Browsed by
Tag: Morocco

Morocco Days 13-17: The Sahara

Morocco Days 13-17: The Sahara

After a day and a half spent in Aroumd and Imlil in the High Atlas Mountains, we began making our way downhill (so to speak) into easily the hottest place I’ve ever been in my life. I know it’s expected that the Sahara desert might be a little toasty, but this fact cannot be understated (especially in August, what was I thinking?). Fortunately, we started in a beautiful little village in a guesthouse/hotel that had a pool!

Our first stop into the brightly-colored orange architecture of the south was in Ait Benhaddou, an ancient fortified village in the Ounila Valley on the southern slopes of the High Atlas Mountains. We arrived at our hotel in time to take a walk over to the ancient village, where very few people now live as it is a protected UNESCO Heritage site, as well as a favorite spot for film producers!

This beautiful village was an incredible spot to visit- it’s amazing that these intricately woven streets are still there for us to wander through, and I really enjoyed the experience. We spent some time saying hello to the shopkeepers working in the village and the local wildlife (read: cats and donkeys, of course) before we made it to the highest point in the village with an absolutely incredible view over the valley.

This is a great village to stop at on your way south, as it’s an interesting waypoint between the mountains and desert. If you’re a film or TV fan, this is also one of the filming locations of Game of Thrones, The Mummy, Prince of Persia, among many others. Plus, the Atlas Film Studio is just down the road that’s available to tour, making this the ideal spot for movie buffs.

After our day spent in Ait Benhaddou, it was time to move a little closer to the beautiful orange sand that we were starting to see springing up around us.

On our way into the Sahara, we stopped in a small village where we learned more about traditional pottery in the south of Morocco. This experience was vastly different to the experience we had in Fez because it was clearly a much smaller operation, the style of the pottery was very different, and we were in a village rather than such a cosmopolitan city like Fez. I absolutely loved this style of pottery, and I actually regretted buying so many things in Fez after seeing what was available here. So of course, I purchased some more small items to take on the road with me!

Once we finished our brief culture (read: shopping) stop, we were finally making our way to the literal end of the road at the edge of the Sahara near Zagora.

I really thought that Mohamed was joking, but it’s true! There is an actual end-of-the-road at the entrance to the desert. Intrepid made the decision to accommodate us outside of the desert at a fixed camp rather than a proper Sahara camp due to safety concerns because the trip took place in August, arguably the hottest time of the year. In all honesty, hot is hot and the fixed camp was HOT, but I appreciate that they were protecting our wellbeing. I can imagine if there was a medical emergency out in the actual desert, it would have been a pretty severe situation in that heat! In any case, visiting at another time of year might be an even better experience since you’d be able to sleep surrounded by the orange sand dunes.

We were staying at a fixed camp in a very small village that was incredibly beautiful. The town felt like a very real community with children playing in the streets, men sitting outside at the cafe, and the call to prayer ringing through the vast spaces of the desert before us. I couldn’t imagine a better introduction to this place! We arrived at the camp, dropped off our bags, and headed out for a camel ride at sunset. I really enjoyed the ride, although some of my travel companions found the mode of transport less than comfortable- perhaps my horse riding experience helped me in this respect! We rode through the town on our camels and then out in to the dunes to catch the last rays of sunshine that made the sand absolutely glow.

They might seem cute and slow-moving, but it turns out that camels can be pretty feisty. While attempting to take an obligatory selfie with my trusty steed, I was yelled at by the camel handlers that mine in particular tends to bite. Figures.

Anyway, after our ride, we came back to camp where the attendants made us a delicious couscous meal to enjoy outside under the brightest stars I think I’ve ever seen. After dinner, we headed over to our bunks which had been moved outside of the cabins. The inside of the cabins were like saunas, the driest and hottest environment I’ve ever experienced, so I was thankful for the decision to sleep outside. Our bunks were all lined up next to each other and were out in the open amongst the Moroccan cats that had been following us around all evening. Sleeping under the stars in the desert like that was an unparalleled experience, definitely a must-do when in the Sahara!

The next day at around 3 am, our 4×4 vehicles showed up to take us across the Sahara by way of sand dunes at sunrise. I don’t know exactly what I expected from this part of the adventure, but it surely wasn’t what followed. The ride out to the dunes was nerve-wracking to a nervous passenger like myself, to say the least. We were split up in to cars with approximately 4 people each, and we pulled slowly out of the village towards the dunes that we had visited the evening prior. The difference this time, however, was that the drivers of this particular mode of transportation were much more interested in racing each other to our next location than the camels had been. The other interesting part of this experience that I honestly should have expected by now was that there were absolutely no roads in the desert, which left each 4×4 driver to decide his best path over the dunes and vast space we came across. At one point, one of the cars seemed to stop working, which left our driver amongst others to try to help his friend and our fellow travelers to get back on the “road”.

After our ride seemed to come to a conclusion, we were dropped at the camp that we would have slept at had it not been August, and were brought on a hike to the massive dunes spread before us. I definitely underestimated the hike that would be required, and was obviously constantly thinking about what snakes and other sand-dwelling creatures might appear at any moment. Nevertheless, once we made it to the top of the dunes, all concerns seemed to disappear entirely. While it was a bit overcast and we didn’t get the full effect of the sunrise over the desert, the colors and vastness of this space were breathtaking. We sat upon our dune for a while to soak in the beauty spread before us, and to reflect upon the journey that was now nearly at an end. It’s still hard for me to believe that I was actually there and witness to one of the most beautiful and remote sites in the world.

After the sun had joined the party, we made our way back to our cars (much to my dismay). Now, it was daylight, and maybe not surprisingly, driving off-road through the Sahara in the daylight is actually more terrifying than at night. In any case, this journey was significantly easier because we made it to a giant dried lake in the middle of our trip that was totally flat and seemed to go on forever. Of course this meant that the drivers were more prone to high speeds and racing behavior, but it was still an incredible experience.

On our way out of the lake and desert, we ran across some nomadic people that still inhabit the area. These particular people were herding camels, and they had several grouped together traveling through this brutal environment. We learned that there aren’t a ton of nomads left living in this part of the Sahara, but that the practice of camel herding is still quite common among them, as camels are fairly valuable.

Once we left the desert behind us, we began our journey back towards the coast of Morocco to end our trip with some stunning beach views in Essaouria. My journey into the Sahara Desert was absolutely magical, and certainly everything I was hoping for prior to embarking on this experience. While not the easiest place in the world to reach, I think it’s one of the most incredible, natural places that I’ve ever visited- I highly recommend including it in your Moroccan itinerary!

Next up I have a recap of my final days in Morocco including some of the most beautiful sunsets and sea-scenes I’ve ever seen. For more of my Moroccan adventures, check out Days 1-3 in Casablanca, Days 4 & 5 in Rabat, Moulay Idriss and Volubilis, Days 5 & 6 in FesDays 7 & 8 in Chefchaouen, and Day 12 in the High Atlas Mountains!

For more on my current adventures, be sure to follow me on Facebook and Instagram.  If you want my updates straight to your inbox, be sure to drop your e-mail address in the subscribe box on the top right side of this page!




Morocco Day 12: High Atlas Mountains (& the time I hiked to base camp of Jebl Toubkal in sandals)

Morocco Day 12: High Atlas Mountains (& the time I hiked to base camp of Jebl Toubkal in sandals)

My visit to Morocco’s High Atlas Mountains began the second half of my 3-week Moroccan adventure with a new group of travelers that were beginning the Intrepid South Morocco Discovery tour.  The first half of the tour, which I’ve already written about, was mostly focused on Morocco’s biggest and most vibrant cities, while this second half was dedicated to much of Morocco’s natural landscape, smaller villages, and more …athletic… adventures.  I know that our trip notes mentioned a hike was one optional activity in Aroumd, a village in the High Atlas Mountains, and that our guesthouse would require a roughly 30-minute walk from Imlil.  Well, let me share with you the day and a half that followed…

We arrived by van to Imlil, a small village in the High Atlas Mountains, which was clearly a hiker’s retreat.  There were mules carrying packs, locals selling homemade products such as rugs and jewelry, and a guest house where we were meant to leave our bigger bags that featured only a squat toilet.  That’s when you know it’s going to be a good day!  So we left our bags, handed our night packs over to our local mule, and began our trek to our guest house.  I wasn’t exactly sure how strenuous this hike would be, but it was definitely more challenging than I had expected.  The paths through the forest in this area are not at all flat, so the entire walk to the house was a game of not falling and breaking your ankle while trying to avoid stepping in mule poop and making way for mules that were practically charging up and down the trail- and trust me, these mules stop for no one.  This is what it looks like, for instance, when a mule is pushing you out of the way:

Good thing they’re cute.  But, I made it after about 40 minutes of heavy breathing and frequent stops for “photos”.


And then I finally made it to the village of Aroumd!  It’s an even smaller village where it was immediately clear that we were the only tourists around, and we were staying in a beautiful mountain guest house that was propped up right in the middle of everything!


We were seated at a big table outside the house upon arriving for the obligatory serving of Moroccan tea, the sugar in which was actually incredibly welcome after the exertion spent on our hike there.  We sat for a while in the shade enjoying the company of the other travelers on the tour, our guide, and the local hosts before we were told it that it was almost time for our optional hike in the mountains surrounding the guest house.  The hike was meant to take us to a shrine at Sidi Chamharouch that caters to suffers of mental disease should they make a pilgrimage and offer an animal sacrifice. I asked our Intrepid guide, Mohamed, if the hike would be similar to the one we’d just undertaken to get to the guest house, and he laughed and said it was just going to be longer.  Now, after nearly 2 weeks spent already traveling with Mohamed, he certainly knew I wasn’t the most athletic individual in our group which definitely accounted for his laughing at me, but I figured, “how bad can it be?” and headed off with the group for the hike.

Maybe this is when you’re beginning to realize the end of the story based on the title of this post, but this was not when I realized the end of this story as it was happening.  I was still far from realizing the adventure that was about to be undertaken.  In fact, the hike started out well, barring of course, the experience of a young village child slapping my butt as I walked by, presumably as a funny joke between him and his friends.  The walk from the guest house to the valley was lovely!  Why?  It was downhill!  But then we joined the trail from Aroumd and things began to look up.  And by up, I mean very up.


I was committed.  And, I was wearing sandals!  These sandals, in fact.  Fantastic sandals for traveling, not such fantastic sandals for hiking up a mountain on gravel while avoid mules that were still barreling up and down the very small pathways.  The hike took about 2 hours up and then 2 hours back.  The up part was actually the easiest part, little did I know.  But getting to the end of the hike was absolutely worth it- the views along the way were some of the most spectacular that I’ve ever seen in my life.  It was incredible to see the natural landscape open up before us as we inched our way closer to the end.

And then, finally, we made it to the summit.  Except, it wasn’t actually the summit.  It was the base camp of the highest peak in North Africa, Jebl Toubkal!  So, now I’ve realized what you all realized several sentences ago- I just climbed to the base camp of the highest peak in North Africa and the second highest peak in the entire continent in sandals, and trust me, I felt it.  Despite the physical pain I felt, though, knowing that I’d made it all the way to Sidi Chamharouch was an absolutely amazing feeling, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat- just maybe in more sensible shoes.


Once we arrived to the camp and shrine, we realized the the famous white rock which housed the shrine was not-so-natural, and we all got a pretty good kick out of it.  It was, however, really interesting to learn about the superstition surrounding the shrine, and the contradiction that the pilgrimages and sacrifices have with Islam, the official religion of those that visit it.  As non-Muslims, we weren’t permitted to enter the shrine, but the area surrounding it was beautiful, as were the people that live there.


Even more amazing, however, were all of the animals that live there.  We found goats jumping around, mules grazing, and gorgeous birds flying through the skies.  It made me want to hike to the actual summit (again, with hiking boots), to see the views from above.  But instead, I will leave you with a photo of jumping goats, which demonstrates the excitement I had after getting back to our guest house in the evening, washing an entire mountain’s worth of dirt off of me and my feet, and falling asleep in a nice, cozy bed.


In case you’re interested in tackling this mountain yourself, head over to Becky the Traveller to learn more about Trekking Morocco’s Highest Mountain!

Next up I have a recap of my time spent in the Sahara including a close call with a camel and a fear-inducing 4-wheel drive in the middle of the night.  For more of my Moroccan adventures, check out Days 1-3 in Casablanca, Days 4 & 5 in Rabat, Moulay Idriss and Volubilis, Days 5 & 6 in Fes, and Days 7 & 8 in Chefchaouen!

For more on my current adventures, be sure to follow me on Facebook and Instagram.  If you want my updates straight to your inbox, be sure to drop your e-mail address in the subscribe box on the top right side of this page!


Morocco Days 7-8: Chefchaouen

Morocco Days 7-8: Chefchaouen

After exploring one of the biggest cities in Morocco, Fes, I was happy to head to a smaller town to get a feel of the small-city local culture for a few days.  Plus, our tour guide promised that the hotel in Chefchaouen was one of the nicest that we would stay in, so I couldn’t wait to fit some R&R into my 3-week backpacking adventure through (the very hot) Morocco.

Chefchaouen, also called “The Blue Pearl”, has become Instagram famous recently, and for good reason.  It just takes one search of the #chefchaouen hashtag to see why I desperately wanted to visit this town while I was in Morocco.  In fact, the biggest reason that I chose this particular Intrepid tour was because of the stop it provided in Chefchaouen.  After driving through some very windy mountain roads, we arrived at an outlook over the town which, I must admit, didn’t look particularly blue.


Not that it doesn’t look beautiful- I was just expecting a lot more blue.  But, we continued down the mountain road into the city to find our hotel for the next two days, and things started to become much bluer!  After checking into the hotel, Darechchaoeun, we began our short walk into the city center to see how blue the Blue Pearl really was.  Well, it was very blue.  And very beautiful:


Actually, even the streets that weren’t this blue were incredibly beautiful.  I loved walking around the medina to explore all of the beautiful colors, talk to the shop keepers, and enjoy the company of the true Chefchaouen inhabitants.


Spending two days in this little town was absolutely incredible.  While there aren’t any true “sights” to behold, really, the town itself is one of the most beautiful places I visited during my 3 weeks in Morocco.  Around every corner I found beautiful architecture, people, and colors like I’d never seen them before. It felt as if I was actually wandering through a painting.


While visiting Chefchaouen, I visited a rooftop restaurant with an incredible view overlooking both the city and the sunset behind the mountains: La Lampe Magique.  The restaurant is situated directly above the central square of the city, but the rooftop provides a hidden getaway to enjoy the ambiance of Chefchaouen without the commotion of the square below.  There are a lot of restaurants in the main square, but it was pretty clear that almost all of these are geared specifically to tourists.  While La Lampe Magique also hosts many tourists each evening, the prices are right, the location is great, and the views are amazing- I would recommend a stop for a dinner at sunset!  In particular, listening to the evening call to prayer resonate through the valley over the city’s rooftops and bouncing off the walls of the mountains was a surreal experience, and one that I will certainly never forget.


These two days in Chefchaouen essentially ended my visit to northern Morocco.  After departing from this beautiful, blue city, I headed north to Tangier where I took an overnight train to Marrakech after a few hours spent at the northern coast.  My overnight train experience, which was my first overnight train experience, was incredibly interesting!  The train left in the late evening, and we were assigned to “bedrooms” that were incredibly small cabins with two bunkbeds and plastic orange mattresses.  We were 4 girls to a room, and it was certainly an adventure climbing over one another to make our beds and sort out our bags for the next roughly 11 hour journey south to a more desert-y terrain.


Overall though, it was a great experience, and I’m happy to have had the opportunity to take a more local form of transportation through about half of the country.  I loved going to sleep in the most northern part of Morocco, surrounded by Spanish influences, and waking up surrounded by orange sand just outside of the cultural capital of the country.

Next up?  Look out for my posts about my journey through the High Atlas Mountains, Sahara desert, and the southwestern coastal city of Essaouria.  I’ll also be throwing up a story about my traditional Moroccan hammam experience in Chefchaouen, as this story deserves its very own post!

Remember to follow me on Facebook and Instagram to stay updated with all Study Hard Travel Smart posts, photos, and updates.  If you want a notification each time I post something new, be sure to drop your e-mail address in the subscription box on the top-right of this page!

Morocco Days 5-6: Fes

Morocco Days 5-6: Fes

After leaving Meknes, we headed on our way via a short train journey to the city of Fes- our 5th city of this whirlwind adventure through the Kingdom of Morocco!

Fes is one of the four imperial cities in Morocco, and was truly incredible to visit.  Perhaps most interestingly, Fes is known as one of the last hold-outs for true Moroccan handicraft, as the government has arranged for handicraft workers in Fes to be compensated well in order to preserve Moroccan artistic and cultural traditions.  Since Fes has such a reputation for creating beautiful Moroccan art, we spent the large majority of our time in this city visiting the local artists (read: shopping) and wandering through the old medina.  There is a great viewpoint of Fes that shows the true expanse of the medina’s intricate network of buildings, and makes you thankful for bringing along a local guide.  


Our guide was amazing, and she was able to successfully show us all of the interesting things to see within the medina, all while preventing anyone from getting lost in the tiny alleys and streets of the souk (market).  Most significantly, we visited the local mosaic and ceramic co-op where many of Morocco’s beautiful clay tiles, glasses, tajines, vases, and fountains are created.  We first wandering around the studio spaces of the co-op to learn about the role of each artist, and how these incredibly intricate pieces are created by hand.


Fortunately, you can have the co-op send any products you purchase back to your home via insured DHL or FedEx post, so you can go hog-wild with all of the beautiful ceramics and mosaics on offer!  Fountain anyone?


We also visited the Fes tannery, which is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  A visit to the tannery involves a hike up about 4 flights of stairs until you reach the roof of the building.  From there, you have a killer view of the leather dying processes of the tannery, including the smell associated.  I think the smell has something to do with the pigeon excrement that they use in the dying process, but it’s just a wild guess!  The process is a centuries-old tradition that is certain to remain the same now that the site is protected by UNESCO.  Despite the smell, it’s an interesting place to visit, and an even better place to shop!  You’ll be able to find any leather good you could possibly want in the showroom once you’ve learned about how the products are made down below.


One of the most impressive places that we visited was the Fes Royal Palace.  You might think this means that we got to have a stroll through the palace, or at least the palace grounds, but it’s not actually possible because members of the royal family still inhabit or utilize all of the royal palaces in Morocco.  The impressive bit that we did see- the door- was enough for me to imagine what might lay beyond.


Our wander through the souk of Fes’ old medina was an incredible look into the intricate details of a Moroccan market, visited daily by local families looking to pick up fresh ingredients for the day’s meals.  


Be careful, though, it’s incredibly easy to get lost in this medina, as it seems to go on forever and the streets wind in every way imaginable making the task of re-tracing your steps nearly impossible.  The Fes medina is certainly worth a visit, as it holds many architectural and cultural treasures that wouldn’t be seen otherwise!  For instance, there is a beautiful Quranic school within the depths of the medina that has some of the most incredible architecture that I’ve ever seen.


The detail in the mosaics, carvings, and etchings within this old Quranic school are absolutely exquisite, it was hard to believe that they were handmade.  There is also the oldest university in the world, founded in 859 AD, located within the medina.  It’s only possible for Muslims to attend and visit the university as it’s located partially within a mosque, but we were able to have a peak inside to see how incredibly beautiful the architecture is.   And the best part?  The university was founded by a woman!  


It was also interesting to see so many local people lounging in the shaded archways of the mosques in the medina, but we learned that this is a place where locals might go to escape the intense Moroccan heat and chaotic nature of the surrounding media.  As such, the mosque has turned into a social gathering space in a secluded place amongst the vendors in the surrounding medina.  It was great to get a peek into such an interesting part of the local culture and society seeing everyone lounging and socializing in the shade of the beautiful archways.


I’ve truly enjoyed learning about the culture and history of Morocco so far, especially as a separate entity from the culture and history of Islam.  In most cases, it seems as if the cultures of the country and religion go side-by-side, but the divergences have become the source for quite interesting conversations amongst our tour group, and especially with our local guides.  Fes became home to many of these conversations as our local guide from Fes was so fantastic, but also because of the interesting details we learned about the country, such as the world’s oldest university being founded by a woman.

As much of the “western” world media is currently focusing on the evils of Islam and Islamic culture- something I have vehemently stood against- it was refreshing and beautiful to hear local people, both men and women, speak about their history, culture, customs, and religion in a way that reflects how proud they are of their Moroccan culture and heritage.  I particularly enjoyed hearing about the development of the woman’s role in Moroccan society, as not so long ago it was forbidden for women to even leave their houses or be seen by people outside of their families.  Our local guide described her struggle to find her place in the tourism industry, and her successes (clearly- she is incredible at what she does).  She even joked that because there is only one key for their house, her husband was the one who had to stay home that day since she locked him in!  While there is obviously a level of humor in such a statement, it shows how far women truly have come in this society, and the progress that’s being made.  I’ve come to realize that no society is perfect, but it is especially damaging for us to judge another society’s values and customs using our own as a baseline.  As our guide, Mohamed, explained to me, we can sit on opposite sides of a table looking a number.  I might see a number 6, and he might see a number 9, but we’re still looking at the same thing; there is no “right” way of seeing any one thing, particularly when it comes to culture.  I like to think that I had a good grip on combating ethnocentrism prior to my travels in Morocco, but this trip has certainly shown me that there is always room for improvement in understanding other people, and I am thankful for everything that I’ve learned so far.

Want to keep following my Moroccan adventures?   Like Study Hard Travel Smart on Facebook and Instagram, and sign up for email alerts by submitting your email address on the right side of this page!

Morocco Days 4 & 5: Rabat, Moulay Idriss, Volubilis, and Meknes

Morocco Days 4 & 5: Rabat, Moulay Idriss, Volubilis, and Meknes

Wow.  It’s only the 5th day since I landed in Morocco, and I have to admit, it’s incredibly overwhelming!  So far, I’ve visited 4 cities/towns and just landed in my 5th (Fes) to explore over the next day or so.  As you can imagine, we’ve been moving pretty quickly, although I have to say that I’m impressed at how well everything has been organized thus far!  I am exhausted, though, and anticipate many early nights in my future on this trip!

After departing from Casablanca yesterday morning, we took the train about 2 hours north to the city of Rabat.  Rabat is the current capital of Morocco, and one of the four imperial cities in the country (alongside Marrakech, Meknes, and Fes).  We were given maps and were told to wander around the city on the hunt for the 3 major sites in the city.  First, we stopped at Rabat’s Kasbah (a former royal fortress) made from orange clay located just outside the old medina.  


I also managed to wander into a small street market surrounded by beautiful blue walls.


After leaving the Kasbah, I had a wander through the medina, which is a part of the city with small winding streets.  The souk is the local market, typically located in the medina, and as Moroccans typically do not store food at home, especially in large cities like Rabat, the market was full of fresh products for the locals to purchase for the day.  I loved wandering through my first true Moroccan market to see all of the products on offer, as it was a great glimpse into local life in Rabat.  After exiting the hectic market, I walked along the walls surrounding the medina towards a mosque and the Muhammad V Mausoleum .  The minaret (tower) of the mosque was meant to be the tallest in the world, but the king died before it was finished and the decision was made to leave it as it was when he passed giving it a unique flat roof rather than the more typically pyramid roofs of many of the minarets in Morocco.  


Standing behind the mosque and minaret is the Mausoleum where tombs of the royal family are located.  The tomb is still guarded by the king’s guards; two men sit mounted on beautiful horses at the front gate of the Mausoleum, and one stands at each entrance of the tomb, all dressed in the traditional costumes.  



The architecture of the Mausoleum is absolutely beautiful with gorgeous arches and mosaics creating such a peaceful atmosphere.  I loved the opportunity to visit this place, as it was much more beautiful and impressive than I was expecting.  As we were on a “self guided tour” for Rabat, I do wish that I had more information about what exactly the significance of each part of the Mausoleum is to understand the history and culture behind it.  In any case, it was a great start to our first stop after Casablanca!

Once we finished lunch in Rabat, we headed on a train towards Meknes where we boarded taxis bound for Moulay Idriss.  Moulay Idriss is a small town of about 20,000 people located in the Rif mountains in northern Morocco.  The city was originally founded in the 10th century by Moulay Idriss el Akhbar, who was the great-grandson of the Islamic prophet Muhammad.  Now, Moulay Idriss is a beautiful little town known as a holy city, as many make pilgrimages to the tomb of Moulay Idriss el Akhbar, who is buried at a mosque in the center of the city.  While the mosque is off-limits to non-Muslims (as the town itself was until several years ago), the town was absolutely incredible to visit.  The walls along all of the small winding streets were painted a bright turquoise blue color which made everything look incredibly beautiful.


We took a short tour with an incredible local guide to learn about Moulay Idriss, both the town and the man, and to learn more about small Moroccan communities.  I truly enjoyed the opportunity to walk around this small, isolated town with someone who had grown up there, as it was an amazing opportunity to really truly understand the local culture.  At the end of our walk, we were brought to a viewpoint over the town where we could see the roofs of the entire town, including that of the beautiful mosque, right as the sun was beginning to set.


We were staying with a local family in their Riad bed & breakfast in the town of Moulay Idriss called La Colombe Blanche.  The hotel is perfectly located and run by an awesome family who were incredibly warm and welcoming. After watching the sun set over the hills from their terrace, we had a lovely dinner at their home where we learned to cook traditional cous cous (much more difficult than it seems), and then ate kefta (meatball) tangine and cous cous around a family-style table.  This was an amazing experience, as clearly so much effort had gone into preparing the meal and it was lovely to learn more about the people traveling with me, as well as Muhammad, our guide.  Plus, the interior of the home was beautiful!  I highly recommend a stay here if you plan to visit Moulay Idriss- and be sure to order dinner from the family, I have never had more delicious cous cous!


The next day we made our way back to Meknes with a pit stop at the nearby Roman settlement Volubilis.  Volubilis was a massive Roman settlement, one of two in Morocco, but was unfortunately largely destroyed by an earthquake in the late 18th century.  Still, standing essentially alone within these ruins was a very surreal experience.  The settlement is surrounded by rolling hills, and seemed to go on for miles.  We were able to walk through some of the massive houses that were owned by wealthy families in Volubilis, complete with gorgeous mosaic “carpets” which still lay as they were on the floors of the individual rooms.


We were also able to walk through the forum, and then the cathedral which has no walls or roofs, but still has massive and beautiful columns outlining where the structure stood in its time.


A visit to Volubilis is definitely worth putting on the itinerary of a North Moroccan trip, particularly if you will already be visiting Moulay Idriss.  It’s possible to get a taxi or local guide to take you to Volubilis from Moulay Idriss, and the prices can be quite reasonable (after haggling, of course!).  

After departing from Volubilis, we made the 45-minute journey back to the town of Meknes to visit the ruins of the palace created by King Moulay Ismail, a contemporary of Louis XIV of France.  King Moulay Ismail was well known for trying to create structures and a kingdom just as amazing as those created by Louis XIV, and so what is left after the same earthquake that destroyed Volubilis is still absolutely incredible.  The most note-worthy structure is the stable which was built to house 12,000 of the king’s horses.


After visiting these ruins, we stopped in the medina for a camel burger before heading on to our next stop in Fes.  Camel burgers are rarely consumed in northern Morocco, as the meat is quite expensive for the locals and you won’t see many camels in the area, but there are still a couple of (very) small restaurants that are willing to prepare them!


Overall, I loved this part of the trip as these were places I might not have thought to go to on my own.  I would especially recommend a visit to Moulay Idriss and Volubilis, as they’re very remote but truly incredible pieces of Moroccan history and culture that would be difficult to find in other places in the country!


Up next: Fes and Chefchaouen (the Blue City)!  Remember to follow me on Facebook, Instagram, and on this site to hear the latest about my Moroccan travels!


Morocco Days 1-3: Casablanca

Morocco Days 1-3: Casablanca

I’m sitting by the ocean listening to the evening’s competing prayer calls ring out over the city, and I still can’t quite grapple with the fact that I’m in Casablanca.  In Morocco!  I’ve been dreaming about this day for years, and finally, I’m here.  I’ve spent my first day visiting the legendary city of Casablanca, and before I part ways with my entry point into Morocco for my next city (Rabat), I’m eager to share my thoughts.

Yesterday, after a grueling 12 hour travel day (thanks to terrible Prague-Casablanca flight connections), I arrived to the Casablanca airport ready to jump into bed.  First, I was shepherded through to immigration, where I was met with a sticker on the immigration window that said, “Smile, you’re in Casablanca!”  I’m certain that the immigration officer thought I was insane because, truly, this sticker put the biggest grin on my face.  After receiving my Moroccan passport stamp, I made my way towards baggage claim and what I thought would be a similar baggage claim experience to every other that I’ve ever had.  Nope.  Customs officials actually check all bags, even in the “Nothing to Declare” section, which was an exciting surprise.  Obviously my backpack didn’t look too threatening, and I was sent on my way.  I knew the approximate price of a taxi to get to my hotel, and considering it was nearing 9:30 pm, I was game for a quick and easy trek to the city.

The airport in Casablanca looks strangely void of all shops/restaurants/normal airport things… until you go outside.  All of the food shops are outside!  It was such a great idea, I would love to grab lunch outside of the airport before being crammed into that metal tube to go catapulting through the sky.  In any case, after looking over this outdoor food court, I found my way to the taxi stand.  I was placed (literally) in a taxi with a nice man named Rada.  Rada told me that the cost of the taxi ride would be 300 Dirham after seeing the address of my hotel, and I agreed, so we went on our way.  On the entrance ramp to the highway, Rada pulls over, asks to look at the address again, and then politely informs me that he misunderstood where the hotel was, and the cost would actually be 650 Dirham.  More than double the originally agreed-upon price!  He asked if it was okay, and I just laughed.  We were on the highway entrance ramp- this didn’t seem like a good time to say no so that I could find out what his next move would be.  After this initial impression, I was grumping pretty hard in the back seat, but eventually Rada and I began to talk (mostly in French, which was an interesting exercise for me).  Sometime during this chat, he asked me out for coffee, and I politely said something to the effect of, “Yeah, sure”, figuring this was some sort of hypothetical coffee.  Again, nope.  Next thing I know, we’ve stopped at a coffee shop on one of the busy streets of Casablanca, and we’re drinking espresso at 10:00 pm.  It was amazing.  I liked talking to Rada and learning about him and his country over a casual nighttime coffee.  Actually, it was sweet of him, because he picked up the bill and then continued driving me to my hotel.  These types of encounters are my favorite, and while I was a bit nervous at this somewhat unusual taxi situation, I was thankful for the opportunity to be invited into the life of a local stranger that I’d met by chance. So all in all, a successful first 2 hours in Casablanca.

This morning, I made my first stop the Hassan II Mosque, located on the coast of Casablanca.  I got there about an hour before the tour I planned to take so that I could find something to eat.  I ended up at a very local café with excellent coffee and pastries (for cheap!), and enjoyed sitting amongst the local café patrons sipping java while looking down the road at the 3rd largest mosque in the world.  What an incredible experience.  Afterwards, I made my way over to the mosque, and began taking an absurd amount of photos.  Really, I’m ashamed.  But the exterior of the mosque was just so beautiful, I really couldn’t stop myself.

Morocco: Casablanca

Morocco: Casablanca

Morocco: Casablanca

Morocco: Casablanca

After about a half hour of that, I went to purchase tickets for the 11 am tour.  It’s difficult to find online, but the Hassan II Mosque allows visitors inside 3 times per day (excluding Friday) at 9, 10, and 11 am.  Tickets are 120 Dirham for adults, and 60 Dirham for students, which includes a guided 45-60 minute tour, and can be purchased on site at the cash desk.  It’s good to arrive about 15 minutes prior to the tour start time, as all visitors of all languages will be lining up to get their tickets.  Tours are offered in English, Spanish, French, German, Arabic, and Italian.  A lot of visitors will only visit the exterior of the mosque, which is admittedly gorgeous, but the interiors are absolutely worth visiting.

The mosque is the 3rd largest in the world after two in Saudi Arabia, and has the tallest minaret in the world.  The structure was built in 6 years because the craftsmen worked in shifts 24 hours/day 7 days per week.  It’s absolutely mind-boggling how incredible this place is.

Morocco: Casablanca

After visiting the mosque, I spent some time walking the coast and watching the mosque fade in the distance while local children swam in the ocean below.  It’s clear that despite this being such a grand structure, and such a highly-visited tourist attraction, it’s still a center of the community.

Morocco: Casablanca

After getting exhausted wandering in the 90-degree humid heat, I hopped in a taxi bound for the Habous neighborhood of the city.  This section of Casablanca is referred to as the “new medina” or “little Marrakech” because of the market stalls lining the streets, but still the medina nature of the architecture and layout despite being outside the old city walls.  First, I grabbed lunch at a local café just outside the medina.  The waiter didn’t speak English, so I was back to communicating in French.  That would have been fine, except I’m so sure that French is slightly different here, and people also speak really quietly.  Even if I could understand him, I definitely couldn’t hear him, so I just agreed to what he was trying to suggest.  I ended up eating a traditional breakfast item of omelette tangine with miscellaneous meat, and it was really good!

After lunch, I began exploring the medina that rested just beyond my café.  I loved walking around this part of the city and checking out what all of the shop owners and vendors were selling.  I found it really interesting that the handful of stalls on the road leading from my taxi drop point and restaurant were incredibly touristy, with vendors trying to convince me to purchase their products.

Morocco: Casablanca

As I kept walking further into the market, the shops clearly became “local” with local women purchasing dresses made from exquisite fabric, and men haggling for new shoes.  These vendors didn’t seem interested in me, and it gave me the chance to just observe this local business- an amazing experience!

Morocco: Casablanca

I also loved that so many of the vendors throughout the medina were selling art.  I didn’t see much of the traditional touristy mass-produced pieces, but rather beautiful oils on canvas of local street scenes, animals, and people.  Every nook and cranny of the market had something interesting- I’m very excited to compare this medina to others that I’ll see in upcoming cities.

Morocco: Casablanca

After finishing up in the medina, I was ready to head back to my hotel to relax a little and clean my clothes.  I went to grab a taxi, and found that 5 other people were trying to grab a taxi back to my hotel!  I ended up sharing one with two girls from Australia, who I came to realize would also be on the tour that I’ll be joining tomorrow.  I’m excited to meet the rest of the group and group leader at our starting point tomorrow evening- I’m sure that this is going to be an amazing adventure, and I can’t wait to get started.

Next up: Rabat!


Interesting in following along my Moroccan adventures?  Be sure to leave your e-mail address on the right side of the page to follow my blog.  You can also follow me on Facebook and Instagram to see regular posts and updates!


Preparing for Travel: 3 Days Until Morocco

Preparing for Travel: 3 Days Until Morocco

For me, preparing to travel is actually the most nerve-wracking and anxiety-inducing part of the entire experience.  Once I’ve arrived at my destination, I’m overwhelmed by excitement; I’m learning new things, meeting new people, and exploring as much as I possibly can.  Before my departure, however, I spend a lot of time thinking about all of the ways that I could possibly prepare for my impending adventure.  If I’ve learned one thing from several years of travel, it’s that most of the preparation isn’t even close to necessary.  But, here we are, another 3-week backpacking adventure on the horizon, and I’ve been planning my packing list for 2 weeks already.  You know, “just in case”.  I’ll be spending 19 days living out of my backpack making my way through the gorgeous country of Morocco.

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 7.42.33 PM
My Moroccan Itinerary

This trip has been at the top of my travel list for a long time, so I’m excited that I’m finally able to make it a reality!  For months, I’ve been combing through pictures of Moroccan towns and cities, as well as the gorgeous landscapes that are plastered all over Pinterest.  Who wouldn’t be excited?

As a travel blogger and expat, I often find myself embarrassed for talking about any pre-travel anxiety- after all, this is exactly what I’m supposed to love doing, right?  Maybe I’m unique in that I essentially travel for a living and still get nervous about my upcoming trips, but this is who I am and it’s not like I can run from that.  So, what do I do to ease the nervousness that comes before a big trip?  I do research about where I’m traveling to, figure out the best things to pack so that I don’t have to worry about what I’ve forgotten, and consider all of the amazing experiences that I’m about to have!

I’ll be traveling to Morocco with Intrepid Travel, a travel and tour company that focuses on responsible, immersive, small-group travel.  Usually I’m not one for tour groups.  Actually, usually I despise tour groups with a pretty incredible passion, but I wanted to go with a group on this trip for a couple of reasons.  First, despite all of the wonderful female bloggers out there singing the virtues of solo female travel (and I’m often one of them), I didn’t want to travel across Morocco for 3 weeks by myself, much to my parents’ relief.  Secondly, I wanted a truly local experience, and this tour, Morocco Encompassed, allows for me to take local forms of transportation (my first overnight train!), stay with host families, and meet local people in a way that I might not otherwise have been able to.  I am a little apprehensive about committing to such a long trip without any prior experience with this company, but I’m excited for the adventure and to meet my fellow group members as we make our way all across the country.  I’m also excited that I didn’t have to do much planning for this trip.  I plan travel all the time, so having a break from planning for one of my own vacations was a nice relief!

I’ll be blogging throughout my trip, so I’ll be able to give you an in depth and real-time look at my experience traveling through a large portion of this incredible country.  I’ll also be uploading photos (probably more frequently than blog posts) on Instagram, so I encourage you to follow me there to see what I’m getting up to each day!  I’m excited to have the opportunity to invite you along to join me on my adventure.  I look forward to hearing from you as I go, and to sharing my thoughts, excitement, and fears with you as  I embark on one of my dream trips.  If you’d like to be notified of my new posts, please submit your e-mail on the right side of this page.

I should also mention, I am not in any way being sponsored by Intrepid Travel for any posts that I write throughout my experience.  Everything that I write will be my completely honest opinion, and I hope that it will help you decide whether or not a trip like this is right for you!

My Itinerary

  • Days 1-3: Casablanca (I’m arriving 2 days early so that I can explore this city before our group departs)
  • Day 4: Rabat/Moulay Idris
  • Day 5: Volubilis/Fes
  • Day 6: Fes
  • Day 7-8: Chefchaouen (VERY excited about this!)
  • Day 9: Tangier
  • Day 10-11: Marrakech
  • Day 12: Aroumd
  • Day 13: Ait Benhaddou
  • Day 14: Zagora
  • Day 15: Sahara Camp
  • Day 16: Taroudannt
  • Day 17-18: Essaouira
  • Day 19: Marrakech