It’s been a while since I last posted about Morocco, but the second part of my sense filled experience is finally here. I’m going to take you through some of the more central and southern regions of the country, where cold mountains meet scorching desert and bustling streets meet open ocean.
As one of the most visited and talked about cities of Morocco, this former capital is one place no traveller should miss out on – even the country’s own residents desire to end up here! With its blend of old medieval and new architecture, traditional souks and modern night clubs, there are sights to be experienced by all.
Once I arrived at my hotel in the new town, I unpacked and headed straight out into the old medina to visit the famed Jemma -el Fna; a large open square full of merchants, monkeys, snake charmers, the sweetest orange juice in the world and much much more.
Running from the square and the heart of Marrakesh’s old town are vein-like alleys narrowly interwoven to create a labyrinth of souks (markets). It’s definitely worth getting lost here and discovering the potential of your senses. Try the different flavours, smell the exotic North African spices and practise your bargaining skills for the day.
A number of famous faces have fallen in love with Morocco, one of them being the late Yves Saint Laurent who owned the botanical Jardin Majorelle: a beautiful garden created by the French artist Jacques Majorelle around 100 years ago. Discover the museum on Morocco’s indigenous inhabitants; the Berber. Traditionally Moroccan in style, the museum has been painted in vibrant blues and yellows which stand out from the surrounding green hues. This is truly a mini paradise.
I touched on tanneries on my previous post whilst visiting Fes, however Morocco is known for its tanneries and they can be found in many of its major cities. You’ll know when you’re nearby a tannery due to the overwhelming sulphuric-like smells.
Ben Youssef Madrasa is one of the islamic schools which was founded in the 14th century and still remains one of the most stunning pieces of architecture in the city. Full of intricately detailed mosaics, arabic inscriptions and horseshoe arched doorways. As the largest and one of the most stunning Madrasas in the whole of North Africa – this isn’t to be missed.
As we approached Merzouga the terrain slowly became more desolate and the temperature slowly increased. We were travelling more and more into the vast open desert. We arrived at the hotel which was surrounded by desert as far as the eye could see, the view was mesmerising and I knew then why so many people had fallen in love with these timeless sands.
The next morning, it was time to go out and take a more traditional means of transport in the form of a camel. I’ve had experiences with these gentle beasts before, however my ride was far from placid – being the youngest camel out of the group. After almost an hour however we bonded and it was smooth sailing. We arrived at our camp site and our hosts played some traditional Berber music as we sipped on some sweet mint tea, a truly nomadic experience.
On our route from the desert we had an overnight stay within the Todra Gorge, a narrow passage with huge rock walls which loom 300m high. This orange rock, which had been carved by rapid waters over millions of years is a thrilling spot for hikers and rock climbers. If you’re less of a sports enthusiast opt for a pleasant walk through it’s greenery and by the river which passes through.
Between Marrakesh and the vast Sahara desert is the historical UNESCO protected city of Ait Bennhadou, which looks like something out of a fantasy world – so much so that it is featured in the TV show: Game of Thrones along with giants and dragons! The city has also been featured in over 20 big screen movies including; The Mummy, Kingdom of Heaven and The Prince of Persia.
Take a stroll through its once inhabited streets and imagine how it would have been to live in this clay masterpiece. As the world changed the city’s people realised the conditions they lived in weren’t up to the same standards as their neighbouring towns. So they hopped over the small river with their ghostly city still in sight and built more modern abodes, along with hotels and shops for the many tourists which flock here.
The Atlas Mountains are made up of multiple levels which span across huge regions of Morocco. The village of Aroumd at the base of the High Atlas Mountains was a 1 hour uphill walk from the town of Imlil and has breath taking views of Mt Toubkal – the highest point of Morocco. We went during April and had to almost cancel this mountain adventure due to the harsh weather conditions which battled against us.
Heavy snow had settled on the mountain side and with no other route to the village, we had to walk along slippery rock and by steep drops which due to the secluded location were our only option. It was worth the risk however, we arrived to a group of friendly locals who made us some homemade bread and of course traditional mint tea.
It was time to head to Essaouira for some time to relax and slow down from the rest of this amazing yet hectic country. The sea side town contains all of the vibrance which I had previously seen, however the pace and way of life is much more relaxed. You can take a stroll through the souks and again bargain with the locals – who are much more easy going here.
If you’re into surfing then head to the ocean as Essaouira is known for its waves. The harbours hundreds of blue boats is also not to be missed and iconic to the town.
If you’re heading to or from Marrakech to Essaouira then be sure to take a visit to the argan trees. Learn about what makes argan oil from Morocco so unique and try some for yourself. If you’re lucky you may witness tree-climbing goats – definitely one of the most bizarre sights I had witnessed.
Overall Morocco was a marvellous yet mysterious journey which threw me into a pot of the most intense North African cultures. I wouldn’t change the country at all as its raw vibrance is alluring and I would say this trip will be fulfilling to any travellers out there.
Thank you for reading!