Morocco

Salaam- Alaikum Morocco!

My recent 16 day Moroccan journey went down as one of the most vibrant adventures in the books thus far. The markets are overflowing with colors –  bright spices, teas, and pigments galore, fruits by the ton lining the narrow streets, sheep, donkeys, goats and chicken wandering both the market and countryside, shawarma’s churning on the spit, snake charmers, beautiful silver teapots pouring Moroccan Mint Tea, colorful, hand-stitched pointy shoes, beautiful lanterns hanging from the market tents, wool blankets, woven scarves, and hamsa /mati everything you can think of – from keychains to bracelets, coin purses, candles, soap dishes or home décor- you name it, if you’ve been looking for the perfect hamsa all your life, you’re sure to find it here.


At the age of 26, I traveled to Morocco with another female friend of mine (Named Allie as well, which made introducing ourselves a giant joke). Both of us, being pretty seasoned travelers, had heard various negative opinions on 2 females traveling to Morocco alone. Given all the amazing pictures and stories we had heard about the beauty of the country, we decided not to let the hesitance stop us from traveling alone – and we couldn’t have made a better decision. We were welcomed by warm faces on day 1, and continued to meet an abundance of kind-hearted natives from city to city.

Here is our 16 Day itinerary Below. If you don’t have 16+ Days, consider splitting Morocco into 2 trips. I can’t express how many Americans said to me “You’re spending 16 days in JUST Morocco!?”  – YES, and I’m already anticipating my return for the cities I missed. For being a relatively small country, Morocco has many unique cities that change landscape and culture as quickly as teleporting from Arizona to Alaska. There is no way to fully explore and soak up the culture of each city if you are in and out within a day- One needs to spend a full day just getting lost in the medina of Fes (which takes absolutely 0 effort).

ABSOLUTE MUSTS! Okay so if you know your travel style and know you probably won’t make it back to Morocco, here are my 3 favorites cities that I would suggest putting at the top of your list.

  1. The Desert (and the valleys/gorges we drove through to get there)
  2. Chefchaouen (the Blue City- Unbelievably unique- hippie town- one of my new favorite cities in the world-really friendly, wonderful people-simply beautiful)
  3. Fes (known for the their pottery, leather tanneries and food- Fes is the city to explore to understand real Moroccan culture, outside of berber life. It isn’t sugar-coated like Marrakech. The people are amazing, prices are better and it’s not nearly as touristy). Don’t get me wrong, Marrakech is really fun – there is a very vibrant square and TONS of shopping, the sightseeing is beautiful and they definitely win the “westernized” nightlife scene- BUT it is definitely the most touristy city and the goods you find will all be overpriced compared to the eastern half of the country.

Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Marrakech – There is a bus at the airport located right outside the airport doors, just before the parking lot begins. I believe it is bus #19 and it costs 30 Dirhams per person (3$), and drops off right by the main square Jemaa el Fnaa. (I believe they are constantly running/leave when they are full during day time hours).

  • Check into the Riad / hotel / hostel – It’s a GREAT idea to have your hostel pulled up on google maps (with wi-fi turned off so the map will stay loaded if you are traveling without data)- the Medina can be a little overwhelming at first (if that’s where you are staying).
  • We refreshed and then walked around the market for a bit.
  • Find a rooftop at a point to watch the sunset, while enjoying the prayers played through the loudspeakers.
  • We happened to be in Marrakech on NYE – our hostel was throwing a party for its guests with a traditional meal and Moroccan dancers. Morocco as a country does not celebrate NYE, but you can find bars/clubs celebrating in New Marrakech for tourists.
  • We stayed at Equity Point Marrakech, and absolutely loved it. It is a hostel, but the grounds are beautiful, along with the staff! Perfect for friends, singles and couples that are happy with low-key in room basics.

Day 2: Explore Marrakech!

  • Visit the Jardin Majorelle (The Majorelle Garden by Y’ves St. Laurent) – located in New Marrakech. About 20 minutes walking from square, or hop in a cab. (Allow <1 hour – the gardens are actually pretty small)
  • View the Koutoubia Mosque (from outside only, unless you are of muslim religion).
  • Visit the Saadian Tomb (Allow <1 hour)
  • Visit the El Badi Palace (Allow <1 hour)
  • Visit the Palais Bahia (Allow <1 hour)
  • Venture back towards the square, while exploring the markets
  • Enjoy dinner in the city square (Jemaa el Fnaa) – the square is definitely something to see at night! But fyi, the dessert carts (where you pay per box) are a total rip off compared to popping in one of the many bakeries / shops.

** HENNA! LADIES, BEWARE! You will likely be grabbed in Marrakech by a woman who will immediately start drawing henna on your hand/arm and say it is for “good luck” and “free”. Pull away quickly, and repeatedly tell them “La” or no and that you will get the police – because within moments they will be demanding $50 US dollars and yelling at you, while holding your wrist tightly if you don’t pay. There are many great places to have henna done, at a normal rate ($6-$20), such as at Equity Point Hostel.

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Day 3: Explore Marrakech!

  • Visit the Medersa Ben Youssef – a very old, beautiful and ornate school
  • Spend some time exploring the markets
  • RELAX! Spend half the day at a Hamam! We bought a package at Hammam Rosa Bonehur and it was SO delightful! We enjoyed a thorough bathing experience in the steam room, Massage and Facial. The evening ended with a traditional dinner on the candlelit rooftop.

Day 4:  Pickup at 8 am for the SAHARA DESERT TOUR!

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This is the easiest and most convenient way to get to camp in the sahara desert and also end up in Fes. It is a 3 day tour, with pick up in one city and drop off in the other – Marrakech/Fes or vice versa). We used Original Morocco Tours and they were absolutely wonderful! Our desert experience was everything we hoped it would be- riding camels into the desert, sandboarding, savoring a Moroccan Tajine, sipping Moroccan Whiskey while enjoying traditional music around the campfire, stargazing and camping in berber tents overnight– an experience that will never be forgotten.

***We didn’t even consider renting a car to drive to the desert on our own. It was so convenient and hassle-free to have an experienced driver who knows the land, along with a private 4×4 that can handle the sand. A lot of the roads are less traveled on, and if you pop a tire you may not have assistance for quite some time- this would have been quite the problem for 2 city girls. Our driver also took us off-roading on the way to the desert, which was awesome. We also felt extremely safe the entire time we were with the company – in terms of us being 2 solo females, his driving, keeping our luggage/belongings in the jeep under his watch, etc.

I was very confused between the different desert treks and I hope this can help sum it up. The 3D/2N trek takes you into Merzouga, which is closer to the Algerian boarder / deeper into the Sahara desert. The 2D/1N trek from Marrakech only takes you to the desert near Quarzazate. Coming from Marrakech, both tours pass through the same places to get to the desert, however, the 3D/2N also sees the extra valleys/gorges and has extra time to go off-roading, etc. On the 3D/2N trek, you spend your first night in Dades Valley, which is unbelievably beautiful. On the second night, you camp in the Sahara Desert in Berber Tents (the tents/grounds are actually operated as a hotel). This is nice because there were people there from other tours/groups/bookings staying there, so we ended up meeting a bunch of really fun guys that we hung out with that night. On the third day, you finish the journey to Fes, passing through new scenery and cities.

The Tour Begins! 

From Marrakech, we started our 3D/2N journey to the desert with our driver, Hamid (if you arrange to be picked up in Fes, your itinerary will simply be backwards). We drove through the highest pass in the Atlas Mountains, called Tizi-N’Tichka (which is actually the highest mountain pass in North Africa).img_7507

We stopped to take pictures and continued our journey on to Quarzazate (Morocco’s Hollywood). On our way, we stopped at the Kasbah of Ait Ben-haddou, a Unesco heritage site, and famous filming location (Game of Thrones and the Gladiator, to name a few).

In Quarzazate, you have the opportunity to stop at the Film Studios (museums) and the Kasbah Taourirt if you wish. (What’s great about being on a private tour, is that you can tell your driver if you want to do something other than what’s on the itinerary, within reason – like not go to a museum if you’re not a museum person).

We continued our drive through valleys of palm trees, desert and just absolutely breathtaking scenery until we reached the Dades Valley, which is stunning. I usually fall asleep in long car rides, and I simply could not shut my eyes during this ride, even in the warm sun! We checked into our lovely hotel (which was all arranged by Original Morocco Tours), enjoyed a traditional dinner with music and enjoyed some shut eye for the night.

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Day 5:  Ready to jump on the caravan!img_7661

After breakfast, we drove to the highest point to lookout over the Dades Valley, then we headed off to the Merzouga Desert, passing through the Boumalne Dades and the Rose Valley (which sadly, wasn’t in bloom but would be breathtaking if it was!). We walked through the Todra Gorge (It’s WAY to cold to swim in during the winter months) and stopped at a shop with traditional Berber garb to play “dress-up”. The flag we are holding below is the traditional Berber Flag. The symbol represents “Freedom” and the colors represent the sea, the land and the desert. At this point we arrived at the Erg Chebbi sand dunes – think the beautiful red mountains of wind blown sand—we’re finally here!  We went off-roading and played in the dunes before meeting our desert guide and Camels (In Morocco, they call them dromedaries, which is a 1 humped camel). Note: Camels don’t love to snuggle like I thought they would!

Our guide, Hamid, who we had spent the last ~30 hours with, stays elsewhere for the night and kept our luggage safe (all you need is a small backpack to bring into the desert with warm clothes, pj’s, a toothbrush, etc. I would highly suggest bringing gloves, a hat, layers, and wool socks for the evening- it gets down to freezing temps at night!)

We rode into the desert with our camels and new guide- it was pure bliss. Watching our reflections of the caravan on the red sand was something I could partake in for hours. After about an hour and 15 minutes, we arrived at our Berber Camp – traditional Berber tents surrounding an open fire, with pillows and Moroccan rugs and blankets everywhere.img_7584

We spent the rest of the afternoon sand boarding in the dunes and enjoying the sight of rolling sand dunes in every direction. That night, we enjoyed a traditional Moroccan meal, prepared for us by the berber men at our camp and then hung out by the camp fire – singing traditional songs, learning to play Moroccan instruments, dancing, etc. We drank lots of Moroccan Whiskey (Moroccan Mint Tea) and laid in the sand to stargaze.

Day 6: After an amazing night, we woke in the morning to ride our camels to the top of the dunes in time to see the sunrise. We finished our journey via camel back to where our original guide, Hamid, dropped us off. He was there to greet us with our stuff so we could shower and enjoy breakfast at a nearby hotel. We headed off to Fes, passing through Erfoud, the Ziz Valley, Azrou (where you may get to see monkeys!), Ifrane (The Swiss Village of Morocco/ where the ski resorts are) and the day ended in Fes around 6 pm/18:00 when we were dropped off at our Riad. img_7729

Day 7: Fes & Meknes!

  • We went on a 4-hour morning walking tour to see the highlights of Fes, which included:
    • The Karaouine Mosque
    • Bou Inania Madrasa (Is considered the oldest university on some standards)
    • Dar el makhzen (The Jewish Quarter)
    • Bab Boujloud (The Main Blue Gate)
    • The Tanneries – Bring some mint with if you are a nauseous to smells!
    • And the Medina itself- which all of the places above are located within!

A local guide showed us around and this was set up with Original Morocco Tours as well.

Around 12:30, we took the train over to Meknes. The goal was to see the Bab Mansour Gate and Volubilis. However, we approached this completely wrong and therefore did not make it to Volubilis. When you get off the train, unless you want to figure out the shared taxi stand, take a taxi from the train station directly to Volubilis. On your way back, you can get dropped off at the Bab Mansour Gate and check out the square for dinner, and then train back to Fes (which is only an hour ride). If you go to the gate first, like we did, you may have a hard time finding taxis to take you to Volubilis because for some reason, taxi’s in that area would not drive the 30 minutes to Volubilis /claimed they couldn’t leave Meknes. **ONCF has the train schedule online

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** If traveling via bus to your next location, you will want to book your bus ticket 1-2 days before the date. We were used to Europe/Asia where you can book last minute — When we went to book tickets to Chefchaouen the night before, all of the busses were sold out. We got really lucky and our hostel knew of another group staying elsewhere that also forgot to book tickets, and arranged a large van for all of us. You can also take a private taxi, which costs about $100-120 for the 3 hour drive.

Day 8: Cooking Class!

Moroccan food is delicious- tajines, kefta, pistilla, harissa, breakfast crepes, pastries, lamb filled pita sandwiches, avocado date smoothies – basically, delicious street food everywhere-  and even better when you can bring some of those recipes home with you! We took a cooking class with Lashan at Fes Cooking & Cultural Tours — we spent the morning learning about the foods and spices at the local market, buying our foods for the day, and then cooked a full course meal. Everything was delicious – and Lashan was a blast to work with and learn from!

Day 9: Fes/ Chefchaouen

We spent the morning shopping in the market – Fes is known for its beautiful pottery and leather – and then took an afternoon bus to Chefchaouen. *Supratours and CTM are the main bus companies in Morocco

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Our Riad in Chefchaouen was called Dar Elrio and it was AMAZING! Whether staying in the hostel or the private rooms, I would not stay anywhere else in Chefchaouen!

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Day 10: Chefchaouen

  • Explore the markets (The food market, which is closer to the main part of the city, and the goods market, which is behind the Kasbah)
  • Simply get lost (maybe practice some yoga) in the blue streets (all behind the Kasbah)img_7930
  • Enjoy lunch on one of the many beautiful terraces or rooftops
  • Buy a Kilo of dates for $3.00…and then attempt to eat them all before you leave
  • Visit the Spanish Mosque at Sunset (It’s about a 15-20 minute hike up the hill, and you will get to meet donkeys and other animals on your way up!) Yes, the donkeys are friendly 🙂
  • Eat at Restaurant Café Sofia!
  • ** Book your bus ticket to wherever you are going next

Day 11: Chefchaouen

  • Take a Day trip to Cascades d’Akchour
    • Go to the Shared Taxi stand in Chefchaouen – hopefully there will be other people waiting to go to Cascades d’Akchour as well. However, the day we went (during January), there were only 2 other people waiting to go. The cost was 150 Dirhams per couple roundtrip. One we got there, we ended up paying a guide (we were stubborn American girls wanting to be independent, until we realized some of the paths were not marked, at all.) So the guide charged us 50 Dirhams ($5) for each hike– TOTAL – and we generously tipped him. All in all, there is a tour for $22 US dollars per person that the hotels/hostels can arrange, which is only slightly more expensive than what you are going to pay going the route we went- plus they provide lunch on that tour. So, if you are a solo traveler on a budget, it may be a better option since there is no guarantee you will meet other people wanting to go to d’Akchour.
  • We did the hike to the Lower Cascades and then the hike to God’s Bridge. If you have more time, you may be able to squeeze in the Upper Falls as well! We spent about 4 hours hiking total at a leisurely pace.

Day 12: On to Asilah!

  • We took the bus to Tangier, where we then transferred to the train station to catch a train to Asilah. A taxi to Asilah would save you a TON of time if it fits in your budget / looking back, it would have been worth the extra money.
  • Our Riad in Asilah was AMAZING! It was called Christina’s House, and I would stay there again in a heartbeat. Actually, I would move there.

Day 13: Exploring Asilah

  • We woke up and went to a traditional Hamam, which was VERY different than the modern Hamam in Marrakech.
    • The traditional hamams separate men and women. We had to buy our own little glove, black soap, ghassoul, and henna powder. and you pay for a ticket at the Hamam entrance. They give you 2 buckets, you undress in the common area, and then go into the first of three rooms. Each room gets hotter, and you sit down on a mat (the owner of our Riad provided us with mats- you do not want to sit on the ground). You fill your buckets up with water at the faucets and basically bathe yourself or whomever you are with. You can also ask for the “massage” and pay for someone to come over and bathe you. Many people use this as a social experience – they bring their little babies and toddlers, oranges, snacks, etc. and it’s really a cool experience – especially coming from the US, where we don’t have ANYTHING like this. Alternatively, the modern Hamam in Marrakech was very fancy and clean – a man and woman could go in together if preferred – and everything was private (so it was you, your friend/lover/etc. and then each of you would have your own lady massaging and bathing you). I would suggest trying to see both, especially since the traditional Hamam is more of a cultural experience where the modern Hamam is more of a spa day.
  • We rode bikes around Asilah- over by the fishing port, and then had lunch downtown and explored the medina, which is filled with beautiful street art that you can’t miss!
  • We went down to the beach (to the left of the pier), walked around and practiced some yoga and then watched the sunset on the pier and shopped in the market.

Day 14: Rabat – The Capital! Off to see the King!

  • We took the 3 hour train ride to Rabat and checked in at our Riad (The train became Reallly packed at the end of the ride – my luggage actually had to crowd surf its way off the train….
  • Rabat is the capital and has an efficient tram system. We took the tram to view the:
    • King’s Palace (Debatable if worth seeing since you’re only viewing it from the outside)
    • The Hassan Tower  & The Mausoleum of Muhammad the 5th – Very, very, lovely Area!!
    • The Kasbah of the Udayas — Great place to check out the beach & sunset!

Day 15: Casablanca

  • We took an early train to Casablanca (about an hour /1.25 hours train ride)
    • If only visiting for the day WITH luggage, take a train to Casa-Voyageurs railway station (NOT Casa Port) so you can leave your luggage for the day. When you walk out of the train station, turn to your left and walk down to the end of the strip of storefronts. At the end, 2-4 shops down, on your left is the SupraTours office. You can store your luggage there for a small fee of ~50 dirhams for a few hours.  We didn’t have any problems and they keep the doors locked so we felt our stuff was safe – granted we took our cameras, valuables, etc.
  • Visit the Hassan II Mosque – One of two mosques you can visit in Morocco and the third largest in the world! Make sure you look up the tour times before visiting, because they only offer tours in between prayer times.
  • If you are from America, you probably want to see Rick’s Café. Bad news friends, Rick’s doesn’t exist. This Rick’s Café, was built in 2004 to entertain American/European tourists, but the real Casablanca was filmed in a studio.
  • We hopped in a cab back to the train station ($4), grabbed our luggage and hopped on the train to Marrakech- It’s another 3 hours, so paying an extra $5-7 for first class may not be the worst idea.

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Day 16: Marrakech / Flight Home

  • We finished up last minute shopping and eating our last delicious Moroccan meals before our flight home, which consisted of a 24 hour layover in Madrid- the perfect amount of time for some Spanish Shenanigans- And Jamon!
  • We took a taxi to the Marrakech airport for $10/$100 Dirham – for price reference.
Good to Know...

*** The tree goats were not in the trees in January. So sad. Argan nuts are not ripe in January, so the goats had no reason to go into the trees since they eat the nuts. However, we did see goats on the ground and they were still cute!

*** If buying Argan oil, it is only guaranteed by the government to be real Argan oil if it was produced at a Cooperative.

***CTM & Supratours are the main bus Lines | ONCF is the main rail line; Book Bus tickets 1-2 days in advance

***Moroccan Whiskey is code for Moroccan Mint Tea

***Morocco is cold in the winter months…. And FREEZING at night in the desert!

Shukran!

Thank you for reading and I hope your Moroccan Adventure is just as colorful!

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask!

For $15 off your first reservation on Booking.com, use code https://www.booking.com/s/428f305c 

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