Part 1 of 6
I decided to visit Morocco mainly because I had become desperate to travel somewhere (anywhere, really!) after all my plans to visit European destinations went out of the window due to Covid-19 restrictions and lockdowns! So out of exasperation and sheer curiosity, I booked a tour to Morocco through Take a Break Travel. However, I do not regret doing so as the moment I arrived I was charmed by the immense cultural richness of the country. It felt like I was travelling in an uncontrolled mix of North Africa, Spain, Portugal, and France. I was thrilled!
To be honest, I was a bit apprehensive about travelling with a tour group as I normally travel solo and like to make my own plans. However, my concerns were quickly put to rest as our small group of six brave (or crazy!) travellers flying during COVID times was so fantastic. In fact, after just a few hours of getting to know each other, it was like we had been friends for years!
On our arrival in Casablanca, we were met by Khalid who was not only our driver but also our guide and confidante. We have much to thank Khalid for, not only for his safe driving in the crazy Moroccan traffic but also for answering every single one of our endless questions about the places we were visiting or passing through! Casablanca is well-known for the romantic film of the same name, but a visit to this city was full of other surprises, not least of which was the Great Mosque Hassan II, which was the first place Khalid took us to. It is the second largest functioning mosque in Africa and is the 7th largest in the world. Its minaret is the world’s second tallest minaret at 210 metres. It’s really awe-inspiring!
A unique aspect of our trip to Morocco was the Blue City of Chefchaouen, which we visited on our second day there. It’s very calming to visit a city that is encompassed by blue everywhere: walls, floors, staircases, alleys, doors; it’s literally like someone took a giant paintbrush and painted the town blue! I encourage you to actually walk around and take in the serenity of the town but please note that people actually live behind those blue doors and courtyards so don’t go snooping around too much. Be respectful and realise that you are indulging in a special experience.
Here, in Chefchaouen, I made friends with Mohammed, a thoroughly fascinating young man who not only guided me around the city and gave me tips on how to pose for my photos but also invited me into his home where his Mum warmly welcomed me with her homemade flat bread with olives and oil as his brother poured out a glass of very Moroccan mint tea for me!
The next day we travelled to Fes, the largest city in Morocco, where we were taken on a tour of a local ceramic factory followed by a visit to the Chouara Tannery, Morocco’s largest open-air tannery. The Chouara Tannery was established more than 1,000 years ago and is a must-visit site in Morocco. You’ll want to brace yourself for an overwhelming smell, especially in the warmer months, but it’s a step back in time to see leather being prepared as it has for centuries.
On our way to the tannery, we passed by the Royal Palace of Fez. This is the royal palace of the King of Morocco and dates back centuries. Unfortunately, it’s not open to the public, but the outside is still worth a visit. The 7 golden gates that mark the entrance to the palace can only leave you imagining how grand it is inside. These famous, beautiful brass doors with matching knockers are covered with intricate patterns and grace the covers of many Morocco travel books.
The next day would be the start of our long drive to the Sahara Desert. This was one of the main things I was looking forward to and I was really relishing the opportunity of riding through the Sahara Desert on a camel and spending a night there. We covered a lot of ground and it was definitely a jam packed journey with lots of time sightseeing from inside our van, but it was well worth it.
Once we arrived there on our camels, we were greeted by a troupe of Berbers playing songs on their traditional instruments, followed by a delicious Moroccan dinner and dancing around the camp fire. Finally, completely exhausted, we retired to our Berber tents for a well-earned sleep. The following morning, we even had an exciting one-hour ride on a quad bike.
Our last few days were spent in Marrakech. Although this city isn’t the capital of Morocco, the allure of this bustling city never fails to attract visitors from around the world. Marrakech is a must-visit destination for travellers seeking out a quintessential Moroccan experience with a whole lot of surprises. Exploring the city’s enchanting medina on foot is one of Marrakech’s best thrills as you try to get oriented in the web of narrow streets.
Roaming the streets, I was fascinated by the chaotic pace that rules in the city. It was so exciting to sink and disappear into the crowd and go explore the pure life. Interacting with local people and fulfilling my curiosity about their culture over a cup of tea and sweets was what I enjoyed the most as Moroccans are incredibly helpful and hospitable. In fact, one of the things that made me fall in love with Morocco is how diverse the landscapes are and how warm and friendly the Moroccan people are.
From Marrakech, we were also taken to the Ouzoud Falls, high in the Atlas Mountains. The name of the falls actually derives from the Berber culture meaning “the act of grinding grain.” You can walk around the falls while enjoying the sights and sounds of the falls’ permanent residents—a troop of macaque monkeys. There are also rafts available for the adventurous hiker near the bottom. If you go on that boat ride, be prepared to get wet. I would suggest bringing a rain jacket and a water-resistant camera to enjoy the experience to the fullest. A trip to the Ouzoud Falls is perfect for enjoying the wonders of nature and the serenity of the cascading falls.
Another memorable experience was a ride in a hot air balloon at dawn. Here we had a bird’s-eye views of Morocco’s Red Desert and the foothills of the Atlas Mountains. Be prepared to wake up early for a one-hour drive into the desert valleys but it’s totally worth the early rise and the money spent. After landing safely back on the ground, we were also treated to a tasty breakfast and were given a flight certificate to commemorate our ride!
Throughout my trip in Morocco, I was surrounded by new sounds, smells and style of clothes I had never witnessed before. The cities were so much more chaotic than I was expecting and I got lost more than once in the open air markets of the old medinas but I loved every second of it and I was having the time of my life. I knew before I arrived that Morocco was famous for peddlers of all sorts being pushy on getting you to buy all sorts of trinkets whether you had a need for them or not. And this part proved itself very true. An innocent enough request to buy a glass of orange juice quickly turned into a conversation about where I was from and what many things to see in the area.
Before visiting Morocco, I had the impression that the country was a huge, arid desert. I couldn’t have been more wrong in my assumption. Of course, there are some beautiful desert villages to visit in Morocco like Merzouga but this is not the only type of landscape the country offers. In fact, one can find all sorts of colours in Morocco, from the lush greenery close to Casablanca (that suspiciously looked very much like that of the Emerald Isle) right down to the orange-brown of the Sahara Desert at sunset! The dust, the people, the streets and the buildings are all rich varying colours of brown but dispersed into this mass of tan are rich emerald oases. And in the brown-red walls of Marrakesh one can find the medina, bursting with every colour of the rainbow.
The streets in the centre of the large cities are full and busy. The smells are not wholly good or bad but a mixture of both. Spices and couscous, urine and donkeys filled my nose over that week. And everyone is so welcoming. From our extremely patient driver Khalid to the people who ran our riads and hotels, every Moroccan that I was even somewhat close to was incredibly hospitable and pleasant.
When you visit Morocco, you will eat so much tajine that you will be sick of it by the time you leave lol, but it is incredibly good. Tajine is actually the name of the type of pot that the food is cooked in and you can choose from a variety of meat, including lamb, beef, chicken or fish. I do have to say my personal favourite is the liver one and I’m salivating just thinking about it! I also couldn’t get enough of the mint tea when I was over there. Everywhere you go, you will be offered mint tea. It’s such a nice way to feel welcomed into a new place.
However, if you’re a stickler for rules you need to take a step (or ten) back here as nearly every rule in Morocco can be bent or broken. Traffic lights and zebra crossings are suggestions, open to negotiation just like the prices of goods. Things happen – Inshallah. Nothing is certain.
Nonetheless, the country is like a planet of its own with its diverse idiosyncrasy, beautiful landscapes, ancient traditions, incredible friendly people, wonderful views and a combination of traditional and modern practices, a country not only to visit but to praise most highly.