Morocco In A Nutshell
We had no plan when we landed in Marrakech and it showed in our ultimate route of Morocco. The country is vast and is composed of many different landscapes. In our 8 weeks here we were in major metropolis centers, tiny villages, remote beaches and sprawling deserts. Because it was already winter, we didn’t even make it up north to the Atlas mountains where Toukal, the tallest peak of North Africa, is located. Thanks to Couchsurfing and hitchhiking, during our time in the country we encountered people from all different walks of life. We stayed with devout Muslims, eccentric artists, Sahrawi and Berber people (some converted to Islam and some retaining old, animist spirituality), disillusioned young men, ambitious entrepreneurs, expats changing the local landscape while trying to improve the lives of it’s inhabitants, and people just trying to live day to day.
A Moroccan friend of ours told us, “If you have money, this country is a paradise. If you don’t, it’s a prison.” This sentiment of understanding the beauty tourists find so appealing about Morocco coupled with a frustration with the government, which cares more about these tourists than it does its own citizens, is commonplace among Moroccans we met. There is a level of complacency among most of the men (we never were able to sit and have frank conversations with women on the rare occasions we were in a social setting with women at all) due to the lack of job opportunities. Education levels are high here. Even people without much formal education still speak multiple languages and possess a level of resourcefulness required in places where informal economies are how many people make their money. We found people were willing and wanting to talk to us about politics (regardless of how often they insist that politics are a waste of time) and were eager to inform us about their experiences, even if these conversations sometimes took really uncomfortable turns for us.
We found Morocco to be a land of contradictions and at times these contradictions were hard for us to reconcile and accept. We never could figure out why some Berber people, colonized by the Arabs, could accept Islam so readily but rile against European imperialism. We never understood how artists whose provocative paintings embracing and celebrating the nude female body could still accept such patriarchal practices such as polygamy and “traditional female roles”, and often be staunchly homophobic. It was hard to listen to people casually drop antisemitic sentiments in conversations that were supposed to espouse their liberalism. “We like everyone…even the Jews!” I wondered if we would have the same experience getting accepted on Couchsurfing if Gabe’s name was Max Schwartz and we were a homosexual couple? At the end of the day, we had to remind ourselves that people are just a product of their environment and, unfortunately, in this part of the world, the political environment is still very religiously conservative.
Politics aside, our experiences in Morocco was lovely. We’ve never experienced such warm and unconditional hospitality. People opened up their homes to us, sharing their food, space, and stories with us as if we were old friends. And that is truly how people see you. In many parts of the world the usage of “my friend” is often accompanied by a hand leading you into a shop and a diatribe on why you should purchase some “priceless relic”. Here, it is simply an honest expression of trust and gratitude. People seemed grateful that we would visit their homes, enjoy their meals, accept their rides. Often we were thanked by people doing us a favor. People were candid in their expressions and even though it was sometimes difficult for us to accept peoples’ opinions, the fact that they were so honest was somehow relieving.
While 8 weeks is nowhere near enough time to get a full picture of country, we feel super privileged to have gotten as authentic an experience as we did in such a short time. Here are some of our favorite places:
This small beach town ranks high up on our recommended places to visit in Morocco. While Essaouira has a reputation as being a “super-chilled-out-hippie-haven”, Taghazout definitely out does it in that regard. The beach is small but there are ample dope surf spots as well as being a super rad skate park with an even better story behind it.
Accommodations can be a bit pricey, but there are a few solid Couchsurfing hosts and if you’re not on Couchsurfing or prefer to stay in your own place, it is well worth shelling out the $10 or so to stay here.
There are heaps of surf schools and rental shops, cool clothing stores, heaps of restaurants, good local food, and it wouldn’t be a proper Moroccan beach without the opportunity to ride camels, so of course you can do that here as well.
We were fortunate to be able to volunteer at this awesome eco-resort for a few weeks and it was such a cool place to stay. It is located outside of a small fishing village in the middle of nowhere. The resort sits less than a kilometer off the beach, which is renowned for its great wind for kite surfing. There is also a surf school and rental spot down the beach too.
The resort itself is a perfect place to relax. They offer yoga classes, host a rotating resident artist, and have a delicious, reasonably priced menu, with dinner items changing daily. Kara, the head chef, is really conscious about buying seasonal vegetables and fresh meats from the market so the menu is really as farm to table and as sustainable as possible.
The rooms are reasonably priced as well, especially considering what you get when you’re there. They have a few dorm beds or private rooms amidst a lush, picturesque garden complete with hammocks if you want to take some time away from the main area.
However, this main hangout spot is hardly bustling, especially in the day time, when it is a great, chilled out place to pull up one of the many comfy throw pillows, have a healthy shake, and read a book while overlooking the ocean.
At nighttime, the atmosphere livens up as the staff and guests often congregate to enjoy music and drinks sometimes until the wee hours of the morning. *As of October, 2019 it was still BYOB so best to bring a few bottles of your drink of choice before you get there*
This is not a place frequented by many tourists. In fact, if you are traveling by bus, you might miss it completely. However, if you are planning on Couchsurfing and have a day to spare, it is worth the stop here. We met some of the kindest and friendly people in this super small town tucked at the base of the Atlas mountains.
It is a small village, known for it’s carpets but a few kilometers outside of town is a beautiful lake, which would be a perfect camping spot. It is a popular picnic spot for many locals (and tourists in the summertime).
If you are hitchhiking, this is a great halfway point to stop between Agadir and Zagora or Ouarzazate, depending on where you are coming from.
It is hard to go to Morocco without going on a desert trip but most people suggest going to Merzouga. It is easy to get to and cheaper as well but doesn’t offer nearly as authentic experience as Chinguetti.
The only way to get there is with an off-road vehicle and although it is possible to get there on your own (providing you have the right vehicle, a reliable map, and know how to drive in the desert), it really is worth paying for a tour. This was one of the only things we decided to splurge on ($60 each) but it was totally worth it.
You first get picked up in a 4×4 truck and drive a few hours into the middle of the desert. I still don’t understand how these guys navigate but they are mostly all of Sahrawi descent so I guess it’s in their blood. The ride out is beautiful but bumpy and crazy. If you are prone to car-sickness, try and snag the front seat and take the necessary precautions beforehand!
Once you arrive in the desert, you wind around massive dunes before coming to a small camp at the base of what people refer to as “the true desert”. It truly is breathtaking. Dunes the size of mountains, that you become winded from walking up, providing a crazy 360-degree view of the desert landscape you picture from Aladdin. Stick around for sunset to complete the excursion.
The accommodations are lush! “Tents” that are luxurious private chambers complete with electricity and extra comfy king sized beds. Dinner is served as a group with each party receiving a massive beef tajine (vegetarians can probably specify something else) with soup to start and tea/coffee and fruit for desert.
After dinner, everyone gathers around a fire for traditional Sahrawi music. We ducked out to go check out the stars, which were epic. Walking just a bit outside of the camp and there is zero light pollution making for perfect star-gazing.
Be sure to wake up early enough for sunrise to get the most out of the desert experience. Breakfast is served afterward, we were able to fill up on classic Moroccan omelette, fruits, yogurt, bread and jam, butter and cheese spread.
Afterwards, everyone piles back into the 4×4 for another ride through the desert, this time stopping at a private oasis in the desert, complete with a few guys trying to sell you fresh squeezed juice. They aren’t pushy though, and we found that we were able to easily enjoy the relaxing environment.
Outside of the popular destination of Sidi Ifni is the stunning beach of Legzira. The beach itself is relatively uncrowded but its main attraction are certainly the giant natural rock arches. We had seen this place online and expected it to be packed with people doting selfie-sticks; however, it was relatively empty and we were able to lounge on different rock platforms feeling like we had the whole beach to ourselves.
There are a few restaurants on the beach but these are all hella overpriced, so eat before or pack a lunch!
We were able to hitchhike there really easily, however, there is a police checkpoint right outside Sidi Ifni so it is best to walk past that before getting a ride!
- Hitchhiking is a widely understood concept in Morocco and is super easy and safe to do
- Accommodation can be pricey but Couchsurfing hosts are plentiful
- Alcohol is not widely available so if you’re going to smaller towns and want booze, make sure you get it ahead of time