If you don’t have Morocco on your travel bucket list, I implore you, add it now. Morocco is a magical place that heightens the senses. A rainbow of rich colors, the souks in every Moroccan medina bustle with a cornucopia of sounds, smells and flavors. Ancient royal cities transport you back in time. The country’s various landscapes take you from the North Atlantic to the Mediterranean to the Atlas Mountains and from palm-filled valleys to alpine forests to the Sahara. To add icing on the date cake (a favorite Moroccan dessert that is actually topped with a glaze, but you get my drift), it’s affordable. Airfare via RyanAir from Spain to Morocco was around €50. Lodging is doable too.
In this three-part series, I’ll share our Morocco adventures from Rabat to Marrakech to Merzouga and the Sahara, as well as some tips for your trip.
Capital City and residence of the Monarch
Population: 1.4 million
Our adventure began in Rabat for one reason, Rabat had been Jay’s home base for the previous five weeks while he traveled around Morocco with his friend the Diplomat. Our time in Rabat was short, and our activities planned mostly by our host: an event at the new embassy for local artists and artisans (who says, Morocco isn’t modern? Artists ranged from painters to rappers) and dinner parties at the Diplomat’s flat with various ex pats. However, by the time I arrived, Jay was relatively familiar with the city, so one afternoon after a lunch of couscous (on Fridays, everyone eats couscous) and a few cold beers, he took me exploring through the city and the medina.
Rabat is a booming urban center filled with some of the same high-fashioned stores as Europe, but the modern city streets quickly give way to crowded, narrow streets surrounded by the high walls – some dating back to the 17th century – of the medina as you enter through the sandstone arches of the Oudaia Gate. Merchants line the streets selling carpets, hand bags, jalabas, soaps, perfumes, silver and gold, spices, coffee, tea, produce and just about anything else you can think of.
One quick turn down an alley led us to the brightly painted and ornate doors of the medina’s residents. Mid afternoon tends to slow down in the medina, and we were pleasantly surprised to roam these neighborhood streets alone. In front of one of the doors, a friendly woman sat perched on the step. With a wide-tooth grin, she said hello and offered to “tell our love story” via a henna design on my hand. The above picture says something to the extent of Jay loves Lindsay, or so I was told. Note: you won’t find a shortage of woman who are skilled at henna, so be prepared to be approached often. Some will even begin before you even negotiate a price. If you don’t want to be painted (don’t worry, it’s temporary) – politely decline.
After leaving the medina, we walked along the beach (a reminder that Morocco is still a developing country, it was littered with trash) and grabbed the perfect seaside, afternoon snack: cotton candy before visiting Le Dhow Restaurant and Lounge for happy hour (see my post: Flashback [Photo] Friday: Rabat).
The next morning after Jay walked down to the corner to pick up our usual breakfast of almond croissants (guilt-free, I ate two every day!), we hailed a cab to the train station. Ready to embark on the next chapter of our adventure, we bought two first-class tickets to Marrakesh. It’s a five-hour train ride, and to be honest, a first-class ticket, which is only slightly more than a second-class ticket and you’re guaranteed a seat in a compartment seating six passengers, is totally worth the upgrade. A lot more comfortable than if you board a crowded train and are forced to stand for five hours! Check back soon for Part 2 of Magical Morocco: Marrakech.
Tip 1. Morocco is one of the most moderate and peaceful countries in the region. Moroccans are predominately Muslim, so even though in the major cities I did not necessarily have to be covered up, I chose to out of respect. I mostly wore long-sleeve shirts and pants or long skirts. If I did wear a shirt that had shorter sleeves or showed skin, when in public I would wear scarves. Fun thing about Morocco: they have lots of beautiful and exotic textiles for sale in the souks! Be sure to leave room in your backpack/suitcase for a few to take home.