Note: Ma’a as-salaama is the pronunciation for the word “goodbye” in Arabic (based on a lazy Google search)
Morocco was unlike any place I had visited before. As much as I loved exploring the natural beauty and learning about the Moroccan culture, I was somewhat relieved when I finally boarded the ferry to Spain. Traveling in Morocco was difficult. The aggressive vendors, the scammers and the constant chaos had taken its toll on me. Arriving in Tarifa, Spain was like traveling to a different world. I’ll never forget my time in Morocco, even if it wasn’t as relaxing as a week at the beach.
Some of my favorite things I experienced were:
- Drinking incredible fresh-squeezed orange juice everyday
- Observing building after building with intricate tile and woodwork
- Walking among the merchants, musical performers and snake charmers in the Jemaa el-Fnaa
- Relaxing in the calm, coastal town of Essaouira
- Spending the night under the stars in the Sahara Desert
- Exploring the visually-stunning city of Ait Benhaddou
- Hiking up to the Spanish Mosque in Chefchaouen and getting great views of the city below
I went everywhere I planned to go in Morocco, but since it is larger than California, there was too much to see and do in one trip. If I went back to Morocco, I’d also like to do the following:
- Visit Meknes, the former capital city
- Spend more time on the western coast, including in the city of Agadir
- Go hiking in the High Atlas Mountains and visit some of the mountain villages
- Explore Todgha Gorge
- Return to Marrakech to see some of the things I missed, such as the Bahia Palace
- Visit Rabat and Chellah
Chefchaouen was made for Instagram. Let’s count the ways. Old buildings and winding streets painted in varying shades of blue. Check. A picturesque mountain setting with lush green vegetation. Check. Cute elderly people walking the streets in their culturally appropriate yet non-oppressive clothing. Double check! Underneath Chefchaouen’s photogenic exterior you will find a quaint city with a laid-back vibe. It’s no surprise it was one of my favorite places I visited in Morocco.
Less than a two-hour drive from Fes, you can find two of Morocco’s most important historical locations, Volubilis and Moulay Idriss. Volubilis was a Roman city that was eventually abandoned due to its remoteness and pressure from the local tribes inhabiting the area. Now, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the best-preserved Roman colonial cities. Nearby, the town of Moulay Idriss is considered the holiest city in Morocco since it is where Islam was first introduced. We hired a grand taxi and spent a sunny day touring these two beautiful and interesting sites.
Fes is the second-largest city in Morocco, and the country’s former capital (the current capital is Rabat). The city’s long and diverse history dates back to the late 700s, when it was founded by members of the Idrisid Dynasty, who are often credited with the foundation of the Moroccan state. In the clothing realm, Fes is well-known for its hats of the same name. I did not observe these hats being worn commonly on the streets of Fes, but the attendants in the riad I stayed at wore them at dinner, perhaps as a throwback to days of the past.
To me, Fes was a much calmer and somewhat less-interesting version of Marrakech. It had the same winding medina, the same beautiful architecture, and the same souks selling an assortment of goods. Missing was some of the hustle and bustle and, thankfully, a lot of the harassment from merchants and other locals looking to make a buck. (more…)
My good friend, Jess, and I had been in Morocco for only a few days before we headed to the desert. As much fun as we were having in the Moroccan cities, we had our eyes set on Merzouga, a small town situated at the base of the Erg Chebbi dunes. Spending the night in the Sahara was at the top of our list of things to do in Morocco, and we weren’t going to let a small thing like an eight hour bus ride deter us. We had seen the pictures online, and our minds were made up. (more…)
This is the second part of my tour of Marrakech. To read the first part, click here.
The Saadian Tombs are one of the top tourist attractions in Marrakech. The tombs are the final resting place for several members of the Saadi dynasty, including Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur. The entrance to the tombs is just a random opening in the wall which is fairly hard to locate if you don’t know what you are looking for (like pretty much every attraction in Morocco). If you can find the tombs, it is worth the 10 Mdh to take a peek inside. There are no information plaques, so it is helpful to have a guide give you a tour.
The Atlas Mountains divide Morocco in half. To the north of the mountains are lusch green lands, with trees, shrubs and ground-cover vegetation. To the south is an arid desert. The mountains between the two areas are a combination of the north and south, with the highest peaks covered in snow. You can be standing in the desert looking up at the snow-capped peaks. In two hours driving time, you can be standing in the snow. It’s hard to process how drastically different the climates can be over such a short distance, but this is one of the reasons that Morocco is such an interesting place to visit.
Stray cats and kittens are everywhere in Morocco. The locals seem to care for the strays by throwing out scrap meat into the streets. On a few occasions, I saw old men sitting on a bench feeding the cats like you might see them feeding pigeons in the United States. The cats were definitely cute, but they could also be a bit aggressive and annoying as well. Many of the times I ate at an outdoor cafe, cats would walk up and beg for food. One time a cat even climbed up into my friend’s lap at the table. Love them or hate them, definitely expect to see them everywhere in Morocco.
I still am not entirely sure how to pronounce the name of this beautiful coastal city, but I do know that it is one of my favorite places that I visited in Morocco. It’s only about a three hour drive from Marrakech, but it could not be more different. Essaouria is laid back. Very laid back. In fact, it was the most peaceful place I visited in Morocco. There were a few overzealous vendors along the way, but they were respectful when I said “non merci” in my terrible french accent. In Essaouira, you won’t have to side-step speeding motorbikes or worry about strangers aggressively offering to give you directions to a place you don’t want to go. This was a nice break from the non-stop chaos in some of the other Moroccan cities. (more…)
Marrakech is hectic. From the moment my taxi dropped me off at the entrance to the medina, I was immersed in a world unlike anything I had experienced before. The tight, winding streets of the medina lead you past aggressive vendors, playful children, cafes and restaurants, zooming motorbikes, and donkeys. It’s a city that combines the old with the new.
I had booked a riad (traditional guest house with a courtyard) online. At first I thought I could find the riad on my own, but that was a mistake. After a good fifteen minutes of wandering in circles, I finally caved and asked for help. An older man was kind enough (for a price) to lead me to an unremarkable door down one of the back alleys. The whole situation felt a little shady. I knocked, and the riad owner warmly welcomed me inside and took me to my beautifully decorated room. The calm inside the riad was refreshing. I was a little hesitant to venture back out into the city, but when I did, I was rewarded with beautiful buildings, fascinating history and a melting pot of cultures all converging in one place.