I just finished 13 days in Morocco and it was a unique experience on so many levels. There was lots of good, some bad, and even a little bit of ugly. My friend and I took a tour with Morocco Immersions and visited Rabat, Chefchaouen, Volubilis, Meknes, Fes, Midelt, Merzouga (Sahara Desert), The Valley of the Roses, Ait Ben Haddou, Ouarzazate, Marrakech, Ourika Valley and Essaouria. It was a jam-packed itinerary with a lot of ground covered, sights seen and miles driven.
Here are my top 10 take aways from our trip.
1. Friendly People
I had heard about the famous Berber hospitality, but didn’t really believe it until several days into my trip. As a jaded New Yorker, who thinks many people have ulterior motives, it was hard for me to believe that Moroccans were genuinely that nice! Everyone welcomes you with a smile and a Salam. And they all greet each other warmly, even if they just met. As one of our tour guides explained, “Salam means peace, and we greet everyone as if they are family. Even if we don’t know them, we will treat them like family.” Once I learned to embrace the Berber’s welcome, I was able to have a lot of fun with it and meet some really wonderful people. This helped tremendously through the bad and ugly parts of the trip!
I thought New Yorkers or Italians were crazy drivers… until I visited Morocco. The lane dividers seem like mere suggestions and laws and speed limits were made to be broken. It wouldn’t be such a big deal if you were driving on six-lane motorways, but most of the roads are two-lane and winding! There’s also tons of scooters seemingly playing target practice with you on both the main roads and medinas. Within our first hour, a bus got a little too close to our mirror, which resulted in a very animated conversation, but nothing else.
3. The Scenery
If you are like me, you thought that Morocco was just a maze of chaotic big cities. And while that’s partly true, there are also charming and quaint towns as well as beautiful desert, mountain and ocean views. My favorite stops were the villages of Chefchaouen and Essaouira. Chefchaouen has alley after alley of beautiful blue streets filled with friendly people and cute cats, while Essaouira is a sea-side town with great shops and wonderful sea food.
Everywhere we turned there was amazing detail. Whether the tile in an entry way, a lovely fountain or carved wood in a palace mosque or madrasa (school), each turn was prettier than the next. This country is a photographer’s dream. The hardest part is trying to go through all of the great photos you take!
4. Great Experiences
From climbing to a waterfall to 4×4 off-roading in the desert, visiting the Africa of Hollywood and exploring historic castles and kasbahs, there were a lot of great experiences in Morocco. We saw pottery being made, rugs and scarves being weaved, leather being colored and so much more. It’s a lot more than the crazy cities.
5. Riads are Amazing
We mostly stayed at Riads during our trip. Riads are traditional Moroccan houses or palaces that have been turned into guest houses. They feature an internal courtyard and often a maze like path to your room. They are so much more charming than a regular hotel and it really gives you a feel for the country. If you go to Morocco, stay at Riads whenever possible (which should be most of the time!)
6. It was Hot
Like Africa hot! (Who knows the movie?). As we looked into visiting Morocco from mid-late June, we knew it would be hot… we just didn’t expect it to be as hot as it was. While we were thinking 90s, it was in the mid-100s for approximately half of our trip. This made sightseeing very difficult, especially since I was having a hard time keeping food in me! After this trip, there’s no doubt in my mind that global warming exists, and I’d recommend visiting Morocco in April, May, October or November!
7. Good Food, but bad for Me
The food in Morocco was very tasty. Starting with the amazing fresh squeezed orange juice (we had several a day), and juicy watermelon, to the couscous (traditionally eaten on Fridays), tagines (a meat dish prepared in ceramic-ware), pastillas (a sweet/savory pastry and meat pie) and kebabs it all was very well-prepared and yummy. Unfortunately, after the third day, my stomach decided it had enough and remained in expulsion mode for the rest of my time in Morocco. While I have an admittedly bad stomach with bell pepper and spice allergies (among others), I was very careful with what I ate and drank (all bottled water), but it didn’t really matter. My friend had much better luck though, so I think it’s more of a “me problem” than a Morocco problem.
Tipping is very popular in Morocco. And not just for items that you traditionally tip for. If someone shows you the way or helps walk you through something, they expect a tip. Guides you may not ask for will be ready for a tip at the end, and boys who help you find the main square also have their hands out. Once you get used to it, it becomes second nature, but at first you may be surprised.
9. Itinerary Planning
This is a tough one, but it’s helpful to know what you like and what you don’t. Of the places we visited, I’d definitely recommend visiting Chefchaouen and either Fes or Marrakech. However, if you love crazy cities with maze-like medinas, head to both Fes and Marrakech. If you are OK with taking 3-4 days to visit and cross the country to see the desert, it’s definitely fun surfing the sand dunes in a 4×4. But know that you are also likely staying in a tent in the middle of nowhere, which gets insanely hot when it’s 100+ degrees outside. If you like laid back beach vibes, Essaouria is for you. It’s 2.5 hours from Marrakech and a welcome respite from the city chaos. There are other, lovely day trips you can take from Marrakech, including the Ourika Valley for a waterfall hike, Ait Ben Haddou for a UNESCO kasbah and Ouarzazate to see the “Hollywood” of Africa. Overall, I probably saw more of Morocco than I needed to, but as I mentioned earlier, the people made every day better.
Not the musical, but I was definitely singing a happy tune seeing so many feline friends. Moroccans love their cats – much more than dogs, which is surprising to me, living in a dog-centric country. While there are many of them on the street, men will often buy them cheese or milk to feed them and make sure they are well cared for. In Essaouria, they marked those who were spayed/neutered to help control the population. The cats are also as friendly as the people in Morocco. While some thought you would bring them food, many others just wanted love and head butted and purred away. Some even followed us. My guess is, I saw thousands of cats and I took pictures of as many as possible. If you like cats, check out my Instagram account dedicated to the Cats of the World – Chats du Monde.
One other thing to note…
We were in Morocco during Ramadan, which made some things a little difficult. Many shops and restaurants were closed and most places didn’t serve dinner until after sunset. We also felt awful for those fasting in the brutal heat with not even any water. We developed a routine, but it would probably be better to visit at another time.
So with all of that said, would I recommend a trip to Morocco? Absolutely! I hope that this post helped you answer some of the questions you may have. For those who have been to Morocco, do you have anything to add? And for those who want to go, do you have any questions?