More and more tourists are flocking to Morocco every year, and an increasing number of those millions are looking for something different, off the usual tourist routes.
Luckily, Morocco hosts a range of summer festivals that provide a memorable and unique experience of this extraordinary country; both traditional, cultural events and the most modern music festivals.
The traditional events were greatly encouraged by King Hassan II after independence from the French and include:
Imilchil Marriage Festival – 23rd August to 8th September 2023
This is really a one-of-a-kind Summer Festival in Morocco, the Imilchil Marriage Festival takes place near the quiet village of Imilchil, near a tranquil lake in the Middle Atlas Mountains. Up to 30,000 residents of the local region arrive on their horses, donkeys and camels and camp out in their Berber tents to take part in the year’s festivities. This is all about selecting a life partner for marriage.
The girls will see a young man that they like and wink and if the gentleman takes her hand, a love bond is established and the couple will be married It is an ancient custom of the three Berber tribes of the region.
In the past, the festival was closed to non-Berbers, but recently it has become open to tourists who get to see not only the beautiful young people in their finest costumes, but enjoy local delicacies, music and dancing.
Festival of Roses – El Kelaa Des M’Gouna – Mid May 2024
The dates vary according to the rose harvest, but the valley of the roses, El Kelaa Des M’Gouna hosts an annual rose festival over a weekend, usually in the middle of May, but this year (2023) it was in April, so check the dates in advance. Millions of roses are harvested for their petals, rose water is produced from these and this is also used as the base for a gorgeous perfume.
There is a parade of floats strewn with rose petals, a Rose Queen is elected and crowned and amidst the dancing and Berber music, merchants offer rose-scented oils, soaps, lotions and perfumes. Children, wearing garlands of roses, decorate the rose-scented streets and competitions are held with rose petals holding written special offers from the traders and tea shops. The women wear sequined kaftans covered in rose petals and rose-decorated headscarves and you can even take a camel ride into the desert of Morocco. A unique experience not to be missed.
Sefrou Cherry Festival – June 10th to June 13th 2023.
Held annually in mid to late June, the Sefrou Cherry Festival is a unique event that is listed by UNESCO as part of the “intangible cultural heritage of mankind.”
Only a few miles from Fes, in the Middle Atlas mountains, the quaint Berber village of Sefrou, centre of Morooco’s cherry production, celebrates the cherry harvest with a festival of traditional dance, food and cultural, sporting and artistic activities, culminating in the beauty pageant where a Miss Cherry will be selected based on the general knowledge, personality and appearance of the contestants. It has been happening since 1920 and is one of the most popular Summer Festivals in Morocco.
Asilah Arts Festival – July 1st to July 5th 2023.
In 1978, two young men looked sadly upon the crumbling walls of Asilah town and invited artists to come and paint them. So began a major international cultural event where renowned international artists come to ply their trade on the walls of the twisting, turning streets of the seaside town and cross-cultural dialogue is established. The houses are whitewashed and then are painted over with a mix of imaginative murals and geometric designs in keeping with traditional urban, Moroccan architecture. There are also exhibitions, artistic performances and concerts for the visitors to enjoy.
Moussem Moulay Abdellah Amghar – August 2023.
Every August, for one week, a moussem ( Muslim religious festival) is held in the city of Tit in El Jadida province to honour Sheikh Moulay Abdellah Amghar. The major attraction for tourists is the Fantasia with 1,800 riders firing their rifles and racing toward the crowd in unison, stopping just short.
Half a million people attend each year to watch skilled riders participating in equestrian sports, battle reenactments but also to enjoy folk music and traditional dance.
The Music events are generally more modern and were actively promoted by the current modernist King, Mohammed VI. Examples are :
Fes World Sacred Music Festival – June 12th to June 20th 2023
The Fes Festival of World Sacred Music, held in the medina of the Imperial city of Fes, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and is a treat for lovers of all kinds of religious music and is visited by famous performers from across the world playing to a worldwide audience.
Gospel singers, Sufi music, European classical, Hindustani chanting and religious rock are just some of the genres represented at this Summer Festival in Morocco. During the afternoons, the Dar Batha Museum hosts quieter, more peaceful concerts, films and poetry readings in a more intimate setting.
There are also seminars and lectures by academics, politicians, scientists, religious leaders and social activists where constructive debate occurs, recognized by UNESCO for its significant contribution to intercultural dialogue. Topics this year will include climate change, the war in Ukraine and other areas of conflict, social justice and equality, free speech and more.
Through it all the ancient Spirit of Fes shines through an unforgettable experience.
Jazzablanca – Casablanca – June 22nd to June 24th 2023
No prizes for guessing this is primarily a jazz festival, but it really is one of the best of the Summer Festivals in Morocco! A very popular annual event that features international and homegrown artists performing in front of huge crowds of locals and tourists alike. This year’s many artists include Nile Rodgers & Chic, La Femme, Aloe Blacc, Beth Hart and Mica among dozens more.
Essaouira Gnaoua Festival – June 22nd to June 24th 2023
Attracting more than half a million visitors yearly, the coastal town of Essaouira hosts another Moroccan Summer Festival to celebrate Gnaoua music. but there are also performances of modern pop, jazz and rock.
Gnaoua music is a traditional North African style which is a mix of ancient African and Sufi music, blended together to create a unique spiritual experience, said to be capable of inducing a trance state. There are ten festival sites catering to the different musical flavours.
This year’s performers will include, amongst many others: Les Amazones D’Afrique; Omar Hyat and Maalam Mohamed Koulou.
Oasis Into The Wild Festival – Ouarzazate – October 27th to October 29th 2023
Moving from its traditional home in Marrakech to nearby Ouarzazate and the Atlas Film Studios where Game of Thrones, The Mummy, Gladiator and many other films and TV productions have been shot, the Oasis Festival celebrates electronic music with famous international and Moroccan DJs, visual artists and modern culinary delights.
Situated at the gateway to the Sahara, this year’s festival features Honey Dijon, DJ Koze, Romy and many, many more. This one is a little late in the year, this time, but Ouarzazate in midsummer is unbearably hot. but Morocco has a very long summer!
Timitar Festival – Agadir – July 2023
I don’t have the exact dates, yet, but this annual celebration of Berber (Amazigh) music is a very popular addition to the Summer Festivals in Morocco. This festival promotes Amazigh music and culture to a cosmopolitan audience. It also features international acts and, as it is hosted in the cooler seaside city of Agadir, a welcome relief in July, is one not to be missed.
Mawazine Festival – Rabat – June 2024
After a three-year break due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the hugely popular Mawazine Summer Festival of Morocco will make a welcome return in June 2024. The six stages are spread across Morocco’s capital, Rabat and the city of Sale across the river and each stage hosts music from a different area of the globe. Millions of music lovers from across the world attended last time. Previous acts have included The Black Eyed Peas, Jennifer Lopez and Rihanna, so watch out for this one!
Whichever one you chose, or maybe you can manage to cram in more than one, you’ll be glad that you chose to do something a bit different to the standard tourist circuit and return home with a special experience and happy memories of the Summer Festivals in Morocco.