Morocco: The Best Place to See Only Once

By mid-September, Mac and I had run out of Schengen time—you’re only allowed to be in Europe for 90 days out of every 180 on a tourist visa. So while we waited to be let back in, we headed to Morocco (northern Africa) to at least wait in style.

I had been to Morocco once before, for three days back in college, when the country had completely captured my imagination. I enthusiastically sold Mac on the romantic Moorish architecture, colorful jalabas (traditional clothing) and exotic camel safaris. So off we went for a three-week adventure. Little did we know we’d be getting way more adventure than we bargained for.


To be honest, it probably didn’t help that we were coming to Morocco from England. In just two hours on a plane, we went from being completely comfortable in our surroundings to dealing with a disconcerting amount of culture shock. Even though I knew generally what to expect in Morocco, I was still taken aback by the maze-like dusty roads, the plethora of street hustlers, the people who looked nothing like us.


It’s a hard line to walk as a traveler: being in a place that is so foreign that it expands your comfort zone while also being comfortable enough to enjoy the experience. It’s a line that would challenge both of us in Morocco. 


We started off the best way we knew how, by learning some of the local language (Arabic) and culture at a private afternoon workshop run by Creative Interactions. The best part? We got to cook tajine, a traditional Moroccan dish, and ask all of the questions we wanted to about religion  and politics.


Armed with our beginner Arabic, we set out to explore our homebase of Marrakech. It’s not a city that goes down easily—it’s chaos incarnate, a complete assault on the senses. Picture the city from Aladdin, with all of its confusing alleyways. Then add a chorus of mosques sounding the call to prayer, the spicy scent of kabobs on the grill and the contorted bodies of snakes dancing to their charmers’ shrill flutes. Finish things off with a good dose of people—people everywhere, hawking goods from shanty shops, crowding in market stalls, climbing over each other to reach a pile of newly arrived jalabas. It’s wonderful and terrifying, all at the same time.


More interesting than chaos,  we found dichotomy. It was fascinating to us that everyone has a satelite dish, yet most deliveries—and trash pickup—are done by donkey.


We walked up and down alleys for days, ducking donkeys and carts and motorcycles, to explore the chaotic city and its well-hidden neighborhoods. One of our favorite places to explore was the tannery district, where we held mint, aka “Berber gas masks,” to our noses to fight the putrid smell as we watched sheep and camel leather being made.


And of course we tasted everything we could—which led to three weeks of stomach problems for us both.


After exploring Marrakech, we were eager to move on to a more peaceful place. We took a day trip to the surprisingly gorgeous Atlas Mountains—and got caught in a traffic jam of historic proportions as two fighting villages blocked the only road through the mountains as part of their dispute. Mac took it all in stride; I hyperventilated in the backseat.  


We tried again for a peaceful place and finally succeeded with three days at a “luxury camp” (in this case, luxury still means tents) in the Sahara Desert.



It was a magical experience. For hours, we rode camels. When we got tired of that, we sandboarded on the hot dunes and ate under a cloudless blue sky while watching the sun go down in the distance. All around us was complete and utter silence, except for nighttime, when the air would fill with the deep beat of drums and the tinny clicking of shackles.



For those few glorious days in the desert, we blocked out Marrakech. We forgot about the stress of such foreign travel. We didn’t know that there would be many other challenges to test us during our time in Morocco, from overnight buses to sand storms to 3rd world postal services, but for a time our forgetting and our ignorance were bliss.
We don’t regret going to Morocco. After all, it gave us some of our richest experiences of the trip. But take our advice: seeing it once is enough.


  1. Yikes! What fantastic descriptions and pix! Morocco has always been down the bucket list aways and it appears that will not change soon. Happy Thanksgiving and big hugs to you both! Love Aunt Shoon

  2. What an adventure! Although it doesn’t sound very romantic, the camel rides and sand boarding must have been fun!
    Thanks again for taking us along! My best, Cassie

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