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I’m excited to share my second Travel Guide from our two-week Portugal/Morocco trip with you today! If you missed it, check out my Lisbon Travel Guide here!
Michael and I spent 6 days in Morocco. In my opinion, if you want to really get a feel for the country, you need at least that amount of time there as it takes a while to get from city to city, especially if you’re intending to make it to the Sahara Desert.
I loved our time in Morocco, and I’m so glad we went! The camel ride in the Sahara Desert is an experience I will NEVER forget! At the same time, I want to share our true experience in Morocco – so I’m not planning on sugar coating anything here. I feel like a lot of travel bloggers glamorize Morocco. Yes, it’s absolutely beautiful, the people are amazingly friendly, and I never once felt unsafe. But visiting Morocco is more of an experience than a vacation in my opinion. I want you to be aware of that if you’re planning a trip. It’s not a place I would recommend going if you’re looking for a relaxing getaway.
Morocco Travel Guide
Morocco has been on my travel list for a few years now! When we decided to go to Portugal, I knew this was the time to make Morocco happen! Even though it’s in a totally different continent, it’s only a 1.5 hour flight from Lisbon to Marrakech. We quickly added Morocco to our itinerary. I was especially excited because it would be both Michael and I’s first time to Africa!
We flew on TAP Portugal from Lisbon to Marrakech on a Sunday. Our flight was great. We flew TAP Portugal for our long-haul flight too – I really enjoyed the service they provide. Getting there was a breeze. Once we landed in Marrakech, that’s when things got to be a little chaotic.
We made it through customs pretty quickly, but then we had to exchange our Euros for Moroccan Dirhams (their currency). I had read that you need cash in Morocco as a lot of places, especially in the smaller towns, don’t accept credit cards. And we needed cash to pay our tour guides. The lines were long and the attendant that Michael ended up getting didn’t speak English very well. It took a while for us to get the money converted. Then, as we put our luggage through one last security screening before exiting the airport, Michael got flagged because of his drone.
Michael brought his drone along on our trip with hopes to take photos. Little did we know, drones are apparently illegal in Marrakech. So he was taken into an office by their version of the TSA. It wasn’t a huge deal, they simply confiscated it and told him he could pick it up on our way out of Morocco. Thank goodness we happened to be flying out of the same airport. Sounded simple enough, but let me just burst that bubble right now, it wasn’t easy to get the drone back. Thank goodness we arrived back at the airport for our departure 3 hours early. It took that long to eventually get the drone back. So let us be your lesson – DO NOT BRING A DRONE TO MOROCCO!
One other stressful bit at the airport was getting a cab. There’s an area outside of the airport where you can clearly see all of the cabs lined up. The problem is that hardly anyone speaks English (or at least that was our experience). And all of the cab drivers (and their bosses) were yelling at each other and scrambling to grab customers to get into the cabs. We also had to pay a guy (not our driver) upfront, before we left, for our ride – I was a little sketched out. I followed along during our ride on my Google Maps on my phone to make sure we were heading in the right direction. We made it to our hotel with no issue.
I’m only sharing these experiences with you so that you’ll be prepared when flying into Marrakech, not to scare you away from visiting. And also, I think it’s important to keep in mind when you’re traveling (especially abroad and on longer trips) that mishaps and chaos are bound to happen at some point. You have to roll with the flow, realize you’re out of your element, make the best of the situation, and move on with your vacation/travels!
Our Morocco Itinerary
Before I jump into exactly where we stayed, what we did, and where we ate, I wanted to share an itinerary overview with you just so you’ll have a high level view of what our 6 days in Morocco looked like. We arrived to Marrakech on Sunday afternoon. We spent Sunday and Monday in Marrakech. We hired a driver and guide to venture to the Sahara Desert for a camel ride and overnight camp in the desert. Going to the Sahara is a trek. We left Marrakech on Tuesday morning and essentially road tripped for the next 3 days. We made stops in notable spots along the route, thanks to our driver and guide (more details below). We made our way back to Marrakech on Thursday and spent all day in Marrakech on Friday before flying out late that night.
Where to Stay
We stayed at the Le Méridien N’Fis in Marrakech. It’s a Marriott property so it has all of the amenities you’re used to when staying at Marriotts in the States. The hotel was very nice. There’s a nice pool on-site (a must when staying in Marrakech – we spent two days by the pool), a great gym, and they offer a nice breakfast spread every morning (with Michael’s Marriott status from work travels, we ate for free every morning, which was really nice).
The Le Méridien is in a good area – right across the street from a large shopping mall – only a 10 minute ride from the Medina and most of the sites. I also appreciated that the hotel had bellmen that would call cabs for us. With the language barrier, most cab drivers spoke mostly Arabic, it was so much easier and less stressful when we could get the bellman or even an attendant at a restaurant (after we ate) to call us a cab.
One thing I would point out (as it caught me a bit off guard) is that the security at the Le Méridien is tight! Which I appreciated, but it also put me on edge a bit. The hotel is gated, and with every car that enters, even when we would come back in cabs, security guards use a mirror to search under and around the entire car to ensure there are no bombs. There was also a german shepherd that sat at the gate. And we had to walk through a metal detector upon entering the hotel lobby. I never felt unsafe while in Morocco, this just made me more aware and on alert.
We enjoyed our stay at the Le Méridien. I’d recommend it to anyone visiting Marrakech.
What to Do
Visit the Medina and the Souks // You can’t visit Marrakech and not visit the Medina and the Souks! The Medina is the walled city within Marrakech. Essentially, you get dropped off outside of the Medina and then are free to wander through the open city-center area where tons of pop-up restaurants, shops, and entertainers set up shop around dusk and stay late into the night. It’s pure craziness! I was blown away by the amount of people out and about at night in the Medina. After making your way through the open center of the Medina, it’s a must to wander and get lost in the narrow alleyways of the Souks. Souks are traditional Arab markets. The Souks in Marrakech are unlike anything I’ve ever seen, you have to experience it in person to really understand. But it’s like you’re in a maze, with shops and stalls and homes and restaurants surrounding you. The alleyways are narrow and filled with people, but that doesn’t stop the constant stream of mope-heads and motorbikes from zipping and weaving through the alleys (almost always getting within an inch of every person walking by).
Relax at Your Hotel // The city of Marrakech is wild, almost like NYC in a way. Obviously not in the modern sense, but it’s fast paced, crowded, people are friendly but also a bit aggressive. It’s also pretty hot in Marrakech. Having a pool at our hotel to relax at was a life saver! We spent two half-days by the pool decompressing and relaxing.
Yves Saint Laurent Museum // If you’re even the slightest bit into fashion, you must visit the YSL Museum in Marrakech. Even Michael enjoyed it. There’s a fee to get in, but I think it was only around $10. There’s always a line to get in, but it moves quickly. The museum itself is pretty small, but it’s really well done. Saint Laurent was French but spent a lot of time in Marrakech.
Le Jardin Majorelle // Saint Laurent owned the Le Jardin Majorelle. It’s a beautiful garden located right next to the museum. We actually spent a lot of time walking around the grounds! Pro Tip: Purchase a bundled ticket for the museum and the garden at the YSL Museum ticket counter. The line for the museum was shorter, so we did that first. The line for the garden was SO LONG. But with the bundled ticket, we got to skip the entire line and walk straight in!
Bahia Palace // Bahia Palace is located right next to the Souks in the Medina. It’s a palace and a set of gardens built in the late 19th century, intended to be the greatest palace of its time. It’s really beautiful. We spent a lot of time wandering around here too. It was a nice escape from the hustle and bustle of the city as it was really quiet when we visited. There’s also a fee to get in here, but I think it was only around $7.
Where to Eat
As a little background, Tagine is the traditional dish served in Morocco. For lunch and dinner. It’s a slow-cooked savory stew, typically made with meat, poultry or fish together with vegetables or fruit. Michael usually had chicken, and I usually opted for just veggies (which meant a lot of potatoes). We ate A LOT of Tagine when we were on our three-day road trip.
Each morning for breakfast, we took advantage of free breakfast at our hotel thanks to Michael’s Marriott status, and we had lunch at our hotel one day just out of convenience. We didn’t explore the food scene as much in Morocco, but we did really enjoy the three restaurants I listed below!
Nomad // Nomad is located in the Souks in the Medina. It’s a great spot to grab dinner. We went around 6 and were seated immediately. You can also make a reservation ahead of time to guarantee a spot.
Le Grand Café de la Poste // This spot is beautiful! A really cool restaurant. We had lunch here on the day we visited the YSL Museum and Le Jardin Majorelle. It’s a great spot for lunch or dinner.
Naranj // Naranj was my favorite restaurant we went to in Marrakech. It’s a Lebanese spot located in the Medina in the Souks. Everything we had was outstanding. Again, we went early (around 6:30) and were seated immediately. It did fill up quite a bit by the time we left. You can make reservations here ahead of time as well.
Also of note, since Morocco is largely a Muslim country, a lot of places do not sell alcohol. We actually didn’t drink the entire time we were in Morocco. A few of the restaurants we visited did have a couple of wine options (I never saw liquor on a menu), but honestly, it wasn’t a place where I was looking to even get tipsy and then have to walk back to our hotel or catch a cab. And while we were on the road trip part of our Morocco trip, we had to get up so early every morning that it wasn’t worth it to drink the night before. Just something to keep in mind.
Visiting the Sahara Desert
After spending Sunday and Monday in Marrakech, we were picked up by our driver and guide Tuesday morning from our hotel to set out on a three-day road trip across Morocco to ultimately see the Sahara Desert. Through a recommendation of a friend, we reached out to Said at Morocco Countryside Tours to see about setting up the road trip. Our ultimate goal was to visit the Sahara and incorporate a camel ride. It’s a 10ish hour drive from Marrakech to the Sahara.
With that said, Said advised that we break up the drive and make a few stops along the way so we did just that! He took care of everything. Planned our days, booked our lodging, everything. We had Ali as our driver and Hassan as our guide (in the photo below). They were AWESOME!
If I were to book our Morocco trip all over again, I would probably have just booked these guys for our entire time in Morocco. They do customized tours depending on the number of days you’re staying and what sights you want to see. It was just us 4 for three days. No big tour bus, it was awesome and just what we wanted. All in, the cost was around $800. This included three days of transportation, two nights lodging, the camel ride, two breakfasts, and two dinners, and a personal driver and guide. Worth every penny!
Day 1 // On Tuesday Ali and Hassan picked us up from our hotel at 8AM. We made our way through the High Atlas Mountains, which is quite the trek. If you get motion sick, I’d recommend packing some meds. You have to cross the mountain range to make it to the desert. The roads are narrow and windy and there’s lots of traffic and constant road construction. We stopped at a couple of scenic outlooks and took a lunch break in Ouarzazate (a 4 hour drive from Marrakech). We then visited the Kasbah Ait Ben Haddou, a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s a traditional collective group of homes built from clay at some point during the 17th century. Several families still live there today. This Kasbah is famous for having had several movies and scenes from tv shows filmed here – notably, The Mummy, Gladiator, and Game of Thrones. Our last stop was back in Ouarzazate, which is also known as the “Hollywood of Morocco” – This wasn’t a “must see” for me, but it was funny seeing all of the American movie stars that they had plastered on the wall of Atlas Studios – Kevin McAllister was my fave! We made our way to our hotel for the night – La Perle Du Dades – and relaxed by the pool for a bit before being served dinner.
Day 2 // We started our second day off with a bit of driving and our first stop was at Todra Gorge. This was one of my favorite stops! It was beautiful! Check out my Morocco highlight on my Instagram Page to see it in all its glory! We then stopped in a traditional Berber town where the ladies at a local shop dressed us in traditional Berber garb for photos and they even gave me a traditional henna tattoo on my hand (and wrote my name in Arabic!). It was really cool. After a lunch break, we made the final trek out to Erg Chebbi, the portion of the Sahara Desert we visited. (We drove roughly 4-5 hours on Day 2).
Camel Ride / Overnight Stay in the Desert // We met our guides for the camel ride and got situated with our camels. It was unreal. Hassan also helped us with our headgear, which is recommended because of the sun and sand. 🙂 Our guide walked us through the desert to our desert camp for the night. The camel ride was about an hour. It was incredible and unreal. We made it to camp just as the sun was fully setting. We stopped, hopped off our camels, and climbed to the top of the dunes to watch the sun go down. It was a once in a lifetime experience that I’ll never forget. Our overnight camp setup was more like glamping than camping – we taught Hassan what the phrase “glamping” means … lol Our tent had electricity, running water, and wifi. There were probably 15 other people staying at our camp site – every couple had their own tent. A huge dinner was prepared for us and then the guides played traditional Berber music around a campfire to end the night.
Day 3 // After watching an amazing sunrise over the desert, we had the option to ride the camels back through the desert on the morning of Day 3, however, we had a 10-hour drive ahead of us to make it back to Marrakech, so we opted to go by car instead (20 minutes vs. an hour on camel).
We stopped in Rissani, which is home to one of the largest, local Souks in Morocco. It was incredible! I was tired and really just wanted to keep driving to get back, but I’m so glad Hassan had us stop here! It was really cool to see how the locals shop and what they shop for and just generally how the Souks were set up and run.
After a 10-hour car ride (and a trek back over and through the Atlas Mountains), we made it back to Marrakech and the Le Méridien around 7PM.
We flew out of Marrakech the next day and onto Porto, Portugal for the last city in our two-week trip!
(Side note – we flew Ryan Air, a budget airline, from Marrakech to Porto because it was the only direct flight. That was my last time I ever fly a budget airline. In hindsight, I wish we would have sucked it up and dealt with a layover by flying TAP Portugal. I’ve gotten too old for the budget airline BS, I’d rather pay a premium and fly decent airlines. My advice would be to avoid Ryan Air and other European low-budget carriers at all costs. They make everything more difficult.)
Other Cities to Consider
Hassan, our guide, mentioned a few other cities worth visiting in Morocco so I just wanted to note them here in case you’re looking to do a longer trip. Fez was at the top of his list.
He (along with others we spoke to) recommended skipping Casablanca as it’s the business center of Morocco and apparently feels just like any other major city around the globe.
One city I wish we would have done is Meknes, Morocco’s wine country. I know, this sounds like a total oxymoron especially after I just mentioned that alcohol is hard to find in Morocco. I had never heard of Meknes until he mentioned it, but I wish we would have added in a day there during our trip!
Lastly, he suggested checking out Rabat, Morocco’s capital city.
General Tips on Visiting Morocco
- The number one question I get asked about our time in Morocco – is it safe? – YES. Be alert and aware of your surroundings. I never felt unsafe. Did I feel out of my comfort zone at times and a little anxious? Yes, but never fearful. If you’re traveling with only females, I’d recommend hiring a guide for your entire trip. I felt totally comfortable with Ali and Hassan and would highly recommend having a guide the entire time if you’re traveling with just girlfriends.
- I mentioned this in my Morocco packing post, but you should keep in mind the cultural norms of Morocco when visiting. I made sure to wearing long dresses (covering my knees) and always covered my shoulders (if I wore a sleeveless top, I had an oversized, lightweight scarf to drape over). While I saw a handful of tourists (women) walking around in short shorts and skimpy tops, everyone was staring at them. It was like they didn’t even bother to read up on the country/city they were visiting.
- Other than those specifics regarding clothing, Morocco is VERY casual. Loose fitting dresses, sandals, and sneakers are the way to go. No heels.
- You need converters and adapters. Buy this and you’ll be set for any trip abroad for life!
- The airport is close to the city center – 15ish minute cab ride.
- The currency is the Dirham – You can get Dirhams out at the airport or at most ATMs around town. Most of the restaurants accepted credit cards, but cash was a must for the Souks, shops, cab rides, and tipping.
- My Morocco essentials packing list is here.
Morocco is an amazing country and a great one to add to your travel list! I’m so glad we tacked Morocco on to our Portugal trip. If/when you make it to Morocco, definitely put a camel ride in the desert on your must do list! We contemplated it since it’s such a far drive, but it was TOTALLY worth it! And hire Hassan and Ali with Morocco Countryside Tours. We would have been lost without them!