I have never been anywhere quite like Morocco, and when visiting for the first time that can make things amazing and scary at the same time. Morocco is a country in North Africa bordering the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. It gets its rich and unique culture from its Arab, French, and native Berber influences. From the mountains and desert to the coast Morocco has a lot to offer.
Morocco is not far from Europe, so if you do like I did and travel from Spain the flights can actually be pretty cheap. The flight from Madrid to Marrakech was only two hours. Many of the accommodations you book are able to help you with transportation to and from the airport as well as within Morocco because it can be easy to get lost the way the streets are laid out. Most of the hotel or Airbnbs offered in Marrakech are Riad-style. A Riad is a traditional Moroccan home with an open inner courtyard. Once in the city most things are fairly walkable especially if you are staying inside the medina. From end to end is only about a 20 minute walk. Jemaa el Fna is the main square that you can visit with lots of restaurants and market stalls. Of course you may need a taxi or other transportation at some point as there are plenty of things to see outside of the medina as well.
Morocco may not be next on your travel bucket list yet, but it should be for these three reasons:
1. Culture shock.
I know, sounds uncomfortable right? But hear me out, culture shock can be good! It means that you are experiencing something new that you probably never have before. I have heard it said that the greatest and most magical parts of our lives happen outside of our comfort zone, and I agree. Moroccans mostly speak Arabic and French, but in the bigger cities it is not difficult to find someone who knows at least a little bit of English. People in Morocco will not expect you to know Arabic or French and are typically interested in using their English skills. They are also very helpful with teaching you a few words if you are interested.
Most of my trip was spent in the city of Marrakech. This city is a world of chaos, so be prepared before you go! One of the most helpful things I did to mitigate some of the discomfort or stress of culture shock was to travel in a group. Marrakech can be so busy and overwhelming with street vendors trying to bargain with you and mopeds speeding past you through the medinas, it is helpful to have someone else watching your back too.
For me, it was hard not to stick out as a tourist in Morocco. However, as obvious as it was that I am not local it is still important to respect the culture and customs of the Moroccan people. This is important to remember when traveling anywhere, and in Morocco it means dressing more conservatively. 99% of the Moroccan population is Muslim. Women especially dress very modestly, and although you do not need to wear a hijab everywhere, if you expose too much skin it may attract some unwanted attention or just come across as impolite. Along these same lines, you will not see the Moroccan people engaging in public displays of affection. If traveling with a significant other I would advise the same in public.
Morocco has a lot to share when it comes to history and culture. Although some parts of it may feel unusual or uncomfortable, it is a valuable and unique experience. Part of that value is experiencing Moroccan food.
The different culinary influences in Moroccan food are almost as diverse as the range of spices used. Moroccan food has gained international attention for famous dishes such as couscous and tagine. The street food is also very popular and delicious. However, food safety regulations and practices can be a bit lax, so choose your street foods wisely.
I was surprised and impressed by all of the options available for different diets in Morocco. For example, Moroccan cuisine is very vegetarian and vegan friendly. Even though there aren’t very many restaurants catering to vegans or gluten free diets specifically, just about every restaurant will have several options for almost any diet. Even the picky eater in your group should be able to find something they like!
And if you weren’t a tea drinker before visiting Morocco you probably will be afterwards. Traditional mint tea is served several times throughout the day.
Experiencing the bustling chaos of Marrakech is an adventure in and of itself. Once inside the medina, or old city, you can find yourself weaving and wandering through narrow cobblestoned lanes packed tight with street vendors, donkeys, mopeds, and plenty of street cats – all of which are amazingly integral parts of the character of Morocco. Most cities in Morocco have a medina, and they are often easy to get lost in which may not be a problem at first, but I would definitely suggest downloading google maps before going exploring.
Ouzoud Falls is another great place to explore. Located in the Atlas Mountains and only a couple of hours outside of Marrakech this is the tallest waterfall in North Africa. Here wild monkeys will approach you freely, almost too freely sometimes. They are pretty cute until they steal your lunch, which I actually did witness. A scenic hike will take you from a top view of the waterfall down to the water where you can get on a small boat to get an up close view.
Finally, yet importantly I would be remiss not to mention the desert when it comes to Moroccan adventures. When you picture Morocco you probably picture the desert somewhere in your mind, maybe you think of someone riding a camel. That is one way to see the desert in Morocco, but you can also do it on a four wheeler or ATV. I opted for the 4×4 option, but either way you can’t go to Morocco without an adventure in the desert!