Sometimes I wonder where all I am destined to have my meals… from a Berber’s home in high Atlas mountains (Northern Africa) to Sahara desert to a hilltop cafe in Tangier. Thank you God not just for the meals but also for locations to have my meals 🙂
This year, as part of my solo trip in May-June, I traveled through Morocco, the gateway to Africa. Gallant mountain ranges, imperial cities, vast deserts, distinct culture, beautiful riads for stays and what amazing people! Especially the traders & sellers. I can’t stop talking about them since am back. I swear, I had never seen so much patience and gentle behavior in any business community before meeting Moroccans.
I was in Morocco for close to 15 days. I visited Marrakesh, Fes, Chefchaouen, Tangier and Casablanca. Infact, on my birthday, I was traveling between two different continents. Morning in Casablanca (Morocco, Africa) and evening in Malaga (Spain, Europe), celebrating ‘me time’ all by myself. Yes, it is easier to travel to Morocco from Spain due to flight connections and proximity.
Here’s a photo blog on my travels to Morocco, one of the most photogenic places, very rich in culture and landscape. I must add the disclaimer here – Most of the photographs are taken from my phone so I may not be able to do full justice to the beauty of the place, yet here’s an attempt for some stories are important enough to be told.
My first stop. I traveled to Marrakesh from Madrid. Marrakesh is the fourth largest imperial city in the kingdom of Morocco set in the foothills of Atlas mountains towards the western side.
This place hits you hard with sensory stimulants ranging from sights to smells to tastes. Its ancient medina is a maze of narrow streets with the Djemaa El Fna – arguably Africa’s most famous square – at its heart. It’s like Indian Mela every evening on the square. Lots of street food, fresh fruit juice stalls, number of shops selling all kinds of trinkets, snake charmers, fortune tellers, monkey men and more. It’s nice to sit on a roof top cafe at the square and look at all forms of life circus down below.
I was in Marrakesh for 4 nights. Three days I spent within the city especially exploring Medina (traditional market place) and local sights. Fourth day I chose to do a day tour – traveled to Berber villages and surrounding valleys. There are a number of day trips one can choose to do from Marrakesh but since I was to continue my journey to Fes via Altas mountains and Sahara, I only took a trekking tour from Marrakesh to Berber villages and valleys in Atlas.
Marrakesh being the home to some beautiful examples of Islamic architecture, there is a lot when it comes to local sights as well. Bhaia Palace, Koutoubia Mosque, Saadian Tombs, Jardin Majorelle & more. On one hand, you get to see a riot of tilework and on the other, opulent bounty of marble, swirling stucco and mesmerizing intricate floral painted-wood ceilings.
Medina in Marrakesh is for shop-till-you-drop fanatics. I would say Marrakesh is the place to shop in Morocco as it is steeped in ancient artistry that continues to thrive, kept alive by the modern craftsmen and the contemporary art and design scene courtesy European influence. Whether you wish to add Moroccan-wow to your house or simply love exploring markets, this place is quite addictive. Here, I am in the Marakesh Medina standing near a souk (Shop) on shopping spree.
From leather shoes to pure leather bags to paintings to poufs, rugs & carpets to twinkling lamps to brass works to tiles to antiques and more. You name it and they have it. The colorful shoes pic that you see down below are pretty famous in Morocco and known as babouche.
Day trips from Marrakesh
- Desert Agafay, three valleys in Atlas Mountains & Camel ride Day Trip
- Essaouira Day Trip
- Ourika Valley in Atlas Mountains
- Ait ben haddou and Ouarzazate day trip
Since I was traveling to Fes, ‘At ben haddou’ and ‘Ouarzazate’ was on my way so while in Marrakesh I spent most time in the mazy muddle of Medina souks wondering how to carry the stuff I wanted to shop and regretting not to have bought as much as I wanted to, given that I wasn’t coming back directly to India.
Marrakesh to Fes via Merzouga desert
From Marrakesh I joined a travel group to travel to Fes. Here are the travel lovers from New York, Brazil, Mexico, Bulgaria, London, and Indonesia.
Various reasons to come; from celebrating Harvard MBA completion to pre or post wedding celebration to simply world exploration with all the savings done so far. One thing was common, love for good food and Moroccan orange juice. Oh, Morocco has sweetest fruits in the world I think. They produce a large range of Mediterranean fruits, vegetables plus a few tropical ones. Delicious something is in the land there! Apart from that, they have the best olive oil. We literally drank olive oil with every meal.
Moroccan cuisine is usually a mix of Arab, Berber, Andalusian, and Mediterranean cuisines, with a little European (French and Spanish) and sub-Saharan influences. Olive oil, Argan Oil, Fresh vegetables and Fruits are the highlights of their cooking culture. My staple diet in Morocco was vegetarian tagine or vegetarian couscous with orange juice along with breads and olive oil.
With such good orange juice every day, I was confusing localites with my Moroccan looks 🙂
My 3 days Journey to Fes
My 3 days journey to Fes involved traveling through High Atlas Mountains, Ait Ben Haddou, Ouarzazate, Dades Gorges, Torda Gorges, Rissani, Merzouga, Erg Chebbi sand dunes, Azrou, mid & lower Atlas range with ending at Fes. The Atlas Mountains in Morocco separate the Mediterranean and Atlantic coastlines from the Sahara Desert and this range stretches around 2,500 km (1,600 mi) through Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. The Atlas Mountain can be split into three regions High Atlas, Mid Atlas and Lower Atlas. Here is a glimpse of my road trip through Atlas range. The whole journey was so beautiful, every 15 min we would witness a new scene, a new terrain.
Ait Ben Haddou and Ouarzazate
Ait ben haddou is the most popular UNESCO world heritage site in Morocco on the way to Fes. This fortified village (known as a “ksar”) nestles on the southern slopes of the High Atlas mountains and dates back to the 11th century when it was a stopping point on the old caravan routes. Today, the walled ksar stands as an example of traditional Southern Moroccan architecture.
Remember Game of thrones? Ait Ben Haddou is quite recognizable as the great city of Yunkai in Slavers Bay. In addtion, scenes from over 20 movies and productions have been filmed in Ait Ben Haddou including Lawrence of Arabia, The Jewel of the Nile, The Mummy, Gladiator, Marco Polo, Time Bandits, Jesus of Nazareth, The man who would be king and many more. Ouarzazate near Ait Ben Haddou is known as the “Hollywood of Morocco with two film studios calling it home.
On second day, we reached Merzouga which is close to Erg Chebbi (the sand dunes). This place reminded me of Jaisalmer as we stayed in similar tents, watched traditional Moroccan program in the starry night and took camel ride during sunrise and sunset. I tried sand boarding for the first time here.
Third day we reached Fes, the second-largest city in Morocco (by population), after Casablanca. Fes is Morocco’s cultural and spiritual center & has gained its popularity because of its well-preserved old city, Fes El Bali, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Medieval architecture, a lively market, and an old-world atmosphere. It is surprisingly the world’s largest car-free urban sector. Even the transportation of goods is done in medina style with the help of donkeys, mules, and handcarts.
Fes has a Mediterranean climate with intense continental influence as it is surrounded by Atlas Mountains. Besides, the World’s Sacred music festival is hosted in Fes. Usually, it is organized in June, but I missed that opportunity as due to covid it was postponed indefinitely.
The below pictures of Fes are from my Medina walking tour that I opted for in the morning on the second day. This is because, the previous evening, I had almost got lost here and had to ask many people many times to get to my Riad. Would admit, I was a bit scared as it was late evening and my first day alone in Fes where I had just landed.
I mostly stayed in Riads in Morocco. A traditional Moroccan Riad is a home with multiple stories centered around an open-air courtyard with a fountain. Riads were once the estates of the wealthiest citizens, merchants, and courtiers. Riads are a part of traveling to Morocco, and no visit to this country is complete without staying in one. There is such an intricate work inside each of these.
You know they say, if you want to buy pure leather in Morocco buy it in Fes. Fes is home to some of the oldest and largest Tanneries in the world including The Chouara Tannery. I had no clue about anything related to leather processing till I visited the Tannery in Fes. Tannery is where the animal skins are scraped, cured, stretched, and dyed in several honeycombed earth pits. This process of tanning initially came into existence in the 13th century. The skins and hides undergo an array of procedures that include soaking in a mixture of water, salt, limestone, cow urine first and then in a mixture of water and pigeon poop. Its true!
And beware, I too carry some of these bags made using this method 🙂 The cost of authenticity is sometimes very bad smell too.
Fes to Chefchaouen by bus
From Fes, I took a bus to go to Chefchaouen, my favorite place in Morocco. I felt everything was cool here. The blue affect, I guess. Perched beneath the peaks of the Rif Mountain range, Chefchaouen is one of the prettiest towns in Morocco. Originally a fortress, this is an artsy, stunning mountain village in blue that feels so surreal. I walked morning and evening here so carefreely. Such nice people! This would be an addition to my list of ‘where to go when you wish to get lost in this world’
Chefchaouen to Tangier by bus
My next stop, Tangier, located on the Strait of Gibraltar, where Africa meets Europe, has long been an important location. This is on the Moroccan coast at the western entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar, where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Atlantic Ocean off Cape Spartel. So, this is the gateway connecting Europe and the rest of Africa being so close to Spain. While Tangier also has a Medina, influence of European lifestyle & culture is quite evident here. Beautiful villas, gorgeous shoreline and off beat. Romanticized by artists, beat poets, and writers this city grows on you.
My best experience in Tangier was spending an evening at Cafe Hafa on the hilltop. And I did see one of the most beautiful sunsets alongside my Moroccan meal while the sky kept changing its colors and so did the sea.
Tangier to Casablanca by train
I could have gone back to Spain from Tangier itself but like most people, the name Casablanca sounded so chic due to its mention in movies that I decided to go. This was a lot like Mumbai, the trade center of Morocco. I visited just two places here, Hassan II Mosque and the Morocco Mall, the largest mall in Africa.
Hassan II Mosque also known as the grand mosque of Hassan II- Designed by Michel Pinseau and built by Bouygues, is the biggest Mosque in Morocco, and the third-largest Mosque in the world, after Masjid Al-Haram in Mecca and Al-Masjid Al-Nabawi in Medina. The minaret of Casablanca mosque is the world’s tallest minaret at 210 meters (689 ft) and has a 30km laser directed towards Mecca, helping worshippers position themselves more precisely during prayers. A maximum of 105,000 worshippers can gather together for prayer: 25,000 inside the Casablanca mosque hall and another 80,000 on the mosque’s outside ground.
It is a masterpiece of Arab-Muslim architecture blending the Islamic architecture and Moroccan elements and reflecting the Moorish influences while featuring an urban design. Here are a few pictures from that visit.
From Casablanca I took a flight back to Malaga in Spain. While Morocco has everything from beaches, to mountains, to culture to art, I would always remember this place for its well-behaved people, their smiling faces and their patience when dealing with tourists of all kinds. I don’t want to be biased as I have always loved Africa but to all Indians my advice would be to include places like Morocco definitely in their bucket list because its only in Asia and Africa that we can expect true hospitality and respect. If you still need convincing write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can help you plan your travel to Morocco so that you can see & experience it for yourself.