Are you planning a tour to Morocco and not sure when the best time to visit is?
You may want to consider visiting during one of the key Moroccan festivals!
If you’re looking for a unique experience, keep reading to see what festivals you shouldn’t miss.
Marrakech International Film Festival, Marrakech
Created in 2001 by the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, this film festival was made to help and develop the artistic and cinematic industries in Morocco. The International Film Festival in Marrakech is currently an annual event which takes place during December.
The goal was to bridge the divide between different cultures and continents, specifically between the film worlds of the North and South while promoting Moroccan films. The festival is also a time for revealing new films and showcasing new talents across different genres.
For the past fifteen years, Marrakech’s International Film Festival has been a meeting place for incredible national and international actors, directors, film makers, and producers. Today, it serves as an opportunity for Morocco to welcome great talent from around the world.
Citizens and visitors alike benefit from the sense of openness, enrichment, and diversity which are celebrated throughout the festival. According to the festival’s website, “The programming, tributes, masterclasses, audio description films for the visually impaired and projections on the main square of Jemaa El Fna have contributed to make the Marrakech International Film Festival a place where dreams, art and civic engagement coexist in harmony.”
They turn the Jemaa el-Fna, a large square in the heart of the Medina, into an open air cinema. The festival is open to everyone from famous actors and directors to those just passing through the city of Marrakech. If you are a film lover, this opportunity to attend a prestigious film festival is one that shouldn’t pass you by! Sit under the stars on a warm evening and enjoy a great film!
Marathon des Sables
Started in 1986, this six day race has been named “the toughest footrace in the world” by the Discovery Channel. The Marathon des Sables or the Sahara Marathon, is one hundred and fifty six miles or two-hundred and fifty-one kilometer in the heart of the Sahara Desert. It’s the equivalent of approximately six marathons! The longest leg of the journey is about ninety-one kilometers or fifty-seven miles long. Taking place in southern Morocco, those who partake in this race have to be ready for the extremely hot conditions of the desert.
After traveling across the Sahara Desert alone in 1984, the Frenchman Patrick Bauer realized that he once went three-hundred and fifty kilometers or two-hundred and fourteen miles without seeing one oasis or community of people. Two years later, the first Marathon des Sables took place with twenty-four participants.
In 2009, one thousand runners ran the race! The same year, the Solidarité Marathon des Sables association was founded. What was started from a solo-journey across the desert has become an international event that raises money to support children and disadvantaged populations in regards to education, health, and sustainable development in Morocco. In 2017, the race extended to having a half-marathon event in the Canary Islands and a full length marathon event in Peru.
Taking inspiration from the founders first journey, the runners must be completely self-sufficient, running with everything they need in their back packs. With the desert reaching over one-hundred degrees Fahrenheit or thirty-eight degrees Celsius, the race is a challenge because of the weather, physical strain, and nature of the terrain they must cross.
Participants must be prepared when it comes to food, water, equipment, and physical ability. If you are an athlete who loves to push yourself to the limits, this event might be an experience of a lifetime you’ll have to take!
Fes Festival of World Sacred Music, Fes
This annual festival takes place every year in Fes. The World Sacred Music Festival is filled with delightful music and dancing. Music lovers from across Fez, Morocco, and the world come together to take in this stunning festival. Fes is known as the spiritual and cultural capital of Morocco, making it the perfect place for this festival.
The festival takes place at multiple different venues and locations around the the imperial city of Fes. Near the famous blue gate into the old city, Bab Boujloud, free concerts are held each evening in the large Boujloud Square. On Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of the festival, concerts known as the Nights in the Medina concerts are held in smaller venues like the Ibn Danan Synagogue in the Mellah, the music conservatory Dar Adiyel, and Sidi Mohamed Ben Youssef Cultural Complex.
The Sufi Nights concerts are held at Dar Tazi at 11:00pm and also free. And if you’re interested in the Fes Forum, it’s held in the Prefecture Hall in Batha, across from the Batha Museum.
For afternoon concerts, you can enjoy the green gardens while listening to music held in the Jnan Sbil Gardens. For large evening concerts, you can find them at the open-air parade ground in front of the royal palace, Bab al Makina.
Most of the venues are a nice walking distance away if you choose accommodations in the medina. The only venue farther away from the old city is the Synagogue, which is just a taxi ride away or about a 25 minute walk.
Join hundreds of people in June 19-22, 2019, from around the world in Fes to enjoy this cultural occasion.
Moroccan Festival of Roses, Dades Valley
Roses would still smell as sweet if called by any other name, and there is nowhere you can witness just how sweet they are than at the Moroccan Festival of Roses! While the timing of the festival is ultimately depending on the years grouping of roses, it’s almost always held annually in the first or second week of May.
About one month before, the dates of the festival will be announced. Festivities kick off on a Friday and go on through the weekend. About 50 miles to the northeast of the desert town Ouarzazate, you can find this absolutely stunning celebration in El Kelaâ M’Gouna, which is affectionately called the Valley of Roses.
The Dades Valley is known for the lush vegetation that grows there, with waterfalls, gorges, and trails for hiking. The location of the festival is about as stunning as the festival itself! If you happen to be passing through this part of Morocco around the same time as the festival, it is most definitely a must-see!
Walking on streets covered in soft rose petals, roads lined with hedges of rosebushes, the whole town is filled with the light scent of the flowers. Almond groves surround the city out in the countryside, making for lovely springtime walks, all the while getting to take in the sweet aroma of roses. This area is the center of Morocco’s rose industry. Using the flowers, many products are produced locally and then shipped to be sold elsewhere.
From perfume to beauty products, and from rose essential oil to rose water, you can see the behind the scenes steps of how these products are made. If you really want to get the most out of this spectacular event, come a couple of days early. Since the end of the harvest is celebrated by this festival, arriving beforehand will give you the opportunity to see the most flowers in the original state.
And once the festivities start, you will see the town transformed into a full on celebration of roses with floats and parades, specialty gifts and products for sale, traditional dancing and music, and delicious Berber food.
Date Festival, Erfoud
The date harvest, Guetna, creates an occasion for the desert oasis town of Erfoud to welcome in visitors for a true celebration! Dates are an important part of Moroccan food and culture. While they are usually eaten by themselves or with nuts, they are also an important ingredient in the making of local cuisine.
Their natural sweetness make them like a natural candy, a lovely treat as you sit and drink some fresh mint tea or finish a bowl of delicious harira soup. This three day festival takes place every October after the date harvest. Tourists and locals come together to enjoy the harvest time.
The city of Erfoud is filled with date trees and once the dates are harvested the party starts! There are parades, street shows, fashion shows, and camel races. To experience a bit of Moroccan culture, folk music and dancing performances show traditional practices from centuries of Moroccan civilization.
You’ll be able to get a true taste of local culture through all of the activities as well as a true taste of Morocco’s amazing dates. If you’re interested in seeing the behind the scenes of date production, you can see how they’re harvesting, dried, and transported via donkey. This festival is a great, fun experience for all!
Popular Arts Festival, Marrakech
Started in 1959 by King Mohamed V, the Popular Arts Festival is also an annual event in Marrakech, normally taking place in either June or July. The intention of the King was to create a festival which would help keep Moroccan traditions and national heritage alive and well. Now, during the festival dates, artists and performers come from all over the world to the red city of Marrakech.
Some of the most noteworthy performers are fire-swallowers, acrobats, actors, snake charmers, trick-horse riders, artists, dancers, singers, and fortune tellers. These acts and artists show off at Jemaa el-Fna, the large square, and El Badi Palace.
The grand grounds of El Badi Palace are the host to most of the events of the festival, but Marrakech’s famous square also allows many visitors passing through to witness the spectacular shows. One of the shows you shouldn’t miss is the spectacular horse riding show which is sure to blow you away!
Held just outside the city, the show has traditionally dressed horseback riders that perform action-packed choreography! Art and beautiful showmanship on behalf of the riders shows you the strong ties that modern day Morocco has to its rich historical past.
The Popular Arts Festival is one of Marrakech’s biggest events, drawing crowds from all over. It’s easy to see why when you think about the unique mix of modernity and tradition. You can see ancient folk dances, belly dancers, and musicians playing traditional Berber music. Acts and artists from every part of Morocco come together to showcase what Morocco has to offer. You are guaranteed to get a true taste of Moroccan culture by attending this amazing festival!
Gnaoua and World Music Festival, Essaouira
The Essaouira Music Festival takes place every year in June with the majority of music being Gnaoua. This coastal city has concerts and events taking places in more than twenty different locations.
The blue and white streets of Essaouira come alive with the sound of music from musicians around the world! While the festival’s main focus and attraction is Gnaoua music performances, don’t think that this festival is limited to just Moroccans.
Some of the best artists from across Africa come to be a part of this magical time, playing alongside the maâlems, traditional performers, during the many different concerts. This kind of music proudly embraces its African roots and uses the power of music to unite the continent.
The goal of this festival is to showcase the beauty and valor of Moroccan Gnaoua culture. Yet at the same time, they are setting an example of embracing a free and open spirit where diversity can flourish, in peace and tolerance. For the past 20 years, this Gnaoua and World Music Festival has welcomed people into a time of shared experiences, bridging countries, languages, and cultures.
If you are curious about the variety of cultures among the different regions of Morocco, this event could be the perfect addition to your trip! Get ready to take in the music some of Africa’s most talented musicians while you see the laid-back beauty of Essaouira.
Information is up to date at time of post publication. However, some of the festivals listed are community events rather than officially scheduled programs. If that is the case, ask your salesperson about the certainty of dates before booking your whole tour around a festival, as they are subject to change without notice.