Since catching the travel bug a few years back, I’ve slowly but surely been crossing destinations off my bucket list. Morocco had been a longtime locale on that list, so when the opportunity to visit the North African cultural oasis arose this spring, I jumped at the chance. Morocco intrigues with its vibrant colors and a diverse landscape that offers all kinds of adventure, from premier surfing waves to mountain ranges fit for snow sports. I found that in every sense, it’s truly a top-tier destination; the people were kind, the food was delicious and there were endless ways to keep my tireless spirit fulfilled. Read on to discover 5 top ways to experience Morocco, from a desert escape to a relaxing spa day.
Visit the “Blue City” of Chefchaouen.
As a tourist, I tend to gravitate toward smaller cities and towns for their local charm. So naturally, my first stop in Morocco was the “Blue Pearl,” Chefchaouen. Located two hours south of Tangier, it is a quieter alternative to the country’s most popular spots and a must-stop on any itinerary because of its unique look (the entire town is painted shades of blue). The reason behind the stunning palette is debated, but there’s no dispute over its appeal. Wandering the streets feels like swimming through the waters of a warm Mediterranean bay; the soothing cerulean hues create a calming effect. Following an afternoon exploring local attractions, restaurants and shops, I took a leisurely hike up to the Spanish Mosque. There, I watched the sun set over the mountains as the call to prayer echoed across the valley and the city lights twinkled. Visiting Chefchaouen is a must for nature fanatics thanks to the ample hiking opportunities in nearby Talassemtane National Park.
Take a cooking class in Fez.
My next stop was Fez, a UNESCO world heritage site and home to the largest car-free urban area in the world. After traversing the ancient maze-like streets to photograph the famous leather tanneries, I spent the afternoon at a cooking class at restaurant and education/philanthropy center Cafe Clock. Cuisine is a fantastic way to connect more deeply with a place and its people, so I always try to immerse myself in a local-led cooking experience when I travel. Our chef instructor guided us through the bustling markets to find fresh ingredients for a four-course meal. We started with zaalouk, a smoky eggplant salad, and bissara, a fava bean soup. The main course was vegetable and lamb tagine, followed by orange blossom macaroons with spiced coffee for dessert. With bread and olives to complement the meal, it was a filling experience. There was also dedicated time to ask the chef questions about Moroccan cuisine and culture, and attendees left with a booklet of delicious recipes as well as plenty of memories.
Go glamping in the Sahara Desert.
Those iconic photos of travelers clad in flowing linen sitting atop camels in the golden dunes of the Sahara are what inspired me to add Morocco to my travel bucket list. I dreamed of one day being that linen-robed tourist, so I booked a three-day desert excursion. Although it was a long journey there, we saw the famous Ait-Ben-Haddou, the awe-inspiring Todra Gorge and plenty of stunning Atlas Mountain views along the way. Once we arrived at the Erg Chebbi desert, a guide showed us how to tie a traditional head wrap and mount camels. Then, we were off on a once-in-a-lifetime excursion. Roaming along, we watched the sky turn shades of orange and glow mesmerizingly on the rolling dunes ahead of us. We arrived at our desert camp and refueled with a tagine dinner before some evening festivities. We enjoyed traditional music, learned how to play tom-tom drums and danced under a brilliant sky of stars. Eventually, we retired to an impressive glamping tent complete with all the amenities of a comfortable riad guest room.
Shop for a Moroccan rug in Marrakesh.
I have always been one for souvenir shopping and was blown away by everything Marrakesh had to offer. You could spend days wandering the medina streets browsing the art, trinkets and world-famous rugs. Many mementos get forgotten or stashed away over time, so I was committed to bringing home a piece of artistry that I would cherish for years to come. Rug shopping can be an extremely fun experience, so it’s worth planning ahead. I suggest going with an idea of what style you like, practicing your bartering skills and saving space in your suitcase (or being prepared to pay for shipping). Everyone we encountered was accommodating, kind and mindful that both parties should be happy with the price and experience. But traversing the winding market streets is not for the faint of heart, and sifting through dozens of carpets can be tiring. I recommend taking a break from browsing to enjoy a lunch of couscous and mint tea on a rooftop in Jemaa el-Fna square.
Book a spa day at a traditional Moroccan hammam.
No trip to Morocco is complete without a traditional hammam experience. After all the camel riding, shopping, sightseeing and walking, a spa day was just what I needed to round out the vacation. The experience started in the hammam steam room, a sauna-like space with an ornately tiled faucet and wide benches, where I was washed and scrubbed by a bathing attendant. This cleansing ritual uses either Moroccan black soap or rhassoul clay, which, in addition to being a natural exfoliant, has key benefits like boosting the immune system and increasing blood flow. It can be quite the emotional experience to be bathed by another person, and it’s a true submergence into the culture of Morocco, where water symbolizes the purification of the body and soul. Following the bathing, I was treated to a divine 90-minute massage that left me feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. There’s no better way to conclude a visit to this beautiful country.