Marrakech, Morocco was hands down the most incredible travel experience we've ever had. Yes, Rome has it's pasta, Paris has patisseries to die for, and Amsterdam has picturesque canals and the utopia of a bicycle-centric community, but Morocco was like nothing I have ever experienced and its culture is the farthest I've ever been from my own.
To start, the city is beautiful. It feels like a different world, and the simplicity of life there transported me to a time that I didn't know still existed in 2016. Yes, the new city section has all the modern shops you could need, but we didn't spend our time there, and we recommend you don't either. Go to and stay in the old medina and you will not regret it. Staying in an 18th century riad is really an experience of a lifetime. Because the city is completely walled, you feel like you're walking into a dirt hut only to open the riad door and feel like you've entered a hidden castle.
I could have wandered the markets for another month. I could have taken a thousand more pictures. Both the food and the city are colorful and vibrant in a way I never knew was possible. Most of what we ate was almost entirely plant-based and all the restaurants we went to were super vegetarian friendly. And if you're not vegetarian, wandering the markets and seeing the live chickens about to be dinner, and goat heads laid side by side next to the butcher stand, will make you feel much more connected to where your food actually comes from, which I think is super important.
We were in Morocco during Ramadan, an experience I'm grateful for. The first night we got there we heard the call to prayer symbolizing the breaking of that day's fast right as sun was setting. Because it's a muslim country the mosques play the call to prayer over giant speakers throughout the city and it can be heard everywhere. That first night we listened from the rooftop of our riad, as the sun was setting we gazed over the city, watched the birds fly around in a flurry and the people below hustle to their dinner celebrations. It was incredibly moving and it felt like an honor to witness such a beautiful connection these people have to their tradition, family and community. I expected visiting a Muslim country would make me angry and skeptical especially as a feminist, but in fact it did just the opposite, and I left with a profound sense of respect for this beautiful culture and all of the good aspects of it I witnessed so strongly in only a couple days.
Cafe Clock: If you go no where else, go here! We took a cooking + bread baking class with chef Mohammad which was the highlight of our trip. We got to select our menu with tons of veg options and completely hand prepared an amazing three course meal, with dessert, and 4 different types of traditional Moroccan breads, including the chef's mother's recipe he's been making since he was a child. It was so special. This cafe is modern and friendly with cultural charm, traditional moroccan foods, and story telling and community events nearly every evening.
Kafe Merstan: Great little cafe with an amazing patio roof complete with misters to keep you cool. Really great service and good food.
Nomad: This was definitely the most upscale place we ate. It's a beautiful restaurant that is clearly geared towards western tourists. The food is top notch, they are one of the rare places that serve alcohol, and the atmosphere was elegant. I had the vegetarian plate with some of the best tzatziki made with house-made yogurt, it was hands down the best I've ever had. The quality and service of this dinner far exceeded what we're used to back in the states and was still incredibly affordable.
Travel tips & Recommendations:
We stayed at Dar Akal, an 18th century Riad in the old city and would definitely recommend that to anyone looking for an authentic experience - infinitely cooler than staying in a hotel. The Riad was gorgeous, and the riad host, Said, seemed to be available almost 24/7 to serve us breakfast in the mornings, fresh mint tea whenever we'd like, or just to offer recommendations and see how our day was going. Our riad was 3 floors including a rooftop pool patio, with 4 bedrooms/suites total. It felt like an oasis, and it made me feel like a queen, by far the nicest accommodations I've ever stayed in.
Coming from the West, Marrakech is very affordable. Even our fanciest meals were far less than we would ever pay back home. That being said, take advantage of the souks, I sound like such a consumer but I honestly wish I had brought home more. We came home with three small hand-painted moroccan bowls, some traditional moroccan drinking glasses, a silver teapot inspired by the massive amounts of amazing mint tea we drank while there, a hand spun scarf we watched being made, and a hand-carved mandala that now hangs in our home and is probably the most beautiful piece of art I own. Having the opportunity to meet and buy directly from the artist felt so special. Nearly all prices are up for negotiation, it's part of the culture, and it's expected.
All of this being said, the unemployment rate is Morocco is rough, and many people will do whatever it takes to get a quick buck. This often translates to telling you you're lost then offering to give you directions. This includes telling you the way you're walking is closed today and you must turn around immediately. Or simply asking over and over and over "where are you going, I can help you" as you get followed for blocks. The people can be extremely assertive, so you have to be as well. Stay calm, don't let them haggle you, and if you're truly lost, as our riad host explained on our first day "ask a woman, the young men cannot be trusted".
Don't drink the water. You can buy big 1.5 liter jugs for an affordable price. We drank bottled water the whole trip and felt great. Then about 3 days after we left Morocco my stomach revolted a bit but my husband was fine. My husband was convinced it was the bread I bought from a street vender, apparently she swatted a fly with the spatula. It was totally delicious, though! Maybe try bringing probiotics if you have a sensitive stomach.
Being a western woman visiting Morocco? This was a bit of a worry for me before visiting. What do you wear? Do I cover my head? Do I need to buy more conservative clothes for the trip? I found it so interesting that the women we saw chose different levels of modesty. Some covered everything but their eyes, others just covered their hair, others wore no headscarf at all but dressed on the conservative side with sleeves and long skirts, others wore pants and dressed western (though this was much more rare). I had heard that if I didn't cover up that men could comment or be aggressive, but this was not my experience, granted, I was with my husband the whole time. That being said, I did feel more comfortable dressing conservatively. I always try to blend in as best as possible when traveling so I felt best wearing long flowy dresses with a shawl over my shoulders that I usually took off once I got inside. It felt like a respectful nod to the culture and I didn't mind.
Don't take pictures of anyone or anything unless you're willing to pay someone for it. This includes snapping a photo of the souks. I made a huge mistake or kneeling down, from about 25 feet away, and snapping a photo of a monkey in the main square. Within about a minute the monkey's owner came running up to me demanding I pay him. A couple days later said monkey owner also managed to place the monkey on my husband's back after we declined wanting to pay to pet him. Don't be afraid of being assertive.