Morocco is one of those places I truly went to at random, I heard a little about it, pondered it for a little while, and booked my flight not fully knowing what I was getting myself into. I hoped that all the things I had been hearing down the grapevine would be true, my fingers were crossed and I was ready for anything.
Morocco truly surprised me with how great (and easy) it was to travel, perhaps shaped a little by not having such high expectations going into it. I knew that the Sahara Desert was a major draw, because come on, who doesn’t want to do their best Lawrence of Arabia impression across the desert on a camel? That had been a random dream of mine for as long as I can remember, and something I was entirely too stoked to check off my ever-growing bucket list. But besides that, the next week was all a big surprise to me, in the best possible way and I couldn’t have loved it more if I tried!
No matter what kind of entertainment you’re looking for Morocco is ridiculously diverse, from small sleepy villages to surf towns to vibrant market cities where you can buy things you didn’t even know existed. Seriously though, if you go to Marrakech I’m confident that if you look around the Souks (markets) for long enough you CAN and WILL find just about anything, you name it, it’s there somewhere.
For 8 days I traveled around the country and ate my body weight in couscous, drank a solid five fruit smoothies and cups of mint tea a day (they’re like $.50 a piece), hiked, explored and took in as much of the country as I could in a little over a week’s time, here are some reasons to get down to North Africa as soon as humanly possible!
Tucked away in the middle of nowhere central Morocco, BFE if you will, is a picturesque little village that looks like it’s straight out of entirely too many Hollywood sets. Fun fact, it IS from entirely too many Hollywood movies, it’s where big films typically film desert scenes, some of the movies that have filmed here include; Indiana Jones, Game of Thrones, The Mummy, Gladiator and Prince of Persia just to name a few. The locals take great pride in how Hollywood their village is, but if you walk around and talk to people, you’ll find it’s just a normal Moroccan village full of friendly people and not so much out of the ordinary.
You can hike up the hill for a complete overlook of the area, walk through the colorful side streets and soak in the culture, hell you can even rent an ATV for the desert here and bring it around.
2. Explore Marrakech
Marrakech is chaos, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it was actually some really fun chaos. It’s basically a modern mix of Moroccan and international cultures all thrown together into tiny side streets (seriously look at the overview on Google Maps, it looks like a spiderweb) and large vistas.
Despite the 25+ other countries I have been to at this point, I have never felt so directionally lost than I did in the Medina (central market square) in Marrakech. If there’s a common trend that went on between myself and every other foreigner I talked to, it’s that we were always constantly lost in the Medina. It’s too easy to get lost, and for what might seem like a quick five minute walk from point A to point B always turned into twenty minutes of me walking in circles, even when I was walking with other friends we would all get lost together. Anywhere near that Medina is a mess of small side streets filled with thousands upon thousands of stalls and shops. So if you need to do some shopping, this would be a solid place.
The hectic-ness of this place makes for some of the best people watching I’ve ever witnessed, and believe me when I say you will meet some real interesting characters in these streets, it’s all in good fun usually. For those of you photographers out there, it’s a prime location for street photography and portraits, just try not to get caught they aren’t all so fond of getting their picture taken as you might imagine. Rest assured though, there’s always something interesting/bizarre to see in Marrakech, soak it all in and have some fun with it!
3. Drink all the mint tea and smoothies
They’re cheap, they’re everywhere, and they are all very addicting. Stop by and stand or shop seemingly anywhere in Morocco and they’ll offer these two beverages, and as touched on previously I think I had a solid 5-6 per day. Even the way that they pour the tea comes with a certain Moroccan art, they pour in and out, up and down, always coming out with the perfect pour, those crafty magicians those guys are. Add some sugar to the tea, kick back, and enjoy the finest beverage Morocco has to offer.
4. Hearing the call to prayer
This one absolutely caught me by surprise, but believe me when I say; it’s freaking awesome. I’ve traveled Muslim countries before, but in my travels I have yet to hear an entire city stop everything and just go off all around you a couple of times a day. The locals would hear the calls, and make for the nearest mosques that were going off like sirens while dressed in their white prayer clothes, it’s such a unique experience for anyone who has never seen it before.
The very first time I heard it, it was sunset from ontop of our hotel roof terrace. The sun was just beginning to go down as I was taking pictures with my new friends of the overlooking city view with the pink desert sun slowly sinking down below the horizon. All of a sudden one out of nowhere the central mosque in front of us went off with its Call to Prayer alarm rhythmically, and one by one in every single direction around me, one after the other, before long the whole city was calling out it harmony, it was a real thing of beauty.
5. explore the atlas mountains
Believe it or not, in the winter time it snows in Morocco! There is actually a fair amount of snow fall up in the high elevation mountains and the Atlas Mountains are some of the highest in the region.
The Atlas Mountains cover a large portion of Morocco itself, there are all kinds of hikes to take on in these mountains from short day hikes to week long treks they have it all. There are many Berber (the local Native people) settlements all over these mountains and several of the hikes and tours will take you through their villages. Meeting the Berber’s and learning of their unique lifestyle is an amazing experience in itself, how self reliant they are, and how they’ve been able to survive out in the mountains and deserts for so long. Some of the warmest and accommodating people you can find around.
6. eat your bodyweight in couscous and Tagine
Before Morocco I had tried couscous several times, but this, this is REAL couscous. Each region provides its own takes on couscous, but if there was one common pattern between all of the variants that I tried it’s this; it’s all great and you can’t go wrong with it in Morocco.
Tagine is an iconic dish that you can’t miss while you’re here as it always comes in a gigantic clay pot and steamed to perfection. Tagine itself is basically meat, cinnamon, dates, nuts, and potatoes (and other random ingredients based on region) all thrown together in the steamed clay pot.
7. camel trek in the sahara and sleeping under the stars
This was the highlight of my trip to Morocco for sure, as it doesn’t get much more iconic than having your head wrapped up Lawrence of Arabia style and riding your trust camel stead, mine was named Betsy, into the vast sand hills of the Sahara Desert as the sun sinks low in the distance. I’ll be the first to admit that 90 minutes on a camel can be, well let’s just say less than comfortable, especially for guys, you know what I’m talking about. A very small price to pay for what was to come.
You are taken out to the middle of the desert to the Bedouin camps, and have the choice of staying in the tents they provide you surrounded by the beautiful golden dunes, or better yet, you can take a carpet or mattress out of the camps and set them up ontop of the dunes themselves for the real experience. I would opt for the second option if I were you, always opt for the magic carpet come on.
If you have never tried climbing up a sand dune let me just say, it’s harder than it looks and you just seem to sink. For every one step forward you seem to take one back. But you get there eventually and the reward of being ontop the tallest dune in the area, and taking in the extremely beautiful views of the Sahara Desert all around you all while there is no light pollution in the area so you can see the stars above you, every single one of them. You can spot thousands of stars, galaxies, the Milky Way, everything and it could not be more picturesque. Once you’ve had your fill of the top of the dunes I HIGHLY recommend running down the tall dunes as fast as you can, it’s way too much fun and it’s basically like sand boarding without a board. Don’t hate it until you try it!
In the morning after a solid 3-4 hours of sleep you’re woken up well before the crack of dawn to hop back on your trusty uncomfortable stead (he/she won’t be a big fan of the time either) and take off to find the best possible spot to soak in the sunrise views. We only rode for about 30 minutes before stopping to take in the sunrise from atop another sand dune, and in that moment, nothing could feel more perfect, a dream come true for me.