enthusiasts will have plenty to look at too, including the world’s largest water lily variety, waterfalls, and other things that make life more fun for crocodiles.
Gaze down at Agadir from a hot air balloon
If you’ve never been ballooning but it’s a secret, far-flung dream, Agadir boasts one of the most beautiful, varied landscapes in which to make that dream a reality. Soar over the Atlas Mountains and admire Berber villages from high above with a breathtaking jaunt in a hot air balloon. From Agadir, a 4X4 will whisk you into the desert, where you can watch the balloon fire up at dawn. From there, all that’s left to do is take in the inspiring, orange-tinged views and float off into the sunrise.