Hello from Marrakech!
I’m finishing up 12 days in Morocco including my first extended group tour which was a new experience for me as a (very) independent traveller.
I’ll be writing a separate post about some of my thoughts on doing group tours (vs. travelling independently, which is how I normally travel), but for anyone who is considering visiting Morocco, here are my thoughts from my first time here.
It’s a gentle introduction to Africa
You may recall my disastrous visit to Ethiopia a few years ago, where everything seemed to go wrong, and I was hopelessly out of my depth.
In comparison, Morocco was exotic, but not the culture shock that Ethiopia was. There were plenty of other tourists, plenty of English spoken, and it was relatively easy to get around.
It was a nice mix.
Wifi was frustratingly slow and unreliable
You may have noticed that my posting has been limited, and sporadic the past two weeks. This is mainly because even at chain hotels, the wifi barely worked.
This meant I wasn’t able to write each day like I normally do, which was both frustrating and disappointing. Even if there was a wifi signal in a hotel it would often be either so slow that pages wouldn’t load, or the signal would tell me that wifi wasn’t available.
In hindsight I should have bought a local sim card to use as a mobile hotspot, but I was surprised hotels could provide wifi networks, but the wifi didn’t work properly.
Even as I write this (in relatively stable wifi), it is taking several minutes for each one of the images in this article to upload!
It felt safer and cleaner than I was expecting
I had heard some horror stories from friends about being ripped off by taxi drivers in Casablanca, or not walking the street in Marrakech at night. I didn’t experience that.
You certainly need to keep your wits about you (my blonde hair attracted far more attention that I would have liked), but the same could be said for many cities around the world.
Locals will certainly constantly approach you if you are a tourist, either offering to sell you something, inviting you to their restaurant or simply asking you for money, but a simple but firm ‘no’ would suffice and the locals would move on and you would be on your way.
It’s a BIG country
There’s plenty to see and do in Morocco, but a lot of the sights are pretty spread out. We travelled by bus around the country, and while we managed to see everything we wanted to, it took quite some time to get from place to place. Especially when you are travelling along winding roads through mountainous areas it took a long time to get from place to place. So for town that are 200 kilometers apart, don’t think you can drive between them in two or three hours.
Even spending two weeks here was a very rushed experience and I would recommend three weeks if you want to see the country at a more manageable pace.
I didn’t love the food
Apologies to any Moroccan readers we might have, bu I won’t be seeking out any Moroccan restaurants when I get back home.
The food was fine for a few days but every Moroccan restaurant has exactly the same (limited) menu and the food became pretty repetitive by the end. I found Moroccan food to be a bit bland — they don’t really use strong flavours — there aren’t really herbs or spices used (other than cinnamon). My tastebuds are used to other flavours but I was crying out for some spice.
There are also a lot of fruits and other sweet flavours cooked with meats, which I’m not personally a fan of.
I ADORED the Sahara Desert
Of my time in Morocco, my favourite part was definitely the two nights spent in the Sahara Desert.
We rode camels through the sand dunes to a desert camp, climbed the dunes to watch the sunset, listened to local African music, camped in surprisingly comfortable tents (with proper bed linen, and clean bathrooms), then went flying through the dunes in 4×4 vehicles the next day.
The Sahara was exactly what I was hoping it would be like — vast, desolate and beautiful.
It was more liberal and progressive than I was expecting
While Morocco is very much a developing country, I was impressed with the views and beliefs held by the locals I spoke with. We learned while we were there that the current King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, had greatly modernised the country. The statistic that impressed me the most was that while previously, women in Morocco would not even attend school, women now outnumber men in Moroccan universities.
There’s an strong Muslim influence in the country, and local Muslims were very interested in both hearing about tourists’ other religions and beliefs, as well as answering any questions we had of their faith in a gentle, respectful way.
Amazing fresh juices and tea, terrible coffee
Alcohol was difficult to find in Morocco, which I was expecting, given the strong Muslim influence. There was the odd liquor store which was like something from a prohibition period — blacked out windows, no signage, and bottles wrapped in newspaper.
The plus side of almost no alcohol, was that the non alcoholic drinks were amazing. Buffet breakfasts in three star hotels featured delicious freshly squeezed orange juice, not that sugary long life orange drink junk I’ve experienced in many a hotel breakfast.
Moroccans also love their mint tea, which I also grew to enjoy, and found that I didn’t really miss the alcohol while I was there.
The downside was that the coffee wasn’t great. I’m used to enjoying a good cup of espresso coffee each morning and the hotel breakfast coffee wasn’t great.
Surprisingly, the best coffee I drank was at random roadside cafes in the middle of nowhere.
My favourite cities weren’t what I was expecting
I purposely planned extra nights in Marrakech after the tour ended, as I had thought months ago when booking that it would be my favourite place in Morocco.
While it had a certain charm, it was also exhausting. I could not stand still in the Medina without locals immediately trying to get my attention, which meant I had to constantly keep moving, which I didn’t find relaxing. There’s only so many times you can tell someone you’ve already eaten.
The Sahara desert was my favourite experience which I’ve mentioned above, but my favourite two cities were Rabat and Essaouira. I found the capital city of Rabat to be a very elegant, laid back and sophisticated city, while Essaouira had great beaches and a relaxed, sea side vibe.
I had a great time in Morocco and would recommend it to anyone looking for something a bit different.
It probably goes on to my list of countries I thoroughly enjoyed but wouldn’t feel the need to necessarily visit a second time (I also put beautiful Norway on that list), though I would be happy to spend more time in Rabat and/or Essaouira.
Have you visited Morocco?