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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.