I’m back from my hiatus while I was travelling around Morocco with the wonderful Intrepid Travel on their 11 day ‘Essential Morocco’ tour! There’s soooo much information I want to spill about this trip, so this might end up being a long blog post (with a few other posts to come about food, what to wear, and individual towns and cities)!
Firstly I want to thank Shara from Travel Counsellors for booking the tour for Joe and me and helping us to get a small discount. She offers amazing advice on all things travel related and is a qualified Africa specialist, so hit her up if you’re interested in a bespoke tour! Even better, she has recently started to offer more opportunities for sustainable travel – what more could you want?!
Our trip to Morocco wasn’t just the tour, though. We had planned a long weekend in Marrakech and started adding other activities and day trips to it, like some R&R by the coast in Essaouira and camping in the desert… the latter of which seemed rather daunting to a young couple who had never travelled that far or for that long together before. So we started looking into companies who organised safe and responsible trips to the desert, and came across Intrepid Travel.
I had seen other travellers on Instagram go on Intrepid tours before, some sponsored and some not, and after a bit of research I discovered they have a brilliant ethos. A carbon neutral business for nearly a decade, Intrepid invests in local communities, campaigns for human rights, and educates travellers on the importance of sustainable travel.
“We believe that with great travel, comes great responsibility”Intrepid Travel
So out of the hundreds, if not thousands, of Intrepid tours on offer, we ended up choosing ‘Essential Morocco’, a tour specifically for 18-29 year olds which would take in some of the major sights while also providing opportunities to witness life in the ‘real’ Morocco. The choice of a younger peoples’ tour was the perfect choice and I would highly recommend, especially if you are a solo traveller, as we all had very similar approaches travel but came from all over the world and bonded really well. There is a whole section on Intrepid’s website with all their 18-29 tours if you want to check that out here!
The simplest and most comprehensive way of showing to you what we got up to on this tour is by giving you a glimpse into my journal. So without further ado, enjoy!
The first day was just a meeting in the hotel lobby in Casablanca at 6pm to meet the rest of the group and our leader Allal, and go out for dinner all together.
The first full day of the tour began with a quick trip to Hassan II mosque in Casablanca which was absolutely breathtaking. It’s the third largest mosque in the world, and in an otherwise chaotic and underwhelming city, it was pristine. We then hopped on the train to Meknes, followed by a short taxi ride to Moulay Idriss, a holy city perched on a hilltop where the buildings are all painted beautiful pastel colours. We stayed in a guesthouse with a lovely family; the man of the house, Mohammed, gave us a demonstration in how to make traditional mint tea – including so much sugar that I considered moving to Morocco and becoming a dentist. In the evening we walked through the winding streets with our local guide to a viewpoint where we witnessed one of the most beautiful sunsets ever.
Donkeys carried our luggage back down to our awaiting taxis, which took us to the ancient Roman site of Volubilis. I had no idea the Romans had reached Morocco, embarrassing considering that’s what half my degree was about! We were then met by another local guide in Meknes and sampled camel burgers for lunch, which were surprisingly delicious! The afternoon was spent on a train to Fes, watching the landscape of rural Morocco unfold before my eyes.
This day was spent exploring Fes with our enigmatic guide, Hakeema, a jolly, perpetually-smiling woman who seemed to know every street vendor in the city! The highlight of Fes, for me, was clambering up a load of rickety old steps through a leather shop to a viewing platform overlooking the tannery, where workers wash animal hides and dye them ready to be made into bags, shoes, jackets and purses. We saw the creative side to Morocco in this bustling city, with trips to the weavers’ souk, a spectacular ceramics yard, and a bronze workshop.
The first stop today was the small town of Ifrane, known locally as ‘Little Switzerland’ for its Alpine-style chalets which are popular among Moroccans and tourists alike during winter. On the journey to Midelt, we found a family of Atlas monkeys by the roadside and stopped to feed them peanuts, before stopping again to eat lunch with a family of nomads in their cloth tent. The scenery was incredibly varied; red sand, scrubland, rolling hills, rocky valleys, and muddy pools. Lots of workers were out herding sheep, which allowed us a glimpse into rural Moroccan life. The weather up in the High Atlas was refreshingly cool compared to the humidity of Casablanca and Fes, so it was bearable when we went for a hike to the edge of a stunning gorge and an old kasbah (a fortified village or citadel). The kids followed us nearly all the way back to our guesthouse!
Without a doubt the most beautiful roads I have ever seen as we drove through the valley of Gorges du Ziz. The whole group was bubbling over with excitement for what lay ahead this night: camping in the Sahara desert. We were greeted at the desert camp with mint tea and a quick rest before mounting our camels and quite literally riding off into the sunset. It’s now illegal to camp in the desert itself so we were as close as you can get to the dunes. The experience was truly indescribable. To top off this incredible evening, we rode back to camp for a delicious meal, wine, and musical entertainment.
It would have been rude to be camping on the edge of the Sahara and not get up at 5am to watch the sunrise over Algeria, approximately 50km away. The bus journey today took us all the way to Todra Gorge, the home of our tour leader Allal. After “accidentally” buying a Moroccan agave silk rug (RIP bank account), we hiked for a few hours through the gorge, accompanied by a friendly pack of stray dogs.
Nearing the end of the tour, we were due to stay the night in a modern village over the river from Aït Benhaddou, a stunning earthen-clay kasbah and UNESCO World Heritage Site, which has recently been the location for films and tv shows like Gladiator and Game of Thrones.
Today we drove through the Atlas Mountains on our way to Marrakech, passing over the Col du Tichka at 2260m – at this altitude we were pretty chilly! When we got to Marrakech we went for a late lunch and then met a tour guide for another walking tour. It was very interesting but a bit repetitive as a lot of the information about ancient Morocco had already been mentioned in Meknes and Fes. We visited Le Jardin Secret (a not-so-secret garden in the middle of the medina) and an aromatherapy boutique to learn about the benefits of different herbs and plants, such as argan, rose and orange blossom.
Our final full day of the tour was free time to explore Marrakech without Allal or any local guides. Joe and I decided to have a more chilled day as we had another few days in the city before flying home. As we were staying in the newer part of the city, we wandered around there before walking to the Majorelle Gardens. This was one of my favourite places in Marrakech, with its bright blue walls, contrasting yellow pots, and seemingly out of place cacti and bamboo. The day was ended with a nice meal and cocktails with all our new friends, and a night out in one of Marrakech’s top clubs… which I can’t remember the name of, so it must have been a good night.
Officially the tour finished today after breakfast, but as I previously mentioned, we had an extra few days to explore Marrakech… but you’ll have to wait for details of that until the next blog post!
As you can probably tell from this article, we covered rather a lot during our tour with Intrepid! I could have happily stayed an extra couple of nights in places like Fes and Todra Gorge, to get lost in the winding streets and climb a mountain or two, but the whole package was perfectly organised and gave us a great taste of Morocco without feeling rushed. Even the hours we spent each day on trains, in taxis, or on the minibus were exciting, and I spent 90% of the time staring out of the window and marvelling at the beauty and unpredictability of the landscape.
I can’t express how grateful I am to have shared the experience with a group of like-minded individuals. I believe it would have been a whole other (less successful and more stressful) story if we had attempted to do the same route on our own. Allal was a brilliant guide and really made us feel at home; he taught us some basic Arabic, gave us an insight into Moroccan/Islamic culture, and introduced us to some wonderful people.
If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, don’t forget to check out Intrepid Travel.