Morocco

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Seven cities in 15 days. One backpack. Ok, two if you count my kanken but I had room to squeeze it (and its contents) into my 46L pack. Too many pairs of wool socks. Not enough layers. One pair of casual sneaks (that I wore every damn day) and a pair of runners I only used once because holy shit the pollution in Morocco was intense.

Travel books and online guides will tell you to go to Marrakech to visit the souks, to Casablanca to experience the country’s bustling business center, and to Fes to stroll through the city’s famed medina. You most certainly should visit all of those places, but you should also make it a priority to spend time Meknès and Moulay Idriss (the holiest city in Morocco). If you’re up for a challenge, you should go to Taza. But that’s all I’m going to say about that.

I highly recommend staying in the medina wherever you go. If you cannot find a riad or hotel inside the medina, make sure you’re within walking distance as you will likely spend most of your time wandering around it. The medinas are a bit overwhelming and you’ll probably get lost more than a few times, but it’s all a part of the experience (so don’t freak out). The best souks were in Marrakech and Fes, and I highly recommend hitting those up if you can. But I’ve got to warn you: The berbers are intentionally aggressive with their selling and you’re expected play along. Bartering is a game – they live for it – and you’ll offend them if you don’t participate.

A lot of you were curious about what I ate but I’m afraid for anyone who follows a strict vegan diet, my answer is not going to be the one you want to hear: I was not able to eat vegan in Morocco. Which was fine because I find it incredibly offensive to travel to a country (especially one where food is a scarce resource) (at least compared to where many of us live) where so much effort is put into food preparation, only to turn it down because of self-imposed dietary restrictions. Although I tried my damnedest to avoid dairy (I have a pretty crippling allergy), I did consume it in small amounts when I was unable to communicate the fact that I have an intolerance. So what did I eat? A lot of khobz, vegetable tajine (not vegan), half-cooked eggs, couscous, oranges, and any other fresh produce I could find.

Speaking of produce: If you do plan on trying to eat vegan, I recommend eating fresh fruits and vegetables as soon as you arrive so that your body has time to acclimate to the different elements present in the water. Although I didn’t have any stomach issues after consuming vegetables washed with tap water, it’s been known to have adverse effects on Westerners’ digestive systems (that was a really nice way of saying you could be crapping your brains out for a good 24 hours). If you want to eat vegan food that isn’t couscous or khobz, I highly recommend trying to build up a tolerance early on in the trip.

You’ll be pleased to know that it’s not necessary to hire a car in Morocco, as the rail system is surprisingly vast and efficient. If you plan on taking day trips to places that aren’t accessible by train, you won’t have any issues hiring a taxi driver for the afternoon (which shouldn’t cost you more than $40).

Most of you probably know this already, but it’s worth repeating: Despite being an incredibly popular tourist destination, Morocco is a third-world country. And should your trip take you outside of the imperial cities, chances are you will see things that are strikingly different to the reality we live in on a daily basis. These things will likely stir a lot of unwelcome emotions. Emotions that eat away at you and beg you to open your eyes and search for answers to questions you never dreamed you’d be asking. That shit changes you. And for me, Morocco was transformational.

More photos of Morocco, here.

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TANGIER

If your schedule will allow it, you should try to spend at least a day in Tangier (although I wouldn’t necessarily sacrifice time in one of the four imperial cities just to make room for Tangier). The city is rich in history (as many Moroccan cities are) and the medina can easily be explored in an afternoon. I highly recommend wandering aimlessly and interacting with the locals as much as you feel comfortable. We started making small talk with a young Moroccan man and next thing we knew he was taking us through the medina (getting high fives and atta boy! encouragements along the way) to his family’s traditional Moroccan restaurant. For the life of me, I can’t remember the name – but we ate a three course feast and wound up spending a whopping $8 per person. When you’re finished exploring or just need to take a break, grab a warm beverage on the rooftop of the Hotel Continental (preferably at sunset).

For saleMinaretUntitledKhobzSOUKSTilingRiad MonceauGazelle horns and almond briouatesMuleThis guy.Soukin'

MARRAKECH

Marrakech was exactly as every travel book described it: Noisy. Chaotic. Like Disney World on steroids. And although it was incredibly touristy, you can’t visit Morocco without spending at least a couple of days exploring what has been crowned as the most important of Morocco’s imperial cities.

There’s a lot to do in Marrakech (so much that it’s overwhelming), so I recommend walking around to discover things on your own. Exploring the medina was, by far, the highlight of my time in the city, and walking through the souks and bartering with the berbers is something I think everyone should experience when they visit a Place like Marrakech (which is so well known for its open-air marketplace).

Although some travel guides will advise against eating street food, I say fuck it: Go big or go home. The worst that can happen is you catch a stomach bug and you’re down for a day or two – but the chances of that happening are very slim, especially if you eat at the right places. Your safest bet will be in the medina square, which is frequented by locals and is incredibly busy at night (both of which are good signs). Aside from the street food in the square, it should come as no surprise that my favorite restaurants were those serving food of the hippie-dippie variety. Earth Cafe and the Henna Art Cafe (both of which we accidentally stumbled upon on our way from our riad to the medina) served up some seriously hearty (and fresh!) veggie loaded eats that provided much-needed respite from all the khobz and tajine I was eating.

If you’ve got time, I highly recommend taking a cooking class at Riad Monceau. Not only did we learn how to make an assortment of delicious, flaky (and dairy free!) pastries, but we were also treated to a demonstration of the traditional way to make Moroccan tea (or berber whiskey, as locals call it). Spoiler alert: you’re essentially drinking sugar water.

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RABAT

Our time in Rabat was short and sweet. The medina wasn’t anything worth writing home about, but the walk through the kasbah and the view of the sunset most certainly was. If you have a couple of days in the city, visit the Mausoleum of Mohammed V and take a day trip to Chellah (ancient Roman ruins). And since you’re in the political capital of Morocco, you might as well visit Dar al-Makhzen (the Moroccan king‘s primary residence).

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MEKNÈS

Of Morocco’s four imperial cities, Meknès is – undoubtedly – the one that is most overlooked. Although it doesn’t offer as much action as Marrakech or a medina quite like the one you’ll find in Fes, it was easily one of my favorite cities on the trip, and I think it could be one of yours, too.

You should make it a priority to visit Bab Mansour and then wander around the old city (either by foot or horse-drawn carriage) (I recommend the latter) to visit the Mausoleum of Moulay Ismail as well as the Royal Stables (seriously mind blowing). When you’re finished, make sure to grab a meal at Konouz al Madden. I can’t speak for anything aside from the vegetable tajine, but it was hearty and delicious, and easily one of the best I had in Morocco.

A day trip Volubilis (ancient Roman ruins) (!) and Moulay Idriss (the holy city) is an absolute must. It will take up an entire afternoon and early evening, so I’d plan to have at least two days in Meknès.

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FES

Fes was equally as overwhelming as Marrakech. The city is densely populated (as can be seen from the photos), but is incredibly rich in history and has an insanely impressive medina, which houses the oldest university in the world. Although there’s no denying the fact that the medina alone is reason enough to visit Fes, the highlight of my time in the city was spent atop the Marinid Tombs, watching the sunset and listening as over 370 minarets broadcasted the Muslim call to prayer.

Our riad was located just inside the medina. The location was perfect, the hosts were incredibly gracious, and the dinner they provided (you’ve gotta request it in advance) was the absolute best I had while traveling through Morocco.

*If you want to travel into the Sahara for a few days, I have a friend who just returned from Morocco and planned his Saharan excursion with Plan-It Fes, which he highly recommends.

Sunset in the Sahara, part 3UntitledMountain townUntitledThem clouds, tho!The Atlas MountainsAtlas foothills

TAZA

I’m going to be honest: Taza was tough. It’s not a city that experiences a lot of tourism and, as a result, there were times when I felt incredibly uncomfortable (though never fearful for my life). The things we saw were eye-opening (tiny subsistence farms tucked into the Atlas Mountains, a kasbah in the Sahara, etc.) and unlike other experiences in previous cities, but I do not recommend visiting unless you are totally prepared to rough it. We were the only tourists for days and if you’re someone who is easily made uncomfortable by questioning looks and unwelcome glances, you should probably avoid adding Taza to your itinerary.

Hassan II MosqueHassan II MosqueOne of my favorite mosaics from the tripHassan II MosqueWoosh

CASABLANCA

Casablanca was the last leg of our journey and I kind of wish we had planned to have a bit more time there. Chances are you won’t spend much time in Casablanca, either, so I recommend you at least take a trip to the beach, walk around the city to admire the French-inspired architecture, and go on a guided tour of the Hassan II Mosque (one of the largest in the world). If you’re looking to sit down for a good bite to eat, I highly recommend L’Etoile Centrale.

34 Comments

  • Reply molly yeh 13 March 2015 at 9:07 AM

    this architecture. THOSE COLORS. so pretty, yo.

  • Reply Noha @Matters of the Belly 13 March 2015 at 9:08 AM

    breathtaking photos!! I am from Egypt and have always wanted to visit Morrocco..now i live in Australia and feel like i have missed my chance haha! It is definitely on the list :) and i LOVE the fact that u allowed yourself to be flexible with ur diet while travelling..being strict all the timenis no way to live! Loved this post immensely!

  • Reply Lucy 13 March 2015 at 9:11 AM

    WOW! Beautiful photos and stories.

  • Reply Cady 13 March 2015 at 9:26 AM

    your photography is blowin’ my mind! and your compassion really shines through in this one, lady.

    it’s such a weird thing to separate the touristy/sightseeing from the reflection on and appreciation for other lives/places. you navigate it flawlessly.

  • Reply Michelle @ Hummingbird High 13 March 2015 at 9:50 AM

    Your photos are gorgeous (as always)! Morocco’s been on my list of places to visit for some time now, but your guide definitely bumped it up in line a few places. Thank you for sharing!

  • Reply Ashley 13 March 2015 at 9:56 AM

    I have been wanting to go FOREVER! Love the colors! So inspiring! :)

  • Reply Maja 13 March 2015 at 10:31 AM

    Man, crazy good pictures! I’ll never forget all those amazing tiles. Although my Morocco looked a bit different (except for Marrakech) since we stayed on the coast most of the time for the surf. Maarten is going back next week (this time with the boys), lucky bastard.

  • Reply Caroline 13 March 2015 at 1:10 PM

    amazing! what kind of camera/ lens are you shooting with?

  • Reply The Vegan Cookie Fairy 13 March 2015 at 1:11 PM

    Lady, you’re making me want to travel the world (and I’m a diehard home bird). Your photos are G O R G E O U S. Are you a travel writer? If you’re not you really should be because your travel blogs are amazing!

    Love the tips on veggie eating too! It’s funny but I thought that it’d be fairly easy to eat vegan in Morocco because of the couscous and falafels, but I guess avoiding animal products maybe isn’t a big issue to them? I had the same issue when I travelled to India and stupidly assumed that it’d be vegan heaven but they added yogurt to nearly every single meal and I spoke absolutely no Hindustani whatsoever so hard to explain my dietary choices to the locals…

  • Reply Jessica 13 March 2015 at 3:25 PM

    I just got back from studying abroad and I am already dying to travel again. Morocco was on my list of places to visit but never made it in my short time. You’ve made me start thinking about a post-grad trip! While abroad, I went to Turkey (Istanbul and Cappadoccia) and fell in LOVE – can’t wait to explore this world even more.

  • Reply nicole 13 March 2015 at 3:49 PM

    Having just lived in Casablanca for two years, I appreciate your honest take on Morocco … it is still firmly in the developing world, a facet I think a lot of Westerners gloss over. As a vegetarian I ate a lot of harira, vegetable couscous, and pizza and pasta (though in truth I think many home-cooked Moroccan meals include vegetarian or even vegan dishes by default, as complements to the meat main but which are still hearty enough to satisfy, but you wouldn’t necessarily get those served in restaurants); I mostly cooked a lot at home. The produce is vast and mostly very good and cheap. I think Casablanca doesn’t really have a lot going on, though there are a lot of restaurants and the ocean factor can’t be beat, so it’s good you were only there for a short while I think. Wonderful pix!

  • Reply Gemma 13 March 2015 at 4:57 PM

    So beautiful! Your traveling pictures are always mesmerizing but the one of the sunset in the Sahara is absolutely breathtaking! <3

  • Reply Abby 13 March 2015 at 6:48 PM

    These photos are perfection, and I loved reading about your experiences & what to see & do in morocco. Hopefully, someday, I’ll have a chance to go… :D

  • Reply Rach 13 March 2015 at 7:28 PM

    These photos are fucking stunning. Have you thought about selling prints? Because I would buy them all!

    • Reply Ashlae 14 March 2015 at 9:51 AM

      Hi Rach –

      Prints can be ordered via email. :)

  • Reply Mariela 13 March 2015 at 7:29 PM

    Ashlae, your photograph are absolutely magnificent. You have such a talent for capturing not only the subject(s) but also the atmosphere. This is fuelling my ever-growing desire to visit Morocco. Thank you for sharing this.

  • Reply Cassie 13 March 2015 at 8:11 PM

    The photography is so beautiful!

  • Reply Gee 13 March 2015 at 8:26 PM

    I am wowed by the beauty of the landscapes and your photographic skills. Also, I appreciate your observations throughout but especially in your introductory paragraphs.

  • Reply Ashley 13 March 2015 at 8:44 PM

    I want your life. I also want to go to Morocco. ;) Can’t wait to see more of your travels and accompanying guides!

  • Reply Sophia 14 March 2015 at 3:39 AM

    I always enjoy your travel posts but this one might be my favourite one yet! I spent 2 weeks travelling around Morocco a couple of years ago and I am so glad that, unlike many others, I got the opportunity to see more than Marrakech – which, I agree with you, is like the Disney version of Morocco. Like you I really enjoyed Fes and Meknes as well, although visiting Rabat was very special too – my brother was born in Rabat so walking through the Souk I could not help but think of my mother doing her foodshopping there, at first heavily pregnant with my brother and holding the hand of my older sister (10 at the time) and later with a blond and blue-eyed baby boy in the pram and trying to not loose my older sister in the maze that is the souk.

    As for getting sick while travelling, I learned in Morocco that taking pro-biotics before and during a trip where you might be exposed to somewhat different bacteria and/or food hygiene really helps to avoid or at least minimise food poisoning while still being able to enjoy the local food!

  • Reply Emma 14 March 2015 at 9:11 AM

    Beautiful photos and the colours!

  • Reply kristie {birch and wild} 14 March 2015 at 9:19 AM

    I have traveled the world (but have not been to Morocco yet), and I have definitely been some places where I did not feel comfortable walking around with my very expensive camera and lens (my husband is also a photographer, so really it is two very expensive cameras). You got some gorgeous photos while there. Would you say you were comfortable with your camera in Morocco? You didn’t get a lot of photos of people. Are you more in to landscapes and architecture? Or did you sense that the culture did not permit taking a person’s photo without asking (which is the case and many countries all over the world)? I would love to go to Morocco, the architecture is a huge draw for me. And I was surprised to see some of the areas outside of city’s are so lush and green.

    • Reply Ashlae 14 March 2015 at 9:50 AM

      Hi Kristie –

      Super comfortable! I had no issues walking around with my camera over my shoulder, but I also didn’t have it out as often as I usually do, when traveling. Although I tend to prefer landscape/architecture shots, it’s considered disrespectful to Moroccan culture to take photos of people and/or their animals without first asking permission.

  • Reply Carol 14 March 2015 at 12:16 PM

    lovely photos!

  • Reply genevieve @ gratitude & greens 14 March 2015 at 6:05 PM

    Morocco has been on my list of places to visit forever! I have definitely visited some places that have made me experience those uncomfortable feelings. I’ve visited several places in Southeast Asia and I always ask myself why the world is structured the way it is and why some people get the shittier end of the bargain. On a brighter note, I am completely in love with all your photos! Amazing colours. So vibrant. I will def be coming back to this if I ever make it to Morocco!

  • Reply Mary Beth 14 March 2015 at 8:41 PM

    amazing photos and great travel advice!! definitely makes me want to move morocco up on my travel list. glad that you had a good trip and experience!

  • Reply Heather 15 March 2015 at 12:06 PM

    I love these photos. Morocco is a place that I’ve wanted to travel for a while. Looking back on things, I probably should have went to Morocco rather than Egypt a few years back, because the level of craziness in that country was just too much to handle. I love your ‘fuck it’ mantra – eat everything. When I spent 6 months in SE Asia, for the first few weeks I was terrified to eat street food. Brent on the other hand ate everything. A couple of weeks in, I said screw it and I started to eat all the street pad thai, roti, pineapple, and it was so dang good. For the rest of the trip, we mostly stuck to street food. Those first couple of days though, when my body was adjusting, I would have paid thousands of dollars for a clean proper sit toilet.

  • Reply Kelsey 15 March 2015 at 9:14 PM

    Agh! These photos are stunning. What an incredible experience!

  • Reply Mike 17 March 2015 at 6:52 AM

    I have never been to Morocco, but these photographs make the country come alive for me. It will probably live on inside me until the day comes when I muster up the courage and enough insanity to backpack the land of Sufi masters!

  • Reply Kate 19 March 2015 at 10:24 AM

    absolutely stunning! Morocco has been on my bucket list for ages, and I hope to visit one day!

  • Reply Bookmarks – 20 March 2015 | REAL SIMPLE FOOD 20 March 2015 at 1:05 AM

    […] Ashley’s photos of Morocco are stunning and looking at them had me dreaming back to my own trip around the country with Alessandro a couple of years ago. Ashley’ post is also the reason I chose the photo above to accompany this post – it shows a woven basket hanging off the wall of one of the Kasbah’s we visited on our trip in Morocco. When I took the photo the little pieces of colourful fabric were dancing in the wind making it look as though a colony of butterflies was clinging on to the basket. I took a single shot just as I was walking through the Kasbah and it turned out to be one of my favourite photos from the trip. […]

  • Reply morocco 10 June 2016 at 11:31 AM

    oh Morocco my country :)
    where did you took the fifth picture? maybe chellah?

  • Reply Zim 2 May 2017 at 1:50 PM

    OMG! So beautiful. What presets did you use for these?

    • Reply Ashlae 2 May 2017 at 3:36 PM

      Hi Zim –

      Thanks! Sadly I can’t remember as I edited them ages ago.

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