My March Morocco trip came about when Dylan, a friend from college, suggested we take a trip with some leftover vacation days he had. As we combed through flights out of Dylan’s local JFK airport we noticed that roundtrip tickets to Casablanca, Morocco were as affordable as most other international flights.
We were immediately intrigued. Morocco is a place I’d never really considered traveling before though but I had a vague sense of it being a place of mystery and adventure. When one of Dylan’s colleagues recommended a tour company (Morocco Happiness Tours) through which he’d had an incredible trip, we were all but sold.
Finally, after some exploration into sites we wanted to see, we decided fly into Casablanca but spend the rest of our time between Marrakesh, Fez, and the Sahara Desert. We found a perfect 3-day itinerary with Morocco Happiness Tours that started in Marrakech, went through the Atlas Mountains and Sahara Desert, and ended in Fez.
Booking a guided tour was truly the best decision we could have made. In the end, Dylan and I spent five nights and five days in Morocco, exploring things we’d never have known to look for thanks to our incredible guides. I can’t recommend Morocco Happiness Tours enough, and I wanted to share my experience so you see why I rave about them. If there’s changes you’d make to my itinerary, no problem! You can customize an itinerary to fit your dream trip for whatever duration and route you want. Morocco Happiness Tours is amazing, I’ve made that argument clear. But Morocco itself? Pure magic.
Dylan and I flew from New York (JFK) to Casablanca via Spain, arriving at the Casablanca in the afternoon. There were trains departing for Marrakech one hours and three hours after we landed, and we were really hoping to catch the former. However, that dream was dashed when my bag was last off the airplane and then we forgot to withdraw cash before we exited the airport section (resulting in us having to wait back in line through security to get back into the airport and withdraw money to buy our train tickets).
Initial stress aside, we finally got our train tickets for Marrakech at the later departure, found a café where I ordered a cheap espresso, and took in the bustling train station. Though there were a few other tourists, including a few obvious backpackers, the station seemed full of families and business people. Regular Moroccans enjoying an espresso and cigarette at the train station before going wherever they were going.
After a bit of a wait, we boarded our train to Marrakech and off we went speeding through the countryside toward our week-long adventure.
We booked our first night’s stay at Riad Anjar, a beautiful stay in Marrakech that I wished I had more time to enjoy, and were picked up by a hotel staff from the train station upon arrival. When we checked into the Riad, a warm, young receptionist greeted us with mint tea and biscuits before taking us to our room.
We spent a few minutes taking in our new space and unwinding before we set out through the winding market streets in search of dinner. Because of our late arrival, the sun was on its way down and vendors were closing up shop as we set out. We met some rain clouds less than ten minutes later and turned around, settling on a very ambient restaurant next to our Riad.
After a huge meal and wine, we hurried to our beds to sleep before our first day of our tour, soon approaching. We didn’t expect wine to be on the menu, having heard that because of Morocco’s large Muslim population who don’t drink alcohol, it was nearly impossible to find booze anywhere. While one of the Riads and several other restaurants we visited at the end of our trip were alcohol-free, we saw alcohol on the menu and came by liquor stores far more frequently that we expected.
Our guide later told us that Morocco is really only 30% or so practicing Muslims, but fewer and fewer of the younger generation practice any religion strictly. He referred to Morocco several times as “Islam-lite” while nearby countries with a larger practicing population did adhere to much stricter laws in regards to booze, and otherwise.
We started the day with breakfast at the Riad, which was a generous spread of breads, pancakes, jams, fruits, butters, and coffee or tea. After breakfast, our guide Hicham arrived at the Riad to pick us up. We made a quick stop at a currency exchange store to switch out US Dollars for Moroccan Dirham, and then we were off.
We made a lot of exciting stops this first day in between long car rides, learning all we could about Morocco from Hicham. Looking at this list of activities now, it’s hard to imagine how we did it all in one day!
- Women’s Argan Oil Co-Op
- Atlas Mountains Photo Stop
- Atlas Studios Photo Stop
- Ksar Ait Ben Haddu tour
- Lunch outside Ksar Ait Ben Haddu
- Tea with Hicham’s Family
- School Visit at Hicham’s Preschool
- Women’s Rose Oil Co-Op
- Dades Gorge Switchbacks
- Dinner & Berber Music at the Hotel
It would probably take five pages to detail everything we did, and we were exhausted by the whirlwind of it all at the end, though energized at the same time. We saw famous sites like Ksar Ait Ben Haddu where famous scenes from movies/shows like Gladiator and Game of Thrones were filmed. We experienced local tradition with Hicham’s family over tea, where his nephew played Moroccan tunes on his guitar. We met local artisans and learned how Argan Oil and Rose Oil from Damascus Roses are turned into products that are sought after worldwide. We drove over switchbacks where luxury cars shut down roads for extreme racing events. We chatted with tour guides and locals at our hotel as a group joyfully danced and drummed traditional Berber Music. We ate three meals of delicious Moroccan food and drove through colorful mountain ranges that took your breath away.
It was quite a day and we were so looking forward to the rest of the tour when we finally settled down to rest.
We ate breakfast at the hotel in the morning, included in our tour, with a similar spread to our first Riad. Then we packed our bags and were off on the next adventure. In the morning, we spent a considerable amount of time driving through lots of switchbacks and gorges that made me think of Biblical scenes. We had a few chances to get out and walk around, particularly through one gorge big enough for a small guest house that was operating inside!
We also visited a women’s co-op in the mountains where they wove traditional Moroccan rugs. Over more mint tea, we received a brief lesson about the different symbols and stories told in the rugs, before we were off toward Merozuga and the Sahara Desert. Before we arrived, we stopped at a store along the way and met the store owners, friends of Hicham’s. Dylan and I met the eldest daughter and learned that Hicham brings his visitors here for a reason: the father (and store owner) needed more help at his store and was going to remove his eldest daughter from school to help.
Hicham learned of this and promised that if he let his daughter stay in school, Hicham would bring all his tour guests by his store on the way to the desert. It was a perfect stop as we got to meet the family, try on traditional Moroccan outfits, get a henna design painted on my hand, and purchase scarves to protect our faces from the sand in the desert. I happily purchased a scarf and was thankful I did once we made it to the dunes.
Moments like this – meeting Hicham’s fellow community members, having tea with his parents and visiting the preschool he founded in his town – you rarely get to experience that on a tour. Hicham really gave us a glimpse into daily Moroccan life, particularly for himself and his friends and family, in a way we felt honored to see.
Upon arriving at Merzouga, we parted ways with Hicham and spent the next couple hours with a desert guide who brought us through the outer Saharan dunes to the desert camp. I wrote extensively about this in my other post, How I Lost and Found My Phone in the Sahara Desert, so I’ll be super brief here. But suffice it to say if you’re curious about that portion of the adventure, there’s an incredible story there.
Anyway, once we got settled after our desert trek, we were treated to a five-course dinner alongside several other couples, under a dimly lit desert tent. One person was celebrating a birthday and was surprised by their guide with an ice cream cake, which they shared with all of us! Another long day plus the drama of my phone saga and the desert wind and sun left us drained – Dylan and I were both eager to get to sleep after dinner.
Dylan and I woke up bright and early this morning with two goals: to see the sunrise over the Sahara Desert and to find my cell phone which was lost in the dunes from the day before. I’ll let you guess which of the two was our most successful endeavor.
In between catching sunrise and sifting through Saharan sands, we had another lavish breakfast of toasts, teas and coffees, breads, jams, and olives served in nine small tagines. Then we set off in our Subaru, Hicham at the wheel, slowly navigating through a brewing sandstorm toward main roads out of Merzouga. We had a long drive this day toward Fez, with stops for lunch, a national park, and a resort town where we paid a visit to a famous lion statue. The national park was packed with families – and monkeys! Peanuts were for purchase for cheap in the park and most people were trying to feed them to the willing recipients.
Once we arrived in Fez that evening, we said goodbye to Hicham and met a porter who carried our luggage on a cart, through the winding maze of streets – for about 15 minutes – until we arrived at Hotel & Spa Dar Bensouda. Though I thought Riad Anjar was hard to beat, this one definitely took the cake. Not least because we splurged on a suite at Dar Bensouda – we scored a queen bed, a living room, and a bathroom with a giant bathtub upstairs, all for $133! We showered thoroughly in vain attempts to remove all traces of sand from our bodies, and then enjoyed a big dinner at the hotel restaurant while solving the mystery of my missing cell phone (which stopped being missing around dinner time).
Our one full-ish day in Fez was exhilarating to say the least. We started off with breakfast at the Riad. While we ate, we plotted the best way to see the Medina in Fez and all the sites on our itinerary, and also how to retrieve my phone from Hicham and make it back to Casablanca, all in a day. In a series of crazy events my phone was found in the Sahara and traveled through many hands to eventually wind up back with me in Fez later that evening.
In the meantime, after some prompting from our helpful Riad receptionist, we opted to book a tour guide for the afternoon to show us around. The tour was booked for us and an hour later we set out for an afternoon of exploration through most winding, jam-packed streets I’d possibly anywhere.
We saw one of the world’s first universities, a tannery where Moroccan leather goods were processed, rug stores, stalls and vendors selling every type of good, more intricate architecture and religious sites than I can accurately recall – all in about two and a half hours. There are some places where having a guide isn’t really necessary. Fez was not one of these places for us and we were certain we wouldn’t have seen a quarter of what we did without our guide.
After the tour, we were dropped off at the end of our tour at a busy restaurant where we were served enormous portions of food so yummy I still think about it months later. The streets are literally so hard to navigate that the restaurant staff escorted us back to our Riad after lunch was over.
Another series of events transpired that evening in trying to retrieve my cell phone which led to us missing our train – this time to Casablanca but with no backup tickets available. We found ourselves shit out of luck, but by a miracle, Hicham who was still with us at the time mercifully drove us four hours to Casablanca himself. Without his help, we’d likely have missed our flight the next morning. Instead, we spent the car ride talking, listening to music, and uncovering coincidences that made for one of the most memorable days of the whole trip. And that’s saying a lot given all we did to this point!
Nearing midnight, we arrived at our hotel on the outskirts of Casablanca and said goodbye to Hicham for the final time. The day was such a blur of sights, sounds, smells that were difficult to process in the best way.
This day was a just a travel day and can hardly be considered a day in Morocco. We picked our hotel for its proximity to the airport, so we didn’t have to wake up too early. Instead, we enjoyed a leisurely, albeit expensive buffet breakfast at the Eurostars Sidi Maarouf hotel, though I’d honestly say it was worth it for the incredible spread. Like…the biggest breakfast spread I’ve ever seen at a hotel, ever.
Hicham knew a friend who taxis in Casablanca and arranged to have his friend pick us up from the airport before our flight. Our driver arrived right on time and we had a painless check-in through the airport (outside of Dylan trying to explain what his massive fossil statues were, and me getting hit on by the border control agent). Before we knew it, we were back in New York City. The magic of Morocco left us on a travel high for several days, and months later I’m still writing about it and thinking about it.
There’s such delightful, rich history in Morocco, and I found myself impressed with everything from the architecture, music, artistry, food, and of course the natural landscape. The warmth of everyone we encountered and the fast pace of city life, contrasted by the quieter feel of remote towns and cities blended into a unique world that I’m so grateful Hicham and his friends shared with us.
Beyond the hard-to-describe experiences we had, I felt like the cost of the tour was an unbeatable bargain. For $300 USD per person, we received 2 nights of luxury accommodation, 3 breakfasts and 3 dinners, guides at Ksar Ait Ben Haddu the Merzouga Desert, a guide/driver for 3 days, entrance to the National Park, and transit over hundreds of miles. I don’t see how it would have been possible to orchestra something more cost efficient alone, to say nothing of the convenience of having an expert along with us.
I hope I’ve convinced you to give Morocco a chance. If you do, you know my vote on tour companies. You can check out the Morocco Happiness Tour website below, along with the hotels we visited, all of which I’d found exceeding my high expectations.
Morocco Happiness Tours | Country-wide: Great for solo travel or groups of any size
Riad Anjar | Marrakech: Perfect for solo travelers, couples, or small groups; luxury rooms
Hotel & Spa Dar Bensouda | Fez: Couples, groups, solo travelers; luxury rooms
Hotel Babylon Dades | Atlas Mountains: Incredible service & location!
Eurostars Sidi Maarouf | Casablanca: Best for early airport flights & business travel
THANKS FOR READING HOW I LOST AND FOUND MY PHONE IN THE SAHARA DESERT!
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