Travel Diaries: Morocco Part 1

In April we took a guided tour of Morocco with Intrepid Travel, and it was one of the best trips we’ve ever taken. We loved the country so much that we’re already wondering when we can go back. Our trip had the most amazing itinerary! There was so much packed into the trip that I’m splitting it into two posts.

Day One:

Our first day started very early; we had to leave the house at 3:30am to get to the airport for our flight. This was only the beginning of a fairly stressful day. It took absolutely ages to get through border control in Morocco; they were definitely not worried about how quickly they got people through. When it was my turn, the man was trying to ask about the occupation line, where I had written “writer.” He didn’t seem to understand what I meant by that, and I couldn’t figure out how to explain it. Finally we came across the word “freelance” and that seemed to be fine so he finally let me through.

Then Joe and I went to withdraw money but the ATM was broken.

Next we went outside to look for our ride, which had been arranged with Intrepid. It took ages to find the guy in the midst of all the other drivers, and he was just holding a piece of paper that had “Intrepid” written on it. I was pretty convinced we were about to be kidnapped, but we made it to the hotel just fine. Oh, and we passed people having a heated argument in the airport parking lot, which is even more overwhelming when you don’t know what they’re saying.

palm trees pink buildings Morocco

It wasn’t all bad though.

We checked in to our hotel in Marrakech, which was so lovely! It had an interior square courtyard with a fountain, similar to the style of a Moroccan riad. Our room also had a balcony, perfect for watching the bustling street below.

Our first stop was McDonald’s. I know, this sounds kind of embarrassing. But actually I really like to try McDonald’s in every new country, because the options are usually slightly different and it’s interesting to see what each country serves. We always try things that we don’t get at home.

After that we set off towards the old medina. We decided to walk – a 40 minute walk – and although the forecast said 65 degrees, I was sweating before long. 65 is apparently not light sweater weather in Marrakech. Then things got even more stressful. We were using our phone map to navigate, but we didn’t have signal so we couldn’t check our current location, and we got a bit lost.

As we wrote in our article on what you need to know before you visit Morocco, it’s common for people to come up to you offering to help or show you where to go. We knew they would be trying to get money, so we said no or kept walking, but they can be very persistent. We ended up walking down a road that went to some homes and everyone was staring at us and it was extremely uncomfortable. Finally we found a place to stop in peace and pull out our guidebook, only to realize we’d been trying to find the wrong palace. We’d ended up outside of the Badii Palace instead of Bahia Palace. Whoops.

Your first time in a new country can definitely be overwhelming.

We finally found Bahia Palace, and it was worth all the trouble to get there, because it was exquisite. I can’t get over how amazing their architecture is; there’s so much attention to detail. I loved all the open courtyards – I’ve decided I want to have one someday. I’m sure that’s easy to find in England.

South Morocco Discovery: Kayla in Bahia Palace

After this we took a leisurely pace back to the hotel to meet up with our tour guide and the 11 lovely people that were on the tour with us. We were exhausted, so decided to get an early night and get some sleep.

For the record, I don’t say all of this to complain about our time. We still had a lovely day and it was so good to see the city. But we want to be honest about our experiences, and the truth is sometimes you go somewhere exciting and have a bit of a shit day. The important thing is to move on and still have a good time!

Day Two:

The next morning we headed to Imlil, where we had a quick coffee break. This was the first of many coffee stops along the trip, where the most commonly ordered drinks were the famous Moroccan mint tea or nous-nous (Arabic for half-half, made with milk and espresso). Afterwards we loaded our overnight bags onto a pack mule and started the hike up the mountains to the town of Aroumd.

The view was incredible! We were surrounded by snow capped mountains. We spent the night at a wonderful homestay; Joe and I had a cozy (tiny) room with a lovely window right by the bed. I spent a bit of time meditating and trying to rest while everyone else went for a walk around the town, then spent some time journaling on the roof terrace. It was so peaceful, sitting there surrounded by the mountains. We had a delicious dinner and played a hilarious game of heads up with the group. It’s definitely a good ice breaker! Although there weren’t a lot of “activities” this day, it was one of my favorites.

Day Three:

We set off fairly early in the morning to go to the next place. I must admit, the walk down was almost worse than the walk up; it was very rocky and I kept slipping. I was very relieved when we made it back to the bus. We got to drive through some amazing scenery; stunning views of mountains and valleys.

Our destination was Aït Benhaddou, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it was incredible. It’s been preserved for centuries – the protected part of the town doesn’t even have electricity or running water. (Fortunately our hotel was in the new part of town.)

After checking in to our hotel, we went to see how the famous Moroccan rugs are made. It’s absolutely incredible how much detail is put into these rugs. Some of them even have designs on both sides. Joe and I very nearly bought one, but couldn’t justify the price on an impulse buy. From there we wandered up to the old village. We went up to watch the sunset from the top, but it was so windy that we didn’t stay for long. It was still an incredible panoramic view though.

We headed back to the hotel for a lovely dinner and a demonstration on how couscous is made. It was fascinating to see how much time and care they put into making it. After dinner I sat outside for a bit just looking at the stars; you could see so many of them! It was so quiet outside; you don’t realize how much noise there is in the city until you’re removed from it.

Day Four:

The next day we headed to Ouarzazate, an area commonly used to film movies. We did a tour at the movie studio and saw sets and props used in a variety of movies (most of which I haven’t actually seen). The tour was cool but it was insanely windy so we had sand blasting into our faces the whole time. After that we stopped to see the Draa Valley oasis.

Next we headed to Zagora, where we had a guided tour of the town. We got to learn more about palm trees and how they grow. Then we headed back to the hotel, which was so incredible and serene. There were lovely gardens with colorful blooms everywhere. There was a gift shop with lots of beautiful scarves, so a few of us picked some out to wear in the desert the next day.

One of the girls in our group did most of the haggling, and it was really funny to watch. We had our group dinner in the hotel, and it was the first night that some of us had a bit to drink, so we had a really good time. The hotel rooms were really nice as well, with pretty colors and a set of double doors that opened up over the garden. There was even a really good bathtub!

Day Five:

This was honestly one of the best days of my life.

The day got off to a somewhat stressful start when we visited a local market. It was really cool to see, but it was a little overwhelming. It was very crowded, and I felt very out of place because the market is predominantly men. I’m glad we got to experience it though!

Next we went to a pottery cooperative and watched a demonstration on how they make their gorgeous pottery. The best part was the store filled with thousands of pieces of pottery with stunning colors and intricate detailing. It was difficult not to go overboard buying things, but I managed to get out having only bought a couple of small things.

After lunch we got to go on a camel ride! We were both so excited about this. It was ever so slightly disappointing that we weren’t riding them out on the sand dunes, but it actually takes a while to get to those, so it’s not the most practical option. It was also a bit uncomfortable to sit on; I can’t imagine doing that for weeks on end! Despite this, it was one of my favorite travel experiences so far.

Then we headed out to the Sahara Desert.

Sahara desert

We hopped into 4x4s to ride further out into the desert. We kind of imagined we’d be riding Mad Max style in open back 4x4s but fortunately for our safety (although a little disappointedly) they were just regular SUVs. That said, it was a little alarming to see how much duct tape had been used to repair the car. At one of our stops, the driver got out to apply an extra bit of tape. Hopefully it wasn’t anything too important.

What followed was probably the most uncomfortable ride I will ever experience. I was really thankful that we’d brought some medicine for travel sickness; we were bouncing and being thrown back and forth for a couple hours. The driver was swinging the steering wheel back and forth just to go straight, and I was fairly convinced we were one wrong turn away from death. But it was all worth it as soon as we got into the desert.

It. Was. Stunning.

I don’t have words for it. It stretches out further than you can see. The Sahara desert is roughly the same size as the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii (though the dunes only make up about 15% of this). We climbed the dunes to watch the sunset, which was honestly a bit difficult. But I made it to the top, and the view was so worth it. The sunset was beautiful, and it felt so peaceful to just sit there for a while taking it all in.

Afterwards we had dinner in a big tent before heading outside to have drinks around the fire. There were several men that played drums and sang traditional Berber songs. A few of us stayed up til 3am, drinking whisky and talking about life. (Much to the dismay of one of the members of our group who was kept awake by our talking. Oops.) The best part of the whole night was seeing all the stars. There’s no light pollution so you can see millions of stars so clearly. I even saw two shooting stars! It was the most magical thing I’ve experienced, and I’m dying to go back one day.

 

Can you believe this is only the first half of the trip?

Thanks for reading! I’ll be posting part 2 of the travel diary soon.

 

We’re so glad we booked with Intrepid. For more details, take a look at our full review of the tour.


Like it? Pin it!

SaveSave

SaveSave

1 Comment

  1. Donetta Dalman on 25th May 2018 at 10:12 pm

    I can’t even imagine what the Sahara desert must look like in person. And to get to see the stars like that and the sunset….must have been incredible! I think I’ve told you already but I LOVE that picture of you in the desert. That is an amazing shot!

Leave a Comment