Morocco has always been a place in my list. Its berberian building and mosaic tiles are what prettified my 3 years vision board. This trip was a surprise trip (which almost failed) for Damar’s birthday. We made an agreement not to give each other’s gift this year, especially after buying a house and big next year’s travel plan. But, the flight ticket deal was absolutely irresistible. Usually we always plan the trip and itinerary together, this time I had to do it by myself (yes, very challenging to be decisive for me). In this post, I would like to share our Morocco itinerary tips and stories. Note that this travel is in budget and I’ll also share roughly our expense in upcoming post.
DAY 1 – Marrakech
We stayed over night in Tulip Inn hotel just right above Eindhoven airport. It is because we took the very first flight from Eindhoven to Morocco on that Sunday. Public transportation only starts operating at 8 am on Sunday. However, it paid off! Because the good thing about having first flight is that we don’t lose a day in Morocco and was able to enjoy the rest of our first day there. The flight was smooth and took 3 hours 45 minutes. I found it fascinating that in 4 hours away, we arrived in a whole complete different continent, Africa.
Once we arrived we immediately took BUS number 19 (read here why we took the bus). It only took 25 minutes to Jemaa El-Fna. Unlike other airports which location is in the outskirt of the city, this one it is quite close to the city. It is quite nearby Gueliz, the modern ‘new town’ of Marrakech. I wish I had more time to visit and try out its wide range of food. It is amazing to know that beyond the borders of the historical old town (Medina), there is a modern town. It was designed and developed by the French in the early 1900s and the French influences are obvious in stark difference in the design of the area.
We went straight to the Bab Doukkala (the stop of our stay (Riad Itry – from hostel world) which is 5 minutes away from Jemaa El-Fna square. We were already guided with the direction from our hostel on where we should go. Even so, we almost got scam on our way (read more for story and how to avoid it) Tips: Always follow the guidance, it is usually very clear or turn your GPS. Do not let other people who ‘pretend’ to be nice and want to show you the way. Always take your guard up. Believe in yourself or call your hostel for help.
We got tips for our kind hostel keeper to avoid people in the street who try to approach us. To be polite we can say ‘La, Syukron” (no, thank you) or just ignore and walk away (according to him, it is more effective). He also reminded that the price in the Souk (souq or souk is a marketplace in North African cities) is never a fix price. If you ever want to purchase something, be confident and do not let the shop owner play the mind trick. The mind trick here would be “acting” offended saying your bargain price is too low etc. Know how much you want to spend on stuff. To be safer, you can always secretly take picture and ask your hostel keeper once back in your stay how much that stuff usually worth.
We walked around Bab Doukkala to get some lunch, I was super starving that time that we just went in to a restaurant. It was the only restaurant we saw putting their menu and price clearly outside. It ended up not so bad (read more here). First time “tagine” experience in North Africa. While waiting for our food, we suddenly heard azan (islamic call to prayer). I missed that too much. We were used to it back in our home country (Indonesia). Such a beautiful sound! Please scare not, it has such a meaningful message.
We continued walking toward Koutubia Mosque (biggest mosque in Morocco) which is nearby Jemaa El-Fna. If you are moslem and have time, use the opportunity to pray there. It is always magical feeling to experience that in different country with different culture. You’ll be amazed on how normality is not existing anymore. Your way is not normal and you have to adapt on your surrounding, ALWAYS!
That is what I learn so much with traveling. To be more opened and understand people better. Unfortunately, I did not have the chance to pray in Morocco (you know why ;)) but Damar did and people around him did not take eyes off of him. He was also taught to do wudu (cleaning before praying) in the ‘correct’ way. Hahahha. Our routine is not theirs, theirs are not ours, but as my dad always says ‘never feel the most righteous, keep open minded’.
After spending sometimes and taking bunch of pictures in Koutubia Mosque, we went along to Jemaa El-Fna which was just 2 minutes walking distance from the mosque. I started hearing the sound of Moroccon instrument and vendors cheering. It was quite chaotic I must say, so many people, if you’re not used to it, it could be overwhelming. You’d quickly adjust though, don’t be afraid and smile. I was a bit scared then remember how blessed I was to be standing in that square really. Never had I dreamed when I was a kid, I would arrive in this point.
First thing first, ORANGE JUICE. They would all whistle at you and give you smoothie tester. I’d say stick with orange juice and pomegranate. I tried the mango which tasted sugar sweet. After the shot, we walked around the souk and all of the sudden I looked up and saw how beautiful the sky was! The color was just as terracotta as the typical Moroccan building. I trully admire it. I am sure there is something magical with sky in Morocco.
After getting lost and enjoying azan+sunset, we sat in a cafe and have moroccan mint tea. I saw so many guys by themselves (did not see much women in general) having their tea time. They take this rather seriously. At night for dinner, we got our food on our way and went home because the next day the desert tour driver would pick us up at 7 am.
DAY 2 and 3 – Sahara desert
We spent the whole day in Zagora desert which the details I would dedicate in my upcoming post. The desert was not closeby! It was 7 hours drive. We crossed the high atlast mountains and visit Kasbah Ait Ben Hadou which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a place where traditional Saharan habitat used to live. At the moment there were still 4 families living there. We had an hour tour continued with lunch and continued driving along Draa Valley. After arriving in the desert, we met our camel friends which brought us to an hour ride to our tents.
We left the next day to the desert early after sunrise and breakfast heading to Ouarzazate and eventually Marrakech. It was an incredible experience even in a short time.
DAY 4 – Marrakech
We started to do the tour ourselves from El Badi Palace, Tombeaux des Saadiens, Bahia Palace, Ben Youssef Madrasa (but closed when we were there), and Jardin Majorelle.
El Badi palace is a ruined palace that is used to be a display of best craftmanship in Saadian period. I imagined how was the setting and the hardwork back then. This needed 25 years to complete!
Bahia Palace means (palace of the beautiful, the brilliant) is a 19th century palace of eight hectares. It is one of the masterpieces of Moroccan architecture. This place is genuinely mesmerizing, out of the 3 (El Badi, Bahia, Tombeaux des Saadiens), this was my favorite. It is brilliant, just like its name. Capturing every little details will not fit a day.
Tombeaux des Saadiens is grave of Ahmad Al-Mansur and family. The most famous is the room with the twelve columns. This room contains the grave of the son of the sultan’s son, Ahmad Al-Mansur. Outside the building is a garden and the graves of soldiers and servants.
Ben Youssef Madrasa is islamic college in Marrakesh, named after the Almoravid sultan Ali ibn Yusuf (reigned 1106–1142), who expanded the city and its influence considerably. It is the largest madrasa in all of Morocco! Too bad, it closed for construction when we were there.
Jardin Majorelle is a place that I was always curious to see. This one needed 40 years to be completed, can you imagine? This garden contains many sahara plants (cactus etc). It is full of green plants color, and Morocco color in the building (cobalt blue from indigo and yellow from saffron). This was designed and built by French painter Jacques Majorelle and then rescued/bought over by Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Berge on 2010.
Where to stay in Marrakech
Try to stay in Riad if you want to have full Morroco trip experience. Riad is traditional Moroccan house or palace with an interior garden or courtyard. I’d suggest to not stay far from Jemaa El-Fnaa or in the old town (Medina) if you want to have much easy access to the places in the center. Everywhere is quite walking distance anyway. But staying in the city ease the access to get to food and attractions.
The second Riad we stayed is very much recommendable. The name is Riad La Caleche. It is affordable, nice staff, clean space, free breakfast and service to drop/pick up from the airport.
What you should go and try if you have more time in Marrakech
HAMAM / Spa – A bath is a type of public bathing associated with the culture of the Ottoman Empire and more widely the Islamic world
Cooking class – It will be amazing to learn cooking from the local master chef especially if you are like who love food. Check some of the options in here
Dar si Said – A monument to Moroccan mâalems (master artisans), the residence of Bou Ahmed’s brother Si Said. The highlight of a visit here is the spectacular painted and domed wedding-reception chamber flanked by flower-painted musicians’ balconies; credits to artisans from Fez.
House of Photography (La Maison de La Photographia) – It contains a large collection of pictures and documents gathered during the period 1870 to 1960 mostly by anonymous visitors and some very well-known photographers. Many people say the restaurant/cafe above is worth paying visit.
Gueliz – The modern ‘new town’ of Marrakech
Morocco Itinerary (Downloadable)