This trip was years in the making, but I finally made it to Morocco! Beloved by both Instagrammers and backpackers for its fusion of Arabian, Berber and Euro cultures, my time in Morocco was a completely surreal experience. In 11 days I traveled to four parts of the country, and for the first time since India, I felt completely removed from home as I played tourist in this exotic land. My travels took me to Chefchaouen (The Blue Pearl), Fez, the Sahara Desert, Aït Benhaddou and Marrakech, with Morocco's blue city being my absolute favorite. Below is my 11-day itinerary, wish I'd been there longer to share a bit more with you guys. ♡
Mornings at Bou Inania Medersa, one of my favorite spots in Fez, Morocco.
The maze of blue alleys that made up the medina quarter of Chefchaouen was like something out of a dream. I spent two nights in this northern Moroccan city, and not once did I leave the medina. The place was absolutely charming, and wandering the same streets over and over again never got old. My riad was located in the heart of the medina, so The Blue Pearl was literally at my doorstep every morning. How blue is The Blue City? Well, very blue. Blue streets. Blue pots. Blue doors. Blue steps. Blue fountains. Blue everything! It was one of the most surreal places I have traveled to, almost otherworldly. It wasn't easy to reach Chefchaouen (no airport), but worth the extra effort. This was my favorite place in Morocco.
As pretty as it was exploring the insides of Chefchouen, I wanted to see the city from above. My riad provided directions to an easily accessible viewpoint that was a 20 minute walk from the medina. I headed toward the hills, passing a local swimming hole, souvenir stalls and a series of hawkers selling selfies with chained up animals (please, do not take photos with the abused ostrich, monkeys and parrots). From there, it was an easy climb up the hillside pathway to a lovely topside viewpoint that overlooked the blues and whites of Chefchaouen.
The lodging options were far and few between in Chefchaouen. I picked Riad Garnata strictly based on the positive TripAdvisor reviews, but arrived a little nervous because the photos online were not particularly flattering. Thankfully, there was nothing to worry about, and I was pleasantly surprised as I settled into the cozy riad. The property was actually quite charming with a beautiful little courtyard perfectly situated in the heart of the Chefchaouen medina. My top floor room was spacious and clean with a private rooftop balcony that overlooked the city.
Soaking in the blues of Chefchaouen, the most magical city in Morocco.
This was one of the most colorful countries I have traveled to this year.
The blues were everywhere in the medina - walls, steps, pottery, decor, awnings, etc.
Chefchaouen was a wealth of little gems that seemed to get cuter and cuter with every corner I turned.
Topside view of the Blue City.
I made friends with so many sweet cats in the three days I was in Chefchaouen.
Bag crazy in Morocco.
Couldn't be happier.
This adorable staircase led to my little riad.
Too many beautiful postcard choices.
How cute is this riad? Spent three nights at this place!
My adorable room overlooking the medina.
Ah, Fez. I didn't love it. And I didn't hate it. It was just a necessary stop to break up the long distance drive between Chefchaouen and the Sahara Desert. I spent two nights inside the city's bustling medina, an experience that was completely arresting on the senses. Similar to Marrakech, the place was an absolute maze where I often found myself lost in the labyrinth of souks - all part of the medina experience. I was actually really excited to visit Fez, it had all the makings of a city I would adore - medieval city walls, exotic souks and historic roots. But the pushy merchants, touts and guides were completely aggressive trying to sell services, goods and directions (locals would approach us and flatout lie that we were on a closed street so that they could demand money for redirecting us). Haggling happens almost everywhere I travel, but in Fez it was particularly exhausting.
Stressful at times, but definitely the highlight of my visit to Fez. The medieval medina was a mecca of chaos, lined with souks selling aromatic spices, colorful carpets, shiny pots, eclectic jewelry and so much more. I loved stopping at the juice stalls along the pedestrian streets where I would down fresh glasses of orange juice for a mere 50 cents. My favorite street in the medina was located alongside the Madersa Bou Inania. I was impossible to miss this little alleyway bursting with color - walls covered in carpets, cobblestone covered in chalk and doors covered with paintings.
Madersa Bou Inania
An early morning visit to the Madrasa Bou Inania was my favorite moment in Fez. The former mosque and school was an architectural dreamland of Moroccan details made up of the prettiest arched doorways, courtyard and minaret. Located along a bustling main street in the heart of the medina, the madrasa was a peaceful escape from the haggling, noise and chaos just outside its doors. I arrived at opening and had the entire place to myself for about 30 minutes before the first tour group arrived.
There wasn't a place more iconic (or more smelly!) than the Chaowara Tannery, in Fez. Us visitors were treated to topside views of the dozens of stone wells filled to the brims with dyes for coloring and softening leather hides. We were there for all of 10 minutes, but it took us nearly an hour to get to the tanneries because the alleyway to reach the place was crawling with "guides" that we just couldn't seem to bypass. We finally found a French family and ducked behind them, following them up to the tannery to avoid the guides completely. Yes, stressful!
Another riad I booked based on TripAdvisor reviews, and the lovely photos I'd seen posted from other travelers. I had the most beautiful stay in the White Room of this little gem, located just off the riad's traditional airy courtyard. This place was actually quite the deal at 110 Euros a night. It was clean, modern and roomy with so much character. Meals were served on the Riad Anata rooftop, an intimate little setting that overlookied the edge of the Fez medina.
My favorite alleyway inside the Fez medina.
Quick visit to see the tanneries (this placed smelled terrible!).
I spent two nights in Fez, but probably only needed one night.
AIT BEN HADDOU & THE SAHARA DESERT
The Sahara Desert had been on my bucket list for as long as I could remember. As I pieced together plans for Morocco, I learned about the soaring dunes of Erg Chebbi, and immediately knew this was a must for the trip. I wanted to experience the endless sea of sand ripples, and the orange glow of the desert sandscape. Located in the far east corridor of the country, it would be a five hour drive to reach the Sahara from Fez, and then another eight hours to reach Marrakech after two nights in Erg Chebbi. It was a lot of driving to include on a 11 day trip, but if I didn't go I knew I would regret.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site was my favorite part of this leg of the trip. I'd seen the iconic fortified village on Game of Thrones, but to experience the place myself and walk along the mud brick walls was completely memorable. Inside the village I wandered the maze of little streets lined with colorful carpets, bags and hats that radiated under the desert sun. Similar to Chefchaouen, Aït Benhaddou transported me to another time and place, one of my favorite feelings when I visit foreign lands.
There are few places as remote (and as beautiful!) as the Sahara Desert. I felt pretty lucky to visit such an isolated part of the world and finally check it off my bucket list. One night was the perfect amount of time to get my desert fix. I spent sunrise and sunset dancing in the desert with the prettiest sand dunes and nomadic tents surrounding me. My visit coincided with summer, so it was incredibly hot. I actually wish I'd gone earlier in the year when the desert temps were a bit more comfortable.
Kam Kam Dunes
Located near the Algeria border, Erg Chebbi was so remote, that an overnight stay in the region was pretty much a must to truly embrace the desert experience. My visit was sandwiched between Fez and Marrakech, so it was actually the perfect escape from the chaos, crowds and bustle of the city medinas. I booked a stay with Kam Kam Dunes, a nomadic oasis of traditional Berber-style tents located at the heart of Erg Chebbi. My two-day tour with the company included a private driver to get us to/from Fez and Marrakech with several scenic stops along the way, as well as meals at Kam Kam Dunes, a private tent and a sunset experience in the desert.
Aït Benhaddou might look familiar to Game of Thrones fans.
Colorful streets of the little town.
I spent one night in the Sahara Desert.
So many places enroute to the Sahara looked like a mirage.
How charming are these little streets?
Channeling those Jasmine vibes in the middle of the desert.
Sweetest faces ever.
Aït Benhaddou in the distance.
Marrakech's Medina & Souks
I had all these ideas about the medieval medina, in Marrakech. Would it be like Khari Baoli in Old Delhi? Or the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul? Neither. The place really was a world of its own. It was beautiful, exotic and chaotic all at once, and exploring the medina sent all my senses into overdrive. My first day in Marrakech, I was in complete awe of the cooridors of souks and their labyrinth of confusion. I felt lost the moment I entered, and when it was time to leave I just kept making turns until eventually I found a way out. Be prepared to bargain like crazy in the medina for bags, paintings, spices, lanterns, etc. There was so much shopping!
I traveled outside the medina to visit the city's beloved botanical garden, created by French painter Jacques Majorelle. The garden was a dreamy land of exotic plants with some of the prettiest stretches of palms and cactus. Visit early to avoid the crowds of tourists.
Just when I thought I couldn't eat another tajine dish, we stumbled upon the rooftop restaurant of El Fenn. What a treat! The set menu was like a blessing, and by far my tastiest (and most expensive!) meal in Morocco. I feasted on the most delicious lobster with rooftop views over Marrakech as the sun started to set over the city. The purple skies at dinner were absolute magic!
One of the coolest lunch spots in Marrakech for the view! Atay Cafe was located in the heart of the medina with rooftop seating that treated us to views of market corridors, palms, mosques and the Atlas Mountains. The menu was filled with signature Moroccan dishes including tajines, skewers and couscous.
Ah, my favorite remedy for the Marrakech heat! Fresh orange juice in Morocco was quite the bargain, ranging from 50 cents to a dollar. The best deal I found was at the juice stalls located in Jemaa el-Fnaa, the medina's central square and marketplace.
Four Seasons Marrakech
To escape the bustle of city life, I treated myself to a spa day at the Four Seasons Marrackech. The five star garden oasis was perfectly situated between the ancient medina and the cosmopolitan neighborhoods of the Ville Nouvelle. A property filled with Moorish gardens and sparkling pools, it truly was an escape for me. I spent an afternoon poolside in one of the resort cabanas, followed by the most relaxing massage in one of the spa's lavish treatment rooms.
If your on Instagram, chances are you've seen photos of this beloved riad. The Insta fame has made it ever so popular, and I had to book my stay at Riad Yasmine more than five months in advance. There was actually only one suite left when I booked, but I was perfectly happy with the spacious Toubkal Suite, one of the most charming rooms I've ever stayed in. The riad's courtyard pool surrounded seemed to be the reason for everyone visits, and for good reason. The green and white tiles, cushion and cactus surrounding the pool oozed with prettiest Marrakech vibes, and looked like it was made for Instagram.
Another Instagram darling. La Sultana was completely exotic, comprised of five small riads (each one completely unique) that house a total of 28 rooms. It was like they took the country's five most beautiful riads and combined them to create a ridiculously beautiful hotel. And if that wasn't enough, the main pool was even more beautiful tucked away in an open air setting with turquoise Moroccan design cues. I almost didn't want to swim in it - I felt like I'd disturb the picture perfect setting.
Persian Villa, Es Saadi Resort
For those that want to splurge while in Marrakech, there is no better place than the iconic blue Persian Villa at the Es Saadi Resort. My time in Marrakech wasn't long enough to tack on a stay here, but I did get to visit and it was absolutely gorgeous! The resort was actually home to several unique villas including the yellow Casablanca villa, the pink Roman villa, the green Maharaja villa, etc. The Persian villa just happened to be my favorite! Set in a lush garden, the villa emitted every shade blue surrounded by a moat-like pool, with even more blues inside - tiles, furniture and walls adorned in the dreamiest shades of blue.
I found the prettiest pool in Morocco at La Sultana.
Rooftop vibes at Atay Cafe.
I loved wandering the cactus garden at Jardin Majorelle.
Most Marrakech visitors stay in riads like this one, a traditional Moroccan house (now a hotel) that surrounds an interior courtyard.
The bustling streets of Marrakech.
Marrakech had some of the prettiest sunsets, and the rooftop of El Fenn was one of my favorite spots at Golden Hour.
Golden tones at the Four Seasons Marrakech.
Twirling my way through the riads of La Sultana.
Escaping the Moroccan heat poolside at the Four Seasons Marrakech.
Photos by myself and Anh-Thi Nguyen (@leftietraveler on Instagram).