It has always been a dream of mine to visit Morocco. Initially I wanted to do a month long tour of the whole country. However, since Chris and I were living in Berlin earning minimum wage, we didn’t have the money to fund such a tour. We settled on visiting Taghazout, Marrakech, and the Sahara Desert. From Berlin the flight was pretty affordable on our small budget. There are many cities to visit in Morocco — Casablanca, Rabat, Fes, Tangier, all of which we hope to travel to in the near future.
Morocco is rich with history and culture. As a major trading region with Europe and the Middle East, northern Africa has had many influences. The country is relatively modern yet old in its ancient architecture, transferring you back into the past. It is an Islamic country and we happened to be in the country during Ramadan, a month long religious exercise of fasting, prayer, and community involvement. This also meant that during our stay shops and transit closed early.
Our travel companions were a couple of British friends we met living in Berlin. They were the ones who first told us about Taghazout. This surf town is south west of the country below Marrakech. To get to the town you need to take a bus from Marrakech to Agadir, a port city on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. From there we took a taxi to Taghazout, about a 30 minute drive. It is a small village where surfers travel to catch waves, so you will find many surf hostels around. On our way into the village we saw many developments going up so this area is soon to become a popular destination in the future.
The area is mountainous, and the streets are narrow and winding, lined by colourful houses. Below the village is the edge of the ocean.
Unless you surf there is little to do in this village except eat, relax by the beach, and peruse through the shops. The area is comfortably warm in June since it sits by the coast. We saw some tourists but mostly the village is inhabited by locals.
Most of the rocks you see in the village are painted different colours, attracting your eyes to the area’s vibrancy.
We had some great food in Taghazout. There are lots of cafes serving the tourist crowd yet maintain traditional dishes on their menu. The main cafe we went to was Café le Paix, situated on a main road by the water. The cafe always had cats walking around — skinny, feral looking cats, but they were absolutely adorable and kind. Once in a while if you are not careful they will try to eat or steal food from your plate!
One thing we learned was that the dogs who followed us around while at the beach were safety dogs. We mistook them for rabid dogs on a mission to chew through our bodies. In fact, any of the cats and dogs you see in Taghazout with an ear tag have been vaccinated and sterilized. They are there for your safety and to prevent wild dogs from encroaching into the territory. You must not mistreat them or remove them from the area since they belong to an organization in Taghazout and a commune. If you are new to the area you will find some of the dogs huddling around you to greet you, and if they sense danger, may follow you.
I tried a tajine at Café le Paix for the first time. Tajine is the name of the vessel used for cooking food, similar to a tandoor used in India, and it is mainly found in North Africa. Tajines are made of earthenware pottery They have a wide base on the bottom and a triangular lid on top. Meats, veggies, spices, and sauces are traditionally slow cooked inside of tajines using charcoal. Nowadays tajines can be cooked on gas or electric stove tops.
Usually when I would order a tajine they would remove the lid before I could get a picture, so here is just a general picture of what it looks like.
My first meal in a tajine included chicken and veggies stewed in some Indian spices and a sauce cooked with orange and lemon. It included a side of couscous and was absolutely delicious.
This is another tajine I ordered called a Kofta Tajine with beef and egg, also stewed in similar spices.
You will find lots of beautiful vacation homes by the water in Taghazout.
We rented a car in Taghazout to visit Paradise Valley in the Atlas mountains. You need a vehicle to get to the trail head, then hike through the mountains to the lake in Paradise Valley where many visitors swim. While waiting for our rental car to be ready we peeked inside one of the high-end hotels nearby and met a western traveller who now worked in the hotel and had been living in Taghazout for a while. He recommended that instead of Paradise Valley we should go west of Taghazout to a more quiet area near the water, devoid of tourists. He gushed at how amazing this particular spot was. Unfortunately we have since forgotten the name of the area. We didn’t make it to our destination anyhow.
The turn we were supposed to take led us to a narrow dirt road over a tall cliff. The edge of the cliff is pictured below. It was difficult to see beyond the mountainous area for a glimpse of the nearby coast, which led us to believe the trek along the narrow edge in a vehicle would take long. Walking along the cliff was out of the question due to our uncertainty of distance. The area he recommended did not show up on Google maps.
We were unsure about driving along the cliff’s edge in a rental vehicle because it was the exact same width as the road. Our worries further iterated that the road could narrow even more, and we would have to back out slowly along the curvy and difficult path. So we abandoned the adventure. Instead we took in the scenery along the coastal drive.
During our stay in Taghazout we took a day trip to Agadir, the port city nearby, by hopping on a transit bus. The day was spent roaming around the city. There are lovely parks and cafes around. One sight that caught our eye was the Arabic words inscribed into the mountains.
The words read God, King, Nation. Since Morocco is a Muslim country there were few places to have a drink. We found a bar that did sell Heineken off-sales so we went inside and ordered as many bottles as the owner had available to take back to our rental suite in Taghazout. The bus back from Agadir to Taghazout turned out to be surprisingly fun. The crowded bus full of tired and sweaty locals found themselves in the company of a lone singer on the bus, and suddenly everyone erupted into song.
Marrakech is a lively city with many mosques, gardens, markets. After the warm breeze from Taghazout we roasted like lambs in the land-locked city.
We rented a couple of rooms at Riad Eva near the famous Jemaa el-Fnaa market. The entrance way is hidden like so many other Riads in the city where the building looks insignificant from the outside until you step through its doors. A Riad is a traditional Moroccan house shared by many people. Each have their own room with a small bathroom. There is one kitchen in the house used by the hosts to cook breakfast for the guests served in a common dining area. Riads usually have an open-house style design where the main area resembles a courtyard with no roof over the top. They used to be palaces turned into hotels or shared common spaces. These colourful buildings have a lot of character and are ripe with plants and small gardens.
This was the view from the roof of the Riad.
Due to the heat and lack of air conditioning it can get pretty musty and warm in the Riad. Therefore, we recommend booking a room in the lower floors for a comfortable sleep.
The morning breakfast was included in the price of the Riad. They served us coffee, orange juice, pita bread with butter and jam, and small sweet cakes.
Jemaa el-Fnaa Market
If you want to shop around in Marrakech head to the Jemaa el-Fnaa market or souk. This market square is in the old quarter, or medina, of Marrakech. Jemaa el-Fnaa is a treasure trove for traditional souvenirs and gifts. There are hundreds of stalls, including food stalls, and entertainers. You will find snake charmers here, and the infamous Barbary monkeys who are used to trick tourists out of money. The men who have the monkeys on a leash place them on your shoulders, take pictures, and charge you exorbitant prices without letting you know beforehand. We were aware of this scam before arriving into the country so we steered clear of them, yet still watched the snakes from a distance as they danced to the sound of the music.
High Atlas Mountains
We interrupted our stay in Marrakech with a guided trip to the Sahara desert. Our ride arrived early in the morning to pick us up from our Riad. The drive east of the country through the Atlas mountains was about 6 hours. The Atlas mountains are an amazing sight to see. Large and looming with spectacular height and beauty, it looked intimidating. The mountains span across northwestern Africa and separates the desert from the coastline. I fell in love with the Atlas mountains.
Ait Ben Haddou
We made a pit stop for lunch at Ait Ben Haddou, an old village southeast of Marrakech in the province of Ouarzazate. This ancient village, built like a fortress, is a UNESCO heritage site. We visited the high-walled fortress where the village inhabitants used to live. Our guide told us that the village was made of clay from the earth and processed in such a way that it kept the villagers warm in the cold and cool in the heat. Morocco used to be the largest producers of almonds, and amongst the fortress we saw almond trees.
We walked through the fortress where you can now find small shops and farm animals.
This is also the site where the movie Gladiator (2000) by Ridley Scott was filmed.
Towards the early evening we finally arrived at the Sahara desert where a band of camels sat crouching on the sand. There were other tour buses just like ours. It looked like a sandstorm was about to derail our plans, so our guides hurried us onto our camels. The guides in their blue robes are Tuaregs – nomads who live across the desert. The desert is their home and many of them make a living by providing tours and selling goods and merchandise in the city.
We each had to wear a Moroccon passport, which we purchased at Ait Ben Haddou. It is a scarf that you wrap around your head, nose and mouth to keep the sand out. The camel ride through the desert towards the camp was quite an experience.
It took us about 30-40 minutes to reach the campsite where about a dozen tents were set up. The storm had died down, the air was cloudy, and it was the night before sunset.
Once our tents had been assigned we were called to dinner in the dining tent. The night included a traditional Moroccon meal with Berber Whisky, which is mint tea with a lot of sugar, followed by dancing.
The food was really tasty, except for the gritty sand pieces we bit into. Our meal consisted of couscous with steamed and roasted veggies, Harira, a lentil soup, resembling Dahl, and pita bread.
After the music and dancing, we went back into our tents for the night. Some stayed up to watch the stars. One of the guides slept outside under the desert elements in between the circle of tents as a watch guard. We actually got a good night’s rest, especially since we were really tired from the camel ride and the long journey. The sunrise in the morning was magical.
That morning we started our long journey back to Marrakech through the Atlas mountains. The bus was hot with no air conditioning but the scenic view made it worth it. Our friends went back to Berlin a few days before us. So, back in the city we wandered around Marrakech.
Morocco is a country we definitely want to return to. There is a magical quality to the country and seems other-worldly, almost illusory.
What was your experience like in Morocco? Share your thoughts!
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