For as long as I can remember Morocco has been on the top of my travel bucket list. Whether this can be attributed to my young love of Aladdin or Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, my interest in this exotic and seemingly forbidden land stayed with me through to my adult life. When Patrick and I got married in 2015 we went back and forth between places to explore on our honeymoon. Between the two of us we have seen a considerably large portion of the globe so for this epic trip we wanted to go somewhere neither one of us had been. This left South America (I know so close how have we not been?!) and Africa. We were originally gunning for Patagonia, Brazil and Chile, until... Zica. We knew we wanted to start trying for a family soon after our last hoorah honeymoon so the thought of compromising that was a no go. This lead us to Africa, the very northern tip of Africa, to Morocco. My Temple of Doom textile dreams were coming true! I was going to bring so much sh*t back I couldn't wait! Mild adventure, a chance to be completely immersed in a whole other unfamiliar culture and explore a landscape we have never encountered. This was a no brainer. Morocco it was.
After the nearly 36 hours of travel (including layovers) we landed in Casablanca for a little R&R. It's not nearly as romantic as Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman made it seem but it was a nice intro to the country and it's culture. Here we visited, in awe, an incredible mosque and got our first taste of Moroccan street market madness. We enjoyed belly dancers while sitting cross legged on the floor for our nightly moroccan feast, but mostly, caught up on sleep. If you wanted a little cinematic nostalgia there is a replica of Rick's Cafe on the outskirts of town that Patrick and I of course sought out to have a drink. So cute, but make sure you wear closed toed shoes and cover your shoulders or the big handsome doorman in a suit, with the ear piece, will give you a hard time. Two nights to recoup and we were on a train to Fez.
Fez is one of the oldest walled cities in the world. In the world dudes!! Founded in the 8th or 9th century, the Medina is literally trapped in time. It is the third largest city in Morocco but does not allow motorized vehicles and still maintains a level of comfortable modern amenities. They are still rocking the donkey and buggie thing, but they know how to make weary travelers feel welcome. It was the most remarkable place I have ever been. The unpaved streets are intertwined and connected by narrow doorways that lead to even more dusty mazes. The majority of the people are super helpful, but beware of the younger generation however. They will pretend to tell you the way to the city center and will reroute you to dead ends and you will get so lost you'll want to cry. Trust your gut. Once we realized this city's lay out was one big labyrinth, we hired a guide to show us around, to get the most out of our two days there. There is no way an outsider could navigate this place, even with a detailed map. Patrick has an amazing sense of direction and even he was tripped up. Our guide was amazing, we found him through our Riad, Ryad Idrissy, highly recommend. He showed us the souks and tanneries accompanied with some really wonderful history, where to eat, shop, the oldest and most beautiful mosques in the world and then ended our tour with a look inside someone's private home for sale. Little awkward, completely run down, but so rad. You know we can't pass up an opportunity to check out one of a kind real estate.
We knew from the get go we wanted to see as much of Morocco as we possibly could in the 2 weeks we were visiting, therefore we opted for a tailored private tour to take us from Fez to Marrakesh, and man was it worth it. They provided us with our own driver who met us at our Riad in Fez and drove us through the most unbelievable terrain in the Middle Atlas Mountains to Merzouga in Erg Chebbi, in the Sahara Desert. Let me just say this as a disclaimer, we spent a lot of time in the car, its quite a journey. You're on a two lane windy highway in the middle of no where! The landscape did however change every hour, which was exciting! We experienced snow at our first tourist stop a few hours in, where our car was bombarded by monkeys (I'm completely freaked out) and by the end of day one, we were in desert, dry, 90 degree weather. Insane. Our guide was great and stopped for us to take photos, eat tagine at a truck stop and for me to pee standing up into a hole the size of a toilet paper roll, thanks bud!
At the end of day one I had planned for us to camp in the Sahara and ride camels into the sunset, also included in this tour. Sounded amazing on paper but the reality, was next level. Could have been the edibles, but when our tour guide got out of the Jeep to rewrap his hijab, I knew sh*t was gonna get real. He threw it in four wheel drive and flew over these dunes, towards basically... more sand and dunes. No end in sight but he knew exactly where he was going which was good, because we were at his mercy. Thrown around the back seat, half scared, half excited, we roll up next to a lonely pair of camels. This Sharawi man pops out of nowhere and motions us to get on the camel, who will take us to our campsite. Uh, OK, a lot of trust in these guys so far, but lets ride! We come over the dunes only to feast our eyes on these beautiful white tents and pink Berber rug walkways. A total oasis in the middle of this desolate orange desert. We settled into our tent which had a real working bathroom and king sized bed, sat back to soak it all in over a pot of mint tea in this sweet poufy lounge, before straddling those camels once again to march into the sunset. Words can not describe. Hopefully the photos will. We had an amazing traditional Moroccan meal of more rice, raisins and tagine, enjoyed a drum circle around a bon fire under the stars with our tour guide and his buds before retreating to our cozy lair. Only to be ripped from my slumber a few hours later during a hellacial wind storm that I thought was going to take my life away. I distinctly remember thinking to myself in that moment, as I hid under the duvet, at least if I die now it'll be a kick ass story. Apparently, it gets really windy in the desert at night. Now I know. The next day, back in the car, headed towards Marrakech.
Driving out of the desert and back on track to Marrakech was surreal as we made a few pit stops along our 8 hour journey. Our guide knew this land like the back of his hand, and all the people who inhabited it, so it was a real treat to meet some of the locals that we would have otherwise overlooked without him. We stopped at this canal in essentially the driest, flattest most desolate part of the desert and met this amazing local women who tended it. She gave us a tour, we had mint tea, looked at her tchotchkes and Patrick grabbed a national geographic-esque shot of her, for a few bucks. We later stopped at a trading post with a donkey parking lot and killer spice market, followed a salt stream that lead to a pink salt mine, which we explored, against my better judgement, only to find dudes working in there.....conveniently enough, ready to give us a tour, for a few bucks. Hey wait a minute, this seems staged for tourists! Who cares, it was awesome. We ended our journey at this unbelievable Berber Kasbah to spend the night. What a treat after a long day being lead through dark holes in the earth surrounded by no one who spoke a lick of English, who I had to blindly entrust my safety with. No big deal....because I'm super adventurous ; ) Anyways, this Kasbah was beyond gorgeous! The landscape, architecture, furnishings and first class service made up for all the scary things I previously mentioned. It was totally decked out in everything I love and envisioned to be Moroccan style. Leather poufs, sequined wedding blanket tapestries, silver tea pots, Beni Ourain rugs, a gorgeous pool, pretty snacks and some much needed shut eye. Next morning, back at it for more driving.
We arrive in Marrakesh and were happy to see it was a lot like Fez, which we loved so much, just a little more modern and geared towards tourists. Instead of being side swiped by donkeys, it was mopeds. Most people spoke English, things were a bit more expensive and there were more options for fine dining and five star accommodations. Our Riad, Ryad Dyor was jaw dropping! Behind this pretty little blue door was this stylish modern oasis run by a very posh Dutchman. We had a perfect little room, overlooking the central courtyard and its soaking pool, and came equip with our own Mr. Deeds man servant. Sneaky Sneaky. These guys were on it. You clear your throat, they hand you a bottle of water, you go to lay your head down by the pool, they swoop in with a pillow. I could get used to this. For the next few days we navigated the city and the souks ourselves. This was much easier here then in Fez, where getting lost wasn't a feeling of total desperation, more of an adventure. Side note, if you are allergic to cats, beware. They are everywhere, which was great from me because, big fan, not so much for my husband who's eyes literally started to swell as soon as we entered the city. Bring drugs or you will suffer! Anyways, here we did some serious shopping, what I had been waiting my whole life for! Piles and piles of textiles, deep caverns filled with rugs, tiny outcoves strung with brass lanterns, buttery leather poufs, bags and mules, spices, pottery, jewlery, it was insane! Barter, Barter, Barter! They will take you for all you're worth if you don't play the game. Its all part of the fun.
We took one day to explore the Jardin de Marjorelle, A total must. A technicolor dreamland of plants, pottery and culture, discovered by Yves Saint Laurent himself. Definitnly pop into the Berber museum while you're there. So beautiful!
From Marrakesh we rented a car and headed to the High Atlas Mountains, dodging caravans topped with sheep, yes, real live sheep, to take a vacation from our vacation. A few long relaxing days in Richard Branson's Kasbah Tamadot was just the ticket. Just when we thought Morocco couldn't get any more beautiful and serene, we roll up to this pad. Epic views of the snowcapped mountains from the olympic sized infinity pool, napping tents nestled in the trees, pool side service that made Mr. Deeds look like a chump, hammams during the day, live music, pretty cocktails and fine dining at night. This is where we turned our brains off, put survival mode on auto pilot, and just enjoyed each other. After all, we were f-ing married!
Well, these were the highlights and I'm sure I'm missing some of the magical nuances but I hope this was helpful for anyone interested in traveling Morocco. DO NOT HESITATE. Epic landscapes, wonderful people, lots of beautiful culture and adventure and first class accommodations, for not crazy expensive. The first leg of our honeymoon was over and we were headed to Portugal for a week. How we could ever top this, would be a miracle.