I’ve always thought of Morocco as this exotic destination, a place of magical allure, and going there has been at the top of my bucket list for years.
Situated at the very north end of Africa, this country’s captivating diversity comes from the Berber, Arabic and European influences, making Morocco rich in culture, colour and history. The two weeks Cilliers and I spent there exceeded our wildest expectations, ensuring that this will forever be one of our favourite trips. Beguiling and romantic, Morocco is sure to steal your hearts too!
I’ve written this post starting with an overview of our itinerary, followed by more details about what Morocco has to offer. I’ve only added a few photos as this post is already a bit long, but keep a lookout for the Photo Diary-post of our holiday!
We traveled from Cape Town to Casablanca (via Dubai), where we spent one night. The following day we travelled to Fes by train and stayed in this smaller city for four nights. From Fes we made two day-trips. First to Chefchaouen, also known as the “Blue Pearl of Morocco” as the whole town is painted blue (how adorable?!) The next day trip was to Volubilis, the ruins of a Berber/Roman city dating back to the 3rd century BC and that is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997.
From Fes we took the train to Marrakech, which was a gruelling eight-hour ride. I am glad we visited Fes before Marrakech, and I highly recommend anyone going to Morocco to do the same. Since Fes is a smaller city, it was a gentle introduction to the hustle and bustle of the medina and souks. We stayed in Marrakech for three nights before going on a three-day excursion to the Sahara desert – the absolute highlight of our holiday!
We then remained in Marrakech for another two nights before heading back to Casablanca. We only stayed there for one day to explore the famous Hassan II mosque before flying back to Cape Town.
The magic of Morocco
The souks and medinas:
In the medina (the old town within the city) is where you’ll find the famous souks, which is this big traditional marketplace – a crazy maze of little alleyways, shops, and stalls. Here they sell anything from food, ceramics, leather products (such as bags and belts), carpets, blankets, spices, and jewellery. The souks are very crowded, with locals and tourist equally eager to make their way through the narrow streets. Walking around requires you to navigate between crowds of people, stalls, heavily packed donkeys and a lot of scooters.
What adds to the excitement of the souks is the fact that shopping there requires haggling, which is what the sellers like to do and expect from their potential buyers. I was very into this negotiating business, but my bravery didn’t last long and Cilliers had to take over quickly.
Just a little tip: know that negotiating prices is standard shopping etiquette, and if you see something you like just wait a bit before buying. There are so many stalls, all of them selling very similar items, so browse through all your options (prices will vary from stall to stall) before committing.
On this note, just know that it is rather easy to get caught up in the spirit of things and buy things you think you like. But most of those items look alluring in that setting, but there’s always the (big) possibility that you will hate it when you get home.
Souk-strolling is so captivating! There is so much to see with all the little shops, you hear people haggling or the prayer calls play loudly from the mosques, you are bombarded with the smell of hundreds of different spices all stacked up on neat piles, and all the beauty of the handmade products invite you to touch every inch of craftsmanship. Using all your senses, you are enticed to keep exploring and turn every corner to find even more hidden treasures.
Morocco is so full of flavour and colour, so it’s only natural that the food would be too! The most common thing on any menu would be tanjine – a slow-cooked savoury stew made with red meat, poultry or fish together with vegetables and fruit such as apricots or prunes. This meal is rich in flavour and the meat is always cooked perfectly! Typical spices used include ginger, cumin, turmeric and cinnamon, and they often add almonds too. This traditional and yummy meal is named after the pottery dish it is cooked in – a round base that is flat with low sides and a large dome-shaped cover that sits on the base while cooking. Tanjine dishes are served with couscous or bread.
To my surprise, we found that olives are a big deal in Morocco. Hundreds of olive farms cover the landscape around Fes, making it look very similar to its neighbour across the water – Spain. With every meal you get served a bowl of olives and a freshly baked flatbread. Delicious!
Another big thing in Morocco is orange juice. This is drunk morning, noon and night. Everywhere you go, you will find little orange juice stalls where they will press fresh orange juice right there and then. Cilliers basically explored Fes and Marrakech from juice stand to juice stand.
The Moroccans also love drinking mint tea and it’s become part of their culture (refusing mint tea is considered rude). Jokingly known as “Berber whiskey” this refreshing drink is served either bitter or with a lot, and I mean a LOT, of sugar. Locals and tourists alike can be seen sitting at cafes sipping tea and watching the people go by. To me, this just tasted like hot toothpaste. But it’s worth a try.
A riad is an old traditional Moroccan home, beautifully decorated with mosaic and intricate woodwork, that is centred around a courtyard. Nowadays almost all these riads are hugely popular guesthouses. They are often quite small with only a few rooms available, so staying in such a riad offers a culturally rich and personal experience. In both Fes and Marrakech we stayed in riads, and we loved it!
Visiting the Sahara was one of the best experiences of my life! We booked a three day trip from Marrakech, with our own driver, to take us to Merzouga and back. It’s quite far to drive, so it takes about a day and a half, but you see the most fantastic landscapes and sights on the way. Our driver was sweet and knowledgeable, making the trip that much more special. He even took us to his home to meet his family where we had mint tea (of course) and bread.
Arriving in Merzouga, we had another guide waiting to take us to the camels that we rode to our camp (about 45 minutes into the desert). This was such an extraordinary experience! With the vast golden dunes all around me, I felt both on top of the world and incredibly small … Realising, again, how amazing our God is.
After our camel ride we arrived at our camp in the desert: a beautiful sight of two rows of tents, a path laid out with carpets and a big fireplace in the middle. We then spent the afternoon sand-boarding, watching the sunset and then had a traditional Berber dinner (the best meal of our holiday). After dinner they turned off all the lights in the camp (there were electricity and running water, with each tent having its own bathroom too) and we sat watching the stars. Later a fire was lit and the locals sang songs while playing the drums. Soon we were all dancing around the crackling fire, the stars sparkling high above and our hearts full of excitement.
The next morning we got up early to watch the sunrise before heading back on the sand ships (camels) to Merzouga. There our driver picked us up and took us back to Marrakech.
This was such a special experience, one we will cherish forever!
- Getting around in the big cities are pretty easy since there are “petit taxis” available everywhere. Just make sure you agree on a rate before getting into the taxi (in Marrakech the taxi drivers are particularly pushy and sneaky with their fares).
- The train system is quite reliable. When using the train for long distances, like we did when traveling between the big cities, be sure to book your seat in the first class. This is nothing fancy, believe me, but it is cleaner and not so crowded. The prices are also very reasonable, so paying that little bit extra for some comfort is not a big deal.
- We decided to get a Moroccan sim card for one of our phones, even though we were there for only two weeks. Data is extremely cheap there and having access to maps and the internet (to do on-the-go research) helped so much! I would highly recommend other travellers to do the same.
- We did a lot of research online: reading blogs, online books and travel websites such as TripAdvisor and Culture Trip. We also downloaded the LonelyPlanet app onto our phones, or you can buy the hardcopy in any bookstore. Our primary source of information was the DK Eyewitness Travel book about Morocco. We took this with us wherever we went because the maps were particularly helpful. And let’s be honest: even with our phones and all the fancy apps, nothing beats using a book and a real map!
- We booked our whole holiday ourselves and we used the website Viator to schedule our day trips to Chefchaouen and Volubilis. Our three-day expedition to the Sahara was booked through Morocco Travel Excursion (this included the personal driver, one night stay at a hotel on the way to Merzouga, the camel ride and the night in the desert).
Morocco is steeped in history, rich in colour and offers an abundance of adventures. A magical must-visit … As a seasoned traveller, this holiday will forever hold a special place in my heart, and it was an absolute dream to experience this amazing country with my sweet husband!
I know this post was rather long, but I hope you enjoyed it! Stay tuned for the next post with all the photos.
Love and light,