Morocco! I must have done something right in a previous life to be fortunate enough to have completed the Mountain Travel Sobek Moroccan Camel Trek TWICE before it was discontinued. My photo was even featured in the catalog for a few years! It was led by my good friend Kristy Larson (an American who has lived in Morocco for 30 years) who is now doing custom trips in Morocco and Oman! I’ve referred several friends to her and every one has raved about their experience. If you want to do any shopping she’s also the woman to have with you as she’s fluent in Arabic and Berber and “knows people”. Contact her through her website. You won’t be disappointed.
This last visit to Morocco we stayed for six weeks to explore all Morocco has to offer – magical mazes of medinas, the Berber villages of the High Atlas, the breathtaking stillness of the Sahara, and of course the beaches and surf. Since then I’ve been asked numerous times to provide recommendations to friends traveling to Morocco. The email form has now passed through dozens of hands, been improved with their feedback and led to countless amazing experiences. I hope to return soon, Insha’allah.
I’ve transformed that email into this post for you. Yellah!
Day 1-3 Marrakech (Markets)
Skip Casablanca but don’t miss Marrakech and Fes. You MUST stay at a Riad in the Medina. We stayed at this fabulous Airbnb riad (owned by a friend) and also at the El Saadi which is like any other hotel, stay in the medina. DEFINITELY arrange for airport pickup as its impossible to find your way in the medina without a trail of breadcrumbs, and even those will get stomped out by a donkey.
- Hang out in Djemma al Fna (city square, performers). Check out the night markets but beware of the food if you have a sensitive gut. Eric got so sick he shit his pants in the desert. Definitely get a bag of mixed nuts, dried figs and apricots to carry around with you. Those are safe. Mmmmm..
- Tour the Koutoubia Mosque and Sa’adian tombes, get edubacated.
- Eat on the terrace at La Terrasse des Epices or for a more colonial feel at Cafe de la Poste
- Take in the stunning images at Maison de la Photographie – have a drink on the rooftop terrace there as well.
- Listen to music and get a bite at Kechmara. Surfers – ask the owners about surfing in Taghazout.
Day 4-6 Road trip the High Atlas (ask Kristy)
- Adventure across the Tizi n’ Tichka Pass
- Stop at the Glaoui family kasbah in Telouet.
- Explore valleys and gorges. Try and do a hike through a date palm oasis in one of the valleys
Day 7-10 Sahara (Desert)
- +/- days as you like but I think at least one overnight is a MUST. We spent 4 nights in the desert and it wasn’t enough in my book. Think PLANETARIUM every night.
- Explore Ait Ben Haddou/Ouzarzate (where they filmed Gladiator). Stay at Riad Ksar Ighnda
- Explore the dunes near Merzouga (skip Zagora, Erg Chebbi and Erg Znigui are more beautiful than Erg Chigaga)
- Buy the stuff the kids make/find. If they try to sell you a dinosaur tooth. Don’t scoff! I bought one and had it verified at the fossil place (see below). Shit was legit! #bestpresentever
“Immediately when you arrive in Sahara, for the first or the tenth time, you notice the stillness. An incredible, absolute silence prevails outside the towns; and within, even in busy places like the markets, there is a hushed quality in the air, as if the quiet were a conscious force which, resenting the intrusion of sound, minimizes and disperses sound straightaway. Then there is the sky, compared to which all other skies seem fainthearted efforts. Solid and luminous, it is always the focal point of the landscape. At sunset, the precise, curved shadow of the earth rises into it swiftly from the horizon, cutting into light section and dark section. When all daylight is gone, and the space is thick with stars, it is still of an intense and burning blue, darkest directly overhead and paling toward the earth, so that the night never really goes dark.
You leave the gate of the fort or town behind, pass the camels lying outside, go up into the dunes, or out onto the hard, stony plain and stand awhile alone. Presently, you will either shiver and hurry back inside the walls, or you will go on standing there and let something very peculiar happen to you, something that everyone who lives there has undergone and which the French call ‘le bapteme de solitude.’ It is a unique sensation, and it has nothing to do with loneliness, for loneliness presupposes memory. Here in this wholly mineral landscape lighted by stars like flares, even memory disappears…A strange, and by no means pleasant, process of reintergration begins inside you, and you have the choice of fighting against it, and insisting on remaining the person you have always been, or letting it take its course. For no one who has stayed in the Sahara for a while is quite the same as when he came.
…Perhaps the logical question to ask at this point is: Why go? The answer is that when a man has been there and undergone the baptism of solitude he can’t help himself. Once he has been under the spell of the vast luminous, silent country, no other place is quite strong enough for him, no other surroundings can provide the supremely satisfying sensation of existing in the midst of something that is absolute. He will go back, whatever the cost in time or money, for the absolute has no price.” – Paul Bowles.
Day 11 Sahara –> Fes
- Travel to Fes (stop to see the Barbary Apes!)
- Stop in Erfoud to pick up a 1,000,000+ year old fossil at Fossils D’Erfoud. Just don’t have anything shipped, I spent 8 months of emails and threats trying to get my ammonite…
Day 12-15 Fes (Time Travel)
The old world. Founded in the 9th century and home to the oldest university in the world, Fez reached its height in the 13th–14th centuries. The second largest city in Morocco, and the capital until 1925. In 1912 it was frozen in time as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is believed to be one of the world’s largest car-free urban cities. It truly feels, smells and sounds like stepping back in time.
- Read Paul Bowles “Spider’s House” before going to Fes and go to the Sofitel Fes Palais Jamaï, the hotel where it takes place.
- Take a day trip to Meknes (on way to Chefchaouen). Check out the granery and get a guide (unless you’re with Kristy!) to give you tell you the stories of the crazy king who built it.
- Take a day trip to Roman Ruins at Volubulis, witness he ruins of a Roman brothel (evidence below).
Day 16 Fes –> Marrakech by Train
- Lovely and easy.
Day 17-19 Essaouira (Beach!)
- Stay in your room of choice in our favorite riad, Maison Hiya. We fell in love with the owners, Naima and Hamid, check out their other properties as well.
- Eat at the greek salad at Triskala and marvel at the oddness of Elizir.
- Browse the local art, buy something to bring home. You’ll dig it.
- Kite surf with camels! Essaouira is said to be great for wind sports.
- Count the number of calico cats you see, it’s uncanny. Fun Fact: All calico cats are female
Day 20 Essaouria –> Marrakech
- For a cheap, clean overnight in Marrakech check out the Hotel Touloussain, run by a family Kristy befriended decades ago.
Day 21 Fly home
Optional – Agadir/Taghazout (Surf!)
- If you have the time or love to surf, rent a car (avoid rentalcars.com) and drive the coast south to Taghzout just north of Agadir. We stayed at Madraba Guest House which we found to the best place for the $, right on Anchor Point, and walking distance to Tahgazout but nice an quiet and out of the bustle. Plenty of place for rent there on the beach as well but not as nice and harder to book remotely.
- Here’s some reading on surf at Anchor Point
- If you liked “A Spider’s House”, read Paul Bowles “Sheltering Sky”. I read this in a tent in the middle of the Sahara with a fever ridden husband sweating besides me…read it to find out why this was a little TOO fiction meets reality.
- Fatima Mernassi’s “Dreams of Trespass: Tales of Harem Girlhood”.
- Watch BBC documentary has some good Berber history to get you excited for your trip.
- For laughs, a hilarious blog post from my friend Jaime who captured the first 24 hours in Morocco perfectly!
And now your moment of baby camel zen. You’re welcome.