Morocco has been, for lack of a better term, a bucket list place for me to visit. There has always been something mysterious and romantic about the country. It could be because I know my mom backpacked there in the 1970s and her recollection was of only really great experiences. Or perhaps because of the stories of famous rockstars like Jimi Hendrix, Keith Richards and Bob Dylan just being cool AF there. Definitely a draw was that my favourite designer of all time, Yves Saint Laurent, lived there part time and drew so much of his inspiration for his collections from his love affair with the country. Finally, Africa is a continent I have never visited before and have always wanted to. So, the time came to take the plunge and plan the trip.
I’m writing this blog to shed some light on my planning process, top picks and the experience while in the country because I have received many inquiries since returning about where to stay, where to go and general cultural questions. Please feel free to reach out to me if there is anything I haven’t covered!
Small note: at first I was considering doing both Portugal and Morocco since they are geographically close but once I started really looking into all of the places I wanted to visit in Morocco the decision was easy to just focus solely on the one country.
My top 4 places to visit were all located in the center of the country. I’ll be sharing details on Marrakech, Skoura, Erg Chigaga Luxury Desert Camp in the Sahara Desert, and Essaouira. With that said, should I ever go back I would definitely spend time in the northern part of the country in places such as; Chefchaouen, Fez, and the fabled Tangier.
First things first, accommodations. I wanted to make sure where we stayed was fabulous and that I would feel both comfortable and excited to stay there. One of the many great things about Morocco is the cost for accommodations. I found mostly 4-5 star riads and hotels for the cost of 3 star hotels in North America. I spent a lot of time on reviews as well as I sourced out influencers who have travelled to Morocco for their tips on where to stay and eat. I spent hours researching! It paid off, I loved everything about the places we stayed. In addition to details in accommodation I’ll add in tips about what to wear, where to eat and what to see.
So…what to pack!?
Note: Morocco is primarily a Muslim country so as a female it’s respectful to at minimum cover your shoulders and knees. While I saw that many tourists did not follow these guidelines I personally think it’s a show of respect for the culture and religion of the country you are guest in. While a few of my photos in this blog show my shoulders I had in fact been wearing a scarf and removed it just for the photo.
Here is a list of what I brought with me and there were only about 2 items that I did not use:
Linen: pants, skirts, dresses, tops and scarves
2-3 dresses with short sleeves, if they have thin straps just bring a scarf to drape over your shoulders
3-4 tops (linen or something pretty for dinners and a t-shirt for casual)
Espadrilles and flat shoes (covered toes)
1 pair of low heeled shoes (no one really dresses up a lot there)
1 pair of sneakers
Light jacket or sweatshirt
Sun hat + Sunglasses
Backpack, cross body bag and/or belt bag
MARRAKECH // Bustling // Beautiful
We arrived in Marrakech and were met by a driver arranged by the riad, he took us right to the edge of the old town and from there a guy with a cart loaded up our luggage and walked us through the walled gates to our accommodations. Tipping is defintitely expected, we often gave about $3 (20 dirhams) for a service such as that.
Note on cellular data: Right in the airport I bought a 4GB data card for $45 CAD and used it the entire time I was there! Otherwise most Canadian cell providers have really crappy options for African travel and you will pay way too much, like around $300 for 10 days!
Riad: Riad Dixneuf la Ksour
Located just on the outer edge of the walled city which is called ‘old town’. It makes it really convenient for when you arrive and depart from the city. The team at the riad was so warm and welcoming. They made us feel very at home. Top things I loved about the Riad included the rooftop patio where I could catch a few rays without feeling uncomfortable about being in a swim suit. The breakfasts were delicious! Fresh made msemen (crispy, flaky flat cakes), fresh eggs any way you want them, fresh fruit, strong coffee, fig jams, yogurt and honey. So good!!!
Médina: Wandering the Médina was a highlight I was looking forward to but I’ll be straightforward and say, depending on what floats your boat, this was something I wouldn’t do again in Marrakech. Other towns have much smaller and less intense ones to spend time in. It was culturally very interesting but with the heat and the amount of people trying to all squeeze down the narrow streets paired with mopeds ripping through at high speed, it was just too much for me. With that said, really happy to have explored them at least once. I choose to wait until the Essaouira Médina to shop.
Le Jardin for lunch - slip into a hidden garden wishing the Médina to enjoy fresh juices and smoothies or a light lunch amongst orange trees and lush trees.
El Fenn for dinner - a hot spot with the jet-set crowd this hotel and restaurant was conveniently located right next to our riad. We enjoyed crafted cocktails on the rooftop prior to enjoying a seafood dinner of Dakhla lobster. Note: this dinner cost around $150 which included wine which is pretty reasonable compared to N. American prices to dine out.
For our last night we ate at the riad which was made by a local chef. She made us an delicious tajine of chicken, lemons, and figs served with fresh baked khobz from the souks.
Hammam: The Moroccan version of a spa. Omg, this was quite the experience. Keep in mind it was unseasonably hot outside, around 40 degrees celsius. I chose the traditional hammam plus massage. I spent 20 minutes laying on a hot slab sweating like crazy (basically a sauna) before being scrubbed down head to toe with an argan oil and salt scrub. Finished with a relaxation massage. If it hadn’t been so hot out I would have loved the first part more. Regardless, it was beautiful inside and I felt transported to another world while in this subterranean oasis. This hammam was called Elisa and was right next door to our Riad.
Car Rental: : After reading multiple review I felt confident that if I booked through Auto Europe we would be able to get a car on the other end. They essentially just book the type of vehicle you want at various rental companies. Still, they had great reviews. We rented a 4x4 Toyota Land Cruiser based on the recommendation from the owner of our desert camp, Nick. See separate post /Morocco: Glamping in the Sahara Desert/ for specifics on that journey.
Tip: Ask for a gps, which actually ends up being a portable wifi box so that you can use your google maps. It was incredible, we literally had wifi everywhere we went. Even in the desert! Why can’t Canada catch up with this type of easy and affordable technology? And it only cost $40 for the whole 10 days!
The drive: We woke up early to leave for the airport to pick up our rental vehicle and thankfully didn't have many problems attaining the vehicle, but make sure to check over your vehicle and document the dents etc as well as the tires. We knew we were heading to the desert and the tires on this vehicle were pretty worn down so they switched it out for another one.
The drive to our next destination was estimated at 4.5 hours through the Atlas Mountains which is a winding road that switchbacks most of the way. You are on the road with semi trucks and motorbikes and tourists. It’s a bit crazy but if you have travelled a lot and have driven in other countries it really is not that daunting. Just accept that all the rules that apply in Canada do not apply there, it’s a bit more of a free for all. With that said, they drive on the same side of the road as us and generally it felt pretty normal.
With the landscape changing gradually from forests to mountains to desert there is lots to see along the way. Be aware of the guys on the side of the road selling red crystal rocks, they are painted! I did however buy a beautiful big piece of rose crystal from the Atlas Mountains to use as a centre piece on my coffee table.
Next we drove through Ouarzazate which passed by this incredible historical site called Aït Benhaddou which was a trading post between Timbuktu and Marrakesh dated hundreds of years ago. Most recently it was used in the filming of The Game of Thrones. Tip: go early to avoid the crowds.
SKOURA // Hidden Gem // Oasis
After a long drive we arrived in Skoura which I picked as a rest stop for one night en route to the Sahara.
Lodge: L’Ma Lodge
This place felt like it was plucked right out of my dreams. The property is owned by a European couple and their children. They have owned the land for 20+ years and have spent that time building the lodge and gardens. I felt like I was in a daydream in the 70s. There were rugs and pillows under trees all over the property. Hammocks hanging from palms. A glistening pool with day beds. Our room had a small patio and the rooftop was covered in pillows, throws and lounge chairs with a view of the tops of the palm tree oasis. Sunset from up there was perfection.
We stayed for one night only and met some really fun people (at kitties) and dined on tagine, olives, fresh baked bread and some lovely Moroccan wine. Perfect little pitstop!
SAHARA DESERT // Adventure // Awe Inspiring
With an early start, we set off towards M’Hamid. M’Hamid is a tiny town on the edge of the Sahara Desert which is where we planned to meet our local guide that Nick set up for us. This part of the drive was pretty cool too, it was endless palm tree groves before it turned in to just sand and rocks. We met our guide at a small hotel and were told that we should have put diesel in at the last town which was one hour behind us. Thankfully our guide, Nourdinne, was a local of this town and brought us to a small station that was closed - it was Ramadan and most businesses were not on regular hours - the owner opened up and gave us a jerry can of diesel. With a full tank we were off!
Note: To follow the rest of this story focused specifically on our stay at the Erg Chigaga Luxury Desert Camp head back to the main blog page and scroll.
After our stay in the desert we exited west of where we entered through a town called Foum Zguid and proceeded to drive for 9 more hours all the way to Essaouira which is on the west coast of Morocco on the Atlantic Ocean. We could have spent the night along the way at one of the towns such as Taroudant, and were highly advised do that because the drive would be to long but we decided it would be so much better to just get to the final destination and chill out for the final leg of the trip. So drive we did, well actually I’ll give my husband Jon full credit for that. I slept most of the time.
Note: Make sure to pack snacks for the road based on your dietary preferences. I had the grand idea that I would intermittent fast until about 2pm and get something along the way. There was literally nothing except for little convenience stands that had only packaged junk food because it was Ramadan. So I managed with a bag of plain potato chips and an orange juice for the drive. I should have planned better.
ESSAOUIRA // Coastal Charm // Relaxing
We arrived in Essaouira to the very welcome sight of the ocean and the even more welcome temperature of 22 degrees celsius. After the heat of the previous 6 days this was much needed.
Hotel: We parked our car and found our hotel Madada Mogador (which I found on Mr & Mrs Smith) and got settled. The room with a patio was perched right on the wall of the old town and over looked the ocean and had a perfect view of one of the buildings that was in Game of Thrones (nerding hard here).
Eats: Below our hotel was their restaurant La Table which I was then able to have my first proper meal of the day (I like to eat) which was a perfectly cooked white fish filet wrapped in a banana leaf and some local seasonal veg plus lots of local white wine and I was tapped out for the night. Another great restaurant is called Umia which was traditionally French with a Moroccan infusion.
Most of this part of the trip was beach, explore, sleep, rinse repeat for the next few days. Some highlights included a day trip to the little surf town of Sidi Kaouki which was only a 30 min drive from the hotel. This place was so adorable and picturesque. It’s a destination for adventure seekers who are capitalizing on the consistent presence of wind. The western coast is VERY windy. There were wind surfers, surfers and some brave sunbathers speckled along the beach. Jon went for a surf and I lay out to get a tan after being head to toe in clothing for the past week. I got some sun but I also got a second layer if skin in the form of sand. I’m not kidding when I say WINDY!
Mèdina: This is where I finally did a little shopping because the market was slightly calmer than Marrakech. I brought home some plates and textiles however I wanted to take it all home! There is major interior decorating inspiration there so watch out!
Note: Essaouira was not an exception to the experiences we had across the country regarding being asked for money at every turn. This is understandable and comes with the territory so as long as you respond with a firm ‘No Thank You’ said in either of these two languages you should be fine - ‘la shoukran (Arabic) or non merci (FR) - you will probably need to say it several times so try not to get frustrated.
The final day arrived and we packed up and left early for the 2.5 hour drive back to Marrakech to catch our flight to Casablanca and then on to Montreal. Not much of note for this part of the journey but I will say that if you are driving you need to be aware of the police check stops.
Note: There are police check stops outside almost every town you go through. They are not very interested in tourists and waved us through every time but that was because we were adhering strictly to the speed limits. On our way back to Marrakech, we were going 6km over the 60km limit and they pulled us over and only charged us the equivalent of $20CND. Canada should get on board with that pricing!
On the journey home it was mainly just airports and one airport hotel in MTL. But the entire way home my mind kept flickering back to all the really amazing and unique experience and sites that we saw. Many Moroccans said to us that visiting their country is less of a vacation but more of an adventure. I completely agree! I would suggest that if you have never travelled before this should not be your first experience abroad but if you have a few stamps on your passport and feel confident to just go with the flow and experience the adventure this is definitely one of my favourite countries to visit and I would definitely return!
Please feel free to comment below or reach out on IG or via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have any other questions!