Morocco – the mint tea land

Morocco offers an accessible touch of exoticism and is filled with plenty of real gems on each and every corner.

The High Atlas Mountains, breathtaking ravines, picturesque valleys, hot Sahara sands, busy modern cities and rural areas, which seem relatively unchanged for centuries…

Morocco has it all and can easily attract all sorts of travelers, climbers, hikers, surfers, nature lovers, art enthusiasts, sun and beach seekers, to name a few.

Country’s main highlights include:  a trek to Jebel Toubkal – the highest peak of Northern Africa, the Todgha gorge (climbers Mecca), Dades Valley, Sahara desert, so called blue town of Chefchaouen, and large cities like Marrakesh, Casablanca, or Fez.

I didn’t have much time in Morocco this time, but here is the short summary of my trip:

Morocco – 3 highlights and 3 biggest disappointments!

 

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Essaouira Port

My 3 favorite Moroccan attractions:

1. ESSAOUIRA

Morocco’s coastal town of Essaouira, situated on the Atlantic coast between Agadir and Casablanca, gives a totally different feeling than its bigger and busier neighbors. Only 3 – hour drive from Marrakesh, it enables to experience much quieter and friendlier atmosphere of the country than its more touristic places.

The legend says that the port of Essaouira was founded by the Sultan Sidi Mohammed Ben Abdellah to punish the city of Agadir for rebellions against the leading powers.
Soon after its foundation in 1770 until the first half of the nineteenth century, the harbor was the most important trading port between Europe, Africa and the Americas.
At that time, it was known as the “Port of Timbuktu” because most African products for export (including slaves) ended up in Timbuktu itself.

Today the port of Essaouira is still a vibrant and exciting place where fishermen deliver a fresh catch every day.

This incredible World Heritage Site (old medina) and its surroundings were used as a location for some scenes of Game of Thrones, which were filmed in this romantic scenery!

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Essaouira Port

2. KSAR OF AIT BENHADDOU

This fortified village and UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987, is made of several small fortresses (called Kasbahs) situated at the top of the hill. It was once a major stop along the caravan route between Timbuktu and the northern lands.

Now, mostly abandoned (only five families are still living inside) it is one of the most spectacular tourists attractions on the way from Marrakesh to the desert, surrounded by a picturesque Palm Oasis and the river.
The Kasbah was used as a scenery for many famous Hollywood movies, like the Gladiator, Game of Thrones, Laurence of Arabia or Babel, to name a few.

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Ait Ben Haddou ksar

3. CATS!

Cats are literally everywhere; roaming freely on the streets, sleeping on the souks and restaurants’ tables, fighting with seagulls for fresh fish and with other felines for territory.

In Arabic countries they are highly revered animals, admired for their cleanliness and considered as “the quintessential pets”. It’s believed they were loved by the Prophet Muhammad as one of them saved him from a snake.
Well-fed and relaxed, they look as if they ruled this country not disturbed by anyone.

I admire cats almost like Ancient Egyptians, so this aspect of Morocco stole my cat-loving heart!

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Essaouira Port

My 3 Moroccan biggest disappointments:

1. MARRAKESH

Marrakesh (amur and kush), meaning the Land of God, is also called The Red City. It is the third largest city in Morocco and one of the most popular among tourists.

There are a couple of museums, monuments and gardens worth visiting. The old town (medina) is specifically famous for its narrow streets filled with local souks and bazaars where you can practice bargaining skills with the world’s leading experts in this field.

Jemaa el-Fnaa square and market place – the most famous part of old city attracts both local community and hundreds of tourists every day. It is full of souvenir shops, bars and restaurants. Busy during the day, it gets even more interesting after the dusk when food stands open, local actors and storytellers come into the picture.

I dreamt of Marrakech for years. I dreamt of an enchanted city full of magical, Oriental, colorful, fairy tale like place with the spirit taken from “1001 Arabian Nights”.

Although it has its undoubted charm; Marrakesh did not steal my heart though.

I found the old medina too touristy. After leaving the very center we were often misled by the locals suggesting that “this street is closed” and “that part is forbidden”. We found it quite strange and unwelcoming.

When getting any close to Jemaa el-Fnaa, I had to run away from ladies who pressured to paint my hands with henna “for free”, which meant 50$. 😊 Men with snakes and chained monkeys demanding money for photos with these animals also made me feel sad.

And saying “no, thank you” thousand times a day to everyone that want you sell you something, is quite tiring, too. It is of course my subjective point of view, but for a nature and peace lover like me, Marrakesh for more than two days is basically, too much… The reality was not that magical as my dream in this case.

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The Koutoubia Mosque, Marrakech

2. SAHARA DESERT TRIP

I love deserts, so a trip to Merzouga  and its Erg Chebbi dunes was one of our priorities from the very beginning. We didn’t have much time and could not rent a car, so we had to use a local travel agency and sign up for a 3-day desert tour from Marrakesh.

The dunes were beautiful but everything else didn’t make a great impression on us. Tourists screaming when sitting on the back of stressed and purely maintained dromedaries, little time on the desert itself (we arrived shortly before the sunset and left before the sunrise the other day).

Tents are accumulated one after another behind each dune… It is not the way we would like to experience being in nature.

Desert camps are situated just 30-min walking distance from the Merzouga village (which can be seen from the dunes anyway), so I would recommend doing the whole trip on your own. If you have more time, use your own (or rented) means of transport, take advantage of the sightseeing opportunities on the way from Marrakesh (there are many).

I would also recommend using your own legs instead of the dromedary!

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Merzouga Desert

3. FOOD!

Morocco is famous for its colorful stalls full of spices, of course! They appear almost on every photo and postcard from this country. Sellers eagerly present their rich assortment explaining the right application of each ingredient they have. “Here you have herbs for chicken, this seasoning is for fish, that one is curry – a mixture of 5 different spices, and oh, that’s a mixture of 10, so for extremely lazy wife…”

You do get tempted with so many colors, shapes and aromas, your eyes get focused on fresh green mint, delicate rose petals, orange turmeric shining in the Moroccan sun and many, many more… One would say – a paradise for photographers, cooks and food lovers!

I was sure Morocco would make my taste buds extremely happy and that turned out to be the biggest disappointment of all…

Why? The only spices used generously was… a white sugar added to the famous Moroccan mint tea. I loved the tea, but the amount of the sugar added terrified me a bit.

Salt and pepper were quite scare. Once we were lucky to find some rosemary on the plate and once there was some fresh coriander added to the dish.

Vegan life when travelling is not easy, but even countries with high percentage of meat in their cuisine have started introducing some plant-based options for tourists. “Couscous vegetarian, tajine vegetarian – no problem, my friend”, we heard.

Although these dishes were easily accessible, we didn’t manage to find any spices nor taste in them…

We have spent entire 2 days on tagine vegetarian, 3 eating just mandarins and fresh bread. After this time, we were extremely happy to welcome an international supermarket, crepes with Nutella and finally…

Local kebab where some nice guy offered French fries with falafel wrap and some humus. That was something extraordinary, as it did have taste at last!

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Streets of Essaouira

I assume we were not lucky enough to find some good restaurants, but we were not alone with our food related conclusions. One Englishman has warned his colleagues who were supposed to visit Morocco the following days to pack some salt on the way to the airport… 😉

 

  • More photos from Morocco in my gallery

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