Sunday, 10 December 2023

In Leisure

From Morocco With Love – A Jewel on The Edge of the Sahara

In late 2018, Mpho and I took a belated honeymoon (our wedding was in September 2017!) to the Kingdom of Morocco and spent an unforgettable 12 days in this beautiful and culturally rich country.

It is difficult to adequately describe the authentic beauty that is the Kingdom of Morocco.  To describe it as a kingdom is indeed accurate, as stepping off the plane in Casablanca felt like a magical appearance into the setting of an ancient fable like Aladdin or Lawrence of Arabia.  From the hustle and bustle in the medinas to the regal and palatial riads, the experience of Morocco was like stepping through a portal into another time and place.

We arrived in Casablanca, having flown Emirates from Johannesburg through Dubai.  We decided to spend our New Year’s in the Sahara Desert, so we flew in 2 day before New Year’s Eve.  Being in the Northern Hemisphere, Morocco is a bit chilly at this time of year, so if you’re looking to visit during warmer seasons, they recommend from around March to May, or August to October as the best times to visit.

Our 12-day programme was jam packed with activities and sight-seeing. Our route took us from Casablanca to Marrakech, then on to Ouarzazate, then to Merzouga, then up North to Fes, on to the iconic Chefchaouen, then to the capital Rabat, back to Marrakech through Casablanca and we finished our country tour chilling in the coastal town of Essaouira. [Animated Map graphic if possible]  

The best way to see Morocco for a couple or small group is to hire a dedicated 4x4 driver for the duration of your stay.  It eliminates the need to make complicated travel and transit plans or use public transport; it essentially allows you to control your schedule and movements.  A dedicated SUV driver was included in our tour package, which was organised by Camel Trekking Excursions SARL (, an absolute 5-star tour operator and highly recommended!  So, we had our own dedicated driver, Mohamed, who was easily one of the highlights of our trip; he was as funny as he was knowledgeable about the country and an absolutely superb driver. 

We spent our first night in Marrakech, and after settling into our gorgeous riad, Riad Nesma, located right in the heart of the medina, we ventured out to explore and immerse ourselves into the busy energy of the medina.  We wondered through narrow corridors lined with numerous craft and curio shops, and occasionally having to dodge a scooter speeding through the walkways, as we made our way to the square.  As the square opened up in front of us, we found ourselves weaving past spice merchants and snake charmers alike, each of them trying to draw our attention to approach their stands to purchase their wares or take photos (in the case of the snake charmer).  Be sure to ask to take photos with people, or with any of their wares, because they might just harass you for payment thereafter.

After having sundowners and dinner in a quaint rooftop restaurant that we came across in our wonderings, we returned to our gorgeous riad and retired for the night.  We started each of our days reasonable early, as we wanted to make the most of each day, and frankly because each day had quite a bit of driving (minimum of 3 hours a day).  The drives were the perfect way to see the country and learn and understand more about the country.

Morocco is home to some of the locations used in the filming of the epic Game of Thrones saga, and with both of us being avid GOT heads, this was honestly one of the reasons we chose this as our first choice for an international trip together!  We first visited the ancient fortified city of Ait-ben-Haddou which plays the slave city of Yunkai, and our whole trip ended in Essaouira, which plays the city of Astapor, where Danaerys acquires the Unsullied army! 

We timed our trip so that we could spend New Year’s Eve under the stars in the Sahara Desert.  After spending the night in Ouarzazate, we made our way to desert town of Merzouga, and on to our luxury desert camp (ultimate glamping experience!), where a small group of us ushered in the New Year with the locals and some of the desert dwellers. What we did not sufficiently anticipate was just how cold the desert gets at night.  Fortunately, our hosts lit a large bonfire that kept us warm as we welcomed and stepped into the New Year.  We went on an early morning camel ride, and then proceeded to take a drive deeper into the desert to meet some members of the nomadic Berber desert communities.  And a trip to the Sahara Desert would not be complete without an iconic desert bikini photo-shoot, which Mpho aced like the supermodel she is. Mohamed graciously found us the perfect sand dune, left us to our devices, and then we just made that dune our own!

From Merzouga, we proceeded on to Fes, known as the intellectual and spiritual capital of Morocco, where we stayed in a stunning 17th Century riad, Riad Sara.  We were taken on an educational walk through the city by our city tour guide Said.  The oldest university in the world, Karueein, is found in Fes, and the intellectual foundations of the city continue to echo and be felt through the city and its culture.  From Fes, we then went on to the iconic blue city of Chefchaouen, known as the Blue Pearl, where we spent a night, after getting lost in the maze of blue corridors that make this city distinctly unique.  We then proceeded onto the Moroccan capital Rabat, followed by a drive through Casablanca on our way back to Marrakech.  We had to make a stop at Rick’s Café (made famous by the 1942 movie Casablanca) and even dressed in our trench coats to fully encapsulate the 1940s mood.  We then visited the magnificent Hassan II Mosque, the second largest in Africa and seventh largest in the world and having the world’s tallest minaret.

Our trip ended with restful reflection in the beautiful coastal town of Essaouira.  Our 2-night stay was the perfect way to end what was a very eventful and truly enriching experience absorbing the wonder of Morocco.

One simply cannot do justice to the essence of Morocco in a lifestyle article.  And there is so much that I have not even mentioned; from the Sudanese desert immigrant musical performance we witnessed, to quad-biking on sand dunes; from the colossal cliffs of Dades Valley to the ancient Roman City of Volubilis; from the world famous Atlas Studios, to goats that live in trees; the experiences are just too many to mention.  From the warmth and hospitality of the people who were always on hand with a mint tea, to the sprawling and idyllic landscapes and the delectable cuisine; they all simply have to be experienced to be believed.  The culture is abounding, and there is such an abundance of layers to the country and its people, that it definitely requires more than a single 12-day trip to take it all in.  We will certainly be venturing back in the not too distant future, and I strongly recommend that you make it your next travel destination, or at the very least include it in your post-COVID19 travel bucket list.


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