Morocco has been on my bucket list for years. I’m not kidding. Like, 20 years! Why? Well, because it’s got everything the curious traveller could possibly want: history, architecture, adventure, mountains, deserts, culture, style, fascinating people, great weather, and it’s close to the UK. What’s not to like?
But I’d repeatedly put off going, because I’d heard worrying reports about the level of hassle some women get in Morocco, and as a blonde female solo traveller I simply couldn’t face it. I kept filing it away for a time when I might have a man – or at least a couple of mates – to protect me, but as the years have gone by, and that hasn’t happened, I finally decided to just bite the bullet and get on with it. Life’s too short to wait around, right?
So I booked a trip over Christmas and New Year with Flash Pack, a group travel company that caters to solo travellers in their 30s and 40s. I figured this way I’d get to see all the country’s highlights, have everything organised for me, and be sheltered from any hassle by the safety of the group. Plus I’d get to stay in nice hotels and have a ready-made gang of friends to enjoy it all with! What could be better?
I can’t say I’m an expert on Morocco as I was only there for two weeks, but if you’re thinking of going – on your own or with a tour like this – here’s what we did. Hopefully it’ll help inspire your own planning.
DAY ONE – ARRIVAL IN CASABLANCA
I didn’t take any photos of Casablanca, I’m afraid! The trip got off to a shaky start when I found myself caught up in the Gatwick Airport drone chaos and I didn’t end up arriving until late at night. Members of the group who’d got there earlier, however, were able to explore the city a little and check out the number 1 tourist attraction, the Hassan II Mosque.
But I wasn’t too fussed about missing out. We still had all of Morocco to explore, and I had no doubt there were going to be plenty of other amazing things to see.
We stayed: Hotel Barcelo*
[Note – Links marked with * are affiliate links. That means if you click and make a booking I earn a minuscule commission, like, pennies at the most, at no extra cost to you.]
DAY TWO – TRAVEL TO AKCHOUR
Day Two started early as we piled into our bus and made the 7-hour drive north east to Akchour. We swiftly left the built-up city behind and watched the landscape change from flat aridity to craggy red cliffs and green valleys. This area is a national park popular with hikers; we were told there were some waterfalls we could hike to but sadly due to a few unexpected delays, and the fact that it was winter and the days were shorter, we didn’t arrive before it got dark, so no waterfalls for us. But if you’re planning your trip in summer, it might be worth checking them out.
We stayed: Ermitage d’Akchour, a charming ecolodge nestled in the mountains. As we were in the north, and it was winter, this place was FREEZING! I expected some night-time chill but nothing to this level, and if you’re visiting Morocco in the winter I strongly recommend you bring plenty of changes of warm clothes!
This place is about an hour from Chefchaouen, so if you’re not bothered about the national park or the waterfalls, I’d recommend finding somewhere to stay in the town itself instead.
DAY THREE – CHEFCHAOUEN
Chefchaouen is one of the main reasons I wanted to visit Morocco. I’d seen photos of the blue city with its picturesque narrow streets and knew it was a photographer’s dream – how could I not want to go and photograph it for myself?!
It’s famed for being one of the prettiest towns in the entire country, apparently originally painted blue to repel mosquitoes, but now regularly given an extra coat to attract tourists!
The principal draw in Chefchaouen is the medina, a dazzling blue maze of streets all leading back to a central plaza. On the main footpath, small stalls and souks sell all manner of arts and crafts, but duck into any narrow side street and you’ll soon find yourself away from the tourist trail in a blue-washed paradise. But don’t worry, it’s compact and fairly easy to navigate, so you won’t get lost for long.
I abandoned the group and spent a very pleasant few hours wandering with my camera, shooting the shit out of the place (yes, that’s a technical term!). Everywhere you turn there’s another pretty blue door, another cute alleyway. My only complaint was that quite understandably most of the locals are pretty fed up with tourists shoving cameras in their faces all day long, and no amount of flirting or charm could persuade them to let me take their photo. This, I soon found, was a running theme throughout most of Morocco, and something that as a documentary-style photographer I found very frustrating.
Fortunately there were plenty of eye-catching blue corners for me to photograph instead.
I also put the time to good use practising my Insta-model poses (yes, I know I still have some way to go!)
We stayed: Ermitage d’Akchour.
DAY FOUR – VOLUBILIS
The city of Volubilis, near Meknes, was built by the Romans in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, and at its peak was home to 20,000 people. It’s the best-preserved ancient city in Morocco and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Only about half the site has been excavated, but there’s still plenty to see, including a huge forum, triumphal arch, Roman baths, and some amazing mosaics still preserved in situ. In the 18th century many of the monuments were felled by an earthquake, but have since been restored to their former glory.
After spending a couple of hours exploring in the sunshine – a hat and a guide are both highly recommended here – we continued our journey to Fes.
We stayed: Hotel Sahrai*, Fes. This place was very smart indeed, and one of the nicest hotels we stayed in on this trip.
DAY FIVE – FES
Fes isn’t the capital of Morocco, but it may well be its beating heart: busy, intoxicating, vibrant, a feast for the senses. And right at the top of the must-see list is the famous medieval medina.
Founded in the 8th century, it’s the oldest medina in the world, a mind-boggling labyrinth of tiny narrow streets, shops, houses, and small businesses. And by narrow, I mean, well… some of them are tiny!
Going inside is like stepping back in time: a riot of smells, noises and colours, with traditionally-dressed ladies shopping for fruit and spices, hidden souks selling everything from fish to furniture, and men with heavily-laden carts pushing through the narrow alleyways shouting ‘balak!’ (look out!). You will definitely get lost in here, but that’s all part of the experience, and when you’re done, you can just pay a small boy to show you the way out again.
Hidden right in the heart of the medina is the Chouara leather tannery. The buildings house workshops and shops creating and selling beautiful leather goods, but it’s the central square where the hard work really happens. All the leather is cured and dyed in open pits by hand – and foot! – using such delightful ingredients as quicklime, urine, and pigeon guano – the same way it’s been done for centuries. The stench is incredible, and watching the workers in the pits I really felt for them – that definitely is not a job I envy.
We only had one day in Fes, and frankly it wasn’t nearly enough. I longed to get properly lost in the medina, to ditch the group and take my time wandering with my camera. Here, as in Chefchaouen, the locals had clearly had enough of tourists with cameras, so I really wanted to get away from the main streets and take my time to embed myself in the place a bit more for better results. But sadly one of the downsides of group travel is that you’re not the boss, and you have to follow the planned itinerary. I strongly urge you to allocate at least two if not three days in Fes, and as for me, well, I’ll just have to come back another time!
We stayed: Hotel Sahrai*
DAY SIX – MIDELT
Today’s drive took us due south from Fes towards the Atlas mountains. The roads became windy and the snow-capped high Altas soon came into view. We stopped for coffee in Ifrane, a somewhat bizarre hill station modelled on a Swiss ski resort, before continuing the drive to Midelt.
There isn’t a great deal going on in Midelt, and the main reason we stopped there was because it’s too far to drive all the way to the Sahara in one go. The city is essentially a commercial centre surrounded by farmland and small villages, though this does make for some nice walking, and unlike in the main tourist hotspots the local people here were a little more agreeable about having their photos taken.
Our afternoon hike also took us into a Berber village. The Berber people are one of the main indigenous groups of North Africa, and many of them still live either a nomadic life, or in traditional mud-brick villages like this one, Berram, which was built in the 15th century and has around 2000 inhabitants.
If you were in any doubt about how cold it gets in Morocco in the winter, check out what Rachida here is wearing. No wonder she was happy to pose for a photo – you can barely see her!
We stayed: Hotel Taddart*
DAY SEVEN – SAHARA DESERT
This was the day I’d been most excited about of all – the chance to get right into the Sahara and spend a night under the stars.
The drive took us over the 2000m high pass of the High Atlas and down the other side to the edge of the desert, to a place called Erg Znaigui, from where we transferred into 4WD vehicles for a short and bumpy drive over the dunes to our accommodation for the night. And no, this wasn’t some basic-level lying on the ground under canvas, freezing to death – this was the finest glamping, with luxury tents with proper beds and even heaters all arranged round a roaring camp fire.
As the light faded we mounted camels and rode up to the top of the highest nearby sand dune to watch the sunset with a glass of wine – all very civilised indeed!
And then after a three-course dinner the rest of the group settled round the camp fire while I wandered out into the dunes with my camera and tripod to photograph the stars.
We stayed: Merzouga Luxury Desert Camp*
DAY EIGHT – FOSSILS IN ERFOUD
One of the good things about visiting Morocco in the winter is that because the nights are longer, you don’t have to get up too early to watch the sunrise! Which is just as well because the next morning my alarm failed to go off and the group left without me, meaning I had to run up the sand dunes to catch up! Luckily all those trips to the gym paid off, and I made it just in time, but as anyone who’s ever paced it up a sand dune will tell you, it was quite a workout (though much-needed after all those hours on the bus).
I could gladly have stayed an extra day in the Sahara, but we had a packed itinerary and more highlights to see, so on we went to a town called Erfoud.
One thing I didn’t know about Morocco is that it’s a hugely important site for fossil collection, and the area near Erfoud is the top fossil destination in the country.
Four hundred million years ago the entire region was covered by sea, and today the rocky ground is full to bursting with squid and ammonite fossils, which are dug out of the ground and hand-carved and polished into amazing bowls, plates, ornaments, and other bits of home decor. The idea that you can actually own a piece of ancient history from a time long before man existed absolutely blows my mind!
If you’re feeling particularly flush, you can even have a dining table or an entire kitchen worktop with genuine fossils from 400 million years ago embedded in it. They were both fascinating and stunning, and if I win the lottery, I will definitely be coming back here to get one!
We stayed: Hotel Kasbah Lamrani*
DAY NINE – HIKING IN TODRA GORGE
A very different sort of wow factor faced us on our arrival in Todra Gorge. Here the orange rocks are riven in two, as though some all-powerful god has cleaved the landscape with a thunderbolt, and a path winds first through the base of the gorge, and then uphill towards the top of the cliffs 300 metres above.
Not surprisingly this area is a great place to go hiking, and after all that time spent on the bus it was exhilarating to be able to get out and stretch our legs in the sunshine and crisp fresh air. As well as hiking, these vertical cliffs are hugely popular with climbers, so if that’s more your thing, it’s definitely worth investigating.
It takes about three hours to walk from the base of the gorge to the top. Halfway up we stopped at a Berber smallholding, where 85-year-old Ba Ahmed served us traditional Moroccan mint tea from his cave home.
After stopping at the top for photos, we made our way down the other side to the Berber village of Tizgui, where we we had lunch before continuing our walk along the Todra River valley.
We stayed: Hotel Kasbah Lamrani*
DAY TEN – AIT BEN HADDOU
Ait Ben Haddou is a 17th century mud-brick fortified town on the southern slopes of the High Atlas, and one of Morocco’s most well-known attractions.
This UNESCO World Heritage site contains houses, a mosque, two cemeteries and a watchtower right at the top, and is mainly famous for being the location for a tonne of films, including The Living Daylights, The Mummy, Jesus of Nazareth, Prince of Persia, Gladiator, Babel, and Game of Thrones.
In series 3 of Game of Thrones, Daenerys Targaryen conquers the city of Yunkai – which is based here. Meanwhile in Gladiator, it’s here that Russell Crowe’s character Maximus trains as a gladiator after being taken into slavery.
Once you’ve explored all the alleys and passageways, admired the view from the top, and tried to avoid buying anything from the many traders, you might want to stop into the nearby Akhnif carpets co-operative, where they make the famous hand-woven Moroccan wool carpets. Many a visitor (including a couple of my fellow travellers) has ended up buying one and having it shipped back – for far less than you’d pay for it either in the souks in Marrakech, or in your home country.
We stayed: Riad Ksar Ighnda
DAY ELEVEN – TO MARRAKECH
One final five-hour stint in the bus and we reached the last destination on our Moroccan marathon: Marrakech.
Marrakech is probably Morocco’s most famous city, and although it’s not the capital nor even the largest city, it’s still usually the one place all tourists either start or end up. With its medieval medina, mosques, shopping areas, great foodie hangouts, palaces and museums, there’s plenty to keep you occupied here for several days.
We, sadly, did not have several days, so on our first evening we headed straight to Place Jemaa el-Fna, the city’s main square. By day it’s full of market traders, snake charmers and street performers trying to make a living from tourists, while at night it comes alive with food stalls and revellers. We were taken on a food tour to sample some of Morocco’s many different traditional delicacies, and of course I brought my camera along too.
The tour took us through the narrow streets of the medina, where we sampled freshly-baked Moroccan bread, tooth-numbingly sweet pastries, olives, dates and tea. Then it was back to the main square for the main course: grilled meats and vegetables from one of the many bustling street food stalls.
We stayed: 2Ciels Boutique Hotel*
DAY TWELVE – MARRAKECH
Last day, and a chance to explore Marrakech’s famous medina. It’s busier and noisier than the one in Fes, but no less charming. Everywhere you turn there’s another alleyway, another souk filled with interesting things to buy, another photogenic view…
You have to keep your wits about you though. The narrow streets are often crowded, and people on mopeds speed through at an alarming rate. If you don’t watch out you might get flattened!
I did find the medina quite overwhelming, particularly when it came to shopping. I’m not a big souvenir hunter at all; normally I just buy a fridge magnet and that’s it, but Morocco is such a treasure trove of incredible crafts that it’s almost impossible to resist. All along our journey we’d stopped in at local co-operatives where we were able to buy rugs, Argan oil, ceramic pottery, silk scarves, leather bags and jackets and even fossils directly from the producers for a good price (with bartering help from our guide), and even I did succumb once or twice. But being left to my own devices in the hustle and bustle of the medina was too much for me, and I panicked and bought nothing. Which was probably just as well since my bag was already full!
So if you’re heading to Morocco with high hopes of coming back with some fabulous swag (and you really should consider it), take note. Definitely buy directly from the producers if you can, and make sure you bring a big suitcase!
We stayed: 2Ciels Boutique Hotel*
DAY THIRTEEN – MARRAKECH AND HOME
Our final day and time to say goodbye to the amazing group who’d become my friends and travel buddies over the past two weeks. Some people had early flights to catch; others had more leisurely departure times and were able to do more shopping or enjoy a traditional hammam, where you basically sit almost totally naked in a hot steam room while a strong-armed masseur/euse buffs your entire epidermis off with a scrapy glove before rubbing you all over with scented oil until you fall asleep. Sounds a bit weird, but it was absolutely amazing and afterwards my skin felt as soft as a baby’s.
Have you been to Morocco? Did I miss any of your top highlights? Please comment below for the benefit of future readers!