Our Moroccan adventures
I've just got back from a week long trip to Morocco, and my head's still spinning from our whirlwind trip. I've never been to a place like Morocco, it was full of surprises, totally intense, eye opening, fascinating and alluring all at the same time. Your senses go into complete overdrive, and once your body and mind adjusts, you settle into the rhythm of a country that feels like another world.
We spent three days in Marrakesh, and four in Agadir. This was the perfect combo, because you get to spend time in a bustling city, and then escape to the beach for some much needed rest and relaxation. Not everyone instantly falls in love with Morocco, it's an acquired taste shall we say, but what I will say is you have to go there. It's a must-visit destination that should be on your bucket list for all sorts of reasons, some of which I will touch on below.
So what did we get up to? We did all sorts, from visiting temples and palaces and meandering through the manic souks, to visiting a tannery where they make leather, going on a camel ride and a day trip to a beautiful place called Paradise Valley.
I think one of the things I loved most about Morocco is the juxtaposition between utter madness and totally serenity. For example, we'd spend the morning in the city battling with the salesman and an afternoon at our wonderfully quiet and relaxing hotel. The chaos of Marrakesh almost made the soothing tranquillity of the hotel, the blissful strokes of a massage, and the peacefulness of the temples all the more rewarding.
A lot of people go to Morocco to immerse themselves in the souks and experience the beating heart of Marrakesh, but I'd say it's also a great place to live in the moment. The streets of Marrakesh are a world away from the technology obsessed world we live in.
Here you can let everything go, you put your phone away and notice little interactions between people, the smells that waft your way, and the myriad of sounds that pierce the air. If you want to detox from technology, don't go to a deserted island, go to Marrakesh and dive head first into the mayhem, trust me, you'll soon forget about that Instagram post or checking Facebook.
That's my general take on Morocco, but I bet you want to know exactly what we got up to? Here's the lowdown on one of the most memorable and crazy trips I've ever been on.
Three days in mesmerising Marrakesh
We were in the city for three days, but I reckon you could probably do it in two. You can easily grab a cab for around £2 per journey and hop between all the sights. We tried walking, but it's hard to find any street names and extremely difficult to pinpoint where you are, which means it's easy to get lost, especially in the souks.
It's like an ancient city from the olden days, quite smoky, raw. You often feel as though you are lost in a maze, and you can't get any perspective from above because everything is on the same level.
Marrakesh is packed with winding streets, unexplored corners and busy markets. One minute you are in a massively touristy street and the next you stumble onto an authentic local road without a tourist in sight, where the locals are going about their daily life.
Make sure, go down the back streets, go outside of the souks, watch the donkeys trotting around with goods on their back, locals picking up fresh fruit and veg and the groups of motorbikes whizzing by.
As predicted, one of the best things to do in Marrakesh is people watch. Some of the moments I enjoyed most were the times when I was able to just observe everything going on around me. Like when we sat in a rooftop cafe drinking refreshing iced tea overlooking the main square (the Medina's Jemaa el Fna), or when we had coffee at a restaurant that splayed onto the streets and sat there and filmed everyone walking by.
I'd definitely recommend visiting Jardin Majorelle, an oasis in the city where you can get some much-needed respite from the heat and busy streets. It took French painter Jacques Majorelle forty years to create these gardens. And here's an odd fact, the ashes of Yves Saint Laurent were scattered here amongst family and friends.
The gardens are packed with all sorts of greenery and flowers, bright plant pots and buildings and amazing spots for photos. Channelling my inner zen goddess, I decided to performing part of a Taekwondo pattern for our video, which was hard with all the people wanting to pass by.
A traveller friend recommended we visit the tannery where you can learn about how they make leather. She warned me that it stinks, but that's an understatement. It's not an obvious tourist spot to find, the tannery is hidden away, you wouldn't spot it easily if you walked by, but the stench will most definitely invade your nostrils. I recommend getting a taxi there, we tried walking from the souks but got a bit lost, eventually we gave in and hailed a cab.
I have to say the tannery is probably one of the most eye opening establishments I've ever seen. I don't know what the animal welfare is like, and despite my reservations about visiting, I thought it was an important learning experience.
They give you some mint when you first arrive, and my advice is, take it. You won't get through the place without it. We paid about 50 Moroccan Dirhams which is about £4 for a tour around the tannery. Apparently, they use pigeon poop and turn it into ammonia, because it removes stains and intensifies the colours of dyes. Our guide said the Berber leather is made from cow and camel skin and the Arabic leather is made from sheep skin. This place really does assault your senses, and it's hard to get your head around the fact that the skins are from animals. They sell lots of leather in the souks and I couldn't look at it the same way after that, but I am glad I went.
I think one of my favourite places we visited the whole trip was the The 19th Century Bahia Palace (which means "brilliance"). The carvings and markings on the wall are so detailed and intricate and I loved the pattern on the tiles.
It's worth paying to get a guide to take you through the palace because you get to learn about its origins. There's a lovely courtyard, several pretty fountains including one with rose petals in it and plenty of fascinating rooms to explore. When we stepped into the courtyard we experienced a quiet calm spiritual feeling, it was a beautiful spot with the fountain overlooking the sky and the palm trees in the background.
We also obviously spent a lot of time in the souks. Long pathways filled with every kind of stall under the sun, each street specialises in certain products, so you can pick and choose your favourites.
I was mesmerised by all the colours and patterns. Are the salesman over the top and pushy? Sure, but once you get used to it, they are easy to ignore. From pots and pans, carpets, lamps, jewellery, clothing and tea to fruit, fresh juices, spices and beauty products, it's a bargain shopper's paradise.
If you feel up to the challenge, brave the food stalls in the centre of the square and try some street food. But be prepared to be bombarded by salesmen trying to drag you to their stall, they swooped in on us like a pack of vultures. Everywhere else in Marrakesh I wasn't bothered by the sales pitches, it just sort of came with the territory, but I found this a tad over the top.
I couldn't go to Marrakesh without having a Hammam spa. We had one at our hotel (Hotel Opera Plaza) and it was incredible. You go into this dimly lit room where you have a shower, then you lie on a lovely warm stone bed and they rub argan oil all over your body. Then you shower and they apply a body scrub with a glove, and it's the best scrub I've ever had.
Next, you head into what appears to be a steam room and sit in there for around ten minutes. After that, you take a shower and lay down on the stone beds again. This ritual felt very soothing and it forces you to relax, afterwards I felt completely stress free and my skin was felt soothed from the moisture.
Four days in Agadir
Going from Marrakesh to Agadir is like going from one planet to another. The vibes are so different. The pace in Agadir is much slower, and being on the coast, you swap the busy city heat for beaches with a welcomed breeze.
A lot of people who go on holiday in Agadir tend to mainly stay in their hotel, and go out on the odd excursion. There are loads of cool excursions to choose from, and as we only had four days it was hard to pick.
We decided to book a city tour, which turned out to be a bit rubbish. We didn't get any information on the sights, the driver, who didn't speak much English, just pointed a few things out. It was however probably easier than getting a taxi around the city.
We went to the highest point on a mountain overlooking Agadir with incredible views over the city, definitely a good photo spot. We also stopped by an Argan oil shop and visited the souks/market. I loved the building the souks were housed within, it looked a bit like castle walls.
The souks in Agadir are very different to those in Marrakesh. The ones in Marrakesh seem tailored more to the tourists, whereas the ones in Agadir are geared more towards the locals. You can watch the local people haggling for daily products and visiting the market for food and clothes. Whilst some of the products aren't as cool as the ones in Marrakesh, these souks were definitely more raw and authentic.
On our second day in Agadir we went on a camel ride. It was great fun and interesting to feel what it's like to sit on these ultimate desert survivors. When you first get on and the camel stands up you really have to use your core stability to stay on!
It was great seeing some of the local scenery from the back of a camel, we passed the royal palace and ended up near an estuary. It's quite a bumpy ride but great fun, I'm glad I've ticked that one off the bucket list. The camel ride was done at a local horse riding school that looked a bit like a ranch, there were camels and horses everywhere.
I'd definitely recommend visiting a town that's about half an hour outside of Agadir, it's called Taghazout and it's a quaint, sleepy surfing village, a far cry from the tourist resorts of Agadir. Everyone is so chilled here, and you can wander around in shorts and a vest top and not feel ogled at.
When we went it was out of season so we didn't do any surfing but we did spend some time on the pretty little main beach. You can catch a bus from Agadir to Taghazout and the buses run every hour. If you get a taxi you have to catch a cab to the main bus station and then get a group taxi to Taghazout, so we decided the bus was easier, and it was.
Our final excursion was on our last day in Agadir, and what a way to finish our trip. If you go to Agadir make sure you book an excursion to Paradise Valley. You get to visit local gardens and see how Argan oil is made, wander through the Atlas Mountains and swim in rock pools amongst scenery that looks a bit like a scene from Jurassic Park.
We stayed in three different hotels throughout our trip thanks to The Holiday Place. It's unusual for me to say this, but all three hotels were top notch, each offering something different. We stayed at the Opera Plaza Hotel in Marrakesh, which was ideally located a short taxi ride to the city.
In Agadir we stayed at the Kenzi Europa Hotel where we got the warmest of welcomes, and our final stay was at Anezi Towers which offer a touch of luxury. I will be doing a full review of the hotels in an upcoming blog post, so if you're looking for somewhere to stay in Morocco, watch this space.
Morocco travel tips
- With taxi prices and when haggling, walk away and they will most likely meet your price. Point on a map where you want to go if you can and write the name down as often the taxi drivers misunderstand, especially if you are not going to a main tourist site.
- It's difficult to get hold of Moroccan Dirhams in the UK (I'm not even sure you can), so get some at the airport or from a cash machine when you get out there.The dirham is a closed currency, which means it can only be bought once you arrive in Morocco. You're allowed to bring in or take out 1,000Dh (around £65) but the rest needs to be taken out on arrival.
- The best time to go into Marrakesh city is in evening, it's too hot in the day and there's more atmosphere at night.
- Cover up when out and about, especially if you want to avoid getting lots of unwanted attention. I actually found it quite liberating to hide behind clothes, it's not as hot as you think it would be, your skin is not exposed so you're sheltered from the hot sun, and it's nice to blend in with the locals.
- I'd strongly recommend covering your shoulders, chest and legs. We did see people wearing less clothing, but that's personal preference, and I prefer to respect the locals.
- Take a sensible bag with you where you can keep all your valuables tucked away.
I hope you found this article interesting and useful, I've tried to include lots of handy tips so you can tackle Morocco like an absolute pro. I'd like to finish by saying I think Morocco in general has a rather unfair reputation for being somewhere that's far too full on and in some ways, invasive. But I think this is far from the truth.
Yes, you do get hassled by people trying to sell you stuff, but they do go away if you tell them to and don't show any interest. It's all part of the territory, and once you settle into the pace here, it's totally manageable. I genuinely feel that going to Morocco was an excellent learning experience and an opportunity to observe another very different culture to our own. I think I've grown as a person since visiting and I'm so glad I went, because it's an experience I will never forget.