By Jessie G.
In December of 2018, my family checked something off our bucket list- we headed to Africa! More specifically, we went to Morocco- a perfect first experience in Africa. This trip has moved up to one of my favorites. I discovered and was fascinated by a whole new culture and religion. From camel riding through the Sahara Desert to navigating our path through crowded and rumbling medinas in Marrakech, Fez, Chefchaouen, and Rabat, this trip was full of so many cool activities, a lot of culture and amazing food.
We had the same driver, Mohammed, our entire trip. He was booked through our tour company, Evaneos, who with the help of my mom, planned our entire trip. We traveled with our family friends which made us a group of 10.
We started our trip off in Marrakech. We were greeted by Mohammed at the Marrakech airport and we embarked on our journey. We stayed in a riad within the Marrakech Medina. A riad is similar to a hotel, but usually has an open courtyard, a few rooms, and a small local feel. To mine and my dad’s dismay, there were no gyms in any of the riads.
From our very first riad in Marrakech to our last one in Rabat, we were greeted with cookies and mint tea with the mint leaves in the tea. We had many cups of tea on the trip! After our tea and cookies, we checked into our rooms. The whole trip we stuck with two rooms: one double (for my parents) and one triple (for my two brothers and me).
We were then off to meet our tour guide to explore the city of Marrakech. Our guide spoke great English and took us first to one of the king’s palaces, where we saw beautiful mosaic walls and ceilings and old sculptures and artifacts. It was interesting and beautiful.
We were then off to the Medina. The medinas in Morocco are extremely crowded so it is important to keep your phones and valuable items tucked away (not in your back pocket). I also advise traveling with a guide in the Marrakech Medina as it is very big and extremely easy to get lost.
Our guide led us through all the different parts of the Medina. We passed different food stands (like nuts, olives, seafood, etc), leather shops, bag stores, sneaker shops, art shops, and plenty plenty more. There are many of the same shops everywhere.
Our group was immediately drawn to the olive and juice stands. The shop owners are very pushy and aggressive. They often will follow you to buy their products or try to raise the prices. However, it is also important to know that you can bargain, but once you agree on a price, it is best to settle on that.
After walking around the Medina, we headed to the main square, Djemaa El Fna. In the square, there are plenty of food stands serving classic Moroccan food and fragrant juice stands. There are also the traditional snake charmers and monkey tamers. The snake charmers will wrap their snakes around you and then take a photo, I opted out of this photo but my two brothers were happy to take it. There are also different men with monkeys who also let you take pictures with monkeys all over you. This was definitely fun and an experience! It is very important to know that you must tip the monkey and snake people. The people are very aggressive as their livelihood is dependent on tips. They may follow you if you don’t tip a substantial amount, as they did to someone in our group.
We were starving so we grabbed a few sausage sandwiches to share in the market which was our first taste of Moroccan food. My dad stated, “it was one of the best sandwiches he had ever eaten.” After more exploring and shopping, we then headed to dinner at Nomad, our first Moroccan dinner. I feasted on bread (lots and lots of bread to come) and couscous with lamb. The food at the Moroccan restaurants is limited but very delicious!
After dinner, we headed back into the market to look for sneakers. Morocco makes knock-off items of very expensive brands, like Gucci, Prada, Chanel, and plenty more. The Moroccan products look very similar to the real ones, so members from our group of 10 definitely indulged in the cheap shoes the Medina offered!
The next day we headed to the Atlas Mountains for a hike. Our hike was shortly after a terrorist attack in the mountain range. We were definitely worried about going on the hike, but we tried to not let it gnaw at us.
We drove an hour out to the mountains and were greeted by our two guides at a hotel. At the hotel, we had our first fun bathroom experience: we peed in holes. Although gross, it is standard in much of Morocco and should be a must-try.
In all parts of Morocco, it is very cold in the morning and evening, so it is important to layer (including a winter coat). During the hike, I was certainly cold. We had an option of riding a mule in lieu of walking. The mules followed us on the hike. I walked for 20 minutes or so and warmed up, and then hopped on the mule, where many photos followed. We all eventually got onto the mules and had a lot of fun. That is, everyone but my brother, Mason who opted not to ride the mule as he does not like riding on any animals. I spent the majority of the hike on the mule, but also walked a bit as well.
Beautiful views of the mountains and the city were present the whole time during the hike. It wasn’t so much a hike, but rather a walk. It was not through trails of dirt and rock but rather on dirt roads and up and around peoples’ neighborhoods and homes. On our way to our destination, we saw many local people in their houses and at work with their many adorable children. I was truly fascinated by the style of living I saw on this hike. Laundry done on the side of the mountain, children playing ball at the top of a mountain peak (disconnected from technology), young children riding donkeys to get food for the family, etc. I was amazed, to say the least.
We hiked to a local Berber house where we would eat a traditional Moroccan style meal. When we arrived at the local house, we sat around a table and were once again served mint tea and pastries. The mint tea is delicious, especially with sugar. We had bread, of course. There is bread at every meal, plenty of it! We then had amazing Moroccan soup, made of tomatoes and chickpeas, and a traditional Moroccan salad which included rice, tomatoes, cucumbers, oranges, olives, and plenty more. We then had our first of many tajines. Tajine is a traditional Moroccan dish with a meat (or vegetables) surrounded by potatoes, zucchini, carrots, peas and plenty more. It was delicious! We then were served amazing oranges, bananas, and apples, and then we were on our way back down the mountain.
On the way down, we came across a tribute to the two Scandinavian women killed in the attack on the mountains, it was moving to see. We rode the mules down to the bottom, including going down stairs (scary!), and were then met by our drivers. The hike was not too difficult but was a good workout.
We then headed back to the Medina center and headed to Medina’s highest mosque. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to go inside, but the outside made for awesome pictures. Speaking of mosques, Muslims populate most of Morocco. Muslims must pray 5 times a day. To cue the times to pray, there is a call to prayer, in which a loud song is sung throughout the whole city. It is very loud but also interesting to hear, but not so much when it wakes you up at dawn!
After taking many pictures in front of the mosque, we headed to La Mamounia, the nicest hotel in Africa. We originally planned to go just for a drink, but ended up eating dinner there as well. We sipped cocktails, and enjoyed a non-Moroccan meal. I had a caesar salad with shrimp. The meal was certainly pricey but delicious. We then headed back to the market where we sipped amazing juice from one of the many juice stands.
The next day we embarked on our first long drive of the trip-Marrakech to Ouarzazate. On the way, we made many stops. We stopped at a spot with a great viewpoint of majestic mountains. We then headed to Tsar of Ben-Haddou in Ouarzazate where we had a cooking class. At the cooking class, we made salad, soup, tajine, and crepes. I chopped tomatoes and onions, flipped crepes, stirred chicken and vegetables, and more. We cooked traditional moroccan soup (chickpea and tomato), made a tomato and cucumber salad and an eggplant one, cooked a chicken tagine, and prepared delicious crepes for dessert. It was an awesome cooking class!
We next headed to Tsar of Ben-Haddou, where we climbed to the top of the ancient massive village. To get there, we walked across the river on sand bags which was super fun. We saw beautiful buildings on the hike up, browsed through some stores, and took awesome pictures at the top. It was great exercise and fun!
Next, we headed to a movie set in Ouarzazate, which was not so enjoyable. There were pretty walls for photos, and fun slides, swings, and climbing things, but it wasn’t interactive and we needed more information as to what everything was. We took some good pictures but all in all, we did not love the experience at the set.
We then arrived at our hotel in Ouarzazate. Once again we got mint tea and pastries upon check-in. We got into our rooms where I was given a king bed and my two brothers got stuck with two queens (yay). We had dinner in the hotel, where we once again ate traditional soup and salad, tajine, and more. The hotel was gorgeous and provided great accommodations.
The next day we were on the road again- off the to dessert. It was a 7 hour ride (yawn), but we had several stops on the way. We first stopped at Todra Gorge. It was freezing! But, the gorge was beautiful with a blue sky above. There were plenty of climbers on the rocks, which was super cool to see! Some of us decided to explore the gorge in more depth, while the rest stayed in the warmth of the sun. We climbed up part of the gorge and took awesome pictures! We then stopped in a local town, where we popped into many different shops. My mom bought bowls, which was negotiated from 600 dirham (around $60) to 200 dirham (around $20). My brother bought a cool rock with a beautiful green glow inside of it.
We then headed to a shop where we dressed in traditional Moroccan clothing. It was super fun! I dressed in a pink gown and a fun headpiece. The boys also dressed up, which was funny. We took plenty of photos and experienced some Moroccan culture which was awesome!
We finally arrived at the Sahara- my favorite spot of the trip. We checked in to secure our camels and were immediately taken to a breathtaking view where our camels sat. I fell in love with the scene and can confidently say that the Sahara views were some of the best views I have ever seen.
We hopped on our camels, dramatically! When the camels stand, they tilt you forward as if you are on a rollercoaster. This definitely scared my already antsy and worried brother. We had a guide leading our camels through the desert to our camping spot for the night. We passed amazing scenery, took unbelievable photos, watched our camels poop (super fun), and enjoyed a peaceful ride through the desert.
When we arrived at the campsite, we were brought to our tents. They are not traditional tents, but instead we were glamping! We had tents with full sized beds, a shower, a full bathroom, and even a lounge area. It was as if we were not camping in the middle of a desert, but rather a somewhat nice hotel.
We settled in and then immediately went sandboarding. We climbed up a dune with the sandboards in hand (not easy) to reach the top. The Klein kids, who we were with, all snowboard, so this was second nature to them. Me, on the other hand, was not as proficient at sandboarding. I struggled getting down the dune and fell multiple times, but I eventually got the hang of it and loved it! We all took awesome photos and perfected our sandboarding skills.
By the time we were finished, the sun started to set and it was the anticipated golden hour- a time with perfect lighting, which makes for amazing photos. To my brother’s discontent, Daniel had to take plenty of photos of and with me during the golden hour. My brother and I then sought to climb to the highest point of the dune, but on the way the lighting got even better for pictures so we never made it there. At the tip of every dune we climbed, there were unbelievable views.
Later, we sat around a table on couches where we were given mint tea and cookies, again! We saw a beautiful sunset coming and hiked up one of the higher dunes. I saw one of the most amazing sunsets I have ever seen. I was truly taken aback by it. We took amazing photos and enjoyed the sunset.
We went back to our couches, now in plenty of layers, and waited for dinner. We ate dinner inside with all the families together, and were served bread, traditional soup, salads, and tagine! It was great. That night, we sat around the fire and listened to music and danced. The people at the camp sang and entertained us. We spun and danced around the fire, as a Moroccan man led us in dances. We laughed a lot. It was a memorable experience.
We then hoped to catch a full moon by hiking to the highest dune there was. We got tired half way up however, and saw the moon and view from the midway point. Amazing! We then tucked away into our tents where I wore two sweatshirts and a winter coat, a hat, long pants, long socks, and was covered in a huge blanket. I was still cold!
The next morning, I was not feeling well, and everyone but me caught the beautiful sunrise. I was fortunate to see photos :-). We then headed back to the real world, but not on camels this time. On the way back, we took a more adventurous track by riding quads, which are similar to atvs. I rode with my mom through the winding desert trails, down and over hills, and towards our cars. Everyone got stuck at one point or another, but to my dismay, my mom got stuck more than others. You must be 16 or older to drive alone. It was an awesome and thrilling experience and made for super cool photos.
UGH-We then had another 7 hour drive, yawn again! We stopped multiple times, one in which included a stop in a ski town. It was extremely modern with an open market and beautiful hotels. We then stopped to see monkeys, where we got to feed them, and were then surprised by a herd of sheep that followed the monkeys. We arrived at our hotel in Fez late afternoon, so we stuck to dinner at the hotel, where we once again had a traditional Moroccan meal. In this hotel, we were serviced by a very nice man, Zach, who spoke excellent english, and truly made our experience at the hotel great. The dinner and breakfast was great, and the rooms were perfect for our visit.
The next day we went out exploring Fez! We met with our guide at the hotel, who according to our driver is “the best in Fez.” We started off the tour going to an awesome viewpoint and then going to a local crafts shop where much of the pottery, art and mosaics are made. We watched men at work, some creating pottery, others chipping, others drawing, etc. It was super cool to see the behind the scenes process of how some of the beautiful Moroccan mosaics and pottery items are made.
We then headed to the Medina where we shopped, ate olives, and walked around and explored. We saw a beautiful mosque from the outside with awesome mosaics. We then went into a scarf store where we watched men knead blankets. We bought beautiful colored silk scarves. I even tried on a turban which was fun. They had a huge variety of different scarves and blankets. The boys were not happy about how long we spent in the store.
In the Medina of Fez, we also saw many disturbing things, and we called it the “walk of terror”. We saw a dead camel and many cow heads, dead chickens, chickens whose feathers were plucked off of them, dead fish, and plenty more. It was disturbing but also interesting.
We then headed into a famous leather tannery and we saw how the leather is created. We were given mint to smell before we entered the tannery to ward off the odors of the leather chemicals. Once we entered, we were brought to the rooftop where we saw different pots of colors and saw the men make the different leathers. It was super cool to see. We then were led into the store, where we were overwhelmed by the many different leather jackets and bags! My mom and I decided to buy two jackets: one white and one blue. However, they did not have our size in the stock. Therefore, what was super cool was that we were measured and fitted for our custom jackets. The jackets were delivered to our hotel a few hours after they were made. It is crazy how fast they were made and delivered!
We then further explored the market, popping into many different stores and experiencing the Moroccan culture. We went to dinner at a modern American place, where I had amazing fish and everyone enjoyed their meals!
The following day, we made our way to Chefchaouen, the blue city and my favorite city of the whole trip. We made several stops on the road. The first of which was at the royal horse stables. It was cool to see the different arches, but overall it was extremely boring! We did not have a tour guide or anything, so we just snapped a few photos and were confused as to what we were supposed to do. Thumbs down for the horse stable.
We next headed to the city of Meknes, where we had a guide take us through the town. We walked around the city (up many stairs), seeing great views and the Medina. We viewed a mosque from the outside, and shopped in the Medina, sampling all different kinds of Moroccan olives, nuts, and candies.
We next headed to Volubilis, which were ruins. We were led by the same tour guide through the ruins, and he only showed us the highlights because we anticipated that we would be bored. We tasted very bitter olives, took awesome pictures, saw great views, and learned about the Moroccan culture and history. The experience was okay, as it was certainly a little boring.
We then arrived at Chefchaouen, where we were immediately led to an awesome viewpoint of the city. It is impossible to not see the blue colored streets from even above. We arrived at our riad, Lina Ryad, and were brought up to our rooms. This ryad was the most modern one on the trip and was gorgeous. The beds were our comfiest beds of all and the accommodations were great too.
We quickly settled in and then hustled on out to do some exploring on our own. We looked around the Medina for pouches and key chains, scoped out perfect photo places, ate more olives and nuts, and saw the beautiful blue city. The majority of the walls, floors, and steps are blue. It was truly amazing to see the city’s color everywhere. For dinner, we were sick of Moroccan food so we tried a pizza place, Pizza Mandala. We took it out and ate in the hotel lobby. It does not compare to New York pizza, but it was still tasty!
The next day we split into two different groups: a boy group and a girl group. We met our guides early in the morning and parted ways. The boys drove about an hour out to hike in a national park up to some waterfalls. The girls, however, whipped out their white shirts, sunglasses, and jeans, and were off to stroll through the city to scout out the best photo spots. We made clear to our guide that we wanted to take many photos, and he loved that! He took us to every photo spot there was and even acted as our photographer. He told us how to pose, where to look, what to do, etc. It was incredible! We only moved 10 ft from the hotel to where we found our first photo spot, and spent 40 minutes there. The boys would have hated it! We took plenty of photos in all different locations, as our guide enjoyed the experience. We also shopped in the Medina and enjoyed the city, without the boys.
We also went down to the river, where we saw peacocks and ostriches. The blue city was the calmest city we visited. There are only around 40,000 people living there and everything is very peaceful. The city was was small, beautiful, and different from everything else we previously saw.
After hours of snapping photos and shopping, we made our way to our lunch spot: a local Moroccan home. We arrived at the home and were instantly met with mint tea and pastries. The boys met us for lunch and said that they enjoyed the hike. We were served lentil soup and Moroccan salads. But then, we were served sardines. This was not appealing to any member of our group. We felt bad not eating them however, so being the 16 year olds we are, we shoved the fish to the bottom of our soup bowls. However, our parents did it too, so maybe it wasn’t an age thing. 🙂
The host was very kind to us and treated us well. She loved the youngest member of our group, Zach, who was 11 years old. We were also served delicious artichokes and then fruit salad for dessert.
The girls stayed behind at the house for henna, while the boys went back to the hotel. We all pulled up pictures on our phones of the henna that we wanted. I chose a simple star design. It looked pretty at first, but after we showered in the evening, the color rubbed off and made us all look like we had a disease. Unfortunately, the henna artist was just ok and did not capture the traditional henna look.
Later that night, I went with my older brother and my parents on a sunset hike up to one of the mosques in the city. It was super windy but there were still tons of tourists on the walk up. Unfortunately, the sun quickly tucked behind a cloud so the sunset was not amazing, but it was still a beautiful scene. The hike up was great exercise and the view gorgeous from the top.
For dinner, being still sick of Moroccan food, headed to a Chinese restaurant, Sky Chinese. We ordered tons and tons of food! Sweet and sour chicken, fried rice, soup, beef, spring rolls, and plenty more. The food was absolutely delicious. There were a few mess-ups with the order, but everything worked itself out in the end. We had plenty of food and the total price of the meal was very cheap compared to the US!
On our final day, we said goodbye to our favorite city and headed to Rabat. We did not stop on the road as the drive was only 4 hours which was easy compared to some of our other drives. When we arrived in Rabat, we were directed to launch right away. Our lunch destination was on the water and was a seafood place with a buffet. The music was extremely loud. They had all different kinds of seafood and the food was good. We then met out tour guide who first led us to the mausoleum of Mohammed V. There were pillars in the center of the grounds that all of us climbed on and took pictures. The center was very pretty and made for great photos. We then took photos with the guards and went inside the building where the king was buried and saw beautiful mosaics.
From there we drove to the king’s palace and the government buildings. We did not go inside any buildings, but we saw them from the outside. The trees around the buildings were trimmed to form almost like one long horizontal tree. Our tour guide’s accent was very strong so it was hard to understand him. The tour was a little boring but it was also fun. We were brought to a cafe where we had tea and cookies and then checked into our riad. This riad was the worst out of all of them. Our bed, which was made four two, had to fit 3, and our friend had ants crawling in her bathroom. Later that day, we headed out to the Medina for the final time. It was the most crowded Medina that we visited! It was hard to walk in one big group. We did tons of last minute shopping. We bought pouches, sneakers, bags, and plenty more. The boys left after a little while but the girls shopped for hours, trying on tons of sneakers while looking for the perfect bag. We managed not to get lost, which was very impressive! We then headed out to our last dinner of the trip, a traditional Moroccan meal. We ate more Moroccan salads, couscous and tagine, and finished off the meal with our last sips of mint tea and pastries.
We left the next morning with an amazing trip behind us! The trip was absolutely incredible! I saw a whole new culture and religion and was happy to apply some of my knowledge from global class to the country. I was fascinated by everything I saw and was blown away by the breathtaking views and adventures. I give this trip an absolute thumbs up and recommend it to any family!