Morocco: a sweltering, intimidating, inexpensive, culturally rich country. A place where I recently spent two weeks travelling. And when I say travelling- I mean HEAVY backpack on your back, sweaty under the sun, windy cliff roads, uncomfortable camels, long bus rides, communication difficulties, taxi fare bartering, near car accidents, three hour customs lineups, cold showers, ineffective ferry services, unfathomable time tables, and unexplained layovers.
Sounds awful doesn’t it? Well- as with any trip- there are those frustratingly difficult failed communication attempts with various bus/ferry/taxi drivers, and those astoundingly uncomfortable never ending journeys and lineups. But- it wasn’t all bad. Really.
Despite the slightly more than occasional unpleasant travel experiences in the country, we actually had an incredible trip. Really. The best orange juice of my life, steaming and spicy tangine, panoramic mountain/desert/city views, fantastic shopping, charming souks, never ending amounts of mint tea and Shisha, relaxing days in Berber villages, sleeping in sand dunes, watching the sunrise/sunset in the sahara, moonlit camel treks, endless smiles, and astounding beauty.
Morocco is a fabulous place to travel to. It is not, in my experience, a fabulous place for a vacation. If you are looking to simply relax and enjoy an easy travelling experience, perhaps it’s not the place for you. If you are a fairly seasoned traveller looking for a cultured, character building experience, I would definitely recommend this country.
One of the major cities of Morocco, Marrakesh is seemly the most popular tourist destination in the country. I would highly recommend a couple days in this chaotic haven. It’s the place for shopping, sightseeing and cuisine, and gives you a real taste of Moroccan culture. Check out the souks, the orange juice stalls in Jamal El Fna, The Henna Cafe, A Hammam, The Sultan’s Palace, the nightly food market, and the city gardens (if you’re a garden lover!)
We stayed in Marrakesh Riad Rouge Hostel, a place that has consistently been voted one of the top hostels in Africa and in the world, and which is styled lavishly in the form of a traditional Riad. You can rent a bed in a dorm or even just sleep on the roof! Free Shisha, Mint Tea and cookies anytime of night. Plus- there’s a pet cat.
2) The Atlas Mountains
The Atlas Mountains is a mountain range stretching across northwestern Africa. Famed for the traditional Berber villages that are sparsely dotted within them, The Atlas Mountains should definitely be on your list of places to visit in Morocco, and was a peaceful haven after the overwhelming initial experience in Marrakesh.
Imlil, a small Berber village in the Atlas Mountains, is approximately a one hour and fifteen minute taxi ride from Marrakesh and should cost around 250 Dirham (using your best bartering skills). There are a plethora of hostels, guesthouse sand lodges in the surrounding area, so whether you book ahead of time or simply show up you would not have a problem securing a room. Recommendation: Dar Adrar.
We spent two days relaxing on the veranda of Dar Adrar, enjoying sunset home cooked tagine dinners, and strolling through the neighbouring villages. The air is fresh, the area is quiet, and the people are welcoming. A true respite.
Essaouira: A seaside town located on the northwest coast of Morocco, only 2.5 hours from Marrakesh. Go for the day or spend a weekend. Visit the smelly and lovely fish market, take pictures of the abandoned old boats, stroll and shop down the narrow white painted streets, be less harassed than usual, and sit down and enjoy a relaxing meal. Essaouira has a drastically different feel than the rest of Morocco and is recommended to see and experience for this reason. Plus- on the journey there- you get to see the infamous ‘goats in trees.’ Seriously- that’s a real picture.
4) The Sahara
Sahara: meaning ‘desert’ in Arabic. Riding a camel through the Sahara was the anticipated epitome of my trip to Morocco. Megan and I ambitiously booked a four day, three night trip, travelling from Marrakesh through the desert and finishing in Fes. It was a LOT of travelling. There were communication concerns, seemingly abandoned moments, discomfort, and a lot of personal uncleanliness. There was also one of the most inspired and happy moments of my life.
You can book a tour to the Sahara from many various tour operators in Marrakesh. No need to book beforehand, simply price compare between the stalls. Trust me- they are all selling the same thing and it doesn’t matter which one you book with- simply try to just get the best price you can! Our four day tour ( including four camel rides, two nights in the desert, one in a hotel, three dinners and breakfasts, and air conditioned private minibus ) cost 1,200 Dirham, or approximately $150.00.
Here is the trip in a nutshell:
Day one: Start in Marrakesh, drive all day stopping off at various sights along the way, arrive in the small dunes Sahara, take pictures, ride uncomfortably on a camel for thirty minutes as sun sets, arrive in cool desert camp as moon appears, enjoy delicious tagine and traditional Berber music while lying on blankets in the desert looking up at stars.
Day two: Ride uncomfortably on camel back to the parking lot, drive all day, be abandoned in small town for three hours without having faith another bus will pick you up, get picked up and drive to hotel, arrive in hotel and immediately shower, eat mediocre tagine dinner, check email, sleep.
Day three: Eat mediocre hotel breakfast, drive all day stopping off at a couple sights along the way, arrive in large dunes Sahara, wait in hotel for camels to arrive wondering if they will arrive at all, ride comfortably on camels through soft sand and large dunes with moon overhead for one hour and a half while undergoing an extremely inspirational and happy life moment, arrive in desert and enjoy delicious tagine dinner with group that is eaten with hands while sitting in sand, drag mattress up to sand dunes and set up bed for the night, hike to higher sand dunes to take in stunning views, socialize with group up there, hike back down to mattress, pray no scarab beatles, snakes or scorpions attack you while sleeping, gaze up at stunning stars in gratitude, witness the brightest, slowest and most spectacular shooting star of your life, fall asleep with extreme surreal happiness.
Day four: eat breakfast in desert camp, ride comfortably on camels back to hotel in daylight, be told by driver another van left with your backpack, drive to meet the other bus with your bag and retrieve, be dropped off in a town are told you can get a bus from to fes, have no luck finding the bus station, barter with a taxi driver for a good price to get to fes, succeed, arrive in fes exhausted.
Yes, I recommend you go there. No, I have not been there. I hear it’s great though! Houses exclusively painted in white and blue, and the best hash in the world. We were planning to go however time escaped us and thus it was cut from our itinerary. Every traveller we encountered recommended this place however so with that much positive public opinion we would recommend. We ended up going to Fes, which incidentally is not on my list as it was an extremely aggressive and harassing experience (yet nonetheless I am glad I went).
We travelled from Morocco to Spain by way of the ferry service from Tangier. As seems to be typical in Moroccan transportation systems, the commencement of the journey was frustrating and hectic, yet the actual travelling was an enjoyable and beautiful ride.
Morocco, thanks for the madness.