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Geography and climate of Morocco

When to travel

Geography is a determining factor in Morocco’s climate. And that in turn influences your travel decision: when is it best to travel to one region or another? What weather and temperatures await you in each of the major geographic areas of the country? In these lines we give you detailed information so that you can take note and better plan your trip.

Table of Contents

Morocco's main geographical areas and climate

Although we have already general information page that there are 12 administrative regions in Morocco, we can divide the country into large geographical areas, which in turn have a number of common characteristics in terms of climate. They are as follows:

  • Mediterranean area
  • Atlantic coast
  • Interior of the country
  • South and desert
  • High mountain

Although each area has its particularities, as we will see in each section, it is important to mention here that there is a phenomenon that, when it occurs, has a national scope: the warm winds from the south, coming from the Sahara desert, which cause a considerable increase in temperatures. Sometimes, this wind can bring with it suspended dust particles, known as calima, which can turn the atmosphere orange and cause significant discomfort to those with respiratory problems.

Mediterranean area, north

From the Strait of Gibraltar to the Algerian border, the Mediterranean coastline stretches approximately 450 km long. It is a coastline with rugged profiles, where cliffs and coves are formed, but it also has regular areas where large bays and beaches emerge.

In this strip of land and in the inland terrain of its immediate surroundings, the natural landscape is typically Mediterranean. In fact, the area is included in the so-called Intercontinental Biosphere Reserve of the Mediterranean, which has a part in the Spanish provinces of Cadiz and Malaga, and the other in the region of Tangier-Tetouan-Al Hoceima.

Why? Because for about 10 million years (from 15 million to 5.3 million years ago, approximately), the Strait of Gibraltar was not such, that is, there was no water separating the two continents. Thus, it was more like a valley, framed by the Cordilleras Beticas to the north (Spain) and the Rif to the south (Morocco), and with a common flora and fauna.

Much time has passed since then, but both shores of the Strait of Gibraltar still have natural features in common, because of what they shared in the past, because of their similar climate and their geographical proximity, which favors for example the exchange of birds through their wetlands or the presence of the same marine species in their waters.

In addition to the aforementioned Biosphere Reserve, there are protected natural areas of maximum interest in this territory. For example, the Al Hoceima National Park or the Talassemtane National Park, with a great biodiversity of flora and fauna (highlighting the Barbary macaque), as well as wetlands protected as Ramsar sites for their importance for migratory birds.

What climate you will find

You should keep in mind that the Mediterranean coast and its surroundings is the wettest area of the country, especially as you gain altitude in the Rif area, although without reaching the volume and frequency of rainfall in other parts of the world, such as northern Europe and North America.

These are the main climatic features of the area, which will influence your trip:

  • Mild winters, with average minimum temperatures that do not usually fall below 8ºC.
  • Hot summers, although tempered by the influence of the Mediterranean, with average maximum temperatures of 30ºC or slightly higher.
  • High relative humidity, typical of coastal areas.
  • Rainfall days do not usually exceed 80 days per year, and are concentrated mainly between October and April.
  • Occasionally, rainfall can be torrential, known as ‘cold drop’, although this is an extraordinary phenomenon.

Atlantic Coast

The Moroccan Atlantic coast is much longer than the Mediterranean, with more than 1,300 km. And the most important thing: it extends from north to south, crossing very different latitudes (from 35ºN to 27ºN). This means that there are notable differences between the landscapes and climates of one extreme and the other.

In the north, rainfall is higher and temperatures are somewhat cooler, even feeling the influence of the Mediterranean climate in some points near the Strait of Gibraltar. In the south, on the other hand, the landscapes feel the influence of the Sahara desert inland: average temperatures are warmer and the vegetation is poorer and adapted to the extreme climate, often with xerophytic species.

In such an extensive coastline, the variety of beaches is very large, as is logical: you will find wide sandy beaches, but also rugged profiles and even islands or islets off the coast. This gives it a wild and unspoiled feel in most places, which has not prevented large resorts and golf courses from springing up in and around some coastal towns.

Another important aspect is that the water temperature is colder in the Atlantic than in the Mediterranean: often 3ºC or 4ºC colder, something that can be more evident in the summer months. For example, in Essaouira (Atlantic), a normal water temperature for the month of August is 22ºC, while in Al Hoceima (Mediterranean), it is usually around 25ºC or even a few tenths more.

What climate you will find

Despite the aforementioned variations in climate that occur due to the difference in latitude, if you are traveling to the Atlantic coast of Morocco you will find some characteristics common to all destinations:

  • The Atlantic breeze (trade winds) blows along the coast and practically all year round, being colder in winter, but more pleasant in summer, cooling the atmosphere.
  • That Atlantic breeze can be a drawback for those who travel with the aspiration of relaxing on the beach, especially in the north, but it is a blessing for surfers, kitesurfers and other water sports enthusiasts in places like Taghazout.
  • Between the months of May and August, there is usually the phenomenon of ‘white sky’, that is, a kind of haze that tinges the sky that color in the morning, but that disperses after noon.
  • Winters are cool in the northern part (average minimum temperatures of 7ºC and average maximums of about 16ºC), but really mild in the south of the Atlantic coast (average minimum temperatures of 8ºC and average maximums of about 20ºC). For this reason, destinations such as Agadir are chosen by sun and beach tourists all year round.
  • Summers can be equally warm in the north and south (average highs of 26ºC). However, in the south, the hot desert wind can be much more influential, which can push up the thermometers, resulting in really hot days (above 45ºC).
  • Rainfall is concentrated between November and April, as in the Mediterranean area, with a similar number of rainy days (between 70 and 100), but here its discharge volume can be higher.

Interior of Morocco

By this term we refer to the vast expanse of territory located in the heart of the country, between the southern slopes of the Rif, the Atlantic coast and the northern foothills of the Atlas Mountains. This covers, roughly speaking, the regions of Fez-Meknes, Rabat-Salé-Kenitra, Beni Melal-Khenifra, and Casablanca-Settat.

It is an area that, without being a plain, has no major geographical features that influence the landscape and climate. In fact, some areas have a really fertile soil and are exploited agriculturally, so farmland has a large presence in the area: it is here that much of the 14% of Morocco’s arable land is concentrated, with production of potatoes, vegetables and fruit trees, olives and argans (one of Morocco’s ‘national’ trees).

What climate you will find

Although the climate of this area is usually described as warm summer Mediterranean (Csa according to the Köppen classification), it is true that many areas have a significant continental influence, especially at points away from the coast and close to the northern slopes of the Atlas Mountains. Some features that can be highlighted (and that you should keep in mind for your trip) are:

  • The rainfall regime is similar to that of the Mediterranean coast, concentrated between October and April, but without reaching large annual volumes.
  • Temperatures are close to extremes, both in summer and winter: the hottest days in summer usually exceed 35ºC, while the coldest days can be close to negative degrees.
  • There is a significant temperature variation between morning and afternoon, especially near the Atlas Mountains, where the variation can be around 15°C between the hottest and coldest hours.

South and desert

The south of Morocco is the most desert area of the country. And by this we mean the vast expanse of land that opens to the south of the Atlas, but also Marrakech and its surroundings, located north of the mountain range but where the landscape is really arid, highlighting in this regard the Agafay desert.

In any case, there are beautiful exceptions to the rule: oases. These occur mainly in the large valleys that emerge from the southern slopes of the Atlas (valleys of the Dades, Draa, Todra, etc.). In them, especially in the stretches where the rivers are present, spectacular green patches of vegetation are formed, with a predominance of date palms, but also almond trees, fruit trees and other crops.

The landscape of steep hills and mountains on both sides of these valleys is also very interesting. Sometimes, the erosive work of the small river chisels natural feats in the form of rocky canyons and gorges, such as those of Todra, which are worthy of contemplation for any traveler.

As the course of the rivers advances in a southerly direction, their course is lost and they become wadis (dry rivers), and with them the scarce vegetation also disappears, a sign that we are entering the purest desert.

In any case, it must be said that where the plain dominates, the predominant landscape is that of hammada, i.e., stony desert. On the other hand, the dunes of fine golden sand are a clear minority in Morocco, and only occur in the surroundings of Merzouga (Erg Chebbi), Zagora (Erg Chegaga) and Ouzina (Erg Ouzina).

What climate you will find

The climate in the south is the most hostile of all Morocco and it is therefore essential to know it in order to adapt the travel equipment to protect yourself. These are the main aspects you should take into account:

  • The thermal oscillation is really extreme, often 20ºC between noon and night. That is, from the moment the sun sets, temperatures drop drastically and do not recover until well into the morning.
  • Summer is torrid: normal temperatures can exceed 45ºC as a general rule. But we must also consider the possibility, very common, of receiving a warm wind from the south, coming from the ‘heart’ of the Sahara, which causes even higher temperatures and a ‘boiler’ sensation.
  • Solar radiation is really extreme, especially in summer: the southern latitude of the desert causes the rays to strike very vertically, and the very low cloud cover clears any kind of obstacle for them.

High mountains: the Atlas

Morocco is divided by a northeast-southwest oriented mountainous axis: the Atlas mountain range, the most prominent in North Africa. In reality, it is a mountain range subdivided into three distinct ones:

  • High Atlas: located in the central sector of the mountain range. Its peaks are the highest and here is the ‘roof’ of the country: the Jbel Toubkal, at 4167 meters above sea level. In winter, snow is common, which in some high points can exceed one meter in thickness.
  • Middle Atlas: located further north, its mountains are not the highest but the wettest. In fact, the only ski resorts in the country are located here. And on its northern slopes there are dense forests where cedars (the other ‘national tree’ of the country) abound, as in the Ifrane National Park.
  • Anti-Atlas: this is the southernmost sector, with the most arid and bare slopes, with a rainfall regime more typical of a desert climate.

Crossing this mountain range is a must for those traveling to the Sahara Desert by road. And that is a tourist experience in itself, as it must be done through mountain passes that offer extraordinary panoramic views and allow you to understand the enormous difference between its northern and southern slopes.

What climate you will find

It is worth mentioning that the climate varies slightly depending on the mountain range in question, as we have already mentioned. But there are also a number of common features that you can take into account in all of them, and even in the highest points of the Rif, in the north of the country:

  • Really cold temperatures in winter, especially at night. Snowfalls are frequent and can last well into spring.
  • Cool but pleasant temperatures in spring, when the thaw occurs and (except in the Anti-Atlas) its valleys are filled with lush flowers, plants and small fauna such as butterflies.
  • Ultraviolet radiation is very high here, due to a combination of two factors: the southern latitude of this mountain range (which causes a more vertical incidence of the sun’s rays than in other mountain ranges in the world) and the considerable height of the terrain, not only on the summits but also on the slopes and passes (Tizi n’Tichka pass at 2260 m above sea level).

Times to travel to Morocco

Although it may seem obvious, any time of the year is a good time to travel to Morocco. But it is also logical to say that some destinations are more suitable than others depending on the time of the year. Therefore, here are some suggestions, season by season.

What winter is like in Morocco

Winter is, for many, the perfect time to travel to the Sahara Desert. For this reason, the Christmas vacations or even the long weekends that occur during these months are ideal times to organize a ‘getaway’ to the south of Morocco. This is because daytime temperatures are mild and pleasant, but that has a downside: the nights can be very cold or even freezing in some parts of this area, so you should be well equipped for low temperatures.

If you are looking to escape the cold of the northern hemisphere and enjoy a vacation of sun and beach, the southern part of the Atlantic coast may be a good choice: although the water temperature will be cold (approximately 16ºC), the thermal sensation in the atmosphere will be pleasant, despite the ever-present Atlantic breeze.

But Morocco can also be a surprising destination for the opposite: a snow and mountain vacation. In the Middle Atlas you can practice this sport, a rarity in Africa, and perhaps that adds to its charm, even though the facilities and slopes available are not as complete as those of other mountain ranges in the world.

And of course, Morocco’s urban destinations are a good choice in winter: its temperatures are pleasant and bearable, and do not slow down the popular life of the medinas or the cultural programming of its museums and cultural centers. However, you should be aware that there will be more chances of rain, especially in the north.

What spring is like in Morocco

Spring is a favorite time of year for hikers and walkers. The months of April and May are therefore ideal for touring the valleys of the Atlas, where the watercourses come down full force, in some cases forming waterfalls that can only be admired during this period.

The desert also offers its more welcoming side: although daytime temperatures are warm, they are not excessively so. On the other hand, the nights are cold but not freezing (as is the case in the harshest parts of winter).

The cities pulsate with life in these months, which can be traveled throughout the day without the need to seek shelter from the heat at midday. At most, you will need to take cover if it rains, as these are wet months in the Mediterranean area, in the Atlantic area and inland.

What summer is like in Morocco

June, July, August and September are busy tourist months in Morocco. And not always because of its weather conditions, but because it is the time when travelers from the northern hemisphere tend to have their longest vacations. So if this is your case, you will have to adapt your suitcase to what awaits you in Morocco.

If you decide to do a circuit with a predominance of cities, you should count on the possibility of seeking refuge from the heat after lunch, when temperatures are higher. But that will not be a problem if you stay inside a building (hotel, museum, etc.), as air conditioning is generalized. In addition, the nights are lively, since most of the musical and cultural festivals that are organized in the area are concentrated during this time of the year.

Of course, this is also the right time to enjoy sun and beach tourism on its two coasts: the Mediterranean reaches its ‘high season’, while the Atlantic is even more tempting, since its Atlantic breeze moderates but still refreshes the atmosphere.

And if you want to fulfill your dream of coming to the Sahara desert at this time of year, be prepared: daytime temperatures become torrid and the chances of sandstorms increase. Therefore, sunglasses, clothes that cover the skin, sunscreen, hats and a bottle of water for hydration are really essential.

What autumn is like in Morocco

Autumn is a very interesting time to travel to Morocco. And not only because it is a relatively low season in terms of prices, but also because the weather is also favorable. Temperatures tend to be mild in all regions and, although nature does not show the exuberance of spring, it still has great beauty.

It is worth remembering that most of Morocco’s representative trees, which in many cases form a forest, are evergreen: cedar, argan, almond… Therefore, the greenery of its landscapes remains intact in the months of October, November and December, so visiting the national parks of the Middle Atlas or the Rif will be a beautiful experience for environmental lovers.

On the other hand, visiting cities in autumn is, climatically speaking, equivalent to visiting them in spring, especially inland cities. And if you travel to the desert, you will not only enjoy warmer temperatures, but also longer nights, an advantage for those interested in stargazing.

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