The Ultimate Guide to a Weekend in Morocco

Travellers looking for an exotic weekend away just a stone’s throw from Europe should look no further than Morocco. This North African country is located a mere 15km from Spain across the Strait of Gibraltar, but with Arab, Berber and European influences, it feels like another world.

French and Arabic are both widely spoken in Morocco, and most of those in the travel industry speak a smattering of English as well. I thoroughly enjoyed having conversations with locals that included snippets of all three languages.

This post will take you through everything you need to know for a stopover in this majestic country, from where to stay to the best dishes to try, and the best things to see and do.

READ: 21 Arabic phrases you need to know

Where to stay

ultimate-marrakech-guideIf you want to soak up Moroccan culture and stay somewhere incredibly affordable, book into a Riad in Al Kasbah. Riads are small, traditional guest houses, most with just a handful or rooms, run by locals and decorated in traditional Moroccan style.

I stayed at Riad Bjoujna, a lovely little spot with just seven rooms that cost me just €25/night. It has rooftop terrace that captures the sunshine and a plunge pool if you fancy a quick dip. On the ground floor, daylight streams through to an indoor courtyard where you can have breakfast, or chill out in the classic Arab-style majilis (a sitting room with low, comfortable couches).

Al Kasbah is a popular tourist area that is famous for its street food. Located within the old city walls of the medina, close to the old mosque and walking distance from the souk.

FOOD AND DRINK

Almost immediately on arrival, you’re bound to be offered a glass of Moroccan tea. A mint tea made with water boiled in the teapot over a stove, it is usually sweetened with a cube of sugar. Remember that the teapot is going to be hot after coming off the stove, so use the tea cosy!

food-in-marrakech
Morocco’s most well-known dishes are kofta (skewers of minced lamb, beef, or chicken), couscous (steamed semolina  which can be served with vegetables or meat) and tajine (tender meat stewed in an earthenware pot). Don’t worry if you’re a fussy eater, these meals are full of flavour but they are not usually hot or spicy .

Must-do activities in MOROCCO

1. TAKE A HORSE AND CARRIAGE RIDE AROUND THE MEDINA

explore-medina-marrakechThe Medina of Marrakech is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates from 1072. It’s  home to a number of landmarks, including the Koutoubia mosque, which is over 1000 years old, the souk and on old Islamic university called Midersa Bin Youssef.

If you want to see as much of it as possible but you’re short on time, a horse and carriage ride is a pretty magical solution. The horses are friendly, beautiful creatures that look extremely well cared for.

2. BECOME A SHEPARD!

irish-travel-blogBy the side of the highways outside Marrakech, goats climb the Argan trees to eat their fruit. It’s quite an incredible sight.

On a pitstop between Marrakech and Essouira, one of the goat herders let me take a photo with one of the baby goats, and even put his scarf on me to finish out the shepherdess look!

He asked for some money in exchange for taking some pictures and on the advice of my tour guide I have him MAD50 (€4.68).

On a second stop on the road to Essouira, we visited a cooperative where we saw how the nuts found in the fruit of the Argan Tree are harvested and turned into soaps and beauty products.

3. PLACE YOUR BETS AT CASINO DE MARRAKECH

things-to-do-in-moroccoThe Casino de Marrakech is an elegant old-school casino with a good mixture of machines and live games.

I turned up hoping to play in a €50 poker tournament, but unfortunately they were playing a €250 game that night, which was a little too rich for my blood, so I just played a few hands of BlackJack and went on my way.

Technically it’s against the rules to take photos in a casino, but I snuck this one just to show you!

4. INDULGE IN A LUXURIOUS MOROCCAN HAMMAM

must-do-marrakechAs I mentioned after my last hammam in Istanbul a couple of months ago, being washed by a stranger is a surreal and kind of beautiful experience. There are lots of choices in most spas, but I recommend going for a traditional Moroccan Bath.

You’ll be brought into a steamy, marble room and rubbed up and down with black Moroccan soap. You’ll be given a few minutes to lie there and relax, before being scrubbed all over with a deeply exfoliating mitt that removes all your dead skin.

Then it’s a quick shower and the obligatory cup of Moroccan tea and you’re on your way again, feeling blissfully relaxed and incredibly soft-skinned.

5. EXPLORE THE SOUK AND FIND HAGGLE FOR COLOURFUL SOUVENIRS

things-to-buy-in-moroccoVisitors to Morocco are absolutely spoilt for choice. Ladies can choose silver and gold jewellery or a leather handbag, while men can go for a traditional Arab dagger!

If you’re decorating your home, there are beautiful ceramics, rugs, and lamps to choose from. A silver tea-pot and glasses for Moroccan tea are souvenir essentials! For the foodie in your life, don’t miss out on the opportunity to pick up some aromatic spices.

If you want to read more about the fabulous souvenirs you can pick up in Morocco’s souks, click the link below!

READ: 7 must-have Moroccan souvenirs

6. TAKE A DAY TRIP TO THE HISTORIC PORT OF ESSOUIRA

img_5309The Port of Essouira is known as Africa’s Windy City, and it lived up to its name on the cold and blustery November day that I visited on.

There is an old  castle at the port complete with cannons looking out over a rugged shoreline. It’s where the Khaleesi’s scenes from Game of Thrones in Season 2 and 3 were filmed. I’m sure it has a fascinating history of its own, but unfortunately I didn’t get around to learning about that on this trip.

Essouira gets good waves, so it’s known for water sports.  It also has a medina of its own, and inside you can find a good selection of restaurants and lots more street vendors ready to sell you their wares. Learn to say a polite but firm no if you’re not interested in what’s on offer; in Arabic “La, shukran” means “No, thank you”.

7. SNAP A PHOTO OF THE IMPOSING KOUTOUBIA MOSQUE

marrakech-mosque-eveningThe Koutoubia Mosque looks down over the other buildings in the medina, with the tower standing at 253 feet tall.

Unfortunately non-Muslims can’t go outside, but it’s well worth a walk around the outside to snap a quick photo and see the plaza.

It was built by the Almohad’s between 1184 and 1199, who torn down the mosques build by the previous rulers because they considered them to be heretics.

MONEY MATTERS

souk-medina-marrakechThe currency in Morocco is the Moroccan Dirham (MAD). For reference, MAD100 is equal to €9.38 or US$9.90.

It is totally normal to bargain as you make your way around the souks, starting at about 50% of the original asking price.

Make sure not to be taken advantage of, but remember that those last €4-5 you’re haggling over probably mean a lot more to them than you… there’s no need to go hardball.

Getting there

Reasonably priced flights from Ireland and the UK to Marrakech are available with Ryanair. I booked about a month in advance and paid €110 for my flights. If you’re flying in to Marrakech, the international airport is about 15 minutes away from the city.

A taxi from the airport to the Medina should cost MAD100-150 (€9-14). It will cost more in the evening, advance booking is highly recommended as there is no taxi rank at Arrivals, and taxi drivers will expect you to have the right change.

To get to Essouira, you can book a day trip through your Riad.

So that’s all from me on a weekend trip to Morocco. This first quick visit barely scratched the surface of this truly majestic country. There is so much more to see and do, and I can’t wait to go back!

Have you been to Morocco? Leave me a comment with a recommendation for my next trip. Would you like to go?

About katie

katie-harrington-ireland

Katie Harrington is a 28-year-old travel and lifestyle blogger from Galway, Ireland. 

“I’m passionate about seeing the world and meeting people from different countries. I love noticing the similarities and differences between people around the world. In a divided world, I genuinely believe that experiencing other cultures first hand is one of the best ways to combat prejudice.

“In between travel, I write about Irish events, restaurants, and news, as well as opinion pieces on topical issues.”

 

 

7 must-have souvenirs to pick up in Morocco

Morocco is a vibrantly colourful country. From the gorgeous gold-fringed abayas [long loose dresses worn by Muslim women] in pink, teal and blue on sale by the old mosque to the mosaics that adorn many of the buildings, the country never misses an opportunity to transform the blandest of items into something beautiful.

Morocco is a ridiculously affordable country to visit, and yet somehow I have managed to spend a small fortune on souvenirs and gifts. As I was travelling with hand luggage only, my best Tetris skills came into play whilst packing for the journey home!

Bargaining with sellers is normal, and my experience is that the friendlier you are, the more likely they are to give you a decent discount. Friendly negotiations can be had over a glass of Moroccan ‘whiskey’ – there’s no need to go hard ball. To get an idea of what you should be paying for items you want to pick up, your best bet is to ask a local, like the staff where you’re staying.

Read: 21 Arabic phrases you need to know

Here are my top tips for things to pick up during your visit:

1. Silver jewellery

At the Port of Essouira I met a well-travelled hippie with an Afro and a “peace and love” outlook who swore to me he never
smoked weed. That wasn’t the only fast one he tried to pull on me. In the back room of his small shop, he showed me beautiful silver BerBer bracelets. He told me the best price he could give me was MAD270 (€25) for one, but then tried to charge me MAD1,000 (€93) for three.

Poor as my math skills are, I pointed out to him that he should be giving me a discount for buying three, not upping the price, and he was caught out. Eventually, I came away with three beautiful bracelets for MAD500(€46).

I’m told it’s probably not pure silver, but they are lovely nonetheless and at just over €15 a piece, I think it would have been optimistic to expect that they would be.

katie-harrington-travel-blog

2. Argan oil hair and beauty products

Argan oil is a natural beauty product that comes from the fruit of the Argan tree. It’s deeply moisturising, and can be used on the face hair and body. Products made from the oil are used to make everything from soap to hair conditioner, and to help with everything from chapped lips to strengthening nails.

It seems like whatever your beauty needs are, there is an Argan oil product made for the job.

katie-harrington-travel-blog

3. Moroccan tea pot and glasses

You’re likely to drink your own bodyweight in Moroccan tea over the course of your visit. It’s a herbal mint tea, not quite as sharp as peppermint, usually made with water boiled in the teapot over a hob, and sweetened with a cube of sugar. The tour guide who dropped me from the airport to my Riad told me they call it Moroccan whiskey.

A silver teapot and a set of matching glasses are essential Moroccan souvenirs. I paid MAD200 (€18) for both at the souk in the Marrakech. This is the ideal gift for the tea-lover in your life (which in my case is me).

katie-harrington-travel-lifestyle-blog

4. Decorative kitchen ceramics

If you’re on the hunt for something to brighten up your mealtimes, look no further. The colourful kitchenware on display at Marrakech’s souk is bound to add a splash of fun to dinnertime! When I’m a proper grown-up with my own kitchen, I will most definitely be investing in some of these pieces. For now though, my mealtimes too often consist of a Subway meal deal to justify splashing out on such lovely crockery!

knowing-katie-morocco-souvenirs

5. Elaborate rugs and carpets

I’m not going to lie, there were times in Morocco when I felt like I was in a real-life version of Aladdin. The luxurious ornamental rugs and carpets that were flying around most certainly added to that feeling.

A word of caution here: be careful about your currencies. A friend purchased a carpet thinking he was getting a phenomenal
bargain, only to realise he had missed a decimal place when he was figuring out what it would cost him in his head, and ended up paying ten times more than he intended.

Unfortunately, I never found my magic carpet, but I’m holding out hope for next time.
moroccan-souvenirs

6. A golden lamp

Continuing with the Aladdin theme, miniature golden lamps just like the one the Genie popped out of can be found in Morocco. If you’ve got room in your luggage for something more substantial than a pocke
t-sized souvenir, there are stunning Arab-inspired lamps and light fixtures.

The traditional Moroccan style can leave rooms lit quite dimly, but also gives them a slightly majestical feel.

travel-morocco-souvenirs

7. Leather bags

Toward the entrance of the souk, you can find anything and everything thrown together in side-by-side stalls, but as you delve deeper into the labyrinth of alleys, you can find more specialised areas focusing on one type of product, like jewellery or leather. There is an overwhelming variety of colours and styles, from weekend travel bags to cowgirl style fringed handbags.

Toward the back of the souk, you can actually visit the tanneries where the bags are made.

travel-morocco-souk-souvenir

So there you have it – those are my top seven choices for souvenirs from Morocco. Which are your favourites? And what did I miss out on? Leave a comment below and let me know.

READ: 5 things you must do in Istanbul

About Katie

katie-harrington-ireland

Katie Harrington is a 28-year-old travel and lifestyle blogger from Galway, Ireland. 

“I’m passionate about seeing the world and meeting people from different countries. I love noticing the similarities and differences between people around the world. In a divided world, I genuinely believe that experiencing other cultures first hand is one of the best ways to combat prejudice.

“In between travel, I write about Irish events, restaurants, and news, as well as opinion pieces on topical issues.”

 

A trip to Kenya and a big decision

Have you ever gone on a holiday that genuinely changed your perspective on life?

Kenya did that for me.

I visited in September over the Eid break, and I loved every minute of it.

I landed in Nairobi, where I stayed with friends, and flew the next day to the Masai Mara.

exploring kenyaThe landing strip was surrounded on either side by zebras and other wild animals, and from the moment we touched down the landscape took my breath away. After a 25 minute journey in an open-top 4×4, we arrived at Mara Siria, an opulent bush camp owned by a German family and run by Kenyans, many of them from the Masai tribe. On the journey to the camp alone we encountered giraffes, monkeys, deer and more. The large, luxurious tents had running water, electric lighting and outdoor showers. There’s something about standing outside under running water naked in the African plains that makes a girl feel alive. The quality of the food was exceptional, and the camp was very accommodating to members of our group with Halal or vegetarian diets.

Our safari was organised with Mara Siria, and the guides were knowledgable, thorough and charismatic. The trip was timed to see the famous wildebeest crossing, and we saw thousands of them cross the Masai River. Incredibly, we saw them disperse as crocodiles feasted on the slowest among them, as a family of hippos looked blithely on. We saw several different prides of lions; groups of young males looking to start tribes of their own, females looking after their cubs and a male and female ‘on their honeymoon’, as our guide delicately put it. Majestic elephants and their babies made our day, and we saw lots of other animals from hyenas to ostriches along the way.

Honestly, eight hours in a four by four is quite literally a pain in the ass, but it’s worth every minute of it to see wildlife like this up close. Because of the wildebeest crossing, the lions and other dangerous animals were well fed, which made it safe to get really close to the lions [according to our guide]. As well as making sure we got to see the animals, our guide provided tons of fun facts, information on specific species and mating rituals.

I also visited the Masai Village, where locals live in huts made of mud and cow pat, and a Masai school children walk miles to reach each day. It was a truly humbling experience, and I’m okay with the fact that they ripped me off on souvenirs. If you are planning to go and see for yourself, I would highly recommend booking through Phoenix Safaris.

After two amazing days and nights, I woke up early on day three to watch the sun rise and head back to Nairobi. I have to admit the tiny plane didn’t really suit me, and I did have a little altitude sickness, as did my friend. Back in Nairobi, my friends went all out to ensure we got the ultimate Kenya experience, including making friends with orphaned elephants, kissing giraffes, eating at some of the city’s most amazing restaurants and touring the Kazuri bead factory, where authentic Kenyan jewellery is produced, providing an income for vulnerable women in the city. Throw in a trip to the UN, where one of my hosts works, a Game of Thrones night and my first ever game of Cards Against Humanity, and I really could not have asked for better hosts.

My last few days in Kenya were spent in Watamu, a small coastal town most tourists would never have heard of. My friends organised for us to go there with a group of some of the most passionate, intelligent and stimulating people I had hung out with in a really long time. There were two amazing things about Watamu; the first was that it was simply an exceptionally beautiful place. The house we hired had a beautiful pool that looked out over greenery, and beyond that a white sand beach and the ocean. I felt a sense of calm there that I have been chasing ever since. We did almost nothing for two days and nights but eat, drink, and talk (apart from a couple of hours scuba diving). The second was the people I was with, most of whom work in aid and development, all of whom were fun, bright, articulate people doing what they loved.

In the Gulf, by and large, people put aside their passion for a pay cheque, sacrifice their morals for the sake of status, and often lost sight of what’s important. While I was living a life of luxury built on the back of what is to all intents and purpose slave labour, my new friends were not earning a huge amount, but they were making a difference to this world. Each, in their own way, is contributing to something greater than themselves. I envied them, and the sense of satisfaction they had with life. Even the way they spoke about their hobbies seemed to hold more substance and sincerity than my five-star, cash-rich, frivolous, empty lifestyle.

I realised I was selling out, and it had to stop.

When I got back to Doha, it was hard to readjust. I had only been gone 10 days, but my tolerance for my neurotic, passive-aggressive boss had shrunk to almost zero. While he remained his usual self, I had come to the realisation that there are more important things in life. I had rediscovered the beauty in life, felt my soul revitalised by connecting with nature and was inspired by the wonderful people around me. I realised that I want to go back to Ireland and reconnect with my family and friends in a meaningful way. I want a job I feel good about, because that makes the hard days easier. I want to feel grounded, and right now I think that means being in Ireland.

And so, a couple of weeks ago, after a particularly difficult day at work, I decided that enough was enough. I handed in my resignation, and next week, I’ll be on my way home. In many ways, my 10 months in Doha have been a truly positive experience. I’ve learned a lot, I’ve grown as a person, and I have made some wonderful friends. But it’s been six and a half years since I have lived in Ireland, and it’s time to go home.

I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who reads and follows the blog. It’s how I got to know the city, where I vented on bad days, how I connected with other expats and shared my thoughts on Doha life. I hope you’ll stay with me on the next chapter of my journey.

Any thoughts on how I should rename the blog now that Only in Doha won’t be in Doha?

Leave a comment!

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons