I’ve ruminated on writing this post for several months now, mostly because it’s insanely hard to put such a soulful experience into words. And also, it’s really difficult for me to condense all of the things I saw, thought and felt into one post. But it must be said, my two-week trip to Morocco this past November was nothing short of life-changing. It was everything I expected and still like nothing I anticipated. If that makes any sense. I’ll try to explain.
When I look back on my trip I think and feel in colors. I remember the warm blush and mauvey-red-pink homes that lined our 8-hour daily car rides through the windy hills and mountains of Morocco. The climate would oscillate between the dry desert and the smell of lush warm vegetation. Contradictory modes of transportation in the form of donkeys or vintage German made cars would line the twisty roads of our Northern African journey. I’d have to say, while arbitrary, my two favorite things about Morocco were the kindness and warmth of the people and the colors that I saw and felt. The food was a close third. I ate so much lamb, I’m not sure if I can eat lamb again any time soon. But my ultimate favorite part of the trip was our driver, his name was Mokhtar.
I don’t think Morocco would have been the same without winding through the country under his guide and seeing this magical continent through his eyes. When I met him he already felt like home, even though I had only known him for a mere instant. I told him I was exhausted by our day and a half of travels and he motioned me to come up to the front of his SUV and lean the chair back. I wrapped my head in a blanket and slept peacefully for four hours as I trusted him to take us deep into a foreign country I wasn’t sure if I should be afraid of or not.
I’ve always wanted to visit Morocco. Ever since I spent that hot-hot 108-degree summer studying abroad in Seville, Spain my senior year of college. I nearly died of heatstroke but it was easily one of the best summers of my life. I yearned to make it through the Sea of Gibraltar and across the African border into Morocco because I’ve always considered the top of Africa to be a magical and mystical place. But at the time I didn’t go as my teachers advised me it wasn’t safe for young American girls, which I must say now 10 years later that information feels entirely untrue.
Since I studied abroad nearly ten years ago, I have been lusting after an epic travel trip and I’ve been prodding everyone from my mom to sister and husband to join but no one could seem to take the time off of work or life. But the truth is, no matter who or what your excuse is for not planning your next trip, you really have to insist on making the time for your dreams, otherwise, life and untaken trips will always pass you by.
Well, one day, last May, I finally caught my big break. My workmate Colleen knew how much I was dying to go on a sourcing trip for my textile company; she somehow found the tickets on sale and prompted me to buy them now! I hesitated for less than a second and then booked the trip without even thinking. Colleen may be the only person I know who is more spontaneous than me when it comes to impulse excursions. She always says, “Money spent on travel is never money wasted,” which is SO true.
A little over a year has passed since I took this trip and I can easily say this was the best travel experience of my life, bar none.
Below, I compiled all my favorite places that we saw and visited while in Morocco. If you are interested in taking a similar trip, I highly recommend it. Colleen and I booked our trip through Jane Shortridge, who owns darbasyma.com and moroccansaharatours.com. She provides a wonderful vacation that includes all your lodging, transportation, and built-in tour guides that take you to all the secret spots which only the locals know about. Also, over half the meals are covered in your expenses. It is very safe and extremely comfortable at all times, while still giving you an authentic experience deep into the heart of Morocco. I think it’s a crazy good deal for the price. Explore our itinerary and route below and please let me know if you have any questions at all. I would love to chat with you!
Day 1 – Arrive in Rabat, Morocco
Immediately after we departed our plane in Morocco we were greeted by Mokhtar and began driving toward the Rif Mountains, we were headed to Chefchaouen, the Blue City. Which is such a gorgeous and breathtaking place, all in various hues of blue as far as the eye can see. It’s spectacular how it’s small yet winds and twists all around. There are also cats everywhere! You can read more about Chouan (as the locals say), here. On the way to Chef, Mokhtar also took us to eat some delicious grilled lamb with sweet tea on the side of the road. That was our first official Moroccan experience. We put together our grilled lamb with fresh bread, tomatoes and onions by hand. And it’s hard to explain but I immediately felt more a part of the earth after eating that handmade sandwich. When we finally arrived in Chefchaouen, we stayed at the Riad Casa Hassan and it was the cutest place I have ever stayed in with the worlds comfiest bed too.
Day 2 – Explore Chefchaouen!
We woke up early to prayer at around 5 am, it came over the loudspeaker for the whole town to hear. It almost felt like this god-like voice was transcending into our riad from the heavens. Which was slightly alarming but very peaceful and calming at the same time. It was a very cool experience that I wasn’t expecting. After breakfast we explored and shopped every inch of this very blue city. Where we found woven goods galore, journals, trinkets, and gorgeous brass home fixtures.
Day 3 – Drive to Midelt
After breakfast at our riad we began our desert adventure, driving first to Midelt, the apple capital of Morocco. We passed through some beautiful areas on this drive, notably Ifrane, a small town that looks like a Swiss village. It really is unique and felt as if we were transported into the Swiss Alps. From there we drove through a national park where you can walk and explore as you wish. We had some very up close and personal monkey encounters which were incredible. You can read more about this here. On the way to Midelt, we also visited Meknes and Volubilis, two ancient cities that are exceptional and stunning. This really made me want to see Rome.
Day 4 – Off to the Sahara Desert!
On our way to the desert, we stopped in Merzouga, where we had a bite to eat and a cup of tea. We bought head scarfs from a man at the restaurant to wear into the desert and he carefully showed us how to wrap them around our heads. Colleen and I were eagerly anticipating our upcoming camel ride and weren’t quite sure what to expect. We finally arrived at our launch spot where a line of camels lazily rested on the sand. The guides each directed us toward a camel, I hopped on first… reluctantly (which wasn’t as easy or graceful as one might think!) mine (which I named Cassiopeia) started moaning and running in all directions and then someone told me he was a baby and still in training! We then began our 2-hour trek through the desert until we reached our camp where we spent the night under the full moon! The trek in was really amazing and an experience I’ll never forget. The sand felt like it had been refined for hundreds of years, a warm, amber, rust color with the softest feel to it as I ran my fingers through it countless times. We watched the sunset from the dunes and ate a fabulous dinner prepared by the staff with around 30 other tourists. Later that night we had a drum circle and even sipped on a little red wine that we brought in (which is a rarity in Morocco! No one drinks!). Afterwards, under the brightest stars I’ve ever seen, I hiked to the top of a sand dune where my new Berber friend, Hamou, showed me how to use his WiFi hotspot where I Face-timed my husband and niece in the middle of the desert under the full moon. It was surreal. WiFi is a complete luxury in Morocco and Colleen and I jumped at any chance to quick plug in and say hi to our friends and fam. The camping tents with moroccansaharatours.com were not your ordinary tents, imagine high-end luxury tents that include a real bathroom (another rarity in Morocco), shower, queen bed and loads of nice wool blankets to snuggle up in if you get cold in the middle of the night. The next morning I even took a shower in the middle of the desert! It was a little chilly but refreshing. I was so sandy, I just had to. Here’s what our camp looked like below.
Day 5 – Head to Ouarzazate
Our first morning in the desert we woke up early at around 6 am to watch the sunrise over the dunes, it was a truly god-like experience. The Sun lit up the whole sky which seemed to pour into every inch of the desert. I found myself running from dune to dune to capture this morning light because I knew it was literally a once in a lifetime moment. After a breakfast of sweet pastries and coffee, we woke up our camels and rode them the two hours back to our car where Mokhtar was waiting for us. From there we drove through the Toudras Gorges, a beautiful canyon-like area with a stream running between two huge cliffs, where there are were people climbing and repelling. When we arrived in Ouarzazate at nightfall we stayed overnight in a beautiful and charming hotel.
Day 6 – Shop for textiles in Ouarzazate
After breakfast at our hotel, Mokhtar brought us to this amazing four story high collector’s mansion. I bought several rugs here for my shop, Arden Trading Co. and spent hours exploring old treasures and valuables. This place was like a ginormous treasure chest and my eyes and hands wanted to explore every inch and room like a starry-eyed kid in a candy shop. The majority of the items found here are several centuries old.
Afterward, we stopped by Mokhtar’s good friend, Sammy’s shop. Every morning he packs up all his goods and bikes 12 miles to set up his small street side shop and every day at dusk he packs it all up and bikes back home. Sammy had the kindest brown eyes. I bought a few rugs and lucky charms from him too because he just felt like a good omen after meeting him.
Later that day, we stopped in a small village for lunch and next saw the famous Kasbah in the remote village of Telouet. In the afternoon, we drove to Marrakech where we arrived at Jane’s beautiful Dar Basyma. We stayed at Jane’s for the remainder of the trip. Which was a blessing because her place is an insanely dreamy refuge inside the crowded and busy winding walls of downtown Marrakech. It’s like a luxury cloud to come home to after so many days of travel. I never wanted to leave!
Day 7 – Explore Marrakech!
After our first breakfast in Marrakech, we took a colorful walking tour of the medina with a guide. Here he showed us around and let us know the history of this warm, beautiful and bustling city. We stopped and shopped at nearly every store and market along the way. Marrakech was teeming with activity and unlike any of the other cities we had visited. More to see and certainly much more to do! The people in Marrakech were also a little pushier than in the mellower cities. They were definitely looking to make that sale. And there are motorbikes everywhere I might add, watch out! Later that night, Colleen and I indulged in a spa night called a hammam. This was so so relaxing and wonderfully not American! Let’s just say I got completely naked in this hammam. It was an all-over body exfoliation + sauna in the nude, followed by a wonderful massage. So freeing, I felt like a new woman afterward.
Day 8 – Explore Marrakech day 2
After a big delicious breakfast at Dar Baysama, Colleen and I were off to explore Marrakech on our own. We tried interesting new foods, some yummy, some strange, but we mostly shopped ALL day long. I found so many gorgeous rugs, blankets, and pillows for Arden on day two. This is what I like to call my honey pot day.
While in Marrakech, we also visited the Jardin de Majorelle – which are beautiful gardens in the middle of Marrakech, an enchanted experience I highly recommend.
Here are a few other notable landmarks of Marrakech that I highly recommend visiting.
Day 9 & 10 – More Shopping in Marrakech
We spent the last two days of our trip mainly textile and present hunting. Our favorite spot was a women’s weaving co-op that was comparable to an antique castle filled with thousands of rugs and textiles lined to the ceiling on every floor. It was so hard to make an executive decision on which rugs to purchase when you are faced with all of these options! Here, I sat with the women weavers who taught me firsthand how they master their craft. I have so much respect and admiration for these talented women. This Beni Ourain rug below takes anywhere from 1-3 months to complete.
Morocco was one of those trips that unexpectedly altered my heart and soul forever. I knew it would be a visually intriguing place but I didn’t expect it would change the way my heart works. It opened my eyes and entire being to a different way of life. I realized I wasn’t alone in this feeling when Colleen even wanted to buy a condo there. I can’t wait to go back; hunt for more textiles and have an incredible steaming hot meal of lamb and vegetables cooked to perfection in their colorful, cone-shaped tagine pots. If you are interested in learning more about our trip please reach out! I am happy to answer any question you may have. I would highly recommend booking your trip through Jane at Dar Basyma. She’ll take good care of you. Also, if you are in the market for some artisan made textiles, I have a few goodies still left from Morocco up on Arden Trading Co.
As they say in Morocco – Shukran (which means, thank you, in Arabic). Thank you so much for reading about our travels and following us on our journey!
BY Stefani Hodzic // W&D Editorial Director - January 4, 2019
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.