My main reason for visiting Morocco was to take a trip into the Sahara, so Marrakech seemed an ideal starting point and an interesting city to explore. I sought plenty of advice before booking accommodation or excursions, particularly from solo female traveller blogs, so I knew Morocco might bring some challenges.
I had been advised beforehand by travellers that I would need to be cautious and on guard but NOT to let any harrassment spoil my trip. Sadly, this proved extremely difficult in Marrakech and downright impossible in Fes.
My flight arrived at Marrakech Menara in the evening and I’d booked a transfer to my riad in the centre of the Médina, the maze of souks and lanes in the walled city. Within minutes of arriving at the riad I had been greeted with a warm welcome and a cup of mint tea. I stayed in three different riads in Marrakech during my two week trip and at each one I was treated like royalty, fed extremely well, and each riad offered a safe and quiet respite from the busy souks and tourist-heavy areas.
I had a few days to explore the city of Marrakech, and although the phrase ‘assault on the senses’ is overused about many places, it’s perfect to describe Marrakech. It’s noisy, colourful, pretty intense, and you can’t rely on your phone’s GPS to get your around the maze of the Medina. However, it’s beautiful, there’s a thousand things for your eyes to take in at once, food to taste, coffee to try, stalls to browse. It’s easy to get overwhelmed but it’s quite an experience.
I took a day trip to Essaouira, partly to see the ocean, partly to visit another Game of Thrones location, and the port of Essaouira had been used as the setting for Astapor in Season 3. The tour bus stopped at a couple of tourist spots on the way, including an Argan Oil centre where you were hassled to buy their products, and an Argan oil tree filled with goats (yes, goats) where you were pestered to pay for a photograph holding the goats. It was nice to get out to the coast and see a busy port in action, and spot some of the Game of Thrones locations, but every ten paces someone would offer you hash cakes.
The next excursion took me on a 3-day journey by coach and camel to the Sahara desert. Crossing the Atlas mountains in a snowstorm then arriving at the Erg Chebbi dunes with scorching sun and blue skies was something else.
The journey to the desert camp took 2 days. On the way there our little tour group stopped at Ait-Ben-Haddou, familiar to me from Gladiator and Game of Thrones. A highlight of my trip, this is a UNESCO heritage site filled with history, beautiful tapestries, palm trees, and unbeatable views.
My favourite moment here was getting my first glimpse of the city…
A few hours later we arrived at Merzouga, on the edge of the Sahara desert. The palm trees thinned out in the last hour or so of the drive, the landscape became more sparse, until what I thought were mountains were visible from the coach window: they were the Erg Chebbi dunes of the Sahara. We travelled the last two hours to the campsite via camel, which may not be the most comfortable but was a peaceful, beautiful time in a confusing trip which was worth all of the effort and hassle.
I ate wonderful food miles from anywhere, fell asleep listening to Berbers play the drums out by the open fire, under one of the clearest nights I’ve ever seen (not quite New Mexico stars, but close). Slept like a baby and woke up to yet more food being served. One more camel ride took us back to the coach where we spent 16 or so hours travelling back to Marrakech.
Back in the city I was followed, harrassed, and bothered until the Riad’s manager had to tell the guys hassling me to go away. They stood in the riad doorway for 15 minutes until he paid them to move on. I’m pretty experienced in looking like I know where I’m going, even if I’ve got a backpack on and don’t look like a local, but because I’d doubled back on myself trying to find a hidden riad in an area with no signs in English, they’d marked me as a target.
So the next day I took an 8 hour train journey to Fes. I was aware that the highlight of my trip had possibly been and gone but I was curious to see what another city was like in Morocco. I had chosen another beautiful riad to stay in at a very reasonable rate, and luckily both the sleeping and eating arrangements were extremely cosy, because I didn’t leave the riad much. Walking the 15 minutes from the station to my hotel allowed me to be groped, shouted at, propositioned…it was getting to me.
The next day I went back to Marrakech. I met up with someone from my Sahara tour for dinner, where we laughed and complained and talked about all kinds of things, bought souvenirs and haggled over taxi prices and my trip ended on a definite high. It took a few days to get used to Marrakech, its pace, its people, just the way it works…but after Fes I was glad to see the souks and the Koutoubia again.
So in summary…
- Listening to a great local band at Cafe Clock and drinking fresh lemonade
- Watching the fishermen at Essaouira
- Wandering the souks in Marrakech and experiencing the night market
- Riad hospitality – comforting and relaxing after a busy day
- Crossing the sand dunes at sunset on a very chilled out Camel called Victor
- Food and mendhi at the Henna Cafe in Marrakech
- A LOT of harrassment which did, at times, become tiresome and spoiled the trip.
- The heat and queues outside the Majorelle Gardens – when you do get there to see some of that amazing blue, expect lines of women in straw hats taking selfies against the blue. Dozens of selfies. For AGES.
- Henna artists in the souks and night markets will freely talk to you then daub henna on you without permission. One to watch if you’ve got sensitive skin.
- Not a lot of ATMs in Marrakech and a lot of places are cash only.
- In Fes, I went to settle my hotel bill and the card machine was down due to a storm. The owner wanted me to walk around with a few thousand Moroccan Dirham cash and then because I could only withdraw so much in a day, said ‘oh just go after midnight’.
- I got pulled over by a local police in Fes who told me to ‘go home quickly’ because it wasn’t safe for me. I was in a tourist area at around 2.00pm. Not fun.