Morocco Travel Guide: Your Essential Must See's & Do's
Traveling pushes you out of your comfort zone. Visiting a new culture exposes you to the unknown. It forces you to flip your perspective on the world. And that’s exactly what I sought out when I booked a flight to Casablanca, Morocco last year.
The truth is that the brain initially rejects anything outside of our comfort zone. Why? It comes down to survival. You’ve figured out that doing the same thing every day is safe. It has low risk and it means you’re more likely to survive from one day to the next.
Traveling breaks through those confines. I’d been to Europe before, across the States, and down South. But I craved a very different experience from what I knew. These previous experiences all had the air of familiarity. Plus, I’d always wanted to go to Africa and see the Sahara Desert. Flights and accommodations were relatively inexpensive.
Flash forward to a month or so later and I was landing in Casablanca with my old college roommate. We were excited, exhausted from our flights (we took an overnight flight to Paris then to Casablanca), and not really sure - even after all the reading we’d done - what to expect. So, what is there to expect when visiting Morocco?
If you’re planning a new trip or thinking about it, it’s one place I’d highly recommend, especially to the adventurous seeking soul.
To sum Morocco up in one word: It’s chaotic. But within that chaos, you find a world full of color and happy, hard-working people - just like you and me - striving to do what’s best for themselves and their families.
And yes, you will dive headfirst into your hotel or riad bed at the end of each day feeling exhausted and overstimulated. But the experience is second to none. From riding camels through desert terrain to cozy blue-colored towns in the mountains and spicy foods galore mixed with a little Mediterranean shoreline, Morocco is one place where you will never be bored.
It’s an overflow of newness. And people either love it or hate it.
If you’re sick of reading all the impersonal travel guides out there, take a slice of this! The following recommendations are all things Morocco that I experienced and did - and things you won’t want to miss.
1. All the Travel Guides Say Skip Casablanca But…
Everywhere I read, “just skip Casablanca.”
“It’s not worth it.”
“You’ll get a better experience in Marrakesh, Fez, or Chef.”
Before we left, it made me wonder if maybe we shouldn’t have book our riad for 2 nights in Casablanca before moving onto another city.
Yet, I’m so glad we did.
If you’re from Canada or the USA, Morocco is definitely a culture shock. It’s different from what we’re used to. The food is different. People dress differently. People don’t really drink in Morocco.
Women’s rights in Morocco is fairly new - the culture hasn’t quite caught up yet. Women are expected to tend to the household. They aren’t exactly on the same level as men.
But, Morocco is one of the Islamic countries that has made huge leaps and bounds when it comes to women and human rights. Like a lot of place, they’re making progress - which is pretty cool.
The point is that it’s an incredible shock to step into from back home. But the culture is so rich with vibrancy, color, art, food, and more that it’s something you want to immerse yourself in. The experience was worth it.
The first day we got there, we grabbed scarves to cover up so we wouldn’t stick out like sore thumbs (which we still kind of did and the scarves were quite warm). The medina was chaotic. A medina is in basically every city. It’s a maze of streets and shops, and easy to get lost in.
Casablanca was a tamer version of what was to come. You’ll want to check out the medina and the mosque in this city. A day or two here serves its purpose. It’s, like I said, a nice introduction. Fez and Marrakesh were overwhelming in comparison, so if you want to ease into Morocco, start in Casablanca. It’s also the largest city in Morocco - not to be missed!
2. Spend Time in the Atlas Mountains & Chefchaouen
Chefchaouen is a popular destination. Maybe you’ve seen a few photos of it. It’s that little blue-colored African town splayed across travel blogs and Instagram. It is as picture-perfect as expected. The small blue town is surrounded by the Atlas Mountains.
In Chefchaouen, time slows. Tradition and customs are a little looser in the mountain village. Cover-ups are optional. Thus, on hot days, wearing shorts isn’t exactly unheard of in this area of Morocco.
The coolest part (which I now absolutely have to go back for)? You can take excursions and hikes into the mountains. If you crave some of the natural environment, this is one of the places in Morocco to do just that. Make sure the tourist company is legit! If you’re staying at a riad or hostel, they’ll likely be able to give you some great recommendations.
We also got henna in this small little town. It was just a wholesome and happy experience. You’ll get lost in the blue maze. But there really is no place like it.
3. Ride Camels & Camp in the Sahara Desert
The Sahara Desert was my top reason for visiting Morocco. I’d seen the Nevada and Arizona desert-like terrain, but I’d always wanted to visit the African desert. And the Sahara was a bucket list item.
Before we left for Morocco, I did a ton of research. I’d read about scams involving camel and desert trips in the Sahara. You send money and they take it. You get to Morocco and low and behold, you have no tour set-up and you’re 500 dollars in the hole. Basically, be careful here! Don’t just send your money to anyone. Do your due diligence and research it.
After doing hours of digging, I found the Milky Way Desert Camp company. You can find their Facebook page here. They were incredible! The camp exceeded my expectations. It wasn’t really camping. It was serious glamping. We had a shower and a flushing toilet in the middle of the desert.
We rode camels from the small town to the dunes where our camp was located. We did some out of control sandboarding down the dunes. At night, we danced by the fire as the camp staff and owner sang in Arabic and attempted to get us to do the same. They gave us dinner and breakfast with all traditional food and of course, traditional mint Moroccan tea.
It was everything and more - this part of the trip includes my fondest memories.
After dancing by the fire, I had a long talk with the owner of the camp. I learned about his life and how Morocco lacked employment opportunity so he started doing this with his group of guys. He loved meeting people and hoped to explore outside of Morocco one day. He was surprisingly young, but full of hope, optimism, and excitement - especially when it came to his business.
If you do anything in Morocco, do this. It cost about $500 per person, and you do need to come with tips in hand - but it was an experience of a lifetime.
4. Stop in at the Todgha Gorge
We did this one on the way back from the desert. The drive is about 7-9 hours to Marrakesh - our next stop. It was included as part of our desert-camping experience. We had a private driver and he stopped letting us walk the length of the gorge. It was beautiful - almost unreal, and worth stopping to take it all in.
5. Take in the Colors & Vibrancy of Marrakesh
Marrakesh is a must. A lot of travel guides also recommend Fez. When you’re two girls travelling alone, Fez is a tad overwhelming and scary - at least it was for us. We got swarmed getting out of our cab to get to our riad. I was yelled at and sworn at by a man when I politely refused his help (they say not to follow people in these big cities and I had my directions out and ready).
It was the middle of Ramadan. The reality was that when it was time to break their fast, the police officers went home. As a result, we heard that buses were burning in parts of the city. We were terrified.
The most I saw of Fez was when our riad owner insisted on escorting us to get food because of how unsafe it was at that time. We hadn’t eaten since morning and were starving. He guided us to a local stand he knew and we grabbed some couscous and tajine, a Moroccan dish.
I chalk it all up to bad timing. I think Fez could be incredible. It has old architecture and plenty to see. And I’ve heard great things.
Marrakesh, on the other hand, was mesmerizing. The Medina and food were incredible and delicious. As to be expected, the medina was chaotic but not to be missed.
While you’re in Marrakesh, hit up a spa. But don’t expect the traditional Western spa. We got a hammam - a traditional Moroccan bathing ritual.
To say a hammam pushed my comfort limits is an understatement. You are essentially naked in a sauna in front of strangers. If you go to a more tourist and thus, less authentic spot, you get a private room. They then wash and scrub you down. But it’s somewhat a luxury. You come out with the smoothest and cleanest skin. I’ve never had such soft skin in my life.
The sauna also fully relaxes you. Afterward, we were given Moroccan tea and cookies, and we were told to relax until we were ready to go. It was absolutely wonderful as awkward as the initial scrubbing and hosing down was. You kind of just have to shrug it off and go with it.
Don’t leave Morocco without getting a hammam!
Go on an Adventure of a Lifetime: Visit Morocco!
I would actually love to go back to Morocco. The only thing stopping me? The fact that there are about a million other places I want to see and haven’t been to before.
But if you crave adventure and are okay with a little chaos, book that flight! Plan your trip. Oh and did I mention, it’s budget savvy? We ate out every single day. And for nice accommodations, it won’t cost you an arm and a leg by any means.
So, get out there! Explore. Find parts of yourself that you didn’t know existed. Morocco is a one-of-a-kind place. Like any travel, though, do your research beforehand. Know what is culturally acceptable and what’s not. Most importantly, be respectful of their culture. Learn about it. Immerse yourself in it. Experience it for what it is, not what you want it to be.
You’ll come back with a new perspective and a new gratitude for the life you do have. Nothing can replace the experience that travel offers. It’s priceless. It’ll change you, so why not take that leap?
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