8 Things That Surprised Me About Traveling in Morocco

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The most frequent question I get about being a travel blogger after the standard “what's your favorite country?” and “how do you make money?” usually relates to how I decide where to travel next.

My answer is always “it depends.” Sometimes I go somewhere because of a specific event or because the timing just works out. Sometimes I get invited to travel to certain places by tourism boards. And sometimes I find that a destination is just suddenly calling to me and I can't ignore it.

This is exactly what happened with Morocco.

Akatuki at Ait Ben Haddou
Ait-Ben-Haddou

For years, Morocco had never been super high on my travel wishlist. It was one of those places that I assumed I'd make it to “one day,” but not one I felt any particular urgency to visit. But then in 2018 something changed.

I can't say what it was – maybe a combination of gorgeous Instagram shots and the fact that I enjoyed my 2017 trip to Egypt so much – but I suddenly found myself with a fierce desire to visit Morocco.

When I feel these fierce pulls to a certain destination, I can often be quite impulsive with my travel plans. Just a couple weeks after having the realization that I really wanted to visit Morocco, I was booking a tour with Intrepid Travel during the company's Cyber Monday sale.

I expected to like Morocco, but I ended up absolutely LOVING my time in the country.

Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca
Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca
Chouara Tannery in Fes, Morocco
Chouara Tannery in Fes

Part of this came down to the stars aligning for this trip (I went at a great time of year and found myself in a very small group with a great guide), and part of it came down to my expectations for Morocco really being blown out of the water.

I'd had some preconceived notions about what traveling in Morocco would be like, and, as it turned out, many of them were just wrong!

8 reasons to travel to Morocco right now

Here are all the things that surprised me about traveling in Morocco (AKA reasons why you really should consider going!):

1. It's safer than you probably think

Is Morocco safe to travel to? Well, my answer would be that it's no more dangerous than any other country you might visit as a tourist. In fact, it might be safer than several countries that tourists flock to all the time if you look at violent crime rates.

Akatuki at Hassan II Mosque
I did not feel in danger as a female traveler.

Even though Morocco is geographically located in North Africa, the country didn't suffer like many of its neighbors did after the 2011 Arab Spring. Morocco is fairly stable, politically speaking, and there haven't been any violent uprisings there in recent years.

The things I worried about the most before traveling to Morocco were petty crime like pickpocketing, and experiencing verbal sexual harassment as a woman. I'm happy to report that I never felt in danger in Morocco (even when walking around on my own), and that I didn't even experience the level of harassment that my pre-trip research had prepared me for.

Will you get comments walking through the souks as a solo female traveler? Yes. But I get similar comments walking down the street in Cleveland, Ohio, so I'm not sure that should be a reason for anyone to avoid the country.

Akatuki at Jardin Marjorelle
(Though, Morocco is slightly prettier than Cleveland!)

Morocco passed a new law last year that imposed tougher penalties on sexual harassment and violence against women, and tourist police are often undercover in the most touristy areas to help keep people safe. At least two women I spoke to who had previously visited Marrakech (3-4 years ago) commented that the city felt safer and the vendors less “pushy” in 2019.

This is not to say that Morocco is 100% safe, or that nothing bad could possibly happen to you there; bad things can happen ANYwhere. But statistics show that you are far more likely to die in a car crash on your way to the airport than from any violent crime while traveling.

2. Religious tolerance

I didn't know this about Morocco before I visited, but the country has been known throughout history for its religious tolerance. There's been a notable minority of Jewish people in Morocco for centuries (many of them fled to Morocco during the Spanish Inquisition), with almost every major city having a Mellah, or Jewish Quarter.

Essaouira gate
On this gate leading into the Essaouira medina, you see crescent moons (associated with Islam), and also a Star of David inside the flower on the right.

The current Moroccan King, Mohammed VI, has made efforts in recent years to restore and preserve hundreds of synagogues and Jewish cemeteries around the country, further solidifying the importance of this relationship.

This religious tolerance undoubtedly adds to Morocco being quite peaceful and stable.

3. Diverse cities and landscapes

Before visiting Morocco, my only other experience in North Africa had been in Egypt. Egypt was a fascinating country, but it felt quite same-y wherever you went – the cities felt similar, the color palate was the same dusty tan, and the desert seemed to encroach everywhere.

Even though any map will show that Morocco has only a very small sliver of the Sahara Desert within its borders, I erroneously assumed that Morocco would be similar to Egypt. But how wrong I was!

Akatuki in Midelt, Morocco
Canyon in Midelt, Morocco

Morocco has such a diversity of both cities and landscapes. Fes with its labyrinthine medina is completely different from Marrakech's and its rose-colored buildings and palm trees, which is completely different from the blue-washed Chefchaouen, which is completely different from the Berber towns in the High Atlas Mountains.

Chefchaouen, Morocco
Chefchaouen, Morocco
Rose Valley, Morocco
Kasbah in the Rose Valley

And the landscapes. Oh, the landscapes! There's everything from sand dunes to arid mountains to cedar forests to rolling green farmland. They even grow grapes and make wine!

The diversity of Morocco was something that definitely surprised me.

Sahara Desert dunes at sunset
And of course the Sahara Desert

4. It has incredible historical sites

Morocco has a long history, guys. At one point it was part of the Roman Empire, it's been home to nomadic peoples for millennia, and it has gone on to influence several other cultures (you can't visit Spain or Portugal without seeing tiles and Islamic arches!).

I knew that Morocco would have some interesting sites to see, but I had no clue that we'd be visiting a UNESCO World Heritage Site or ancient town or other historical marvel just about every day on this trip.

Some of my favorite historical sites I visited included:

Volubilis* – A former Roman city, complete with lots of mostly-in-tact mosaics that rival the ones you can see in Pompeii (except that Volubilis is a hell of a lot less crowded than Pompeii!).

Mosaic in Volubilis
Mosaic in Volubilis

Fes el Bali* – The oldest and largest medina in Morocco, the Fes medina dates back to around the year 800 AD, and is a veritable maze of alleys and souks. Exploring some of the 10,000+ streets within the walled medina in Fes was a trip highlight.

The kasbahs – A kasbah is essentially a fortress or fortified town, and they're all over Morocco, especially in the south. We visited some amazing kasbahs, including Kasbah Amridil in Skoura, which basically looks like a giant sandcastle.

Kasbah Amridil in Skoura
Kasbah Amridil

Ait-Ben-Haddou* – Officially known as a ksar (a group of earthen buildings surrounded by high walls), Ait-Ben-Haddou is essentially what you probably picture when you think of Morocco. It was built to be a waypoint along along the former caravan route between the Sahara and Marrakech, and is still incredible to behold.

Essaouira* – I went to the seaside town of Essaouira on my own after my tour ended, simply because I'd heard so much about it and dreamed of seeing the famous harbor of blue fishing boats for myself. Essaouira is a laid-back coastal town with a cool vibe, and was definitely worth a visit.

Boats in Essaouira, Morocco
Boats in Essaouira

And of course there were the medinas and kasbahs in other cities like Rabat and Meknes and Marrakech, too – Morocco is basically a history-lover's dream!

*These are all UNESCO sites in Morocco. I visited 7 of Morocco's 9 UNESCO sites on this trip! 

5. The food is amazing

Usually after a couple weeks traveling in a country and eating roughly the same things over and over, I'm dying to eat something else. But you know what? I really didn't get tired of Moroccan food!

Moroccan food staples include tagine (basically meat and veggies cooked in a clay vessel called a tagine), couscous, meat skewers, olives, bread, oranges, dates, and mint tea. We tried some other things, too (like pastilla in Fes), but mostly ate tagines and skewers – and I didn't hate it!

Chicken tagine in Morocco
This chicken tagine doesn't look fancy, but it was one of the most delicious!
Skewers in Fes
Meat skewers

This is mostly because each tagine dish will be slightly different depending on where you eat it and who's making it, so you don't *really* feel like you're eating the same thing over and over again.

I also came to appreciate Moroccans' love of sweet mint tea any time of day, as well as the abundance of oranges. I would NEVER drink 2 glasses of orange juice per day or reach for an orange for dessert at home, but it just felt right in Morocco (and my body is still craving oranges!).

Oranges in Chefchaouen
I could not eat enough oranges in Morocco!

6. Luxury really is luxury

I've been to other countries where “5-star” doesn't really mean 5-star, and where luxury is simply defined differently than it is in the West. In Morocco, though, luxury really is luxury. The country is far more developed and “Westernized” than most people realize; cities are vibrant and streets are clean and hotels that boast luxurious touches really do deliver.

This isn't to say that you won't encounter poverty or the occasional squat toilet, especially outside of the major cities. But overall there's a lot more luxury to be found in Morocco than I realized (yup, I totally admit my ignorance here!).

Royal Mansour in Marrakech
Royal Mansour in Marrakech

In Marrakech, I went with a few of my tourmates to the for an afternoon tea. The Royal Mansour is a 5-star luxury hotel owned by the King of Morocco, and it lives up to this. You don't just book a room at the Royal Mansour; you book an entire private riad.

I couldn't afford to stay here on this trip, but going for an afternoon tea (and a nosy look around the hotel and spa) was the perfect – and most affordable – way to get a taste of luxury in Morocco.

Afternoon tea at Royal Mansour
Afternoon tea at Royal Mansour
Royal Mansour spa
Royal Mansour spa

7. It's so much better on a tour

I've been to plenty of places where people book group tours and thought to myself “you really don't need a guide here.” There are plenty of destinations where independent travel is the better way to go.

But as a solo female traveling in Morocco, I 100% believe that my experience was better because I was traveling in a small group with a local guide.

Morocco is one of the more developed countries on the African continent, and European tourists regularly take city breaks in Marrakech. But the country as a whole isn't super well-connected for tourists; it's not easy to visit certain places independently, and especially not as a solo female traveler.

Akatuki and a camel in the Sahara Desert
For example, you pretty much have to be on a tour to visit the Sahara.

Not that I'm saying you can't travel solo in Morocco – you absolutely can, and I know plenty of travelers (male and female) who have done so. But there are places I visited that you wouldn't be likely to go on your own, and other places (like the Sahara) that you flat-out can't visit unless you book a tour or hire a guide.

I mentioned before that I never felt in danger while traveling in Morocco. I think it's important to mention that I also never felt overwhelmed or lost or worried during my trip, simply because I was on a tour where all the details were handled for me by someone else.

Not having to worry about things like how to get from A to B, or what accommodations would be safe for me as a solo woman, or what to order in a restaurant, or how much to tip someone made my trip infinitely more enjoyable.

Horse guard outside Hassan Tower in Rabat
For example, our guide let us know when it was/wasn't okay to take photos of guards; it was fine here in Rabat!

I won't lie to you: I know other people who have struggled with traveling in Morocco; even people who didn't enjoy their time in Morocco at all. I can only speak from my own experience, but I know that my own experience was made better by not trying to do everything on my own.

I booked the Morocco Uncovered tour with Intrepid Travel, which is a 13-day tour through the highlights of Morocco. I think this tour had a near-perfect itinerary, and can't recommend it highly enough!

Looking for a tour in Morocco?

Here are several tours worth checking out:

  • Morocco Uncovered, 13 days – this is the tour I took!
  • , 18 days – focuses on north and south
  • , 12 days – for the food-lovers

8. It's unlike anywhere else you've been

Lastly, Morocco is just… different.

Since my trip ended, people have been asking me “what was it like?” I know they want me to compare it to other countries they've been to; to say it was like Egypt or Turkey or Greece or somewhere else they know. But the truth is that Morocco is unlike anywhere else I've been!

Rose Valley, Morocco
In the High Atlas Mountains
Marrakech souks
Marrakech souks

It has Mediterranean and Berber and North African and Islamic aspects to it, both in landscapes and culture. But I can't compare it to anywhere else I've been.

Morocco is unique. It's a land of colorful tiles and golden sand dunes. Of clay-brick kasbahs and goats that climb trees. Of piles of spices and maze-like medinas. Of striped djellabas and hot, sugary mint teas. Of juicy oranges and fluffy bread and the sweetest dates you'll ever eat. Of intricate mosques and Roman ruins and the High Atlas Mountain. Of oasis-like riads and carpets, carpets, carpets.

Royal Palace door in Fes
Royal Palace door in Fes
Akatuki at Riad BE in Marrakech
Riad BE in Marrakech

I hope that, maybe after reading my posts in the coming weeks, you'll feel the same fierce pull to Morocco that I did. And I hope you'll visit and experience it for yourself.

Have you ever been to Morocco? Did any of my observations here surprise you?

Pin it for later:

8 things to know about traveling in Morocco
Things that surprised me about traveling in Morocco

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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