October 22, 2019
My latest adventure to Morocco was nothing short of incredible. From the souks of Marrakech to the remote dunes of the Sahara – we experienced some truly amazing and unforgettable sights. If you’re looking to travel to Morocco for 8 days, here’s what we did…
We flew from Chicago to Madrid to Marrakech round trip. Hindsight – I would suggest flying into Marrakech and out of Fez. We were supposed to go to Fez, but after the long drive into the desert, and then we would’ve had to fly back to Marrakech for, we opted to stay an extra day in the desert and head back to Fez. (We ate the flight/hotel costs, which were minimal). Most riads offer hotel pickup, so we got in on Wednesday around 11am and our driver picked us up to take us to our riad. Art Place Riad & Hotel was right in the middle of the square (Jemaa el–Fnaa). It was absolutely crazy here… definitely the more touristy part of Marrakech… full of street aggressive street vendors, snake charmers, monkeys on chains (very sad), and basically a taste of what you can get in the souks. It was cool to see and experience – but we definitely spent most of our time wandering deep within the souks. The deeper you get into the souks away from the market, the more authentic the experience and the closer you get to the actual artisans that make the products you’re buying.
Lots of Chicken Tajines, bread, and couscous everywhere we went…
The souks/winding roads can get a little overwhelming at first. They are motorcyclists and wagons navigating through tight quarters – so you just have to be careful and move to the side.
Once you get deeper in the souk, the markets and the people were incredible. Some street vendors were pushy and a little aggressive, but most people were kind and helpful, and left you alone if you asked them to. Tip: if you see something you like, I would start at 1/3 of the price I actually wanted to pay and work my way up from there. Everything is open for bargaining, it’s part of the experience! Usually you can get their asking price down to 1/3 or 1/4 (they obviously hike up prices for tourists).
Above: the main square at night… find a terrace to sit and eat at during sunset (if you can find one with alcohol, even better! We struggled to find real cocktails).
We did all the rug shopping. Lots of pillow case covers. Lanterns. Literally just wandered the streets getting lost until we had to go back to our riad. The souk closes around 6 or 7pm and I would suggest getting back to your riad before it gets dark.
One of the craziest things about Marrakech was how different places looked on the inside from the outside. From the outside looking in, places didn’t look nice at all. Kind of dirty and plain… and then you’d walk in to the most intricately decorated riad or restaurant. Here was one of our favorites – in the middle of the souk… Terrasse de la Fontaine. Food was delicious, decor was so so beautiful, it had an amazing rooftop (and a bathtub full of flowers in the middle of the restaurant), and the Chef Rasheed, was SO nice. Sidenote: we got REALLY lost later that night and stumbled back into him, and he gave us directions, let us come in and use his WiFi, and offered his son to take us around and bargain for rugs from trusted vendors. He also gave us his personal cell phone number in case we got lost again and needed anything! Here’s some of my favorite spots from his restaurant…
Back to wandering the souk…. all the slippers, rugs, scarves, etc.
Comptior Darna for dinner and belly dancing… their beer garden also had a massive tree in it with hanging lanterns – so beautiful!
After two days of wandering the souk of Marrakech, we began our trek into the Sahara Desert. Desert Luxury Camp set us up with a driver, Abdou, who was awesome. The whole trip was about 10 hours of driving with stops along the way including a sets from multiple movies: Gladiator, The Hills Have Eyes, Lawrence of Arabia, The Mummy…
We also stopped in a little carpet town about 4 hours outside of Marrakech (in the mountains). We took a little tour of one of the cooperatives where they purchase rugs from women in the area. They gave us a little demonstration of how the rugs are made, how the fabrics are dyed from indigo/lavender/saffron/olive branches, etc.
We also stopped at a little place in the mountains where they showed us how they harvest the argan oil.
After about 8 hours of driving through the mountains (definitely bring Dramamine if you get car sick), we entered the desert for two hours of extremely bumpy off roading. Literally there were no roads (our driver even got lost a few times), and we were just driving in the desert, across dried up lakes, up and down the dunes, etc.
We finally made it to camp just before sunset ended. The ‘camp’ was incredible. It was 100% glamping. We had a tent with two beds, a couch, two sinks with running water, a shower, and a flushing toilet. Not roughing it at all. It was in the middle of nowhere, so be prepared for that, but it is an amazing feeling to be that far away from everything.
We were greeted with mint tea (as we were everywhere) when we arrived, and climbed to the top of a sand dune to watch the sunset.
They also prepared authentic berber meals for dinner. This incredible vegetable soup (probably my favorite thing I ate the entire trip), chicken kebabs, chicken tajine, beef tajines, bread… everything was SO good. After dinner, they prepared a bonfire for us and played drums, Krakebs (hand symbols), sang, and had a dance party. It was a surreal experience and after letting go of nerves of dancing in front of strangers – it really was something I’ll never forget. Mustafa, Hassan, Omar, Abdoula – everyone was so accommodating and made you feel so comfortable and welcome.
We woke up at 7am to watch the sunset on top of another sand dune. Mustafa greeted us with his usual big smile and coffee/tea.
They served us family style breakfast – delicious crepes, juicy/sweet orange, fresh squeeze orange juice, hard boiled eggs, nutella, jams, bread, etc.
Around 9am we started our camel ride through the desert. Again, one of the coolest things ever. The camels were so sweet, and it amazing to see how they traveled through the desert dunes with ease. The camels were rented from nearby nomads, who use the camels as transportation and to carry heavy supplies across the desert to their homes (more on that later).
After a couple hours of camel riding, they lead us to a large tree where they had set up a luxurious lunch for us. Kebobs, couscous, salad, vegetable tajines… all so good. We stayed under this tree for the next four hours doing nothing. They had told us to bring a book, but none of us really understood that we’d be there for so long doing nothing. Turns out that it’s too hot to stay at camp during the day, so the workers and nomads pretty much all sit under trees and eat lunch, visit, nap, etc. during the day until the sun gets lower and cools down.
When we got back to camp, we spent the rest of the time before dinner laying in hammocks reading, sandboarding, and walking the dunes during sunset…
Loved the group we were with at camp. Ivie/Bill from Florida. Diara, Kaitlyn, and Jackie from Arizona/Seattle/Florida. Such a great group to spend a few days in the desert with.
Spent the last night around the bonfire again, mastering the Krakebs with Omar…
Every single one of these men were SO nice. Even though there was a bit of a language barrier – we all found a way to communicate and have fun! (L to R: Omar, Hassan, Mohammed, Zayd, Abodula, Mustafa)
Our whole camp…
Had to get some glamour shots during sunset… when else are we gonna be in the Sahara Desert?!
The next day, we were supposed to drive 6 hours to sleep in a cave, and then the following day drive another 9 hours to Fes. We would have been in Fes for one night, then the next afternoon fly back to Marrakech (since we flew home out of Marrakech). After driving 10 hours into the desert (and getting sick), this seemed like a lot of traveling. And we loved the desert so much that we decided to skip the cave/Fes and stay in the desert an extra night before heading back to Marrakech for the last leg of our trip. Our driver, Abdou, and Desert Luxury Camp (Hassan) were both so accommodating and let us change our plans.
So, our last day in the desert was spent visiting nomad schools (pictured below, about 20 students go here), having tea with a nomad family in their home, playing with their baby goat along with the cutie pictured below, Tuda.
We also had lunch with another nomad family, where a woman showed us how they make bread. She literally made the dough, and then buried it directly in the ashes for 15 minutes, and when she uncovered it, it was cooked (pictured below)! Yes, we ate the dirty bread but it was delicious!
And then we took ATVs around the sand dunes! This was SO MUCH FUN! I had never ridden one before, and to ride one up and down and around the sand dunes in the middle of the Sahara Desert was something I will never forget. It was surreal and exhilarating and the views were epic. Literally nothing around us except sand dunes.
Then we came back for our last sunset in the desert, dinner, and relaxing by the fire.
We drove the 10 hours back into Marrakech where we stayed at Andalla Spa and Riad. This place was much more tucked away into the souk than our first riad, which was a completely different experience. We said goodbye to our driver (Abdou, pictured below) – so sad!
Did I mention there are cats everywhere??
Our last day in Marrakech was spent rug shopping and buying all the things we contemplated for a week. We went to Vintage Moroccan Rugs instead of the little souks because it the vendors were less aggressive, there were much more options, they had personal shoppers, and they had some of the women working in the back making the rugs. One of them even let me put a few strands on the rug she was working on. It was wholesale, so supposedly less expensive and real compared to the street vendors imitations.
We ate at Chez Lamine (a local spot), which only sold vegetable tagines and lamb tanjias. The chef used to cook for the king. The lamb was delicious. Very rich – kind of like a stewed pot roast – but so so good. And cheap.
And on our last night, we did the traditional Turkish Hammam (bath) at Heritage Spa (highly recommend for the authentic experience). Basically Meghan and I laid on hot stones in a sauna while they washed us down and did an exfoliating scrub, then got massages. It was amazing (how many times can I use this word to describe the trip?!). It was the perfect way to end 8 days in Morocco, especially after 3 days in the desert. It was SO relaxing.
That’s it! 8 days in Morocco (Marrakesh, Sahara Desert – Erg Chebbi/Chegaga). Such an experience – highly recommend. We took our time in Marrakech and cut out the driving to Fes, but if you have more time or don’t mind the constant jumping around – I would suggest adding on Fes, Chefchaouen (the blue city), Essaouira (beach town near Marrakech), or maybe even Casablanca. But don’t miss the Desert Luxury Camp. Tell Hassan I sent you 🙂