This is Morocco- Marrakech & Sahara Desert
One week walking the vibrant streets of Marrakech and climbing the sand dunes of the Sahara Desert.
Morocco is filled with culture with every turn you take. With it not being like a trip to Rome where you schedule in sights to see. Morocco is a cultural experience and is filled with traditions and history. Marrakech sits between the peaks of Atlas mountains and the mysterious desert.
In this blog you will read about our time in Marrakech and our experience sleeping two nights in the Sahara Desert
COVID RESTRICTIONS: Click HERE to view travel restrictions.
How to get to Morocco
Morocco is very easy to get to once in Europe and is quite inexpensive. There are a few options you can choose from. You can either take a Ferry from south of Spain to Tangier, Morocco or you can fly.
We choose to fly from Madrid, Spain with RyanAir. RyanAir is known for its cheap flights... especially to Morocco. We travelled to Morocco back in September 2019 and during that time we were travelling around Europe already, so we had baggage to include in the flight. After the flight fare and baggage the cost was around $110 for one way, which isn't bad.
TIP: Skyscanner is my favourite tool to use when looking for the cheapest flight!
We decided to visit Marrakech and from there we went to the Sahara Desert.
Marrakech is a beautiful and vibrant city full of wonderful culture. We arrived in Marrakech on September 9th, 2019 at 10:40pm and after we went through the security at the airport we had a pick up service accommodated with our Airbnb host.
TIP: Drones are not allowed in morocco and will be confiscated at the airport. They specifically have all your baggage go through security screening to detect drones.
Where to Stay
In Morocco it is common to stay in a raid, which is simply a traditional Moroccan house. Many raids include lush gardens or central pools or fountains. Most of the raids in Morocco include breakfast and act as if it was a B&B. We found our raid accommodation through Airbnb.
The host was extremely helpful and nice. He gave us great recommendations on what to see/do in Marrakech as well as giving us some cultural tips to help us navigate the Medina and Souks (I will explain what these further into my blog!). For breakfast we got fresh orange juice and Morocco's finest mint tea, along with Beghrir. Beghrir is the Moroccan pancake and is made with semolina flour and yeast in a crepe-like batter. This was served with a side of butter, date jam and orange butter sauce.
Click HERE for our raid accommodation. The raid is as pictured :)
What to Do/See
Marrakech is filled with colourful lanes and beautiful smells coming from a variety of spices. When you decide to travel to Morocco you are exploring its culture rather than sights.
Some of the few things you must experience when in Marrakech are the souks and Medina. These are two important traditional parts of not just Marrakech, but all parts of Morocco.
Souks- souks are shops that line up along the alleyways and consist of shops that offer textiles, food, spices, ceramics and trinkets. This is where your bargaining skills are put to the test. We learned that there isn't much window shopping in the souks. I say this because if you show any sort of interest the shop owner will come up to you and try to bargain with you. We also found that if you are just looking around they get sort of insulted if you don't buy anything.
So bottom line, look with your eyes and figure out what you are interested in and only then should you approach the shop. We found this to be the best way to shop in the souks to avoid persistent shop owners. As well, bargaining will be your best friend in the souks because the prices are flexible!
TIP: The souks typically close shop around 8-9pm.
Medina- A Medina is a place with stalls and shops selling food, spices, handmade crafts, traditional clothes, henna tattoos and perfumes. This is a tourist hotspot because of the vibrant cultural experience and proximity to the Koutoubia mosque and El-Badi Palace, two examples of the enchanting Arabic architecture and history.
In the Medina, night and day are two very different experiences.
During the day you will experience henna artists, snake charmers, fortune-tellers, shops and the sound of open prayer coming from the mosque. During the evening and into the night the stalls are transformed to al fresco restaurants and traditional Moroccan lantern displays all while beautiful music and dancing is happening all around. Although, what is most popular during the evening is the al fresco restaurants, you will experience open flames from the grills and fragrant smoke. Locals and visitors sit side-by-side at communal tables while the food is being prepared adjacent to you.
TIP: Here is a big tip you will need throughout your entire trip to Morocco. Morocco is an Islamic country and the majority of the population have strong values and beliefs. This leaves them to be very protective of their privacy and most of the time do not want their photos taken because of social and religious reasons. When you walk around you will be very tempted to take a photo of the colourful alleyways of the souks or the man charming a snake in the Medina, but this might not be possible. In the souks there will be a sign near the shop that indicates "No photos!".
This is where you are NOT prohibited to take any photos. We experienced that if you purchase something from a shop that has this sign, you may ask the shop owner to take a photo, and this usually works. In the Medina taking photos is a lot more difficult. If you take a photo of a snake charmer you will have to pay. Taking a photo of entertainment and/or shops are not allowed as well. In order to take aerial photos of the Medina we went up to one of the rooftop restaurants, got a mint tea and took shots which came out beautiful. When in Morocco try not to be ignorant and respect their privacy, be polite and always ask before taking a picture.
Ben Youssef Madrasa- This is a former Islamic school that is beautifully preserved from the 14th -century. Here you will be able to witness the enchanting architecture of Morocco. You will be able to capture beautiful photography and catch a sneak a peak of current/past cultural practices. Unfortunately, we were not able to enter because it was under restoration. It is located near the Medina and is open from 9am-7pm (6pm winter) and entry fee is 20 DH. The restoration was schedule to finish spring 2020.
What & Where to Eat
Moroccan cuisine is well worth exploring! Moroccan dishes that you must try:
Couscous is a very traditional dish and is prepared in many, if not all Moroccan homes. It is made with steamed couscous grains along with either several vegetables (popular version), lamb, beef or chicken.
Tagine is the famous slow cooked Moroccan stew that is traditionally cooked in clay or ceramic dishes over coals or open flame. It can be made with just vegetables, chicken, beef, fish or even egg (served for breakfast). Tagines are traditionally eaten directly from the clay or ceramic dish, leaving you with a delicious and beautiful meal.
Kefta Meatball Tagine
Kefta Meatball Tagine is made with ground beef or lamb, cumin, paprika and herbs. It can be grilled or fried and it can also be used in other dishes such as the popular meatball tagine with poached eggs. This meal is also well paired with Moroccan bread to help you get every last bit of the flavourful tomato sauce.
Rissa is a plate of bread served with stewed chicken and lentils. This is the ultimate comfort food.
Mint tea is like water in Morocco. It simply consists of fresh mint leaves and served with everything. It doesn't matter what time of the year it is or time of day, it's always the drink of choice.
Beghrir (Breakfast Dish)
Beghrir is the Moroccan pancake. It is made with semolina flour and yeast in a crepe-like batter. This was served with a side of butter, date jam and orange butter sauce.
TIP: When you are eating at the food stalls in the Medina and they suspect you to be a tourist they will often bring you extra plates of food saying it is complimentary. Remember complimentary is not always the case, they will charge you for the dish once you get the bill. Just be mindful and politely refuse. The only common complimentary dish is olives and bread.
Le Grand Balcon du Café Glacier - $$/ Medina views
Nomad - $$$/ Medina & Atlas Mountain views
Café Des Épices- $$/ Medina views
TIP: There are many rooftop cafés and restaurants surrounding the perimeter of the Medina but many of them require you to buy a drink at least to sit. We got mint tea because we weren't hungry and enjoyed it with amazing views.
Something to note, beer is very hard to find and can be expensive. Majority of the country are Muslim which means alcohol is not a popular household item. You are able to get alcohol at restaurants. Although, if you want to get some to bring back to your room or to bring with you on your desert tour (like we did) you can find it in the new town of Marrakech. Champion Market is where we got our alcohol and we decided to take a cab from the medina which was 49 DH (16 CAD).
What to Buy
(40-90 DH "13-30 CAD")
This is a great souvenir and can be part of your wardrobe while in Morocco. The Berber scarves are hand-dyed. We learned how to wrap our berber scarf during out desert tour however the vendor will be happy to show you how.
Leather is made in the most traditional way possible and you will be able to feel the quality. You can get leather bags, wallets, slippers, belts and so much more.
Morocco is the place to get pure argan oil. This is where you will be able to purchase the oil which is made in the most natural and traditional way.
You will see these beautiful brass or iron lanterns displayed within the souk. The heaviest ones are more expensive but better quality.
Spices surround the streets of Morocco. If you are looking for some inexpensive spices, this is where you can get some.
This was my favourite item. They come in all shapes and sizes and are beautifully coloured. You are even able to get one custom made and have it shipped to your home.
Hand-painted ceramics are the perfect souvenir. You can even get your own tagine style pot!
TIP: The price of items are all negotiable. Remember bargain, bargain, bargain!!!
After three days of roaming the vibrant and colourful streets of Marrakech we were off to the golden sand dunes of the Sahara Desert.
We spent two nights and three days getting our toes full of sand and watching sundowns from the top of sand dunes. Here is how we did it...
How to Get to the Sahara Desert
Before planning my trip to Morocco I looked up quite a few Sahara Deserts tours. The one that I found with the best reviews and value for its money was KAM KAM DUNES. KAM KAM DUNES went above and beyond my expectations. It was a well organized, beautiful and a super fun tour of the Sahara Desert.
About KAM KAM DUNES
KAM KAM DUNES is located in the most hidden area of the Sahara Desert of Erg Chebbi, in Merzouga just along the border of Algeria. This tour takes the traditional nomadic tents from the Bereber families and allows you to experience it with a touch of luxury.
The tour lets you choose from 3 types of Haimas tents.
1.Berber Haimas Tent- Equipped with 2 joint double beds and a sofa. This tent has a shower with hot water, a private washroom, toiletries, towels and bedding . We stayed in this room and it was quite comfortable for the 3 of us. This room was the cheapest out of the 3 options going at 99 EUR/150 CAD a night. (room preview and layout below)
Photos retrieved from: KAM KAM DUNES
2.Family Haima Tent: This option is best when travelling with your family or a group of people. It fits about 1-6 people. It provides a private terrace (oh là là), a shower with hot water, private washroom, toiletries, towels and bedding. This option is 499 EUR/750 CAD a night.
Photo retrieved from: KAM KAM DUNES
3. Kam Kam Private Suites: This is a camp located 5 minutes walking from the base camp. This accommodation gives you the feel of being lost inside the desert. These tents give you more intimacy and more space as it is twice bigger than the Berber Haimas tent (option 1) sizing at 52m². This option accommodates 1-4 adults. The price is dependant on demand.
In the Sahara- What to Do/See
So at this point you are probably wondering "how the heck do we get to the desert from the main city centre?". Well let me explain...
KAM KAM DUNES gives you all the options you may need. This particular tour gives you the choice of pick-up location and drop-off location. Since we were already in Marrakech we chose to have the tour pick us up and drop us off there. I am not going to list all the possible options this tour gives you but instead I am linking their website here and all you have to click from the drop down menu is 'Tour'. Their website is very easy to navigate and gives you explicit itineraries for each tour.
What I am going to explain is our experience with KAM KAM DUNES with the '4 Days Tour'.
TIP: Before getting into detail, I HIGHLY recommend doing the 4 Day Tour. I say this because it allows you to spend a full day in the desert and not just the afternoon (which is what the 3 Day Tour offers). Trust me you would appreciate this advice, let me explain why...
On the first day of our tour we needed to wake up at 7:10am because the KAM KAM DUNES pick up was arriving at our Raid (Airbnb) for 8am. The tour will conveniently pick you up at your hotel/raid/Airbnb, they just ask you to send the address a few weeks in advance. We were greeted with a very friendly tour guide and we continued to pick up a few other travellers visiting a desert tour the same day as us (they are not all going to the same tour as you). When deciding on a tour it asks if you will like a private shuttle service or a group shuttle service. The private shuttle gives you a little more leeway with time and how long you could stay at the sights along the way. The group shuttle service takes you to the same sights, however, you are on a more strict schedule. To be totally honest we didn't care about having more time at the sights, we just wanted to see them. So we went with the cheaper option which is the group shuttle service and I am happy we did because we got to meet a few other travellers. And just like that we were on the road towards our first stop. Before stopping at our first sight our driver stopped at a coffee/variety shop along the road. This is where we were able to get something small to eat, drink and use the toilets. Our first sight was at Ait Benhaddou, which some of you would have seen in the films, 'The Gladiator' and 'Game of Thrones'.
Photos Retrieved from: Google Images
Located within Ait Benhaddou is a small populated town and in this town we were able to shop for souvenirs at the local shops and take many beautiful photos. This place honestly made my jaw drop because of how beautiful it was.
After touring the city, we had lunch at one of the restaurants there and after that we were back on the road. We were on our way to a hotel for the night. The hotel we stayed at was called Dades Xaluca Hotel and wow was it ever amazing.
Here are some photos from the hotel website...It surpassed expectations!
After good food and a comfortable sleep at the Dades Xaluca Hotel we were back on the road. Before our final destination we travelled through the winding roads of Boulmane Dades and stopped at Todra Gorge. We then got the pleasure of visiting a very very small town where we were able to learn about Moroccan rug weaving and got to witness rug weaving and techniques in action by a local. You were able to purchase handmade Moroccan rugs that came in a variety of sizes.
We didn't decide to purchase one just because we were travelling another 3 weeks and the weight of our luggages were already alarming. Once we finished our tour here, we were back on the road and finally got to our dessert camp (KAM KAM DUNES) at around 5:00pm.
KAM KAM DUNES TOUR
We got a ride from one of the employees at KAM KAM DUNES from the shuttle drop off location, which was essentially the side of the road along the Sahara Desert. We arrived at our tour base camp at around 5:00pm, just in time to fit in a sun down camel ride before our ‘under the stars’ dinner. Once we arrived we were greeted by a very friendly employee and the Sahara Desert Adventure began.
What to do
We arrived at our desert camp at 5:00pm. This allowed us to get a camel ride to one of the sand dunes to watch the sunset.
After the camel ride we had time to roam the camp and get cleaned up for dinner. After dinner the camp had a large bonfire under the stars with traditional live music, dancing and singing.
Tip: At the camp alcohol is extra ($) so what we did was purchase our alcohol before hand.
The next day, we woke up and had breakfast and we were offered to go and visit nomadic living. Nomads living in the desert were originally known as Bedouins. The origin of the word Bedu- referring to someone living out in the open. So essentially, Nomads don’t settle in one area for a long time, but travel from place to place. Now, there are around 40 families still living the nomadic way in the Sahara.
Their lifestyle is very simplistic and their way of survival is quite intriguing. I suggest taking this tour! After this we headed to a local hotel for lunch (and swim if we wanted to).
After lunch we had the option to either head back to the camp or go on an ATV adventure in the desert... and of course we chose adventure :). This was an amazing time filled with an adrenaline rush of an experience. We got up many sand dunes and even spotted a desert fox, which was pretty damn cool! The ATV adventure is led by a guide, because it's very easy to lose your way through the desert alone. This was an additional cost, but was so worth the experience.
Here is a link that will show you all the activities offered at KAM KAM DUNES, click here. There has been more activities added since we went, so take a look at the website!
TIP: Tipping in every location/stop is expected. So remember to bring cash with you everywhere you go. For example, for all the stops made to get to the desert camp it was expected to tip the driver and tour guides.
We were able to fit all this in because we chose to do the 4 Days Tour.
How to Get Back to the City Centre
Our time at the Sahara Desert was done. We woke up prepared and ready for the long drive ahead. We said goodbye to all the friends we made during this adventure and then drove off back to Marrakech. On the road we made stops for food and bathroom breaks. We got back to Marrakech at around 7pm. The tour drops you off near the city centre in a place named Jemaa el-Fnaa. In Jemaa el-Fnaa it is easy to get a cab. But remember BARGAIN with the cab driver, they will automatically offer their highest price.
What to Pack
In Morocco the heat is very dry and at night it gets very chilly, especially in the desert.
For women, it is especially important to respect their culture. This means avoid exposing your shoulders and knees. I advise bringing a good pair of linen pants or a maxi skirt. The head scarf to cover your hair is not required, but it makes a great accent. You can get your head scarf (Berber Scarf) in the souks of Marrakech.
For footwear you should have a good pair of walking shoes and a good pair of sandals.
Here is where I got my linen pants. Click Here