Al Hoceima, Morocco: After the Quake
Overlooking the Mediterranean and surrounded by the Rif Mountains on other sides, Al Hoceima was and still is a quiet town nestled near what many call the nicest beaches in the north of Morocco. It is still recovering from an earthquake that occurred in February 2004, which killed over 500 people and left thousands homeless. The Moroccan and Spanish governments remain in cooperation to help the local population get back on their feet. While the area is known for some of its fault-line activity, ever since it experienced a previous earthquake ten years prior in 1994, and another of greater strength in 1990, this hasn’t halted local or foreign tourists from donning their bathing suits to explore the crystal clear turquoise water.
Al Hoceima was once known as the Spanish settlement of Villa Sanjuro in the 1920s and was built to protect the area from local Berber tribes, who led a fierce rebellion against them. The Spanish settlers built colonial-style homes in the area and their architecture remains. Besides the city center where you can sip some mint tea, or walk around to see the College Espagnol, the city doesn’t offer many tourist attractions in the way of monuments or sights. Visiting the Ville Nouvelle, a French name meaning “new city,” you can stroll up to the Place Massira, where other locals gather every evening to enjoy the view.
The main reason why local tourists come to Al Hoceima is its laid-back style coupled with its beaches, which are not as crowded as others closer to Tangier and Tetouan. The main beach located near town is known as Quemado, a Spanish name that has stuck. The beach is popular because it actually forms one of the only bays where the Rif and the Mediterranean come together peacefully. Especially in August, this beach is brimming with local tourists and some European travelers. During the month of June and in mid-September the beach can truly be enjoyed. There are a few shops that rent out both snorkeling and scuba diving equipment. While snorkeling can be done by anyone, you will have to be certified to use the scuba gear.
The port of Al Hoceima is located nearby and actually offers some fine dining on local catches. So, many restaurants serve such great meals that staying in the area for two or three days simply to sample all that is offered make Al Hoceima even more alluring.
If you would like to travel to the outskirts of town, away from the port, Morocco’s coastline offers some other hidden treasures. As you continue away from the bay on Calle Mohammed V, which connects to Nador, you will be able to explore Asfiha, where you will find a nice stretch of beach that may be pretty much deserted, even in the high tourist season. If you don’t have your own transportation, you can take a small taxi to Cala Bonita, Plage Sebadella, or the more hidden Plage Espalmadero. If you are in the Al Hoceima area in July, try to time your visit with the yearly festival that takes place alongside the beaches. It might be best to contact the local tourist office or search online for specific dates. Sometimes the festival takes place the first week in August, coinciding with the return of Moroccan expatriates living just across the Mediterranean in Europe.