MOROCCO: TRAVEL GUIDE
A country alight with a sea of spices, colours and chaos, my time in Morocco was filled with more than enough adventure and excitement. This was my second visit back to this crazy country, with this time around being vastly different to my original trip when I was just 15. I wanted to return to Morocco to show that I was no longer that scared little girl who wouldn't even leave the hotel room. Instead I wanted to prove to myself (and my parents) that I had grown up to become a woman with confidence to feel comfortable in an environment so vastly different to the one I had grown up in. Which wasn't hard because as I've grown up, I've fallen in love with the slight madness of travelling to places so unlike home. Morocco is loud and bustling with different sights and smells in every direction you look, but from the stalls with mountains of delicious dates and olives, the handcrafted intricate carpets and the vast landscape which morphs as you travel through the country, there isn't anywhere else like it.
Unlike most of my other travels, this trip was an organised tour. Operated by a British company, Nomadic, the tour was a 15 day encompassed adventure, ticking off all the major bucket list moments in Morocco. It left the stress of trying to decide what to do and where to go behind and left me with the joys of encompassing as much of what I could of Morocco's rich and vibrant culture.
Nomadic Tours are an independent specialist tour operator that offers affordable adventure trips throughout Morocco. My experience with them was nothing short of incredible and I found myself lost for words at the sights that we were taken to daily on the adventure. It was the perfect way to discover as much of the country as possible within the time I had. I became about 50% couscous and tagine, met some of the kindest locals, learnt so much about the deep, vibrant history and fell in love with the people and culture of Morocco. Nomadic provided one of the best experiences I could of asked for and from watching the stars and sand tobogganing on New Years Eve in the Sahara to exploring Morocco's 'Blue Pearl' city, this trip is easily one of my favourites.
Our trip began in Marrakech, arguably the most crazy out of the Moroccan cities. Upon arriving I felt instantly back in my element. I love the silent chaos of countries built on a foundation of the lack of enforced road rules, talented craftsmen and people trying to drag you into their shop every few minutes. Marrakech is the epitome of everything wild about a Moroccan city, so it seemed like a good place to start on our journey. I spent my time there wandering through the intense Souks and Medina, trying not to buy every beautiful textile and piece of jewellery I saw, and instead compensated by eating an enormous amount of incredible cuisine.
WHERE TO EAT IN MARRAKECH
1. CAFE KIF KIF
Probably my number one recommendation (food wise) when visiting Marrakech. Located just on the edge of the large square, Cafe Kif Kif has three levels with a cute little balcony over looking the Koutoubia Mosque. The atmosphere at night time is absolutely wonderful and the food is delicious beyond words. If you end up visiting you should try their iced cinnamon coffee, couscous or their vegetable pastie pie (sounds strange, tastes yum!)
2. HENNA ART CAFE
After receiving my henna I got an abundance of compliments from both locals and tourists alike telling me how much they loved it, and I have the Henna Art Cafe to thank. Located down one of the little side streets off the central square, it's the perfect place to chill out and eat some great food. Run by a really lovely American lady, the cafe has a selection of really great food (including, Dahl, hummus and veggies as well as traditional Moroccan dishes). For me, however, the Henna was the highlight. With over 100 different designs and woman who have had up to 25 years henna experience, I would recommend coming here for a beautiful artwork on your skin.
3. EARTH CAFE
The Earth Cafe was the first dinner stop upon arriving in Morocco. It is located just a few metres down the road from the Henna Art Cafe, and provides a range of delicious veggie and vegan meals. The food was pretty good, but the star of the show was by far the vegan apple tart.
For most people Marrakech is their first point of call when visiting Morocco due to its abundance of things to do and see. Here is my list of top things to do during your stay (they also all provide absolutely stunning photo opportunities).
WHAT TO DO IN MARRAKECH
1. BAHIA PALACE
One of my absolute favourite places to visit in Marrakech! With so many different parts and beautiful aspects to enjoy and take pictures of, you could easily spend half a day here with no problem. I recommend going on a week day when it's slightly less busy, so you have time to yourself to enjoy and soak up the incredible architecture.
2. KOUTOUBIA MOSQUE
One of the largest Mosques in Marrakech, it can be seen from pretty much every rooftop cafe in the city. It is an absolutely gorgeous piece of architecture. Unfortunately you cannot go in due to Moroccan regulations, but it does have a really beautiful garden in which you can sit and enjoy the view (and the warm sunshine).
3. SAADIAN TOMBS
Unfortunately the Saadian Tombs were not open during my time in Marrakech due to renovation, but I've seen dozens of photos on Instagram, and trust me it looks absolutely flawless inside. If you get the chance to visit, you need to get yourself down there to bask in the absolute glorious handiwork.
4. VISIT THE SOUKS AND JEMAA EL-FNAA
If you didn't endure the craziness of the Medinas, haggle the prices of a carpet and get lost in the souks, did you even go to Morocco? Personally, I believe it's part of the fun to get stuck into the centre of the madness, and the souks is where you find it all. It's intense, I'll say that, but if you've had some coffee and are prepared for it, it's an adventure and a half. Marrakech also has its Jemaa el-Fnaa, which is the large square located right in the centre of the city. This is where you'll find a plethora of juice stalls, henna, restaurants and even snake charming and monkeys (although I implore tourists to stay away from them due to animal cruelty issues). Wandering through all these different aspects of the souks and markets takes up a good part of a day (and potentially a good part of your wallet), but is a must in Marrakech.
Made famous by the name sake movie, Casablanca was the next stop on our adventure. Upon arriving I was on the verge of being completely underwhelmed by what I saw. Nothing remarkable stood out and all in all, it wasn't a very pretty city. There was no easy access to the beach, and the access points we did find were all guarded by men waiting for us to PAY THEM to get down to the sand, which definitely didn't boost the city in my books. I was genuinely disappointed with Casablanca as a city, until our visit to Morocco's largest Mosque.
A piece of architecture clearly built to impress, Hassan II Mosque is something unlike anything I've seen. With such careful attention to detail, every inch of the outside and interior is perfection. Nomadic included a tour that lead us around the interior of the Mosque, something that is rare in Morocco as there are no active Mosques that allow non muslims inside (that I am aware of). Needless to say our trip to Hassan II made Casablanca 100% worthwhile, and I would say it was a definite highlight of the trip.
WHAT TO DO IN CASABLANCA
1. HASSAN II MOSQUE
Built by and named after the current Moroccan King's Father, the Hassan II Mosque is beyond one of the most beautiful monuments I've ever seen. With its Minaret standing at 210 metres and having the capability of holding up to 105,000 worshippers at one time, it is Morocco's largest Mosque. Walking towards the grand structure I was in awe of its grandeur. Beautiful mosaics tiled the walls and floor, intricately carved wood laced arches and delicately patterned ceilings all created such a gorgeous aura and grace around the building, a must if you ever find yourself in Casablanca.
Our visit to the Capital of Morocco was short (by short I mean only a few hours) but one of the most interesting cities we visited. I quickly realised how many vastly different aspects to Rabat there was. From old ruins to a 'Little Santorini', the city had an incredible variety of things to go see and do.
WHAT TO DO IN RABAT
Due to only having a few hours in Rabat I only managed to see a few of the many sites of the city, however, all the things I did go and see, I absolutely fell in love with and would recommend all of them to visit!
A site of Roman Ruins which holds an immense amount of history. For all those history lovers, you will drool over this. And for all the animal lovers, there are dozens upon dozens of cats hanging around who are just too cute not to pat.
2. KASBAH OF THE UDAYAS
Also known as 'Little Santorini' this little village located right on the sea front is a array of blues and white. It is an absolutely gorgeous stop and provides perfect pictures!
3. MAUSOLEUM OF MOHAMMED V
An absolute gorgeous representation of Moroccan architecture and a drool worthy stop off on your tour around Rabat. I've heard this Mausoleum being called a little 'Taj Mahal' and I think it's probably on the same scale of beauty.
Chefchauoen was one of my highlights for the trip. As we grew closer and closer to the city a faint shimmer of blue covered the buildings in the direction which we were heading. It seemed only appropriate that the houses were such a perfect shade of sky blue, as the sky held a gloomy layer of clouds over us for the duration of our stay. Upon arriving in the centre of the city, the buildings glistened in the afternoon rays of sunlight which occasionally poked out of the clouds every now and then. As we walked through the city, every little street and alley was a picture perfect moment, the locals were also much friendlier and more inviting than those we had previously encountered in the other cities. People were more genuinely interested in chatting to you and learning about where you are from instead of hassling you to buy something, a welcomed change.
My favourite part of wandering through Chefchaouen was getting lost in the streets and stumbling upon the little beautiful alleys and corners that this city holds, which is by far my number one recommendation while visiting. There is an array of beautiful handmade crafts which was lovely to enjoy and look through. I recommend having a look and walking around in the morning, when there are less tourists around (it also means you can get photos uninterrupted by people walking through your shot).
During our time in Chefchauoen we stayed at Hotel Madrid (there is a heavy Spanish influence in the Northern parts of Morocco, hence the name). If you're looking for a sweet little boutique style hotel than I highly recommend staying here, I adored it! As for food, unfortunately we didn't have an abundance of time to have a look around at try many options. We, instead, went to probably the best Pizzeria in the whole of Morocco. Mandala was just up the road from our hotel and provided us with the yummiest pizza and pasta ever, which was some much needed comfort food as I was extremely sick while we were here.
As the adventure throughout the country continued, I fell more and more in love with every aspect of it. The vibrance of the people and culture had me captivated. The smells (although sometimes pungent) were fragrant and seemed to be alive as the floated through the air, following me as I walked. The couscous and tagines were abundant, the street cats were as cute as ever, deserts, gorges, oasis' greeted us daily. From Fez to the Sahara to the beaches of Essaouira, the second part of our trip was nothing short of incredible.
The next stop on our trip was another major capital city, Fez. I was curious to see how it would compare to the other more populated cities in Morocco such as Marrakech and Rabat, however on the day we were visiting was a Friday, the Muslim Holy day. This meant Fez essentially turned into a ghost town. Almost all the market stalls within the Medina were closed, the streets were empty and even a lot of the restaurants seemed uninhabited. Although I was disappointed to not witness the hustle and life of Fez first hand, the quietness did lead to a kind of peaceful tranquility as we walked through the souks without getting hassled.
WHAT TO DO IN FEZ
Fes was one of the most scenic cities we visited, and you could easily spend a few days wandering around the city. Here is what I recommend doing while you're there.
1. AL-ATTARINE MADRASA
By far the best moment from my time in Fez and one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture I saw during my stay in Morocco. Every single element has been hand created from the etchings in the wood to the mosaic tiles that covered the floors and walls, it was nothing short of breathtaking. The details were breathtaking, a definite must see during your travels.
2. DAR AL-MAKJEN
Dar al-Makhzen, otherwise known as the Royal Palace of Fez is unfortunately not open to the public, however the three intricate doors that stand outside it is more than enough to gawk at.
3. VISIT CHOUARA TANNERY
While I am vegan and I personally don't agree with the making of leather and tanneries, I do understand that other people may be curious in checking it out. It was incredibly interesting to watch the process of the dying happen, but just be warned inside the shop and around the whole area, it STINKS. They give you mint at the door to help mask the smell of the leather, but it doesnt do too good of a job to hide the pungent odour. If you do plan on buying any leather goods while you're in Morocco, Fez is the place to do it.
A short but sweet visit to this incredibly interesting part of Morocco. Walking around the gorge was absolutely gorgeous (pun not intended). The walls cascaded high above us as we wandered between the two masses of rock, it was something unlike anything else we had seen during our time in Morocco. An afternoon visit is more than enough time to bask and enjoy the gorge, it would even be a great place for a quick picnic.
AÏT BEN HADDOU
A fortified village located in the south part of Morocco, Aït Ben Haddou has become famous over the past few years for its feature in a plethora of movies, including Gladiator, The Mummy, and of course, Game of Thrones. The city consists of old casbahs, little merchants selling trinkets and these really beautiful paintings which come to life when you put a flame underneath. We spent the afternoon wandering around the little village, and finally making our way up to the top, where we got to view an unbelievable sunset.
Morocco was nothing short of a perfect trip and I couldn't have asked for a better experience and a better tour to show me this spectacular country. If you're on a budget or apprehensive about visiting Morocco alone, Nomadic is an incredible company to show you what is encompassed in this vast, vibrant country. It is an experience I will never forget and I will be forever grateful for such a rich and fulfilling time.