As many of you know, my family moved overseas when I was 1, so I guess you could say travel is in my blood. Ever since then, a relentless wanderlust has been the impetus for countless adventures. My early years were spent growing up as a missionary kid in China so I’m familiar with that culture, but when we ventured outside my comfort zone to North Africa for our honeymoon, I wasn’t sure what to expect! If you’re new to Morocco or Islamic countries in general, read on for my take on how you can best enjoy your time and fit into the culture!
- The Riad – This is the traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard. We booked one on Airbnb for only $40 per night, and it was wonderful (Riad Dar Tayib is the name, if you’re curious). Our hosts made us breakfast each morning and also cooked dinner for us a few of the nights we were there (dinner was an extra fee, but worth it!). The courtyard was incredibly peaceful, with a fountain at the center and trees inside. We were also able to go relax on the terrace roof and see the Atlas mountains in the distance, which was neat! It’s a great place to escape the HOT days in Morocco! Make sure to bring plenty of water when you venture out.
- The Medina – This is the old city, and the most famous square is known as Jemaa el-Fnaa. This definitely felt like a scene out of an Indiana Jones movie. There were monkeys wearing clothes, snake charmers and many people haggling with all the vendors to get the best prices. Be aware that if you take pictures of the snake charmers or monkeys, they WILL hunt you down to pay them a fee. It killed me not to get any pictures of those cute little buggers! This area is a must-see while you are there. The air is filled with the aroma of spices and possibilities and we really enjoyed just browsing for hours here. I picked up a traditional Moroccan tunic which I love! There are many winding corridors that will easily get you lost if you don’t take note of your landmarks. Street signs don’t really exist here. Part of the allure for me was getting lost and not worrying about it – we never felt unsafe (except for the crazy motorbikes that whizzed by all the time) and always found our way back to where we needed to be. Locals were friendly and seemed welcoming.
- Food and Drink – You must experience the Tagine (or sometimes spelled Tajine). We took part in a cooking class (via Urban Adventures) where we wandered the Medina for all our needed ingredients (including live chickens ) and then learned how to slow cook them in the earthenware pot known as the Tagine. Moroccan Tagine dishes are slow-cooked savory stews, typically cooked with chicken or beef, and many also incorporate preserved lemon. Common spices include ginger, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, and saffron. We also learned how to make a Moroccan salad, which is now one of my weekly go-to recipes back home. In the new city, check out the restaurant Comptoir Darna – they have live belly-dancing and the ladies dance with flaming candelabras balanced on their head, so fun! The food was also delicious! Be sure to make a reservation though, as it was quite the popular place.
- The Call To Prayer – I had not been in a Muslim country before, so hearing this for the first time was definitely a new experience. We quickly got used to hearing the call to prayer from the mosque near our Riad several times a day, but just be prepared and don’t let it startle you.
- Clothing – Most of the local women do wear a hijab, so I asked our host when we arrived if I needed to avoid wearing shorts, tank tops, etc. He told us the locals generally didn’t care what foreigners wear, but I wanted to err on the side of being cautious and respectful of the culture, so I stuck with long skirts and was fully covered most of the times we went out, except into the new city which was much less traditional.
- Hammam – This is another must-do to fully experience the culture. It’s also known as a Turkish bath! We went on the recommendation of a friend to Heritage Spa. We were given small paper “garments” (underwear) to change into, then we went into a room with heated marble slabs that were covered in water to go be scrubbed down and exfoliated. It was so invigorating! We were then rinsed with a quick splash of cold water, then warm water again. The ladies then dried us off and applied lotion – super relaxing. After that, we changed into robes and went into a nice darker room with cushions on the floor to relax and drink some traditional mint tea. It was the perfect way to chill and be pampered after a long day of exploring in the heat.
I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a little about Morocco. If I ever return to Morocco, I’d love to visit Chefchaouen, Morocco’s blue city (look it up – it’s breathtaking). Casablanca was originally on our itinerary for this trip, but we were told by plenty of locals it was not worth the trip, so we extended our stay in Marrakesh and ended up being so glad we had that flexibility. To me, Morocco was a great way to experience a culture similar to that of the Middle East, but with a little less risk. I’d definitely recommend going and immersing yourself in everything Marrakesh has to offer!