Morocco has been at the top of my ‘List of places to see before I die’ basically since I was born, and then raised by a Moroccan nanny for the first 4 years of my life. I’ve also visited Dubai when I was young, and my family used to live in the Middle East before I was born so I had dirhams, lamps and small tea sets from these places to play with as a child. All this meant that I’m a bit more familiar with Arab culture than the average Indo-Canadian girl.
3 words: It is magical.
To DIE for food, colours, jewelry, history, architecture and acrobats all in the sun soaked, windswept country of the Sahara.
The red, sandy city of Marrakech!
Nommeh cous cous.
We landed at 10pm in Marrakech and after dropping our stuff off at the hotel, we took a taxi to Djema el Fna (the main square) right away to see it during its best: night time. It never dies down! When we got there around midnight, the souks (small, somewhat covered marketplace that sell almost everything) were lively, there were food stalls everywhere, and for some strange reason a Bollywood film was being projected on a building (?).
So much buzz in the souks at midnight!
Get a good picture of the Said tombs for 10 dirham entry fee, then move on pretty quick. It's not the most interesting tourist attraction.
**From experience: Everyone we talked to about going to Morocco just being two 20-something girl travellers told us that there was nothing to worry about, that we would be perfectly safe as long as we weren’t stupid. And we were, but my friends left out a very important caveat: Girls get a lot of unwanted attention from men if they are not with a guy, and foreign girls get attention anyway.
It gets a bit tiresome, but sometimes it was amusing. Some of the outrageous things said to us included:
Note: We never replied to any of these. These are one-way conversations.
- Where are you from? Brazil? Spain? England? China? Japan? Pakistan? India? Norway? America? France? Thailand? Singapore? Hungary?
- Hi, hello, where are you from? You are so beautiful, so sexy. Do you want a Moroccan husband?
- Be my wife? Yes?
- Hi girls, how are you? Why don’t you respond? That’s not nice. Oh, you’re crossing the street? That’s ok, I’m going that way too.
Yeah. You get the picture.
Anyway, be warned that if you are a girl, save yourself a little bit from a bit of the hassle you’re going to get just because you are foreign and bring a man with you.
On a lighter note…
This is something no one will tell you before you go to Morocco: There are a lot of cats. Some are cute (like this one)..others are pretty mangy.
What you MUST do in Morocco!
1. Go to a hammam!
A hammam is like a Moroccan sauna/bath house, and it’s an ancient tradition. Back then, it would be a place for people to socialize, relax and get clean. Nowadays, they are similar to a spa in that there are various things an attendant will do in order to get you squeaky clean and refreshed: the black sponge and soap is a really good exfoliating treatment, and go for anything that says Argan Oil. Argan trees only grow in Morocco, and they are kind of like olive trees except SO MUCH COOLER.
2. Buy some oranges!
We went to Morocco in December so maybe it’s a seasonal thing, but oranges were EVERYWHERE. And they were all really delicious, too! If you have the balls, jump into an orange grove and eat the oranges off the trees, like my friend and I did 🙂
The Badi Palace: My fave tourist attraction. It's the ruins of a big palace, but soooo cool! And they have this great orange grove.
3. Go to Essaouira and take a zillion pictures.
It is such a cool, photogenic sea-side town.
Typical Moroccan spices and herbs! It's always fun talking to the shopkeepers of these places, they lather you up with oils & creams and have you smell soaps & tea powders 🙂
From the lookout at Essaouira!
4. Drint mint tea everywhere.
It’s good for you, staves off indigestion and best of all, is SUPER delicious.
I miss you, my delicious friend.
5. Give Marrakech a half day.
The only thing really worth seeing in Marrakech, according to me, is Djema el Fnaa at night. Other than that, it seemed like another aggressive city and will not give you an authentic Moroccan experience.
Fes, on the other hand, is absolutely amazing. I was blown away by the nearly perfect preservation of the medieval medina (maze-like marketplace) and the breathtaking views of the surrounding hills. Plus, way fewer tourists and it is relatively cheaper.
One of the few places where the sun breaks into the old medina in Fes
Insanely gorgeous views.
And definitely check out the tanneries in Fes!
The tanneries are actually very cool in Fes, and they don't smell as bad as everyone says. A must-see!
Sleeping tannery worker in Fes.
Bonus Tangent: My wishlist for my next time in Morocco
- Summit Mount Toubkal, the highest mountain in North Africa and part of the Northern Atlas mountain range. It only takes 2 days, the guys from the best TV show ever, departures, did it and they had never summitted anything in their life before. Neither have I! So I think it would be a good starting place.
- Visit the fish market at Essaouira – it’s supposed to be so cool, but when my friend and I tried to find it, we got lost in a very sketchy part of the city. Next time, we find a guide!
- Travel with a guy. Already mentioned why.
- It’s such a shame that mosques are only open to Muslims…then again, how difficult is it to appear Muslim? And how morally wrong would it be if I just want to see how amazing a mosque is? That’s something to try next time I’m there, too.
- Spend a couple days and nights in the Sahara. I don’t know what it is about the desert, but there is something about the massive expanse of sand that makes it seem like magic is real.