Hmmm Morocco? Where is it? Are you sure you spelled it correctly? I thought it is Monaco? Oh wait, a different country? Where? Africa?
Morocco is located in the Maghreb region in North Africa and is a Muslim country. Berber and Arabic are the two official languages, but as a former colony of France, French is widely spoken here (and English in the touristy regions).
The influence of Arab, Berber, Sub-Saharan African and European cultures makes Morocco a very unique and interesting place to visit! And if you are not too interested about the culture (like me :p), Morocco still has much more to offer: Sahara desert, mountain ranges, snow and skiing during winter, beaches, canyons and of course traditional Moroccan food 🙂
I had been traveling in Europe for sometime and was getting tired of European cities which had started to look more and more similar. So I decided to travel to Morocco, impulsively, and yes, alone. I stayed in Morocco for 7 days and 6 nights: 2 nights in Marrakesh, 2 nights for the desert tour and 2 more nights in Fes. It definitely was not enough, but it gave me a good glimpse of what Morocco has to offer 🙂
Marrakesh is a lively city with a rich history. Top three things to visit in the city, given the limited time, are as follows:
Soaring high in the centre of the old town, this minaret to Marrakesh is like the Eiffel Tower to Paris. It is visible from almost any parts of the town, but unfortunately non-Muslims are not allowed inside.
This is the main square and market place in Marrakesh’s medina quarter (old city). It gets VERY lively at night! You can find snake-charmers, dancers, story-tellers, food stalls and magicians. However, be careful as some of the street peddlers might get a little bit aggressive and annoying, but just relax and enjoy the atmosphere ☺
Oh, on a side note, the peddlers like to play this game called “guess where you are from”. They kept shouting at me things like, “Konichiwa? Korea? Gangnam style? Ni hao? Japan? Sir, where you are from, sir? Thailand?” And yup, nobody got it right…
Souks – the market
Located just beside Jemaa el-Fnaa, this is the market of the old city of Marrakesh. You can find almost anything here and it is impossible to navigate your way around the winding alleys without getting lost (the place is unbelievably HUGE). Don’t forget to bargain as things here might get very overpriced!
Sahara Desert Tour
Definitely the highlight of my adventure in Morocco!
As I travelled alone, I just signed up to a tour agency in Marrakesh one day before my intended departure date. They are everywhere, trust me, you do not need to book online beforehand. Prices are competitive and cheaper than booking it online, and they just dump me with a group of around 15 people in a van. The tour lasted for 3 days 2 nights, with a night on a hotel near Valley of Roses, and another night on a tent at Erg Chebbi Dunes, on the Sahara Desert.
Normally, the route taken will pass by a few places:
- High Atlas (Morocco’s mountain range)
- Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou (an abandoned fortified old town, used to film many movies)
- El Kelaa M’gouna (Valley of Roses)
- Todra Gorge (the “Grand Canyon” of Morocco)
- Merzouga (a small town that serves as a gateway to Sahara desert)
First stop on my way to the Sahara was the High Atlas. The scenery was soooo amazing it looked like one of the pre-loaded desktop backgrounds on your PCs 😀
One of my biggest regrets is not spending more time at High Atlas! So instead of spending a few nights in Marrakesh, I really suggest you to go explore a bit more of this amazing landscape ☺
Next, we stopped by at Ksar of Ait-Ben-Haddou. It is an abandoned town and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is grand and majestic, and has been used as a shooting site for several movies and TV shows including The Mummy and Game of Thrones!
After we reached Merzouga – the outskirt of Sahara, we had to ride the camel for almost 2 hours to get to our tents. Not the most pleasant 2 hours of my life, but it was fun nevertheless 😛 OH! Please remember to bring extra supplies of drinking water as none will be provided in the desert!
We stayed there for the night inside a tent. It is very windy and cold at night, so prepare your jacket/windbreaker. The sky was very clear and I could see stars above as many as the grains of sand below my feet.
At dawn, we started our journey back (yup, another 2 hours on a camel) and witnessed the majestic sunrise on our way.
Fes has the best-preserved old city in the Arab world, and it is also the world’s largest car-free urban zone. It is famous for its tanneries (which of course is a must-see!)
The tanneries are leather-dyeing pits in the middle of the medina. Many young boys will offer to bring you to one of the numerous shops’ rooftops, where you could get a spectacular view of the tanneries. However, nothing is free here, and expect to give them a few dirhams for their service.
Navigating Fes might be troublesome, and one of the easiest landmark to remember is Bab Boujloud, the main entrance to the medina.
While you are at Fes, do not forget to go to Merenid Tombs on a hill above the city. It provides a spectacular view of the 1200 year-old medina, especially during sunset. It is located just beside Bab Boujloud Gate, around 15 minutes walk away
Staying in a Riad (traditional Moroccan house) is also a must! There are Riads for all kinds of budget, ranging from backpackers’ hostels to luxury hotels. I stayed in Dar Zohor (booked it online) and it was amazing! I was offered to eat dinner together with the staff on Friday afternoon (for free :P), and even people from other hostels came there to taste the chicken bastilla!
So, that is my recommendation if you have one week to travel around Morocco! However, please do spend more time here as this country has much more beautiful places such as: Volubilis (Roman Ruins), Essaouira, Chefchaouen and Casablanca. Well, I’m saving these for my next time!