Morocco in winter

December, and the first snow has fallen on the High Atlas. Down in Marrakech, it’s quiet this early in the month – the Christmas crowds haven’t yet arrived for the vacation season. There is no heat haze over the city, and you can see the white peaks, clear and crisp on the horizon.

Many people don’t consider winter when they think of north Africa – the high seasons for visitors are spring and autumn. Winter tends to be brief, but cold enough that snow falls on the mountains, and Marrakech very occasionally wakes up to a crust of frost.

“Morocco is a cold country with a hot sun,” says Mike McHugo, who hosts our travelers in Kasbah Toubkal, a hotel in the High Atlas mountains, and who is used to seeing his guests surprised at how cold Marrakech can get on winter evenings. “You don’t often get a frost in Marrakech but it can happen. The desert can get to sub-zero.”
Looking up to snow-capped mountains when you’ve got wood burning stoves in the kasbah is like being in the Alps.
There are those who go to Morocco in winter because they are looking for some late sun, or a chance to visit the sights in the less expensive and less crowded low season. Then there are those who are coming for proper wintry vacations – like a trekking vacation or a Mount Toubkal climb – trips that celebrate the coming of Morocco’s snow.

You can choose to leave the snow as an attractive backdrop by staying in Marrakech, or go up into the High Atlas to get a bit closer. “Looking up to snow-capped mountains when you’ve got wood burning stoves in the kasbah is like being in the Alps,” says Mike. The Kasbah du Toubkal sits at 1,800m in the High Atlas. The alpine comparisons don’t stop there. Very few people know that Morocco has a ski resort – Oukaïmeden, just 70km out of Marrakech. Winter vacations here mean you’re among mountains that top out at over 4,000m above sea level, and hiking trails, which are inevitably hilly, range from moderate to difficult. Hikers are usually accompanied by a muleteer and their trusty steed, who will help you carry your lunch up the hill.

Those looking for the ultimate Moroccan winter challenge could even consider a winter ascent of Mount Toubkal, the highest mountain in the country. The trip needs crampons, ice picks – the whole works, but, with proper guides, can be done even by first-time mountaineers.

No-snow Morocco vacations

If you’re not here for snow, there are still plenty of Morocco winter vacations to discover. Most tours of Morocco can be done in winter, with the exception of specialist tours, like painting vacations, which may only run at really popular times of year, like the spring. In Morocco in the winter the weather is a shade less stable than at other times of year, and there might be rain in December and January. Nevertheless, it’s a good time to travel, particularly if you’re looking for a wide variety of activities.

If you fancy less-technical hiking vacations, stay below 2,500m or so, following hilly routes in the Anti Atlas. The mountains, which are lower and closer to the sea than the High Atlas, tend to remain snow-free all year, and winter is a great time to do the trip, when there’s little chance of facing the extreme heat you can get in the country in the summer months.

If you go down to the Sahara Desert, you’ll find that, though it’s nippy at night, you’ll be rewarded for sticking it out with some fantastic star gazing – the night sky is probably at its clearest in winter, where there is no warm air creating haziness.

Traveling in winter can also mean lower prices. There are pockets of less expensive travel periods outside of Christmas and the February school half term. You could visit the cities – beyond Marrakech there’s Meknes and Fez inland, and Casablanca and Rabat on the coast. The only thing you may not want to do is swim, though when you get to the resort city of Essaouira, you’ll probably still see local surfers on the beach, as winter means excellent waves.

How cold does it get in Morocco in winter?

It depends where you are. In Marrakech, the days’ highs will be in the low twenties through the winter, but it can get down to single digit temperatures at night. Coastal towns like Essaouira do not get quite as cold at night. As you’d expect, the High Atlas are where the temperatures really drop. The mountains are at their coldest in December.

Wherever you go, the most important thing to do on a winter vacation in Morocco is pack lots of layers. Not all accommodation will have heating. Other locally run hotels may not be kitted out with central heating. On winter hiking trips in Morocco, good kit is essential. “Make sure you have a good down four-season sleeping bag as it gets really cold after dark. There was frost on our first night,” says Jayne Griffith, who travelled on our Atlas Mountains winter trekking vacation.

The desert gets surprisingly cold, too. “In the Sahara camp, it can get down to freezing overnight,” says Sherrie May-Reeves from Nomadic Tours, who runs some of our top winter trips in Morocco. “We recommend a sleeping bag or thermal layers and provide a blanket.”

Winter passes soon; by early February, the almond blossom is covering the grey trees on the roadsides leading into the High Atlas, and spring is well under way.

What to do in winter in Morocco

Winter ascent of Mount Toubkal

This mountain is the highest in the Arab world, over 4,000m tall, but despite that daunting elevation, it makes an excellent introduction to winter climbing for those who have not done it before. Make no mistake, though, you need to be fit and prepared to learn how to use an ice axe, crampons, and a rope – you’ll be climbing on snow and ice on the way up. The climb itself takes a couple of days, with a stay in a mountain refuge before and after the summit climb. It’s worth noting that this ascent might be just too cold in December – so best to aim for January and February.

Winter desert vacations in Morocco

Twinning Marrakech with the Sahara remains a popular activity in the winter. “You need to wrap up warm at night but what a fabulous view of the sky at night,” says Andy Scase, from our partner Rediscover the World. Spending some time in the desert away from the peak March-May period helps keep the illusion of emptiness alive. The Erg Lihoudi dunes are closest to Marrakech, and you can stay with Bedouins here – or go on into the desert to spend the night under canvas between the dunes.

Winter adventure vacations in Morocco

Walkers can benefit from the cool weather that you get in Morocco in winter – and if you stay out of the high mountains, you can avoid any technical winter trekking. If your children are ok with the long drive into the desert, family adventure vacations, complete with camel rides, make a great winter school vacation getaway.
We’ve had guests eating lunch at midday on the terrace and the next day, we’ve been sweeping snow off it.

Christmas in Morocco

As a Muslim country, Christmas is the opposite of a big deal in Morocco, but this isn’t reflected in the hotel prices, which, like anywhere, spike in the vacation period. Christmas is a popular time to travel, as people descend on Marrakech in search of some winter sun and comfortable temperatures of around 20°C.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Morocco or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Climate change is changing winter in Morocco

Snow is a precious commodity in Morocco. The country is heavily reliant on precipitation in the High Atlas Mountains for its water supply, and it keeps rainfall and snowmelt stored in dams. A 2022 World Bank report stated that Morocco is among the world’s most water-stressed countries – water is mismanaged, and groundwater resources are running out. Water scarcity is set to be a big problem in the country’s future.

Morocco, like the rest of the world, is seeing less predictable weather because of climate change. It means that the first snow of the year might be in November, or it might be December instead. “We’ve had guests eating lunch at midday on the terrace and the next day, we’ve been sweeping snow off it,” says Mike.

“Morocco’s weather patterns in the winter now mirror a little those in European mountain areas – slightly warmer, wetter and less snow,” explains Andy. This is good in some ways for travel as it is now rare for the main mountain passes – such as the Tichka Pass across the Atlas Mountains – to be closed in winter, but this might affect your trip timing if you’re going specifically for snow.

How will climate change affect the Berber migration?

For tourists heading to Morocco’s mountains in early December, erratic snowfall might make booking the trip with guaranteed snow a little trickier, but for the Berber migration, it’s harder still. Twice a year, some Berber people practice transhumance – bringing their goats and sheep up and down the mountain in spring and autumn to escape the heat in summer, and the snow in winter. Climate change is changing the length of the seasons and thus when the Berber migration happens. Tour operators who used to invite travelers to walk with the Berber people on their migration have had to stop running their trips, as it is becoming increasingly hard to predict when the migration should occur.

For now, though, the snow still falls on the High Atlas, and Morocco’s cooler winter weather remains an excellent time to see the country.
Written by Eloise Barker
Photo credits: [Page banner: Paul Macallan] [Intro: Med EDDARAMI] [Winter ascent of Mount Toubkal: Med EDDARAMI] [How will climate change affect the Berber migration?: Julia Maudlin]