10 Tips for Morocco
I have always wanted to go to Morocco. Maybe it came from watching Casablanca as a kid, or seeing all the bright colors and geometric patterns when I instagram “Morocco” or always loving a good tajine whenever it’s on a menu.
Either way, we were going…the question was where and for how long.
I now have a love/hate relationship with Morocco, and can recommend visiting FOR SURE, but would like to set your travel expectations.
That’s the purpose of this blog....to tell you what other people maybe won't tell you.
If you want to know where we stayed and ate, go to MY Instagram and Derek’s Instagram accounts. We keep everything on Instagram, so you never have to rely on messaging us directly (time zones and limited wi-fi can have our responses be more delayed than we’d like).
If you aren’t on Instagram, I suggest getting on IG at least for the rest of our trip so that you can see our recommendations and quick 1 minute travel videos. It’s our most comprehensive info and we post several times a day so you can feel like you’re on this trip with us (and to ensure we don’t forget this magical year)!
Okay, back to Morocco. Here’s what I wish I would have known…
IT'S INTENSE. The colors and designs are intense, but so are the smells and sounds. I’m super sensitive to noise…so the constant VROOOOMMMMMM of the motorbikes in the narrow medina streets (a maze-like labyrinth), the yelling of the vendors, and kids screaming and running everywhere was pretty frazzling. The smell of the tanneries in Fes is unforgettable and when the warm air waft of the tanneries hit my face I thought I may pass out more than once. I can’t describe the smell, but you’ll know it when you go. When you visit they give you a huge sprig of mint to keep in your face. Yeah, it’s that strong.
The smells are intense in a fabulous way too. I bought the most incredible perfume at Le Jardin Majorelle in Marrakech and think of the beauty of the gardens everyday I wear it. Scent is something that stays embedded in your memory like nothing else, so do pick out a fragrance (for yourself or your home) while you’re there.
The riads (a traditional Moroccan house built around an interior garden and now turned into small hotels) are gorgeous and unlike anything you've seen before in your life. I’ve never seen architecture so stunning in my whole life. AND riads are a necessary escape from the madness and intensity of the motorbikes/donkeys/salesmen/smells of the medina. Don’t try to “save money” here. Book a riad that you really, really, really love. It will be your refuge.
I recommend booking one with a water feature in the courtyard and a roof terrace. Nothing beats a dunk in the water to wash off the medina and relax on the terrace at sunset. It’s an unforgettable experience that were my most memorable moments (especially with our sweet friends Allison and Avery in Marrakech and Lidia, Gilles, and Racheal in Fes). The way the sun sets over the pink buildings can hardly be captured on camera, unless a fellow riad guest is a photojournalist and willing to take photos while you "top up" her wine. I particularly fell in love with Dar Seffarine in Fes, and the view from the roof terrace is one I will never forget.
When you book your riad, look for great customer service. If you don’t see lots of great comments about the staff of your riad on Trip Advisor, I personally wouldn’t book it. You need them to be great because you literally cannot get around without their advice, guides, bookings, etc. We had the most amazing man, Mehdi, from Riad Anayela help us from the minute I booked there. We only stayed at Riad Anayela 2 nights, but he arranged for bookings even while we were at another riad. We wouldn’t have had the magical time in Marrakech without his help. He booked us a fabulous cooking class, a day at a pool oasis followed by spa treatments, and surprised Derek with a special birthday dinner (complete with a huge chocolate cake) on the roof terrace that goes down as one of our top meals on this trip.
The people are everything in Morocco, invest in them.
If enjoying a glass of wine is important to you, make sure to book at a riad that serves alcohol. Most places do not serve alcohol (Morocco is a Muslim country and drinking isn’t part of the faith). Le Riad Yasmine was our first riad in Morocco, and we were lucky that it’s owned by a French couple who seriously serve the best rose wine I could ask for. After a long travel day, and a tiring experience in the medina…a glass of rose on the roof terrace was EXACTLY what I needed!
Get ready to bargain. I’M NOT JOKING. We did a bit of shopping (a couple of rugs for a home that we don’t yet own, in a city we still haven’t decided on, in a country we also aren’t sure of, and in a profession that has yet to be determined), and were blown away by the intensity of the process. We spent a few hours negotiating for said rugs with our new friends, Annie and Molly (really cool sisters from Massachusetts who were also looking for rugs), and I’m still not convinced we got the best deal.
I should mention that I’ve been bargaining since my dad taught me when I was 10 years old in Mexico (he was a chief negotiator for Delta airlines, and knows how to bargain/negotiate with the best of them). I’ve been in sales my whole life, and I love to “make a deal” . I ADORE the wheeling and dealing, but this wore me out, and Derek didn’t even attempt. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. And FYI, I can’t wait to go back so that I can give it another whirl. It’s a love/hate thing….
I’ve also never been happier to pay the amount on a price tag at a store.
Avoid the animal part of the medina. In Fes, our guide walked us to the tanneries (where the make all the leather goods that Morocco is famous for), and we walked through the animal portion of the medina on the way there. There were dead animals everywhere, and some still alive and looking to be sold.
It. Was. Awful. I’ll admit that I’m a really sensitive animal lover, and after that experience I had a panic attack and crying meltdown (it’s also really smelly and claustrophobic, so that added to my meltdown). I didn’t eat meat the rest of my time in Morocco, and very little since leaving. I’ll never forget some of the things I saw, and wish I could. I recommend asking your guide to take you another route if you don’t want to see this.
Spend a day at a desert oasis. Mehdi (the amazing manager at Riad Anayela) booked us two hammams (a traditional health treatment where you sit in a steam room, and are massaged and scrubbed), massages, manicures and pedicures at Beldi Country Club…but we didn’t realize that we could spend the day at the pools and have lunch there as well. Had we known this was possible, we would have been the first people at the pool, but at least we had a few hours before our treatments began.
What a perfect place! It’s about 10km outside of Marrakech and is surrounded by a rose garden. The lunch was delicious, the treatments were fabulous, and it was all sooooooo affordable. It is the definition of an oasis for sure!
Go to La Mamounia for a drink. We attempted to have lunch there and enjoy the pool, but discovered (when we arrived) that the poolside lunch offered that day was 150 euros a person and did not allow pool access. The other hotel restaurants were very expensive, and not what we were looking for (club sandwich by the pool, pretty please).
If I were to do it again….I would go for a drink (quite nice that they serve alcohol and a wide range at that) and stroll the grounds and interiors. La Mamounia is a former palace and everything you see is a picture waiting to be capturedIt’s incredibly beautiful, and I could have spent several hours just exploring! The staff are lovely, and at no point did we feel ridiculous as we attempted to eat at all their various restaurants, only to settle for a drink and some photos. At luxurious hotels, this isn’t always the case, and I really appreciated that (Derek especially because I think he was getting totally mortified).
Don’t spend 9 days in the medina. Go to the Atlas mountains for a change of pace and scenery. We didn’t do any desert excursions because we had very recently spent 9 days trekking in the Jordanian desert…but we would have in hindsight. We spent 4 days in Marrakech, 4 days in Fes (similar to Marrakech, but without the motorbikes whizzing by you in the small medina streets…better prices for shopping…and possibly less beautiful, but more authentic) and 1 night in Chefchouane. We were supposed to spend 2 nights in Chefchouane, but were so tired of being in Morocco that we left a day early for Spain (easy to take the ferry from Tangier to Tarifa).
Don’t get me wrong, I loved Morocco and would advise anyone to visit, however, I underestimated what it would feel like to be in a maze-like labyrinth (the medina) for 9 days with very foreign sights, smells and sounds. We also showed up to Morocco quite frazzled and fried, so perhaps go when you are more rested…or plan some relaxation early on when you arrive. We didn’t plan any, and would have loved it even more if we had.
Go to Chefchouane. This is a little bitty town compared to others in Morocco, and referred to as the blue city. I wasn’t sure if it would be worth it, but it was pretty easy to get to we thought why not?! It was definitely worth the trip, and we would have stayed 2 nights had we not been in similar environments for the past 8 nights (and booked a nicer hotel, which we did not). The blue city is gorgeous and the pictures really don’t do it justice.
If you want the best pics, get up early as there are lots of tour groups vying for the same pictures. It’s lovely to wander around and get lost. Then you can find even more special places than the standard Chefchouane IG pic. We didn’t do the hikes in the area, but apparently there are beautiful hikes and waterfalls if that’s of interest.
One more thing, the drive up to the village is pretty wild. It’s a hilltop town and the roads are pretty narrow with lots of buses and motorbikes. Our taxi driver terrified us, but we made it there safely (not sure how). Maybe request that your driver be a bit cautious, and wear an eye mask (you, not the driver).
Okay, I hope these 10 tips help you when you plan your trip to Morocco....which I highly advise. It's a magical place, and I look forward to going again sometime soon. If you have any specific questions, please feel free to email me directly, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy travels, and keep playing!
P.S. We'd love to hear from you! It helps us know that you are reading (and we hope enjoying) what we write, and that makes it all worth it. Fun fact....we talk about quitting the blog writing almost everyday due to busy travel schedules and slooooooow wi-fi.
Let us know if we should keep doing it! Questions and comments are ALWAYS welcome, and preferred:).