05
Dec-2017

Majestic Morocco Tour 2017 Revisited: Highlights from our Moroccan Adventures

The wind was still as our camels plodded along the sandy path between two twisting, curving dunes. All around us the rolling sand dunes were cast in soft, pink glow; an indication that sunrise was minutes away. With a few jerky motions our camels one by one swayed to the ground for us to dismount. As the bright glow of the sun illuminated the eastern horizon we climbed a tall burnt orange sand dune, settling down at it’s peak to welcome the day. The soft pink color blanketing the land became more pronounced, shifting to an organish red as the sun broke the horizon. Some in our small group snapped photos, others quietly took in the beautiful sunrise.

Enjoying sunset in the Sahara over looking our small camp. Photo: Genevieve Hathaway Productions.

As the sun rose higher over the horizon the sky became streaked with oranges, yellows, pinks and purples. Looking across the vast sand sea that is the Sahara, we enjoyed the quite, the natural beauty, and having this small stretch of desert all to ourselves. Packing up our gear, we again mounted our camels and continued our trek through the rolling dunes toward the duneline, our hotel, and the hot breakfast which awaited us. As the soft, grandular sand of the Sahara dunes gave way to the hardpack of the rocky desert our hotel came into view. It was time to disembark our camels after our night camping in the Sahara desert.

Even though we are no longer in the Sahara, the memories are still fresh in my mind. The Sahara, like much of Morocco, is a hard place to forgot. It’s a magical landscape that seems like it belongs in another world.

I recently wrapped up leading our 2017 Majestic Morocco Tour. It was another year of exploring the very best of morocco with a great group of like-minded travelers. We had adventures, criss-crossed Morocco, ate lots of tasty food, got to know friendly locals, and shared unforgettable memories. Below are some of our favorite moments and experiences from Morocco. 

If you’re interested in join our Majestic Morocco Tour in 2018 you can learn more here and stay tuned to our newsletter and website for date announcements and tour openings.

Marrakech: The Red City

We began our tour in Marrakech, Morocco’s red city. It is the fourth largest city in Morocco, and one of Morocco’s key cultural cities. Situated at the foothills of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains, the red walls of the buildings were constructed of red sandstone earning the city it’s nickname.

Marrakech’s famous djemaa el-fna at sunset. Photo: Genevieve Hathaway Productions.

In 1062 AD, Marrakech was found by Abu Bakr ibn Umar, chieftain and cousin of Almoravid king Yusuf ibn Tashfin. Located on an important Moroccan and sub-Saharan African trading route, Marrakech great and flourished as an important commercial and cultural hub. We started our time in Marrakech with a wonderful, and insightful walking tour with our very knowledgable local female guide Najat Noudari. We learned about local breadmaking, saw the system for both heating the hammams and cooking the neighborhood tajines, we learned about the importance of the koran schools throughout Moroccan history, and went back in time at the Bahia Palace. Exploring Marrakech with a local woman felt like learning about this great city with a local friend. She was able to help us understand and get into the culture.

Our ArchaeoAdventures’ Tour group with our fabulous female guide Najat. Photo: Genevieve Hathaway Productions.

After giving us a demonstration on how he heats the hammams, this hammam fire attendant played us a song on his Moroccan Oud. Photo: Genevieve Hathaway Productions.

Exploring the Marrakech medina with our local guide. Photo: Genevieve Hathaway Productions.

Marrakech at sunset. Photo: Genevieve Hathaway Productions.

In the evening our cultural immersion continued with our food and culture experience. We had another fabulous local female guide, Noura El Kacimi with Marrakech Food Tours, take us around to local cafes, street eats, and mom and pop restaurants to enjoy the kind of foods and cafes that locals in Marrakech frequent. We dinned on traditional couscous in a cafe that was part of a second-hand market, we had tasty anchovies sandwiches at a popular medina cafe, tried our tastebuds with cooked snails and even expanded our horizons eating sheep’s head (travel tip: avoid the eyeballs but enjoy the cheeks).

Our food tour guide Noura teaching us how to pour tea Moroccan style. Photo: Genevieve Hathaway Productions.

One of the many small cafes and mom and pop restaurants we enjoyed local meals at while on our food and cultural evening experience with Marrakech Food Tours.

Telouet Kasbah: Don’t Just a Kasbah By It’s Exterior

From Marrakech we headed up and over the High Atlas Mountains, following a now paved highway that once was a well-trodden camel train path taking goods from sub-Sahara Africa up to Marrakech.

Our wonderful driver Hesham met us in Marrakech and we headed west over the High Atlas mountains beginning our road trip across Morocco. Photo: Genevieve Hathaway Productions.

We drove to the small town of Telouet. On the exterior this kasbah looks like any other, dark red walls crumbling and seeming as though they will soon be nothing but a memory. While most of the builds are now only empty shells, the main tower is still open to the public.

Telouet Kasbah. Photo: Genevieve Hathaway Productions.

Walking up the dark stairway, we come across a magnificent surprise as we make our way in to make reception rooms. Beautifully handmade tiles cover the walls. Large vaulted ceiling are lined with delicately carved white plaster. This interior reflects this kasbah’s once opulent past. This building’s dilapidated exterior would fool any traveler about the gem that is hidden inside. Our group enjoyed exploring this surprising site, one of the many unique and interesting places to visit in the High Atlas.

Interior of Telouet Kasbah. Photo: Genevieve Hathaway Productions.

Interior of Telouet Kasbah. Photo: Genevieve Hathaway Productions.

View from the battlements of Telouet Kasbah. Photo: Genevieve Hathaway Productions.

Sahara: The Great Sand Sea

We began our morning at Ait Benhaddou, the best preserved ksar and kabah in Morocco. Then we continued east passed the palmaries, Skoura, and through the Dades valley toward Merzouga and the great Sahara desert.

Ait Benhaddou just after sunrise. Photo: Genevieve Hathaway Productions.

A small mountain village in the Zee gorge on the drive to the Sahara. Photo: Genevieve Hathaway Productions.

The Sahara desert is comprised of both a hard-packed, rocky desert and the classic rolling sand dunes that we usually associate with the Sahara. It is the largest hot desert and the third largest desert in the world (after the Artic and Antarctica). It stretches from Morocco and the Atlantic Ocean all the way to Egypt and the Red Sea. The town of Merzouga is the easiest to reach gateway to the Sahara in Morocco (the other main town being Hamid). Merzouga and the neighboring small villages are built along what is called the duneline – the area where the rocky hard desert gives way to the sandy Sahara dunes. 

Our Sahara lodge was located on the duneline, built in the classic desert Kasbah style. It felt like an oasis in a very barren landscape. This was the homebase for our camel trek and overnight camping into the desert. After the full day of travel, our group enjoyed a tasty traditional Berber tajine with Moroccan tea. Then we packed up our gear for our journey into the desert the next day. 

Our desert lodge on the Sahara duneline. Photo: Genevieve Hathaway Productions.

A few of us rose early to photograph sunrise in the dunes – wanting to make the most of our time in the desert. After breakfast, we hopped onto our camels and headed deep in the Sahara desert with out Berber guide leading the way. Our camp was an hour or so camel trek into the Sahara. A small camp of a few Berber style tents in a little oasis at the base of a dune. It would be our home for the night and our basecamp for exploring the surrounding landscape.

Our group taking a camel trek into our desert camp. Photo: Genevieve Hathaway Productions.

Camel trekking in the Sahara is both a unique, once in a lifetime experience; it’s also the most eco-friendly way for the desert! The camel is the berber 4×4. SUVs, cars, trucks, and ATV vehicles are damage the fragile dunes and pollute the sand. Take a camel trek not a vehicle and help preserve this stunning natural wonder. Photo: Genevieve Hathaway Productions.

The main eating area of our camp. Photo: Genevieve Hathaway Productions.

Enjoying sunset in the Sahara over looking our small camp. Photo: Genevieve Hathaway Productions.

A magnificent sunrise on our camel trek out of the dunes back to our duneline lodge. Photo: Genevieve Hathaway Productions.

Fez: The Yellow City

From the Sahara we drove north, over the Middle Atlas to Fez. Enroute the land change from the arid desert, to deep canyons carved out by rivers and then eventually the pine forests of the Middle Atlas. Morocco is a large country with very diverse landscapes. Driving across the country our group had the chance to experience these wildly different, yet all very beautiful landscapes.

A baby Barbary Macaque plays on a branch. Barbary Macaques call the Middle Atlas home. Our group had the chance to stop and photograph a group of them on our drive to Fez. Photo: Genevieve Hathaway Productions.

The second largest city in Morocco (after Casablanca), Fez was one the capital of Morocco until it was moved to Rabat in 1912 AD. It’s large old medina is a UNESCO world heritage site and is considered the world’s largest urban pedestrian zone. The University of Al Quaraouiyine is the world’s oldest functioning university, founded in 859 AD.  It’s nicknamed the Yellow City for the yellow sandstone used as building material. We had a local female guide, Hadja, show us around the medina. We saw artisans making crafts, overlooked the famous tanneries, learned about the different kinds of markets in the city, and explored the maze of streets. Fez is a fascinating medina to explore!

Overlooking the ancient Fez medina. Photo: Genevieve Hathaway Productions.

Our group in front of the king’s palace in Fez. Photo: Genevieve Hathaway Productions.

The brass door of the palace was built by artisans from Fez. Fez is one of Morocco’s main artisan cities. Photo: Genevieve Hathaway Productions.

Our local guide Hadja explain how the brass doors were made. Photo: Genevieve Hathaway Productions.

Learning how pottery is made in Fez. Photo: Genevieve Hathaway Productions.

Overlooking the famous tanneries. Photo: Genevieve Hathaway Productions.

Exploring the twisting lanes of Fez. Photo: Genevieve Hathaway Productions.

Fez is a vibrant, lively city with a photo around every corner. Our group had a great time capturing interesting cultural moments and beautiful architecture. Photo: Genevieve Hathaway Productions.

Chefchaouen: The Blue City

Known as Morocco’s Blue City for the pastel blue color of the town, Chefchaouen was our last stop before reaching Casablanca and the end of our tour. Tucked into a fold in the Rif Mountains, Chefchaouen is a mix of Andalusian and Moroccan architecture – and arguably the prettiest town in Morocco.  Founded in 1471 AD, the town expanded when Muslim and Jewish groups arrived after the fall of Granada in 1492 AD. The groups that inhabited Chefchaouen have influenced the culture, architecture and even the language (mostly Spanish is spoken here). This picturesque village is a place to linger. Our group enjoyed exploring this small town and its blue streets.

Andalusian blues and whites with the red tiles roofs. Photo: Genevieve Hathaway Productions.

Chefchaouen tucked into a nook in the Rif Mountains. Photo: Genevieve Hathaway Productions.

Wonderful breakfast at our dar (traditional Moroccan style home). Can you spot the Spanish influence in the food? Photo: Genevieve Hathaway Productions.

Exploring the blue streets of Chefchaouen. Photo: Genevieve Hathaway Productions.

Casablanca: The White City

Our roadtrip through Morocco continued on our last tour day. We departed Chefchaouen, saying goodbye to the pastel blue streets and buildings, and headed to the coast. We passed through farm land, wheat fields, grassland with cattle grazing and fruit orchards. Eventually, we arrived at Morocco’s White City Casablanca. Casablanca is Morocco’s modern commercial hub, looking more like a big city in France than a Moroccan town. We surprised our group with a visit to the legendary Hassan II Mosque (13th largest mosque in the world) before sharing one last lunch together as a group. We then exchanged hugs and farewells as our tour wrapped and travelers headed to their hotels. 

Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca. Photo: Genevieve Hathaway Productions.

It was another successful Majestic Morocco tour with a great group of travelers. It was a treat and joy to show these folks the very best of Morocco. From our knowledgeable, passionate female guides, to the help owners and staff of our riads, to our wonderful driver Hesham, to the friendly locals we met – our time in Morocco was filled with great memories, many laughs, great insight into the culture and customs, and a few fun adventures (we all will never forget trying sheep’s head). 

As one of our 2017 travelers recently wrote us:

Morocco had been on my must-go list for a very long time but with so little time to plan or do research, ArcheoAdventures was a godsend.  The tour was very well planned…. I am amazed at how much of Morocco we covered and was still managed to get a taste of each city we stayed in.  Every time I saw one of those giant tour bus with 30+ people I was so thankful I was traveling with a small group of like minded travelers.  I am looking forward to doing their other tours.  

CATHY H

Until our next Majestic Morocco tour in 2018, I wish you all wonderful travels and a great end to 2017. As they say in Morocco beslama and until next we meet.

Visiting Morocco: Interested in joining an ArchaeoAdventures Tour to Morocco? Learn more about or Majestic Morocco tour here. 

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