7 Days to Escape into the Allure of Morocco!

From the Port City of Casablanca, to Marrakesh, the Sahara Desert and Fez.  An escape to Morocco was always on my travel bucket list.  And in April of 2023, the Universe made it happen. 
 
escape to morocco
 
Fun fact about me, I used to be a Flight Attendant.  A “jack of all trades, master of none” type of gal.  My time in the airline industry was short (about 2 years and some change).  But the opportunity to travel and experience parts of the world was amazing.  Sparking the travel bug in my SOUL.
 
After taking a hiatus for a couple years (allow for the chaotic mist of COVID to settle).  I joined a group trip curated by LuxNomad Travels.  Below is me documenting the 7 day experience.  While also throwing in some tips on how to navigate and thoroughly enjoy this North African country.  Rich in Berber (Amazigh), Arabian, and French (European) cultural influences.
 

The 7-Day Escape to Morocco Officially Begins!


 
A bit rusty on “travel etiquette.”  I must admit things get a little difficult upon arriving at the Mohammed V International Airport in Casablanca.  From the grumpy border control official … to thinking my baggage was lost (or worse, stolen) and getting hounded by taxi driversSometime in the mid-afternoon hours.  I finally made it to the ONOMO hotel for an evening of total relaxation (wine) and rest. 
 
Although encountering a few minor instances upon arrival.  I am well-rested and fully prepared to commence my day 1 exploration. 

Day 1 – Casablanca:

After a 40 minute drive into the City center, we toured the Hassan II Mosque.  The largest functioning Mosque in Africa and the 7th largest in the world.  In awe at the cedar wood architecture and intricate gold decor.  I felt truly blessed to experience 1 out of 2 Mosques in Morocco.  Open to non-Muslims outside times of prayer. 

With a 4 hour drive to Marrakesh, our time in Casablanca was quick.  But not before taking one last look at the Minaret, soaring above the Atlantic Ocean and eating at the mythical gin joint – Rick’s Cafe

travels solo trips to casablanca Morocco

Day 2 – Marrakesh (or Marrakech):

With a two day stay in Marrakesh.  The first is spent exploring the Medina (new town) by visiting the Bahia Palace and practicing bargaining skills at the Souk (or marketplace). 

Although I enjoyed walking through a maze of interconnected alleys, dark tunnels and streets.  Careful to avoid being hit by flying scooters who are trying to squeeze by us within tight spaces.  A lot of the shops were closed due to a Holiday. 

So for me, the highlight of the day was the palace, the gardens within and … the cats.  Yup, you read that correctly.  Baby kittens (to be exact), lounging on the patterned marble floors, trying to bask in the slits of sun and shade; seemingly annoyed by the incoming crowd trying to pet them.

Established in the 19th century, I am once again in awe, as I admire the decor of the Bahia Palace.  Influenced by Arabic, Islamic and Moorish architecture, said to comprise of 150 richly decorated rooms (only a portion is open to the public).  This beautiful and brilliant structure was built over 7 years and contains open courtyards, fountains, a place to take a “bain maure” (or Moorish bath) and more.

Like the Hassan II Mosque, the walls are made with cedar wood from the Atlas Mountains.  Mosaics, stained glass, fireplaces and Stucco were also seen throughout, bringing in a minor European flair.  Moreover, the colors in the ceilings are made from natural products, such as henna (orange and brown), saffron (yellow), grenade (red), and egg whites. 

solo travels groups Marrakesh morocco

Let’s Talk About Riads (or Ryads)!

First and foremost, I must admit … before going on this 7-day escape to Morocco, I knew nothing about Riads.  Originating from the Arabic term for “garden,” a Riad embodies the heart of a traditional Moroccan dwelling, characterized by its enclosed indoor garden (and/or courtyard).  These spaces have undergone a transformation into opulent guest houses, catering to both local and international explorers, while historically serving as abodes for affluent merchants and traders.

A prime example of a Riad is Al Fassia, the luxury boutique hotel we stayed at while in Marrakesh.

Instantly intrigued by this house with high walls, to not only maintain intimacy/privacy.  But to potentially keep out heat and street noise. This Riad definitely lived up to its name by displaying a garden in the middle (with a fountain), under an open ceiling and big windows facing the interior of the space.  

Surrounding the fountain, there were 4 different squares of flowers, plants and trees.  A common theme is also seen in the Bahia Palace.  Both gardens exhibit a variation of white oleander, trees of cypress, orange, banana, lemon and herbs of lavender, rosemary, even ginger root.  As well as, other exotic or tropical large leaved foliage you would not expect to be there.

Day 3 – Marrakesh continues:

The escape to Morocco continues in New Town on day 3, with an early morning experience to watch the sunrise via a hot air balloon.  Afterwards, I take a quick breather with a cat nap, then enjoy a nice cool swim at an empty pool.  

Late in the afternoon, I am ready for the next experience,  the traditional Moroccan Hammam (which one must do at least once in their lifetime).

For dinner, we head to Comptoir Darna (@comptoirdarna), a highly recommended restaurant/club, with exotic decor and belly dancing shows.  Offering global (Mediterranean, European, etc.) and authentic Moroccan cuisine, the food was delicious, the service impeccable and the vibrant ambiance. 

Tomorrow, with the sun’s first light, we initiate a 6 hour journey to Old Town (and I am determined to be fully awake for the drive).  Therefore, I, alone with my thoughts, am retiring early for the night.

The Escape to Morocco Turns Very Interesting!

 
group travels for solo travelers atlas mountains morocco

 

Day 4 – Scenic Road Trip:

 

A beautiful day for a scenic drive, we heroically make our way to the Sahara Desert, encountering Tizi n’Tichka. A pass in Morocco frequented by motorcyclists and known to be “one of the most dangerous roads;” due to its winding curves, steep cliffs with no barriers, and tight lanes. 
 
Climbing high into the Atlas mountains (approx. 7,415 ft. above sea level), we first stop and view the homes of an indigenous North African Berber tribe, who initially fled into the mountains to hide and resist Arab conquests.
 
Without stopping, you can easily miss the small village, purposely built with mud and cleverly cratered down the side of the mountains to blend in with the surrounding landscape. 
 
While researching this gateway road to the desert, I happened upon a tidbit of info about the last known Barbary lion in Morocco, shot near Tizi n’Tichka in 1942.  I couldn’t help but wonder how beautiful it would have been, to catch a glimpse  (from a safe distance), of these extinct lions roaming amongst the vast cliffs.
 

Traveling Through the Atlas Mountains!

 

Somewhere within the Atlas mountains, we stop at a women’s cooperative to witness hand techniques and wooden tools used to produce pure Argan oil.  While the name eludes me, the cooperative is reputed to have been founded by the government, facilitating financial independence for women from neighboring Berber tribes.  To support the cause, I purchase a few products that consisted of:
 
  • Very good honey – For baking biscuits and sweetening tea (yummy)
  • Culinary Argan oil – To dip hearty bread in and season my cast iron pans
  • A Creamy body scrub – With a luscious coffee smell to wake me up in the morning for the dreaded word we all pretty much hate … WORK!
Before continuing 4 more hours to our stay for the night, we stop for lunch at a restaurant that overlooks the fortified village of Ait Ben Haddou.
 
Exemplifying the essence of pre-Saharan architecture in southern Morocco, this Ksar earned its place on UNESCO’s World Heritage list in 1987.  Notably, it has also served as a backdrop for numerous films, including an installment of my cherished HBO series, Game of Thrones.
 
Upon a late evening arrival at the intimate Kasbah Hnini, where I encountered only 2 staff members during my entire stay, we were promptly escorted to our room (mine nestled atop the roof).  Subsequently, we relished a sunset-lit dinner by the infinity pool, gradually illuminated by Moroccan lanterns and the gentle glow of a half moon.
 
Stuffed, I make my way back to my room for another early morning wake-up call.  But not before grabbing a late night snack (Snickers ice cream bar) and two tea light candles infused with essential oils to whisk me off to sleep. 

History of the North African Nomads!

 

Given little time the day before, I am up at sunrise to stuff my suitcase, explore and really capture the beauty of this restored fortress or citadel, made of local pisé (mud or clay). 
 
Thank you to the screaming donkey and rooster for the wake-up call. 
 

After thoroughly taking in the breathtaking views of the palm groves and Jbel Kissane Mountain, we depart for another 4 hour drive to the desert.  Not even 2 hours into the ride, I noticed the landscape change from dirt with areas of green, to what appeared to be gravel and big rocks.  And then, just sand. I get excited when we stop for a camel crossing.

However, prior to succumbing to the allure of the Sahara.  We embark on a tour of Morbit Fossils and Marble, offering the opportunity to acquire authentic stones such as crystals.  Even an ancient fossilized Ammonite, Trilobite and/or shark tooth.

We then eat Berber Pizza (more like an Italian calzone) at a trading post.  Hearing the history of the North African Nomads, also known as the Tuareg, or the Blue Men of the Sahara Desert.

A name originally derived from the indigo dyed daraa and cloth veil (used as a turban).  Rubbing off onto their skin, while being under the hot Sahara sun. 

“They never settle in one place because their entire life knows no stability.”

A way of living, amplified by the vast collection of tea pots, jewelry, swords/knives and rugs.  The notion of these nomads has captivated me, transporting me to an era devoid of modern conveniences, like shipping.  It is hardly surprising that many of these items serve as props in period piece films.

Day 5 – the Sahara Desert:

The road trip ends by hopping into a Toyota 4Runner (4×4) and off-road into the Erg Chebbi dunes.  Located near Merzouga and just a short distance from the border with Algeria.  To experience “Glamping” or desert luxury camping.

great destinations for solo travelers Sahara desert morocco

To acclimate myself to the sweltering dry heat.  I jump into the tented swimming pool and quickly dry-off by frolicking around camp like a wild child.  Sand boarding down dunes. 

As the sun starts to set, a refreshing breeze is present and I find a quiet place to sit alone.  Looking off into the distance of nothing but light orange/pinkish sand.  Until a half moon and one star clearly appear in the dream colored sky.

Dinner is at 8:30PM.  But this pure moment of complete silence brings me so much Joy and peace that I feel frozen.  Unable to remove myself from this surreal scene.

Post indulging in a delightful eggplant tagine with cheese (recipe in tow).  Guests are warmly welcomed to settle beside the fire pit.  Where we can immerse ourselves in the enchanting rhythms of drum music and gracefully sway to its beats. 

Before heading off to relax in my air conditioned tent, named Libra after the constellation of the zodiac.  I take the opportunity to gaze at the stars (the best time for this activity is in September/October). 

Beetles are symbolic of spiritual transformation & Good Luck! 

Ready to relax and settle in for the night, I find a beetle crawling along the rug.  Politely returning it to the outdoors, I proceed to take a nice warm shower.  Ready to be up at 4:40AM, for a camel ride to meet the sunrise.

Day 6 – Ifrane:

Back at camp, we eat breakfast and prepare for another road trip to Fez.  Continuing further up North, I once again can’t help but notice the quick change in landscape. 

This time, from desert orange to dirt, rock and gravel. Then, small areas of palm trees, with turquoise blue water; an oasis.  And eventually, shaded by the green of the cedar forest of Ifrane.  Sometimes referred to as the “Switzerland of Morocco,” where we encounter farm land with sheep, goats, horses, stray dogs and … monkeys. 

This whole area is famous for apple , apricot, plum and walnut trees!

Yup, you read that right.  Let’s also remember the adorable Barbary Macaques, perched in the center or side of the road.  Their patience unwavering as they awaited the tempting offer of a grape tomato (or perhaps two).

With less than a couple of days left on this escape to Morocco, I start to become a bit sad.  Not quite ready to leave a country that has so much to experience and explore. 

For a sneak peak of what I felt and experienced while in Morocco, please check-out this video by Maximillian Kempe:

            

Day 7 – Fez (the Old Medina):

Spending our last full day in this historical city, described as mystical and rich in history.  The group heads out early to “step back into time,” and thoroughly explore the wonders of this imperial city. 

With the old Medina being one of the largest car-free urban areas in the world.  Demonstrated by the overly crowded narrow streets and dark alleyways we wrestled with the night before (with luggage), to get to our last accommodation – Riad Palais Bahia Fez (if you are able to get to the rooftop, you will encounter a breathtaking view of the gem city). 

Escape to morocco fez

Reminiscent of walking through the maze-like medieval quarter of MarrakeshOnly this time, we are careful to avoid donkeys with loaded goods instead of flying scooters.  The first stop is Art Naji – The biggest factory in Morocco since 1930.  And, an ideal shop to purchase beautiful handmade goods.  Like ceramic pottery and Zellige Tile design (check out their instagram – @artnaji).
 
The day would not have been complete, without visiting the largest and most popular tannery – Chouara.  Operating since the 16th century and using a process that dates back to medieval times.  As you ascend the stairs to the balconies for a picturesque view.  You can casually mask the aroma of the tannery by plucking a handful of fresh mint sprigs and leaves.
 

Bismillah, Shukran & Yalla!

 
The next day, we make our way back to Casablanca.  Where the group says goodbye and parts ways.  To prepare myself for a long day of travel back to the United States, I head back to the ONOMO hotel  to reflect and rest. 
 
Thankful to have traveled to the heart of Morocco’s enchanting landscapes and vibrant cities. This trip to this North African Kingdom, has been an immersive tapestry of culture, history and unforgettable experiences.
 
From the bustling markets of Marrakech and fez. To the serene tranquility of the Sahara. Every moment has woven together a rich and diverse mosaic of memories.
 
As the sun sets on this adventure, my heart is full with warmth of Moroccan hospitality, the allure of ancient traditions and the beauty of a land that has left an indelible mark on my SOUL.

As I bid farewell to this 7 day escape to Morocco, I carry with me, not only photographs, souvenirs and videos. But also a deep appreciation for the tapestry of life that I have had the privilege to become a part of. Until we meet again, Morocco, may your colors continue to paint our dreams, your flavors linger on our taste buds and your echoes resonate in our hearts.


Have you had the opportunity to escape into the allure of Morocco? Whether that is a YES or NO, please share your experiences, thoughts, and questions in the comments below.  Likewise, if you enjoyed this post then definitely subscribe to our email list/newsletter for more soulo escapes.  With much love, thank you for reading this post!