My boyfriend grew up with both parents working in a travel agency, what gave him a very particular childhood, filled with travels and adventures, knowledge about other cultures and extreme curiosity about the whole world. This travelling spirit is a big part of his personality and something I highly admire about him. Similarly, my parents also encouraged us, my sisters and I, to travel and learn about other cultures. I have spent my youth participating in various European projects, discussing and learning about topics like culture, social inclusion, environment, human rights, among others. After travelling for a long time just in Europe, I was excited to try a different experience. Living in the Netherlands also requires various escapes to sunny places, especially to an Italian and a Portuguese. For that reason, we choose a little break in January, with a short budget and not many days off, into the amazing country of Morocco. It was my first time in Morocco, but the second time for my boyfriend, therefore, we read, prepared and booked everything in advance, to be sure to take the most of the nine days in this fantastic place.
After landing in Marrakesh, we moved by bus to Essaouira, a seaside city. We booked a room in a Riad inside the Medina called "Maison du Vent", a small setting with beautiful and typical rooms and a great rooftop view over the city. I was happy with our decision. The Medina of Essaouira, is a very authentic place full of small streets, tourists and local businesses.
In the first night, we experienced some issues with our bank cards, and we discover that we were not going to be able to get cash until Monday. For this reason, we spent the second day in the city with 20 DH (approx. 2 euros). With this small or almost inexistent budget, we learned a lot of cheap and delicious ways to eat, including the fish markets both in the harbour and inside of the Medina. There you can eat for as low as 20 DH a person, choose your fish, and have it cooked at the moment for you. The price also varies from the fish you want, the amount and which side dishes you order.
Thanks to this unfortunate event, we also got to know how helpful the locals can be. Later on the same day, we met two streets sellers, father and son, from a Berber family in the mountains, coming to Essaouira for work. After an engaging conversation and knowing what happened to us, they invited us to drink tea and to eat dinner at their house. Since we had no money to buy anything to bring for dinner, we didn't know how to accept such generous offer. Even though we felt that they were not expecting anything back, we decided to give a small gift to the son, who was the same age as us, to thank their gesture and as a memory from us. After a delicious Moroccan dinner, we went for a walk to the harbour to see the sunset, passing through streets full of small restaurants serving tagines to locals. The overall experience was incredible and a big lesson about kindness and trust.
After Essaouira, we came back to Marrakesh and slept the first night in our fantastic Riad, El Walla & Spa. In the next morning, we were already on our way for a two days desert trip, booked through the same Riad. The trip cost was 70 euros a person, with transport, one-hour camel ride until camping in the desert, night in the tent and dinner provided by locals.
The travel was in a small van, where we sat in the front, next to the old driver that took us through all the crazy landscapes until our destination. Luckily, we also had a friendly group during the travel, full of interesting persons from different countries. We shared various stories about our lives back home as well as travel adventures. The overall trip took around 11 hours, with stops for sightseeing and lunch break.
As a starting point, we went to Ouarzazate via one of the highest passes in the Atlas Mountains, Tizi-n-Tischka with a pit stop on the way to drink the typical "Berber whisky" (Moroccan Tea). As next, we went to visit the Taourirt Kasbah where we had a guide waiting for us. Afterwards, at lunch time, I finally tried the delicious tagine, the hot plate is an authentic paradise of colours and flavour! Later we departed towards Zagora through the amazing Draa Valley. Usually, I sleep during long rides, but this one was worth to be awake. I was amazed by all the palm trees and the colours of the landscape as well as the various villages along the way. When we arrived, late in the afternoon, we took a camel ride of one hour towards the location in the desert where we were staying the night: a typical Berber tent. The desert is quite small compared with others in the country, like Merzouga, nevertheless still fascinating to wake up and watch the sunrise over the dunes.
In the second day of the desert trip, we started early the comeback ride. The first stop was in the old village of Ait Ben Haddou which, according to the guide, is one of the most beautiful Ksars of Moroccan south side, and its Kasbahs is one of the most authentic and the best preserved of Atlas area. I fully agree! It was one of the most amazing views I had, completely unexpected! All this area is a paradise for cinema, being home for various movies and series like Jesus of Nazareth, Game of Thrones or Gladiator. It is also classified within the world UNESCO Inheritance.
Back to Marrakesh, we couldn't be happier with the choice of our Riad. It was ideally located near Jemaa el-Fna and all the main places we wanted to visit. The service was beyond excellent as well as the rooms and common spaces.
We started our city adventure in the crazy and busy Jemaa el-Fna and then moved around the souks. A brief stop at the Museum of Marrakesh and Medersa Ben Youssef enjoying the fascinating decoration of both places. Cheap and a must visit, each museum is around 10 DH per person! For lunch, we read that the Museum of Photography was a great spot and it proved to be completely true! Not as cheap as stated in the guide, but you can still get a fabulous lunch for around 80 DH with a fantastic view over the city. The building and the Museum itself were really beautiful. While entering, we found a very talented singer at the door, that was responsible for creating such an inspiring atmosphere. To complete this romantic scene, when we arrived at the top, it was praying time, so we listened to the call for prayers from all the mosques around. Definitely, one of the highlights of the day!
In the afternoon we went to search for a flea market, Souk El Khemis. Everybody acted very surprised that we wanted to go, claiming that was just for locals and not an attraction. We left on the adventure of trying to find the flea market while still a bit concerned it could be dangerous. What we found instead, was an interesting situation with no tourism and excellent prices. We had a real joyful experience and were able to buy a vintage, handmade Moroccan little table. From there, we went to another mandatory place to visit, the Majorelle Gardens, the paradise of cactus and vibrant colours. The day finished with the sunset over Jemaa el-Fna and dinner in the same square. It can be pretty crazy and chaotic to choose a place, but is cheap and fun to try!
Next day, after having a fantastic breakfast in our Riad, our daily tour started with a visit to Saadian Tombs, Palais el Badi and Palais de la Bahia, all around the Kasbah area. All three are, once again, a must visit and with very cheap entrance fee. This part of the city was calmer than the centre of the Medina, still having good and affordable places to eat, like in the charming square called Place des Ferblantiers. Not far is the Mellah, a Jewish neighbourhood that was all renovated, where you should shop your spices! Here it's possible to have a real local feeling and fair prices.
All the Souks are amazing, so we were excited to buy some typical Moroccan products in there. After haggling a bit the price, we usually found nice stuff for our budget. However, we were a bit disappointed with the things we couldn't afford, mainly the pillows and carpets. Luckily after the tour of this day, we found a shop located in a small house in the direction of our Riad. After talking to the owner, he invited us to the first floor where was impossible not to get lost in the amalgam of colourful carpets. We sat on a sofa where the owner started a presentation of his stock. After hunting in between piles of products, we couldn't choose between three big carpets and two vintage pillows. The typical bargain process started until we reached the fairest price for both sides. I think this was the craziest shopping moment we had on our trip, but still, 2000 DH after, we bought the five items we wanted and had zero regrets. My boyfriend went to pick up the cash at the hotel while I waited sitting outside of the shop with the owner and his friend. They told me some funny stories about their love life and when they were young guiding tourist in Marrakesh.
We finished the day having dinner in the Kasbah, in the Clock Cafe, a place with live music and artistic atmosphere.
Day 8- 9
For the last two days, we just enjoyed the city in a bit more relaxed way. Our discoveries took us to the Place des épices, that has the best prices for Moroccan baskets. There we ate and drink at "Nomad" and "Cafe des épices". They are a bit more touristic but with a really fantastic atmosphere. The food was delicious, and both places super relaxing. We tried the Kefta tagine and orange juice, and it was great!
Taking the bus in Morocco is quite easy. You have two possibilities, Supratours and CTM, in Marrakesh they're both close to the Train Station. You pay fair tickets prices (e.g. 75 DH for Essaouira, plus 5 DH for your bag) and the travel is comfortable. Taxis are also a good alternative, you can always drop down 10-20 DH of the initial price (depending on distance), while airport rates are usually fixed. Generally is cheap and trustable.
Google maps don't provide the offline map of Marrakesh to download, but if you load it in a place with WiFi (like the airport) and then use GPS, it works like a charm. We used it quite a lot during the travel.
I hope this blog post can give you a bit of the feeling of this amazing country and the experiences we had there. Moreover you can get some personal tips in case you want to visit it on your own. If you need extra information or any advise just drop us an email!