Thursday, April 18, 2013

Spring Break in Morocco! Part 1: Day One in Marrakech

Morocco is one of those places I'd always wanted to visit but never thought it would become a reality...until I met Laura. She is half Moroccan, spent many years there visiting family and living there as a child, and even studied abroad there for a year. When she shared her love of her home and all the amazing things to do there, the seed was planted. When Fionn mentioned he had a week off for spring break, I pitched the idea to him.

What if we actually tried to do this??

He's a pretty fearless traveler, so it was pretty easy to get him on board. Laura and I met for numerous coffee date/Morocco info sessions and I read every book, travel blog, state department brief-anything I could get my hands on that had to do with Morocco...and soon tickets were bought and we were on our way.

Since we only had a week, we decided to base ourselves out of Marrakech, maybe take a day trip somewhere (that didn't happen in the end) and finally, take a 3 day excursion to the Sahara desert to ride camels and camp in a Berber tent. After hours of planning and researching, we were ready to go.

When we arrived in Marrakech all of our senses were assaulted. It is total madness and chaos and raw energy like I've never experienced before. Our taxi driver raced through the streets, past donkey carts, mopeds, and pedestrians before giving us over to a guy with a wheelbarrow who showed us the winding way to the riad we were staying in. In all honesty, I was totally reminded of Aladdin as we made our way through the streets of the medina, the old city. Vendors called out to us to look at their wares, a snake charmer played music for his cobra, and young men loitered around food stalls, eating their bowls of soup or kebabs, all while we dodged mopeds, donkey carts, and bikes that whizzed through the narrow streets.

We finally arrived at our riad and checked in, amazed that such an oasis of calm and tranquility could exist in such an exciting place. Riads are a traditional Moroccan house with a central courtyard. It's become very popular to fix them up into snazzy hotels. Most of the ones we saw had three stories-ground floor and first floor for bedrooms and then an open rooftop terrace. The central courtyard has always cool and shady and it was so relaxing getting to sit by the fountain and read.

Our room was upstairs and was so beautiful. I don't usually talk about our hotel rooms on our trips, but the Moroccan ones were too cool not to mention! Stained glass windows, blue themed everything, quiet and calm!

We started our first day in Marrakech with a visit to the Koutoubia Mosque with its famous minaret. It was very pretty, but since non Muslims are forbidden from entering, we only got to see the outside.

From there we made our way to the Saadian Tombs, the resting place of 16th century Sultan Ahmed el Mansour and his family. When the next ruler came to power, he had the tombs sealed up and they remained hidden until 1917.

By now we were hungry, but also hopelessly lost. The old city is like a labyrinth and it doesn't help that there either no street signs or they are only written in Arabic. So we decided to enjoy the opportunity to people watch and start looking for lunch (and mint tea!).

After our lunch of tasty tagine (the first of many), we headed to Djemma el Fna, the main square of Marrakech. There is a ton happening there-snake charmers, henna ladies, shoe shiners, orange juice sellers, caleche drivers offering you a ride, nut and dried fruit salesmen, drummers, dancers, tourists, locals, everything! At night they clear out and make way for the food stalls that set up there. More on that later.

Fionn braving the fray

Djemma el Fna was pretty cool but since we'd been in the sun all day we were a little ready for a break. Also, we looked down in time to notice we were nearly walking into the shade of an umbrella where, I kid you not, a dozen cobras and other snakes were curled up getting cool. The snake charmers laughed at us when we jumped away, but I think we had good reason!

a small corner of the square

a boy with a toy snake and the snake charmer behind him holding the REAL one

We took a glass of fresh squeezed OJ to go and headed back to our riad. We ate dinner there that night which was an awesome idea because it was amazing. An older lady and two teenage girls prepared everything and we were practically licking the plates clean by the end. We're still talking about that meal :)

We befriended the teenage boy working the front desk, and he tried to teach us how to pour mint tea the proper Moroccan way. I'll admit, I was a little scared of getting splattered..

That's it for part one! Stayed tuned for more from Morocco!


  1. Looks so beautiful. I would love to visit! Can't wait to read more about Morocco. And I'm so glad you commented so I could discover your blog :)

    1. Aww thanks! Good thing I stopped lurking and finally commented. ;) Morocco is amazing, it was high up on my Must-See-Before-PCS list!

  2. Hi - I came upon your site while doing research for my Marrakech trip. Love your blog!! Would you happen to remember the name of the riad you stayed in and whether you would recommend it?

    1. Hey Jen! We stayed at a place called Riad Al Jana. I would wholeheartedly recommend it. It was reasonably priced, beautiful, the meals were great and it's in a good location to a lot of the old city sites. I would recommend booking an airport transfer because it's dang near impossible to find on your own the first time. The riad is also located right next to a mosque, so you'll be woken every morning at 5 am by the call to prayer, which is startling at first but just part of the Marrakech experience. If you have any other questions, please don't hesitate to ask! :)