Travel in Morocco: Marrakech and the Sahara Desert

Salaam Aleikum and welcome to the second half of my Moroccan journey! 😀 🇲🇦

Salaam Aleikum means “peace be upon you” in Arabic. 📷: Sahara Desert

My bus arrived in Marrakech at 6 AM. 🚌 I decided to wait until daylight before making my way to the hostel. I could have taken a taxi, but I was so sick of sitting on the bus that I really wanted to stretch my legs. Anyway, as I walked there, I was initially impressed by the wide, spacious boulevards here lined with palm trees.41178778971_e76eaf909d_zThe buildings in Marrakech are painted a light rose color, giving it the nickname, the “Pink City.” 💕41178779221_3120f4b219_z

Sally is more of a city girl 😉 🐪
local telephone ad ☎

I walked about 40 minutes through the new district until I reached the main square near the towering Koutoubia Mosque. 🕌40282354625_b02326c9dc_zThe Jamaa el Fna square here is a massive open-air complex. To use the word chaotic here would be an understatement. I decided to make a short video of the square to give you a better idea of what I mean. 😱

People were charming snakes, monkeys were dancing on ropes, and old women were doing henna tattoos on unsuspecting passersby. 🐍 🐵41178778731_41b86156b6_z
40282354705_4b53eff934_zAs I weaved through all the people, I tried to make a beeline for the street of my hostel.40465511094_84a07730b4_z
40282354595_ae63bb1825_zOf course I got lost going there since the Google maps address wasn’t accurate, but a nice waiter at a French cafe nearby gave me directions in French using exaggerated hand gestures. Finally, after an hour of wandering, I found the narrow alleyway to my hostel.39368055480_f608e26537_zMy accommodation here was called Riad Marrakech Rouge. They had free WiFi, complimentary breakfast, dorm beds, and they organized excursions.39368055400_80a4e01e66_zCost: 6 Euros per night

When I first arrived, they greeted me with coffee and a full complimentary breakfast of pita, a fried crepe, pound cake, fresh cheese, orange marmalade and hard boiled eggs.40460098844_5d72266d95_zWhile eating I started chatting with some Americans that were studying in Milan, Italy, and were here on holiday. We decided to venture out together and go sightseeing in the city.
Our first stop was the Bahia Palace, Bahia meaning “brilliance”, and it was easily one of the most gorgeous buildings I had seen in Morocco. 40465500604_5ed01ec994_z40282332025_54d529063f_zThis 19th century building was originally intended for the sultan and his mistresses.40282331835_af09be1994_zThe complex spans 20 acres, and is a mix of spacious courtyards decorated with tiles and mosaics, and concubine dwellings decorated with intricate wood carvings and colorful stained glass.40282331995_b3a430d32f_zI was really in awe of all the intricate details. ❤26305834767_519b53f6ba_z26305834537_6f84a5181b_zAs well, there were lush gardens, decorated with marble fountains, that were teeming with plant life, like orange, cyprus and jasmine trees. The smells from the garden were especially divine!40465500654_a8757bb03f_z26305834687_05f49621e7_zFrom there we walked through the Medina of Marrakech.39368055700_74910142a8_z (1)

traditional Berber outfit

Compared to Fez, this medina was much smaller, but motorbikes were allowed in the narrow streets, which made it seem more chaotic. The salesman here also really made me chuckle. He said, “These bags are 100%, genuine fakes! Dolce and Banana!” Hah! 😂41133983752_abc9e62a03_z39368055620_09d7287341_z

gorgeous clay pottery

I also spotted some different street food here, like these pastries called ‘bastilla’, which are filled with chicken, almonds, and prunes, then sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.39368055530_c9a6b1a693_zAs well, there were these flaky pastries, filled with either meat, veggies, or seafood. 40465501054_8fe023672e_zAfter wandering awhile, we decided to sit down at a restaurant called, Amal Cafe. This cooperative helps to empower women by teaching them culinary skills and arranging job placements across the city. The cafe also offers cooking courses. For lunch we tried a veggie tagine with couscous, and a flaky pastry filled with chicken and served with a slaw-type salad. 40276901685_15bf0c62aeTagine spices are very complex, and can include cumin, coriander, cardamon, chile, turmeric, and ginger. This veggie dish had potato, carrot, zucchini, roasted tomato, chickpeas and couscous. 🤤
39362313720_099c1c4f69After we spent the evening chatting on the hostel’s rooftop terrace before I headed to bed. The next morning I awoke at 6 AM to prepare for my 3 day/ 2 night desert tour, booked through my hostel.

3 Day / 2 Night Sahara Desert Tour

39368005400_c9bf3cdae6_zAfter another traditional Moroccan breakfast, I went with some Ukrainians and British travelers from my hostel to meet the van for our tour. Of course, it was a total cluster trying to organize so many people, and we ended up waiting almost an hour before we loaded into our van, but eventually we got on our way. 🙂40282384615_a12b00a28e_z
Our tour driver only spoke French, but he was very jolly. He always had a glass cup on tea in his console. He always made stops for the toilet, photos, cigarettes, water, and just about anything that we needed. He also stopped many times in the towns to say hello to the friends that he knew. I just wish I hadn’t sat right behind him and couldn’t see his driving, as swerved around to pass cars, sometimes while going around the corner of a mountain, or while passing a car that was already passing another car! I felt like my nervous aunt as I gripped the edge of the window and exhaled loudly in relief when we survived. Hah! Oh yeah, and since our driver didn’t speak English, one French traveler translated everything for us, then I had to translate for a Spanish couple as well. Talk about a game of telephone! 😛
Anyway, we made several scenic stops as we drove through the High Atlas Mountains from Marrakech to Ouarzazate. It was incredible to see such a diverse landscape, with snow-capped mountains, flat desert, and tropical palm trees all in the same area.40282384575_fc7c78d7fb_z40282384235_3259a0cea2_zAt many times we could see Arabic words written in rocks along the mountain. Our driver told us that this stood for the three things you should be willing to die for: God, country, and king.26300041007_505ff95b53_zAnyway, our first major stop of the day was Ait Beinhaddu, an 11th century mud-brick city that was used by travelers on the caravan route.41178522401_64ea02a6ed_z

locals washing clothes in the river

It is also the backdrop for many Hollywood films, including The Mummy and Gladiator.41178522491_ff3b92228c_zFun fact: Due to unstable political situations in Egypt, many Egyptians movies were actually filmed in Morocco, and we even drove by the Hollywood studios here.
26300023037_acc3e32625_zWhile touring Ait Beinhaddu, we walked through these ancient city streets where vendors now sell rugs, scarves and paintings.41134051942_0d4108a77b_z

These structures have really stood the test of time!

26305935097_1dd3e18a2e_zMy favorite art piece here was burnt by using a magnifying glass held under the strong rays of the sun. ☀26305935207_52d56c0308_zAnyway, when we finally hopped back in the van I started chatting with the guy next to me from Ukraine. I learned how he had fled to Poland before the Ukrainian war. We chatted about how he can’t visit his parents now, since they live in the Ukranian war zone now. His parents have the option to leave for other parts of Ukraine, but they don’t want to end up in shabby, refugee housing, and already know the people in their community. They would prefer to risk it and stay in the war zone. He ended by saying how happy he was that he left for Poland when he did. He now has a stable job with Google and the freedom to travel around Europe. After three more hours of driving, near sunset, we made a scenic stop to take in the mountain scenery.26306024957_63f4d0715d_z
26306024787_49ba9aa167_zThe rocks here looked to me like a melted candle, and apparently the shape is supposed to resemble a monkey paw if you look close enough. 🤔🐒39367851030_50f56278d3_z
39367850940_b752ff25ca_zAfter sunset we arrived at our accommodation near the Dades Gorge. I ended up sharing a room with two Brazilian girls that were living and working in Germany.26306025007_c1a09e14a9_zThe one girl was pregnant, and such a hoot to talk with. She hadn’t traveled much before, and said she was definitely being too nice to the market sellers in Marrakech. She ended up getting a henna tattoo on her hand without agreeing to it, and somehow let a man put a monkey on her shoulder. Hah! 🐒 She said she was too polite to say no. The funny thing was that the henna tattoo included her name written out in Arabic, so when she walked around in the market afterwards, the locals kept calling out her name, because they saw it on her hand! 🤣39367851140_e145d8d447_zFor dinner, we started out with a traditional tomato and lentil soup called ‘harira’, served with these cool wooden spoons.39367851210_5bcb1e3390_zWe also had a chicken tagine, which was artfully prepared with root veggies, olives, prunes, chicken and a thick sauce, great for dipping your pita. For dessert they also offered oranges and bananas sprinkled with cinnamon.39367851270_589c9e7efd_zIn the morning we had a typical breakfast before departing for the Sahara Desert in Merzouga.41134128122_0760a78bef_zOur first stop of the day was to Tinghir, a traditional Berber village. 40465635844_e0117b8b15_zHere we walked through alfalfa plantations and our guide talked to us about the agricultural importance of this area.41178598671_8e9e7cd97b_z41134128342_4184757b98_z41134128462_74f83a5bfb_zOverall, I was shocked at how much greenery I still saw in the desert. We past streams of water, palm trees, cherry blossoms, and you could still see the snow-capped mountains in the backdrop.41134128642_acb726001d_z41178598621_1eed84a4ba_zWe also walked through the city’s historic Jewish quarter. Apparently, before the Arab-Israeli conflict in the 1940s, the Jews and Berbers existed here in peace. After tension rose, about 98% of the Jews fled the country.40465635754_b1d9683c95_z40465636014_ba612aa218_z40465635674_6b112e3f73_z40465636184_27bb1bdf6c_zThen we stopped to learn about how Berber rugs are made by using either camel hair or sheep’s wool, and natural dyes. Very beautiful!27299087528_e40368e6da_zWhile visiting, we took tea with the family, and one of the Ukrainians in our group even bought a small rug for 90 euro.39367894600_185e6b2fa1_z 41178598771_9177f0ed02_zFrom there we went to the Todra Gorge, where we walked along the pristine river and took in the natural scenery.26306032507_8d384cf095_z
26306025097_e21af19baf_zWhat a GORGE-ous gorge! 😉41366799161_5425a16b1e_z
26306032677_447ff2e16c_zAfterwards we stopped for lunch, where I tried some kebab chips. When in Morocco! 😀 40460098304_7675ae9ed6_zFrom there we made a three-hour drive to Merzouga, on the edge of the Sahara Desert. Throughout the ride, it was incredible to watch the landscape as it changed from dark, sandy gravel to cascading orange dunes.27304746218_960b83809d_z
41134253432_abf904c393_zWhen we arrived at the desert, we grabbed only what we would need for one evening, and left the rest of our belongings in the van. Our driver then left us with the  local Berbers and would return for us in the morning.27304746528_5b903273d1_z
27304746278_ebdf6e8a8c_z// there we mounted camels and began a 45-minute trek to our overnight Berber camp.39367952040_c53b7c2817_zMy camel was quite small, and my cushion was put together using plywood, which really hurt my bum, so I was glad the ride was short. Hah! 😛41172954841_93c82ed668_z
26306079387_3bbc314848_zDuring the ride I was surprised to see how bushy the desert landscape appeared. 26306079057_79dfa6a291_z
41366799221_182cb2a011_zThere were oodles of plants and yellow cacti sprouting in our path.39367952130_5f50e32dc1_z
26306078977_194b89922a_zNow there are over 200 camps set up in the Sahara Desert, and it appeared that we were given the worst. Hah! For this reason, I probably wouldn’t recommend the tour that I booked. Our camp looked more like a shanty town. It was so awful, it was laughable. I couldn’t even take a photo, so here is one of the nicer camps.26306079247_026a7e6e3a_zWe didn’t have a shower, toilet or even running water. When we arrived our Moroccan guide didn’t introduce himself. He was very angry and made us feel like an inconvenience. He said he was annoyed and tired. He tried to shove six of us in one tent. Each tent had six shabby blankets, smelling of cat pee, and no real door. A few of the couples had paid 80 Euro extra for a private room, and the guy started yelling at them, telling them that it was overbooked and there was nothing he could do. He was quite crazy, so we decided to leave it alone and talk with the tour company later when we returned. I was so lucky to be with such an awesome group of people that made the experience actually fun despite the conditions. For this reason, I would recommend find another tour company and asking to see pictures of the camp beforehand. I would also recommend booking after arrival, because it appears the price of the tour can be negotiated as well. The average 3-day tour price is between 80-100 USD, including breakfast, dinner, transportation, and accommodation.
Anyway, we were still in bliss to be surrounded by such a beautiful landscape, so we decided to walk to the top of the dunes to watch the sunset. 39367980290_fedd893d61_zThe Sahara Desert is the world’s largest hot desert.41134224322_d3d782f420_z
41134253292_239ec99d34_zHistorically, this desert was part of the caravan route, and many travelers rode camels across this sandy abyss to trade their goods and spices.

Fun fact: Camels have wide, soft feet, which makes it easy for them to walk on the sand. They can also go about 15 days without food! 😮39368005350_935b2574ab_zMany types of mammals and reptiles live in the desert, but all I found was this harmless beetle. 🤣27304784428_9b89dc6990_zWhile waiting for the sunset, we took turns racing each other across the dunes. 😛27304784378_23c793dedd_z
39368005460_152d4106d2_zAfterwards, we asked about dinner, but weren’t sure if or when that was going to happen considering the state of affairs thus far. As such, we snacked on oranges and cookies we brought with us, while one of the Spaniards played a drum, and the girls played Brazilian music and danced in the moonlight. As the hours past, it neared 10 PM. We saw a jeep emerge over one of the dunes and joked that it was the Pizza Hut delivery man with the pie we had ordered. Hah! 🍕41366799171_78a7210a32_zWe also pretended like we were Peter Pan from Hook. Maybe if we believed there was real food, it would actually come true. 🤣40282761675_8461469c15_zFinally, our dinner was served at 10:30 PM. 40282637225_8e4f67cd3e_z
40282637095_7d927f0fd2_zThey gave each us a sad soup that nobody ate, and one tagine per six people, which had potatoes, carrots, and one piece of chicken. We also had no chairs or plates of our own. Everyone barbarically sat on their knees and ate out of the same tagine dish with their fork, like they hadn’t eaten in days. Hah! 🤣 🍴40282637345_db390dcef8_zNot so surprisingly, the cats even turned their noses to our food. They obviously have higher standards than we do! 🤣40465743044_2e08564c1a_zAfterwards, we were given a fire where the Ukranians brought out some Polish vodka to share. We also ended up visiting a nearby camp where we saw that they had a shower, toilet, nice sofa in their room, and a proper bed. 😮 We talked with them about their lovely experience so far. For dinner, they sat at a proper dinner table with their own plates, and had a delicious 3-course meal, including water and dessert. It just goes to show, the experience could have been different for us, but at least, in a few years, I’ll look back at this and laugh. 😁 As well, it was more about the people I was with, and for that, I had a truly memorable experience. 😀39367980050_61ce4dd498_zAnyway, the next morning we all awoke at 5:30 AM to ride our camels back for the sunrise.40465743434_61b63dc474_zMy camel was growling and drooling, and definitely not a morning person! Hah! 🤣 🐪 40465743384_74a0a6996a_z
39368055320_17d55d61f1_zThis last day we drove from the Sahara Desert back to Marrakech. The drive took eight hours, with stops for coffee, lunch, and toilet breaks. I chose to do this tour starting and ending in Marrakech, but for an additional fee, you can start or end in Fez.

Overall, the experience was undoubtedly one-of-a-kind. I’ll never regret the beautiful scenery I saw, the incredible people I met, or the abdominal pain I felt from laughing so hard. It’s really not where you go, but the people you meet along the way. 41366799191_8e4321e61e_zAfter arriving back in Marrakech, I spent one more night at the same hostel before my flight the next day.
While waiting for my flight, I spent that Sunday afternoon at the Menara Gardens, conveniently located near the airport. The mood there was very fun and family-friendly. Groups had picnics set up in the grass, and kids played soccer on the large, concrete boulevard.39368084780_85bbd9d918_z
39368084930_e80d32f725_zSightseeing side note: The Majorelle Gardens here are apparently the most popular gardens here due to the fact that Yves Saint Laurent owns them. That being said I found the Menara Gardens to be lovely as well, since they were less touristy and completely free. 💰

From there I walked to the airport, which took 45 minutes. ✈ I wouldn’t recommend this unless you have light luggage, but since I had only a small backpack, I found it to a be a leisurely walk along a safe and secure sidewalk. 39368085020_d6a5c85bf0_z

Marrakech international airport

Anyway, that wraps up my Moroccan adventure. I’m back in Barcelona now to finish up the school semester. 🇪🇸 That being said, in only two weeks I’ll be starting another exciting travel adventure! Woo-hoo! 🙌 Stay tuned for the travel itinerary! Until then! Take care and safe travels!

2 thoughts on “Travel in Morocco: Marrakech and the Sahara Desert

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