Why You Need to Get Your Butt to Morocco Immediately

Morocco truly surprised me with how great (and easy) it was to travel, perhaps shaped a little by not having such high expectations going into it. I knew that the Sahara Desert was a major draw, because come on, who doesn’t want to do their best Lawrence of Arabia impression across the desert on a camel? That had been a random dream of mine for as long as I can remember, and something I was entirely too stoked to check off my ever-growing bucket list. But besides that, my week in Morocco was all a big surprise to me, in the best possible way and I couldn’t have loved it more if I tried! I come from the mountains of Montana, I'd be lying if I said I knew much about Northern Africa. I can't say it's the most popular destination for Montanans like myself!

No matter what kind of entertainment you’re looking for, Morocco is ridiculously diverse. From small, sleepy villages to mountains for hiking to vibrant market cities where you can buy things you didn’t even know existed. Seriously though, if you go to Marrakech I’m confident that if you look around the Souks (markets) for long enough you CAN and WILL find just about anything. You name it, it’s there somewhere.

For 8 days I traveled around the country and ate my body weight in couscous, drank a solid five fruit smoothies and cups of mint tea a day (they’re like $.50 a piece), hiked, explored and took in as much of the country as I could in a little over a week’s time. Here are just a few of the reasons to get over to North Africa as soon as humanly possible! 

Ouzazarete 

Tucked away in the middle of nowhere central Morocco, is a picturesque little village that looks like it’s straight out of entirely too many Hollywood sets. Probably because it IS from entirely too many Hollywood movies. It’s where big films typically film desert scenes, some of the movies that have filmed here include; Indiana Jones, Game of Thrones, The Mummy, Gladiator and Prince of Persia, just to name a few. The locals take great pride in how Hollywood their village is, but if you walk around and talk to people, you’ll find it’s just a normal Moroccan village full of friendly people and not so much out of the ordinary.

You can hike up the hills for a complete overlook of the surrounding area, walk through the colorful side streets and soak in the culture, chat with the friendly locals, and so on and so forth! It's particularly just an interesting place for soaking up some Moroccan culture. That in itself is enough for me.

Exploring Marrakech

Marrakech is chaos, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that it was actually some really fun chaos. It’s basically a modern mix of Moroccan and international cultures all thrown together into tiny side streets (seriously, look at the overview on Google Maps, it looks like a spiderweb) and large vistas.

I have never felt so directionally lost than I did in the Medina (central market square) in Marrakech. If there’s a common trend that went on between myself and every other foreigner I talked to, it’s that we were always constantly lost in the Medina. It’s too easy to get lost, and for what might seem like a quick five minute walk from point A to point B always turned into twenty minutes of me walking in circles, even when I was walking with other friends, we would all get lost together. Anywhere near that Medina is a mess of small side streets filled with thousands upon thousands of stalls and shops. 

The hectic-ness of this place makes for some of the best people watching I’ve ever witnessed, and believe me when I say you will meet some real interesting characters in these streets. It’s all in good fun, usually. For those of you photographers out there, it’s a prime location for street photography. There’s always something interesting/bizarre to see in Marrakech. Soak it all in and have some fun with it! 

Within the Medina at night you'll find every kind of food you could imagine, street performers, snake charmers, and my personal favorite; storytellers who stand in the middle of circles of people and tell tales of Moroccan history and fables of old. That was one of the most awesome parts for me, just hearing these old tales and surrounded by the pure chaos of street life around you. It's something special.

Drink Your Bodyweight in Mint Tea & Smoothies

They’re cheap, they’re everywhere, and they are all very addicting. Stop by and stand or shop seemingly anywhere in Morocco and they’ll offer these two beverages, and as touched on previously I think I had a solid 5-6 per day. Even the way that they pour the tea comes with a certain Moroccan art, they pour in and out, up and down, always coming out with the perfect pour, those crafty magicians those guys are. Add some sugar to the tea, kick back, and enjoy the finest beverage Morocco has to offer.

Hearing the Call to Prayer from the Mosques

This one absolutely caught me by surprise, but believe me when I say; it’s freaking awesome. I’ve traveled Muslim countries before, but in my travels I have yet to hear an entire city stop everything and just go off all around you a couple of times a day. The locals would hear the calls and make for the nearest mosques that were going off like sirens while dressed in their white prayer clothes. It’s such a unique experience for anyone who has never seen it before.

The very first time I heard it, it was sunset from ontop of our hotel roof terrace. The sun was just beginning to go down as I was taking pictures with my new friends of the overlooking city view with the pink desert sun slowly sinking down below the horizon. All of a sudden, out of nowhere the central mosque in front of us went off with its Call to Prayer alarm rhythmically, and in every single direction around me, one after the other, before long the whole city was calling out it harmony. It was a real thing of  beauty.


Hiking the Atlas Mountain

Believe it or not, in the winter time it snows in Morocco! There is some serious elevation in Morocco, and the Atlas Mountains are chalk full of hikes, both short and long. To top it off, there is actually a fair amount of snow fall up in the high elevation mountains and the Atlas Mountains are some of the highest in Northern Africa.

The Atlas Mountains cover a large portion of Morocco itself. There are all kinds of hikes to take on in these mountains. From short day hikes to week long treks, they have it all. There are many Berber (the local native people) settlements all over these mountains and several of the hikes and tours will take you through their villages. Meeting the Berber’s and learning of their unique lifestyle is an amazing experience in itself, how self-reliant they are, and how they’ve been able to survive out in the mountains and deserts for so long. Some of the warmest and accommodating people you can find around.

Eat All the Couscous and Tagine

Before Morocco I had tried couscous several times, but this, this is REAL couscous. Each region provides its own takes on couscous, but if there was one common pattern between all of the variants that I tried it’s this; it’s all great and you can’t go wrong with it in Morocco.

Tagine is an iconic dish that you can’t miss while you’re here as it always comes in a gigantic clay pot and steamed to perfection. Tagine itself is basically meat, cinnamon, dates, nuts, and potatoes (and other random ingredients based on region) all thrown together in the steamed clay pot.

Camel Treks Deep into the Sahara Desert and Camping Under the Stars

This was the highlight of my trip to Morocco for sure, as it doesn’t get much more iconic than having your head wrapped up Lawrence of Arabia style and riding your trusty camel steed (mine was named Betsy) into the vast sand hills of the Sahara Desert as the sun sinks low in the distance. I’ll be the first to admit that 90 minutes on a camel can be, well let’s just say less than comfortable, especially for guys. A very small price to pay for what was to come.

You are taken out to the middle of the desert to the Bedouin camps and have the choice of staying in the tents they provide you surrounded by the beautiful golden dunes, or better yet, you can take a carpet or mattress out of the camps and set them up on top of the dunes themselves for the real experience. I would opt for the second option if I were you - always opt for the magic carpet, come on. You can also bring your own tent and gear, find the perfect  dune to chill on and set up camp wherever you want, it's total freedom once you get to the region by camel.

If you have never tried climbing up a sand dune let me just say, it’s harder than it looks and you just seem to sink. For every one step forward you seem to take one back. But you get there eventually and the reward is being on top of the tallest dune in the area and taking in the extremely beautiful views of the Sahara Desert all around you. There is no light pollution in the area so you can see the stars above you, every single one of them. You can spot thousands of stars, galaxies, the Milky Way, everything and it could not be more picturesque. The sky is reminiscent of the good ol' Montana starry nights I'm accustomed to, but with the added twist that it's in the middle of the dramatic views of the Sahara Desert. 

Once you’ve had your fill of the top of the dunes, I HIGHLY recommend running down the tall dunes as fast as you can, it’s way too much fun and it’s basically like sand boarding without a board. Don’t hate it until you try it!

In the morning, after a solid 3-4 hours of sleep you’re woken up well before the crack of dawn to hop back on your trusty uncomfortable steed (he/she won’t be a big fan of the time either) and take off to find the best possible spot to soak in the sunrise views. We only rode for about 30 minutes before stopping to take in the sunrise from atop another sand dune, and in that moment, nothing could feel more perfect. It was a dream come true for me.

Published: August 30, 2017

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Aaron HagenExplorer

Montana

Adventurer, Photographer and Traveler from straight outta Montana, though I'm typically found roaming outside the US these days. Follow along with my travels on Instagram via @hagendaasphoto!