As we near our November 2017 Majestic Morocco Tour, I wanted to share with you a look back at the fun, adventures, great food, and culture connections ArchaeoAdventures and our travelers had on our 2016 Morocco Tour. It was 9 days of stories and adventures on one remarkable journey! Over the past 3 years, I’ve visited Morocco every year with a small group of avid travelers keen to explore the best this majestic North African country has to offer.
Our Adventure Together Exploring Magical Morocco
Also called The Western Kingdom, named so for being located the farthest west on the African continent, Morocco is the only Arab country bordered by both the Atlantic and Mediterranean coast lines.
Marrakech – The Red City
We began our adventure in Marrakech, Morocco’s thriving and cosmopolitan western city. Artsy, modern and progressive, Marrakech feels a bit like San Francisco. With the impressive backdrop of the High Atlas mountains, a brightly colored souq, and well-preserved ancient palaces and fortification walls – Marrakech is a wonderful place to begin our Moroccan adventure.
Founded in 1062 AD by Berber chieftain Abu Bakr ibn Umar, Marrakech is arguably themost important of the four great imperial cities. Almoravid King Ali ibn Yusuf built the majority of Marrakech from 1122-1123 AD. Known as the “Red City” for its red sandstone buildings, Marrakech is the San Francisco of Morocco – young, liberal, a melting pot of people and cultures, artsy, entrepreneurial, a vibrant city and a little quirky (ok very quirky).
Located at the foothills of the great High Atlas Mountains (containing the tallest mountain in North Africa) and also at the gateway (just over those mountains) to the desert and Morocco’s impressive Sahara, Marrakech was at an important crossroads for trade between Africa, Europe and the East. As a result, the city became a significant cultural, religious and learning center. Today, Marrakech still bears the evidence of its importance in the medersas (university for teaching law, theology, Arabic literature and grammar), old mosques, ancient palaces, and a well-preserved medina.
Consider one of the top locations in Morocco for enjoying local cuisine, as well as one of the most photogenic cities in this North African country, it was an exciting start to the tour. It’s a fascinating city to explore both Morocco’s ancient past, as well as it’s modern, thriving culture. We learned about the cities unique culture, traditions and history on the ground on a guided walking tour through the medina led by a fabulous local female guide. We caught sunset over the stunning Djemaa el-Fna – the heart of the city. Travelers had time to poke into shops. And we enjoyed a true Marrakech tradition – dining with locals at the night Djemaa el-Fna street eats feast. At night the square transforms from a wild and high-energy festival of street performers to a mobile kitchens and whip up some of the best street eats in Morocco.
When the sun set, Marrakech’s Djemaa el-Fna turns into a large open-air restaurant. 100 chefs wheel out their mobile restaurants and prepare some of the best cheap eats in Marrakech. Sidle up to one of the benches, squeeze between a few friendly locals and enjoy one of Moroccan’s favorite traditions – eating out on the square.
Exploring Marrakech’s medina with our excellent local guide.
Sultan Ahmad al-Mansur believed he could take it all with him and showed it so at his opulent and extensive Saadian Tombs.
Ait Ben Haddou and the High Atlas
From Marrakech,we traded chic cafes and colorful artisan markets for the dramatic and rugged peaks of the High Atlas mountains and the burnt red, crumbing kasbahs that line the mountain rivers. Our driver Heshem, met us and we were on the road making our way toward the famous Sahara desert – but first with one massive mountain range to cross. Driving through the mountain roads, we made our way up the twisting, turning hair-pin switch backs. Heshem, incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about his home country, regaled us with tales of the towns we were passing through and the amazing wonders that we would soon come across.
Reaching the high desert plains around Ouazazate, we stopped at the most spectacular ksar in all of Morocco – Ait Ben Haddou. Tucked at the end of a long, flat valley; this UNESCO World Heritage site is the best preserved ksar (fortified village) and kasbah (the fortified section of the ksar) in the country. It’s a gem to explore and takes you back in time to a bygone era. It’s also been featured in dozens of movies and tv shows, so walking it’s streets can give you a weird sense of deja vue.
Sunset from the top of the impressive kasbah at Ait Ben Haddou
Our group having a blast at this unique and memorable site.
The Sahara Desert – Morocco’s great sand sea
Rolling burnt orange sand dunes as far as the eye can see. Sapphire blue skies. Stillness. Spectacular sunsets and sunrises. The Moroccan Sahara is a magical place. A wild landscape that is arid yet incredible beautiful. Its one of the few quiet spaces, quiet places that is easily accessible. We spent our first night at Erg Chebbi on the edge of the dune lines staying at a comfortable lodge. The next morning after catching a spectacular sunrise we saddled up the camels and headed deep into the desert.
We headed into a communal deep camp to spend the night under the stars and amidst the colossal sand dunes. The reduce the negative impact on the environment, the government regulates where in the desert travelers can stay. We stayed in traditional bedouin tents. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience camping in these traditional tents in the Sahara desert.
In the evening, our guide cooked us a wonderful traditional Berber stew. And then a few camps came together to listen to our guides play traditional Berber music, sing around a camp fire and share stories of our adventures in Morocco.
The next morning is was up early before the sun. We took our camels back to our duneline lodge, stopping part way there to catch a stunning sunrise from high atop a sand dune.
A camel train crossing the Sahara just after sunrise.
Babley, one of my favorite camels. Camels can often get a bad-rap as troublesome critters. Their in fact quite nice, gentle and highly motivated by food. Take time to get to know your camel.
Our group enjoying our second sunrise in the desert. It never gets old!
Shooting some long exposure star photography at our Sahara deep camp. The Sahara is a great place for photography – both day and night.
Fez – The Yellow City
From the Sahara, we drove north 8 hours, over the High and Middle Atlas Mountains, to the sprawling city of Fez.
Built between 1271 and 1357 AD, Fez is one of Morocco’s oldest cities and is the home of the oldest university in the world. A massive walled city, many aspects of daily life in this city date back thousands of years. Women still leave their uncooked bread on their doorstep in the morning for the baker of their street to pick up and cook. Moving furniture into the old medina? You’ll be bringing that couch in on donkey back (the twisting roads are too narrow for cars) and then have to use a system of pulleys and ropes to get it to the window of your home. Locals regularly get lost as Fez’s streets are a twisting turning rabbit warren.
Known as Morocco’s Yellow City (the city is painted? Yellow), Fez has been an important culture center even dating back to the Moorish period. As Fez grew, buildings sprung up outside the old medina and New Fez was born. Most of the history and character is in old Fez, so we base ourselves there. We spent half a day with a local guide exploring the ancient city, learning about its history, and seeing how people live today.
Exploring the ancient, well-preserved extensive city walls of Fez’s old medina.
Could it be the narrowest street in the world? I’d definitely argue YES!
Learning hot locals make the very tastey rghaif (flaky, layered flat bread).
Sunset over Fez’s ancient media.
TRAVEL TIP: Moroccan’s are private people and many prefer not to have their photos taken. Always ask first before taking someone’s picture. We work with our great locals guides to help our travelers capture wonderful images of artisans at work, particularly in Fez. I guides have long-standing relationship with shopkeepers, artisans, bakers, metalsworkers, tanners, and other Fez locals. They know who feels comfortable have their photo taken and who doesn’t. This helps our travelers take great street photos in Fez.
Chefchaouen- The Blue City
Dubbed one of the prettiest towns in Morocco, Chefchaouen is a architectural gem tucked into a rib of the Rif Mountains. A mix of Moroccan and Andalusian architecture and colors, walking through the twisting cobbled streets sometimes it feels like you’re in Southern Spain and then you’ll turn a corner and it’s pure Moroccan. Chefchaouen was founded by the Moors and Jews who fled Granada when it fell to the forces of Isabela and Ferdinand. They fled to Chefchaoeun and founded the city in 1471.
Painted a soft blue, with the occasional red-tiled roof; Chefchaouen is a picture-perfect town. Views of the town at sunset from the Spanish mosque are spectacular – with the town twinkling a soft blue as the lights reflect the color of the buildings.
Chefchaouen is a great place to come and linger, and linger we did. The group had time to wonder, take in the beautiful little day, and spend time enjoying the quieter pace of Chefchaoeun life.
Sunset over Chefchaouen. Watching the colors fill the sky and the town twinkle blues and soft yellows as the lights came on.
Exploring Morocco’s blue town, a great place to spend time exploring.
Our group enjoying a ‘welcome’ tea at our comfy mom and pop riad.
Casablanca – the White City
Our Majestic Morocco tour finished in Casablanca, Morocco’s White City. By now I’m sure you’ve noticed a trend on Morocco – town’s being painted all one color. These colors often either reflect the building material in the area or the preferences of a distinct group that founded a city. Either way Morocco’s towns are color!
Casablanca is Morocco’s modern cosmopolitan economic engine. After spending a week and a half exploring ancient medinas, colorful souqs, vast wild landscapes, traditional town; Casablanca is a fascinating city to visit. Large tree-lined boulevards with pearly white French provincial builds make up the main downtown. A sleek modern light rail systems helps move travelers around the city. And the water front is dominated by a massive and incredibly beautiful mosque – the Mosque of Hassan II. It sports the world’s tallest minaret and is the only mosque in Morocco non-muslims are allowed to enter.
Wrapping up our tour here gave travelers a chance to see today’s Morocco – a thriving modern culture that has strong ties to Europe and is working hard to modernize the entire country. Bullet trains, large solar panel fields, good water purification systems throughout the country, a well-maintained network of modern roads all are making Morocco a fascinating country to watch grow and change.
Sunset at Hassan II mosque.
Don’t just marvel at the stunning architecture, take time to people watch. A popular spot for local families to gather at the end of a word day. Join the locals in a stroll around the mosque and corniche.
Leading people to Morocco it such a joy. I love showing fellow travelers to Morocco I know and love. Through helping travelers experience the friendly locals, the fascinating culture, the amazing food, rich history and stunning natural wonders I hope to share this beautiful place and give all you a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It’s pure joy every time a few curious travelers joins me on one of my trips here.
I’m excited to be again taking a group of wonderful folks back to Morocco in November. I hope this look back at our last trip fuels your own travel dreams no matter where they take you, as well as, inspires you to visit Morocco.
See you #OnAdventure in Morocco!
Stay Curious and Enjoy Your Travels!
ArchaeoAdventures Founder and Chief Adventurista