Kinda looks like this is slowly turning into a travel blog huh? Really though, I love making these posts for myself more than anything. It’s my digital travel scrapbook that allows me to go down memory lane later on and remember all the amazing places I’ve been and the details that would easily get forgotten over time if I didn’t make note of them. If it inspires or helps a fellow wanderluster (that’s you!) along the way, then bonus.
Today’s stop on the globe is Morocco…for two whole weeks! People often talk about travel bucket lists and truthfully I prefer spontaneity over trips that are a lifetime in planning so I wouldn’t say I necessarily have a bucket list (I like to keep myself and my expectations in check and surprised) but Morocco has been on the radar for awhile. The timing was right and the trip was on sale so I jumped at the opportunity. I know there’s a million reasons to love Morocco but for me I was drawn there by the vibrant colours and bohemian style. It’s my jam, big time, and the boho colour junkie in me was not disappointed.
I’ve done a bunch of traveling (Morocco makes it 27 countries!) and I’ve done it all – solo, with friends, boyfriend, family, tour….they all have their pros and cons. For this trip I signed up for a small group tour with Intrepid Travel and managed to convince my friend, Heather, to come along for the ride so it was a friend/tour combo.
I loved the itinerary of this tour because it covered so much ground and included my two trip must-have’s – visiting Chefchaouen and a camel ride in the Sahara. It was a very big bonus that it happened to be a food tour. Both Intrepid and G Adventures are my go-to travel companies when I’m looking for a tour. I like that they’re smaller groups (usually 12 people or less), they’re more culturally focused and take a bit of the road less traveled (for a tour) and also great for solo travelers because there’s no mandatory single supplement fee.
I would say that if you’re a seasoned traveler, are fluent in either Arabic or French, comfortable driving in foreign countries, generally don’t have “sucker” written on your forehead and have a male buddy to keep you company then you can skip the tour and do Morocco on your own schedule. You can even save yourself the hassle of renting a car out in Morocco and just ship your car or truck over with you. There are so many companies out there that can do this for you, just check out something like this site that explains how Cars Arrive Auto Relocation. It’s certainly a lot easier having a car that you use all the time, rather then getting a completely new rental. Besides, you might find it stressful enough driving in a completely new area. So why not ease your stress a little bit by getting your car shipped out to wherever you are. However, if you failed that little test and especially if you’re female, you may want to consider a tour. Plus I’m not a huge planner and find I see more when I’m with a tour versus wandering around on my own. But they both can be great! If you’re looking for a great tour, look no further than Morocco Tours. They offer the perfect opportunity to really experience all Morocco has to offer, from visiting the desert to discovering the lost Roman ruins of Volubilis.
As I mentioned, the trip itinerary covered a lot and you can find all the details over here. I truly enjoyed every stop for different reasons and love that I saw so many sides of Morocco. But for the sake of both our attention spans and the length of this post, this is really just a highlight reel of some of my favourites. It is super long though, so grab that hot beverage and stay for awhile.
The trip kicked off in Casablanca but we really just had one day there on our own until the tour started the next day. Overall my impression of Casablanca was a big, kinda dirty, kinda old in a falling apart kinda way, busy city. The highlight was the beautiful Hassan II Mosque. It was really a stunning display of the beautiful Moroccan architecture that we were about to see a lot more of. The photos don’t really do the scale of the building justice.
It was also my first taste of the beautiful tile work and mosaics that we were about to see everywhere that never got old.
Our first stop on our way to the much anticipated Chefchaouen (more to come on that later) was the region of Moulay Idriss. This wasn’t a major stop but it was a great way to kick off the trip.
It was our first (of many) nights in a super charming guest house and our first authentic meal of the trip. I really enjoyed the guest houses over the hotels and restaurants. They were usually more charming and intimate and the homemade meals couldn’t be beat.
If you don’t do bread, then you should probably stay home. Bread is a huge part of the Moroccan food culture. Most small towns have a communal bread oven that people can bring their homemade loaves to get cooked in time for breakfast, lunch or dinner because that’s how often they serve it. Did I mention that by some miracle I lost weight on this trip?!?! It’s a true (delicious) mystery.
There was something about this little town that made me happy. I think it partly because of the donkey I named Louis.
If I’m being honest (which I usually am to a fault) not unlike my trip to California, much of my Morocco travel wish list was made up from places I saw on Instagram. Love it or hate it…social media is influential! At the top of my list, hot on the tails of Marrakech, was Chefchaouen…a.k.a The Blue City. I mean common…how can I NOT go to a small town in a mountain valley that’s painted all blue?
It may not look as blue as you would expect from a distance but don’t let that fool you. It’s actually the Madina (the oldest part of town) that’s painted in the blue that the city is known for.
Here we spent the better part of two days wandering through blue alleys full of mysteriously gorgeous doors, shops full of eye candy and no shortage of photo opps.
I highly recommend visiting Morocco in March. It’s Spring so the weather is ideal (warm & comfortable days, maybe a light sweater in the evenings) and the crowds aren’t cray cray just yet. I was pleasantly surprised how few crowds we encountered during most of the trip, especially in Chefchaouen.
Leaving Chefchaouen behind definitely made me a bit blue (get it?!?!) but the trip must go on! Next stop was the big city of Fes. Like many big cities, they’re usually not my favourite part of a trip because they’re kinda big & dirty and overwhelming unless you know someone who lives there that can show you the hidden gems. But I did fall in love with all the emerald green roofs as far as the eye could see.
A highlight of Fes is that it has the biggest and oldest Madina in Morocco and this gal lovesssss a good market. We probably only walked about 25% of this huge Madina. They say that even the locals can get lost in the maze of endless alleys. Needless to say, there was no free solo time in that Madina or we would still be there right now.
Fes is also the jackpot if you’re looking for leather in Morocco. That means those famous leather poufs and slippers…and everything in between. Just brush up on your negotiation skills and work on your poker face. Never let them know how much you love something or you might as well just hand over your wallet.
The smell of orange blossoms was in the air and I loved it so much that I brought a bottle of it home with me. I wish you could scratch & sniff.
Did I mention this was a food tour? Honestly I don’t think I ever felt the feeling of hunger once this trip started. No, I didn’t take pictures of every single thing I ate, but this was a particularly delish and photo-worthy spread of Moroccan salads that we were treated to in Fes.
Fes is home to the country’s largest tannery. I honestly didn’t know what to expect but the chemical and dye pools were both strangely beautiful and also very eye (and nose) opening. They gave you fresh mint when you walked in to help with the smell…
To see the manual labour that’s involved in making our pretty leather pieces gave me a whole new appreciation for them. I mean…don’t get me wrong, I still hated being totally swindled by the leather shop keepers. Nothing like coming home and realizing you paid more for a leather piece at the actual place were it was made than what you would across the ocean from a marked up retailer at home. Lesson learned….
After leaving behind busy Fes, we hit the road for the mountains. The drive was beautiful (you’ll just have to take my word for it). We stopped for the night at the most unassuming but beautiful hotel in the middle of nowhere around Midelt for the eve. What was hiding behind the adorbs exterior was kinda like magic. These Moroccans with their fancy mosiacs. Gimme it all!
After a verrrrrry long day of driving, we finally made it to the edges of the epic Sahara desert. There’s something about deserts that I absolutely love. I’m not sure if it’s the vast open spaces, the silence, the less is more thing (which is usually the opposite of my natural habitat) but I love me a good desert and the Sahara is kinda epic.
I’ve ridden a horse a few times and not a big fan. Those things have a mind of their own. But camels on the other hand…..I love. They are huge and awesome and just always look so chill. Like seriously. Look at this face. I named my camel Kevin.
There’s lots of reasons I love to travel but I would say that one of the main reasons is to chase that feeling of newness and discovery that becomes more elusive as we get older. On almost every adventure I take there’s usually at least one moment where I look around and think “holy shit, where the fuck am I and what am I doing?” And I mean that in the best way possible. Riding a camel through the desert was definitely the holy shit moment of this trip. That feeling of trying/doing/seeing something for the first time ever. It’s the best natural high around.
Our group of 8 rode for about 1.5 hours on camel back to our desert camp. The weather was absolutely perfect. Our guide told us that we lucked out with a perfect day. If you’re not as lucky you may come across a sand storm, either really chilly or crazy hot temps so be prepared.
After arriving at camp, we had just enough time to climb a 200 metre sand dune to catch the sunset. I knew there was a reason I was torturing myself at the gym. It was all for this moment. The payoff was worth it….don’t you think?
After the sun went down, the real party started. Ok so it wasn’t Burning Man but we had an amazing meal then kicked back around a fire with some live music thanks to our local guides. Wherever there’s drums there obviously dancing so you can use your imagination.
Doesn’t everything just look like magic in candlelight? The tents were definitely not glamping but we had super comfy mattresses on the floor with lots of blankets to keep us warm during the cool desert night. Then……a few short hours later we were up and back on the ol’humps to catch the sunrise.
I can’t decide which one was more of a holy shit moment – sun up or sun down. Sometimes there’s just no winners. I was pretty bummed to leave the Sahara but so grateful that we had such an awesome experience.
After saying bye to the those red dunes and Kevin, we had another long day of driving. It was time to go and chill out in the high Atlas mountains for a few days. I don’t mind long drives with views like this.
We stayed at another guest house with the friendliest hosts and the tea time view couldn’t be beat. Mint tea, all day errrr day in Morocco. It’s a ritual that I brought back home with me and very into.
After a few days of chilling we were on the home stretch of the tour. It was the last couple days but my bohemian heart was beating fast because I knew we were ending on a high note…..Marrakech! I lost track of the amount of times I’ve caught myself drooling at an image online and not surprised to find it was taken in Marrakech. I knew this was a place that I was going to fall in love with and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s just filled with eye candy for someone like me.
Before saying goodbye to our group, we had an amazing day cooking with the women at the Amal Women’s Cooking Centre. What an awesome opportunity! It’s a non-profit org that trains women who have come across some bad luck in their lives and gives them skills that they can use to get a job and support themselves. We made soooooooooo much delicious food and then got to kick back on a lovely patio and enjoy all our hard work. I think this was probably the best meal of the whole trip.
With our bellies absolutely stuffed, we took a leisurely stroll and checked out the Jardin Majorelle , the beautiful botanical garden created by Jacques Marjorelle and later became Yves St. Laurent’s ultimate…I wanna say man cave, but that doesn’t seem right….let’s say artist’s retreat. It’s not huge, we saw it all in an hour (hot tip – go an hour before closing to get pictures with no people!) but I could sit there all day it was so pretty.
This is where we said adios to our travel buddies and Heather and I had 2 days to wander on our own in Marrakech. It’s not really a lot of time but on our agenda was 1) chill at our pretty Riad 2) attempt to buy carpets 3) treat ourselves to a hammam and lastly let loose and find some night life. 3 out of 4 isn’t bad. Unfortunately we never did quite figure out the night life part. We tried. Sorta.
I have no complaints about our tour accommodations but they just couldn’t compare to the character of Riad Farhan, where we spent our last two nights. You know a place is going to be good when the streets are too narrow for cars to go and the maze of alleys to get there can’t be found on Google Maps. This is part of what I loved about Marrakech. There were endless alleys and you never knew exactly what you would find or what was behind those big heavy doors.
Separate beds are a bit trickier to come by in small Riads compared to hotels so Heather and I just embraced the couple life. What can I say…we looked cute together. We lucked out with the private rooftop room that opened out onto the terrace. It was perfect!
Farhan is Arabic for merry (or happy) and this place made me very happy. It’s a super peaceful retreat in the middle of the bustling old Medina. The staff were extremely friendly and helpful and the price wasn’t cray cray at all….I highly recommend. I suggest doing a little hotel/Riad hopping if you’re Marrakech. You can stay at one place but feel free to pop into some other places for a drink by the pool or meal just so you can see more of the beautiful decor that’s hidden behind the Madina walls. Honestly there’s a bunch of amazing Instagram-worthy places but I recommend going out of your way to check out El Fenn for a happy hour drink…..just ’cause hello..gorgeous!
Our second task of buying a carpet was a biggy. Honestly it deserves its own blog post but that’s not happening (but there’s lots already out there, like this one) Truthfully it was quite a stressful experience and I don’t really recommend it to anyone who isn’t a professional negotiator of some kind. Ok maybe that’s a bit extreme but honestly I don’t think any amount of research or advice can prepare you for a Moroccan carpet salesman. You’ve been warned. Heather and I did walk away with carpets we love and (most of) our dignity so we feel lucky.
And now when we get compliments on our rugs we can be one of those annoying people that say “oh thanks! I got in Morocco…no biggy”. Here’s the rug that I ended up with and am LOVING in my loft. For those curious, many of the places will ship your rug for you at a cost or in our case, they wrapped it up nice and tight and I checked it as a 2nd piece of luggage that Air Canada SHOCKINGLY did not charge me for. Shopping miracles do happen folks.
Last but certainly not least – the ultimate treat to end off a busy tour, a hammam at one of the many spas in Marrakech. Just in case you’re not familiar, that’s were your body gets totally scrubbed down by a stranger and then rinsed off with buckets of water. Or something like that anyway. Here’s a tip – if you’re going with a friend, don’t sign up together or you may (totally understandably) be mistaken as a couple. So I’ve heard. Traveling is for making memories…right Heather? #awkward.
Wow….and that’s how you (attempt) to sum up two fabulous weeks in Morocco in one blog post. I admit that I had some very specific (and narrow) ideas of what Morocco was going to be and it was sooooo much more. I love how much of the country I got to experience. There are so many more places in the world to discover but I can see myself coming back to Marrakech one day and spending a week really exploring all the amazing hidden spaces and relaxing on the sunny rooftops…..and obviously bringing an extra suitcase just for shopping.
Believe it or not I feel like I left so many details out. If you’re still reading then bless you. If you legit are interested in going to Morocco one day and have more questions about anything, please feel free to leave a comment below.