Morocco: Beautiful landscapes, delicious food and a side of culture shock

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In November 2016 I traveled to Morocco on my own. My first time visiting Africa, and my first time visiting a primarily Muslim country. I had read a number of blogs about the challenges of travelling through Morocco and dismissed them, thinking I would have a different experience… I did not. Morocco was beautiful and safe, but also a frustrating and challenging country to navigate as a young, solo, Caucasian woman.

My 11 Day Morocco Experience

**Full disclosure: I tend to get a little intense with my itineraries and they are often more ambitious than the average person. I came home exhausted and not at all refreshed. If this is not your style of travel, I would scale this back…. a lot**

Day 1 – Arrival & Marrekech

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Marrakech’s Main Square

I arrived in Marrakech late afternoon – I had pre-arranged pick up from my hostel (200dh), I now know that I was significantly overcharged for this as I took a taxi back to the airport for 70dh. (Dh = dirhams – Morocco’s local currency. Many places also take Euros). The first night I stayed at Marrakech Rouge Hostel – where I did not have the most positive experience. I dined at a small local restaurant and enjoyed some vegetable tagine (Tagine is a traditional Moroccan dish and the most common meal you’ll find on your travels).

Day 2 – Departure for the Sahara & Aït Benhaddou

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Ait Benhaddou

Early AM departure with my tour to the Sahara Desert (Merzouga) – There are two deserts in Morocco. The one I chose to visit is between an 8 and 12 hour bus ride away (to be honest, I stopped counting the hours on the bus).

On route to the desert we visited Aït Benhaddou,  a Berber village built in the 11th Century that has been used for filming movies such as the Gladiator and the show Game of Thrones.  Be mindful that these “side tours” cost extra money – so be prepared and have cash on hand because it will happen often during your desert tour.

We arrived in the Dodra Gorge area where we stayed overnight – our hotel was freezing. I was fortunate enough to have packed a sleeping bag liner (I would have froze without it).

Day 3 – Todra Gorge and Arrival in the Sahara Desert

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Todra Gorge (I clearly ran out of travel poses)

Continuing our trek towards the desert we went on another village tour where we basically received a carpet sales pitch…I’m a sucker and bought one. Bargain as much as you can, I made the mistake of not doing this and definitely overpaid.

Next stop was to visit the Todra Gorge – a beautiful spot.

Arrived in Merzouga (the city that neighbours the Sahara Desert) before sunset – where we got on our camels and started the trek into the desert.

PSA – If you have an interest in animal welfare/animal rights I would NOT recommend doing a camel tour. I seriously regret doing this, as the camels were clearly not well treated and were very unhappy standing up and sitting down with riders on their backs.

Unfortunately, I had a negative experience in the desert due to rain (what are the odds?), and the staff sexually harassing the women on the tour. Check the reviews before you use a tour company  – most people had a significantly better experience than I did.

Arrived in the desert via camel where we had dinner and slept.  

TIP – pack light and bring TP (you will basically be peeing outside on a sand dune). You need to bring next to nothing to the desert and can leave everything in your tour bus. No sense bringing it on the camel like I did.

Day 4 – Departure from the Sahara

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Sunrise in the Sahara

Expect to be woken up while it is still dark out to the sound of screaming camels (not particularly pleasant). Then you will head back to Merzouga for breakfast and start your bus ride home. The highlight of the desert tour was definitely the sunrise – worth waking up for.

The bus ride home was long with only stops to use the bathroom and for food. Expect to arrive in Marrakech in the late evening.

Day 5 – Ozoud Waterfall Tour

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Ozoud Waterfall (North Africa’s highest waterfall)

Ozoud is beautiful and is a nice opportunity to get in a small hike. I did a tour through my hostel and once again, the “tour guide” wasn’t included in the price. A few of us decided to opt out and explore on our own. We were told there are “many paths” and we wouldn’t be able to find our way on our own. This is not true. The paths are easy to navigate – you basically follow the river to the waterfall. Overall, a nice day trip from Marrakech!

Day 6 – Bus to Essaouira

The bus from Marrakech to Essaouira was roughly three hours and leaves frequently through the day.

Note – there are two bus companies in Morocco that service different routes – which I didn’t realize until halfway through my trip.

  1. CTM – Runs buses only
  2. SupraTours/ONCF – This company runs some bus routes AND the train system.

Their websites are easy to navigate for looking up schedules. These bus companies have separate bus stations in each city – be careful not to mix them up. Also, be mindful that the buses are often late so scheduling transfers with some time in between is a good idea. I missed a transfer once and had to wait 3-4 hours in the bus station.

Essaouira is a magical place and was a breath of fresh air after the chaos of my desert tour and Marrakech. Take a walk along the port, beach and outside the city walls, eat some delicious fresh seafood, and wander the medina where you will not get harassed like you do in the larger cities.

I didn’t get the chance to – but there are opportunities for outdoor activities such as surfing and windsurfing.

I also visited a private authentic Hammam and would highly recommend if you are looking for an authentic, cultural and relaxing experience. Keep an open mind and don’t expect a Western spa experience!

Day 7 – Exploring Essaouira

I spent the day exploring Essaouira and then took a bus back to Marrakech at dinner time. From Marrakech, I took an overnight bus to Fes and then continued to Chefchaouen.

Day 8 – Arrival in Chefchaouen

I spent a lot of the day bussing and arrived in Chefchaouen later in the afternoon. This was a long trek, but well worth it.

Day 9 – Exploring Chefchaouen

Chefchaouen was my favourite city I visited in Morocco. It was beautiful, calm and the people were friendly. A sleepy mountain town where the medina was painted shades of blue by Jewish refugees centuries ago is the perfect place to get lost and explore in and out of the medina. Surrounded by mountains, there are plentiful opportunities for hiking. I spent some time hiking up to the outside of the city walls and up to the Spanish Mosque (beautiful views of the city and a great spot to watch the sunset). There is additional hiking in the area, but unfortunately, I didn’t have time for this. I spent most of my time wandering around the medina photographing cats and doors.

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Cats….Cats everywhere
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Daytime view from the Spanish Mosque
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Chefchaouen Medina
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Sunset views from the Spanish Mosque

Day 10 – Travel Day & Returning to Marrakech

NOTE – BOOK YOUR BUS BACK TO MARRAKECH/FES/WHEREVER YOU ARE GOING WHEN YOU ARRIVE IN CHEFCHAOUEN. BUSES BOOK UP FAST.

Day 11 – Last Chance to Explore Marrakech

Spent the morning wandering around the Marrakech medina and enjoyed lunch at a delightful restaurant called Zwin Zwin Cafe – on the expensive side, but the food was delicious, they take credit card and even serve WINE! I was able to get a little buzz on before heading to the Marrakech airport to fly home.

General Things to be aware of:

  • Dress modestly – I made a rule to keep my shoulders and knees covered at all times. This draws significantly less attention to yourself.
  • Men will approach you – As a solo woman traveller, this is something you have to decide how you want to handle. I found I got very fed up by advances made by men and catcalls in the medina. My approach was to be extremely firm and I found this got the best response. While walking around the medinas, I would put my headphones in and listen to my music – this helped if I was feeling irritable and didn’t want to deal with the catcalls.
  • NOWHERE TAKES CREDIT CARD – seriously, nowhere… I found two places my entire trip that accepted Visa. Bring cash.
  • Wine/other alcohol is extremely hard to come by – There are some restaurants and a few stores that sell alcohol but they are far and few.
  • The culture is very different. Expect to be hustled for money everywhere you go. Also expect to pay someone if they help you with anything. Especially in the larger cities. If you don’t want to pay money, don’t accept directions from someone, follow people places, etc. I underestimated how much this would get to me. You will feel taken advantage of – it’s just part of the culture.

Was Morocco a beautiful country and did I enjoy my trip? Yes.

Would I go back? Probably not.

I’ve seen it, and it was wonderful, challenging, and frustrating all at the same time and I would recommend anyone visit so long as they have a good backbone and are prepared to delve into a very different culture than they are used to.

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