When some friends and I headed to Morocco for spring break during our semester in Italy, one of the guidebooks we read described Morocco as a “sensory overload” — and it is, in every wonderful sense of those words. Scents of saffron and mint fill the dusty streets and sounds of calls to prayer in arabic broadcast through loudspeakers envelop everything, while bright dyes in bins line the streets, scribbles of words that are meant to be read right to left, and walls and floors covered with the most intricate tiling imaginable are a feast for the eyes — and that’s just the backdrop.
From surfy beaches and rolling sand dunes to camel rides and more mint tea than you thought you’d ever drink in your life, Morocco is a magical land that will steal your heart and raise the bar for travel as you know it.
What to Know Before You Go
SCOPE OUT VISA REQUIREMENTS. Several countries get a 90 days straight up, sans visa, but if you’re not from one of the handful of exempt countries, you’ll want to give the process about three months to complete before you depart.
BRING A EURO PLUG. Next, if you’re coming from the US and you wanna keep your iPhone et cetera charged up along the way, you’ll want to pick up a two-prong, European style plug along with a converter for anything electronic that isn’t dual voltage.
TRY THE TRADITIONAL FOOD. When it comes to food, breakfast is where it’s at. Any place you go will likely serve up made-from-scratch Moroccan pancakes along with honey, jams, and fresh squeezed orange to kick the day off. For other meals, expect a lot of olives, couscous, and tagine, a stew-like local dish that usually comes with red meat. Chicken is popular as well, as is fish and lamb. Eating vegetarian in Morocco requires a little effort, but is totally do-able. Mint tea is a traditional, almost ceremonial drink that you’ll find everywhere you go — it’s served with sugar lumps a-plenty and poured high above the glass to create bubbles.
STAY IN A RIAD. Last, you generally won’t find hostels in Morocco — you’ll find riads instead. They’re positively gorgeous works of architectural art that readily show their Spanish Andalusian influence through their ornate detailing and centralized courtyards featuring with a bubbling fountain. They’re incredibly affordable and almost all of them are complete with hammock laden rooftops that will seriously make you question ever leaving.
How to Spend Your Days
It’s hard to know where to begin to describe the ways that you can pass your time in Morocco because there are so many and they’re all equally whimsical, wonderful, and mind blowing in their contrast to the rest of the world. While the list could go on and on, here’s some of the best ways to spend your time in Moroccan paradise:
CATCH SOME WAVES IN A BEACH TOWN. Located on the Atlantic coast, Essaouira is a go-to spot for windsurfing and is filled with gorgeous architecture that consists of buildings so white you’ll swear you’ve somehow been transported to Greece. Definitely eat as much fresh fish from the markets as you can and crash in one of the many surf bum-run riads. Also on the Atlantic you’ll find Taghazout, a surfer’s dream that has breaks ideal for everyone from beginners to the mega experienced. You can expect warm water, relaxed vibes, and surfers from around the world crossing paths in search of their next great wave.
GET LOST IN MARRAKECH. Marrakech is one of the places you’ll likely fly into and is the epicenter of the sensory overload that characterizes Morocco. You’ll want to have a good map in hand at all times because it’s incredibly easy to get lost in the city’s winding streets. You can pick up anything from rugs to dried apricots in the markets and the central square is full of vendors serving up everything from temporary henna designs to photo ops with monkeys on leashes. Marrakech is beautiful, bizarre, and wildly magical all at the same time. At some point you have to check out a hammam (think Turkish bath). There are “high hammams” that are essentially fancy spas reserved for tourists and there are “low hammams” that locals frequent. Go for the latter and you’ll have an experience you’ll remember forever — my friends and I giggled the entire way through the peculiar experience of being bathed by equally naked Moroccan women while being followed around by a young girl who was clearly befuddled by the presence of three white women in her regular hammam, all of whom were incredibly welcoming and kind to us throughout.
WATCH THE SUN RISE IN ERG CHEBBI. My friends and I spent several days venturing to the desert and back and I couldn’t recommend it more. We passed valleys full of roses, payed to pee in shacks along the road, and barreled into the desert while our driver played music from the Nutcracker in an attempt to provide us with American tunes. We explored casbahs, rode camels (slightly underwhelming, to be honest), and splashed in oases. The pinnacle was camping in the desert, sleeping with the blankets that previously had been used to provide cushion between the camels and their saddles, and waking up just before sunrise to climb a sand dune and watch the sun float into the sky. Those moments are viscerally seared into my memory forever — what more can you want out of a travel experience?
GET TO EUROPE VIA FERRY. Tangier isn’t anything super special by itself, but it’s full of very cute (and very French) cafes and is the most popular place to hop on a ferry to cross the Strait of Gibraltar for Spain, France, or Italy. While farther flung spots will run you up to 48 hours of travel time (an eternity on a jam-packed ferry), the ride from Tangier to Tarifa, Spain is a short one hour commute. For reasons still unknown to us, our entire ride to Tarifa was calm and relaxed, until the point where the boat began to dock. Exiting the ferry promptly turned into a borderline human stampede that left us literally clutching each other’s hands, paper doll chain style. The good part is, though, that the reward on the other side is a paella and sangria-filled version of heaven that will erase any preceding questionable ferry experiences. In classic Moroccan style, even leaving is an experience unlike any other.